ZTE Axon 30 Extremely 5G overview: an surprising however welcome shock

“ZTE has not had a hold in the US for a while, but the Axon 30 Ultra is evidence that should change. It’s a big, fast, and powerful phone for $ 750. ”

  • Large screen with high refresh rate

  • Long battery life

  • Masses of performance

  • Reasonable price

  • No wireless charging

  • No watertightness

  • No 5G support in the US

It’s been years since I’ve used a ZTE phone and when I was offered the opportunity to try out the new ZTE Axon 30 Ultra 5G, I approached it with enthusiasm. Why has ZTE been absent lately? A few years ago, ZTE faced the wrath of the US government when found guilty of violating Iran and suffered the same restrictions as Huawei does today. The ban has long been lifted and ZTE has slowly started releasing phones in the US again.

I was a little worried about how all this turbulence would affect the phone. How about? I inserted my SIM card with the thought that it would come out again after a few days. Now, two weeks later, it’s still in there, and it’s proof that ZTE is more than just $ 749 for the Axon 30 Ultra.

Design and screen

Made of aluminum and glass, the ZTE Axon 30 Ultra 5G has the familiar shape that has been seen on many high-end phones in recent years. The edges taper to a point, the screen arches with it, and the flat glass back has a matte finish and a solid camera module. While the design is nothing new, it still looks great, and at 188 grams (6.6 ounces), it’s nowhere near as heavy as some large phones.

ZTE Axon 30 Ultra in handAndy Boxall / Digital Trends

Yes, the Axon 30 Ultra is big. The screen is a 6.67-inch AMOLED with an adaptive refresh rate up to a maximum of 144Hz, and it’s hard to stretch your thumb from side to side, but the screen’s performance is very good. It might not be quite as noticeable as the Galaxy S21 Ultra in the default settings, lacking some of the screen contrast and saturation on the Samsung phone, but tweak the setting and it comes alive. Unfortunately, the speakers don’t quite keep up with the display, are tinny and can distort at high volumes, while the setting is not fine enough at low volume.

ZTE Axon 30 Ultra screen from aboveAndy Boxall / Digital Trends

The phone is a bit top heavy due to the many cameras in the module on the back, and I found it a bit tiresome to hold it in portrait orientation after a while, similar to the Galaxy S21 Ultra. The sharp sides add to this, and I would sometimes reach for the smaller, more comfortable-to-hold iPhone 12 Pro when expecting to browse for more than a few minutes. All of this, however, is life with a massive phone, and if you want a big screen you have to accept the obvious downside that it lives in a big body.


There are three 64-megapixel cameras and a single 8-MP camera on the back of the Axon 30 Ultra. The 64MP cameras cover the standard, wide-angle and ultra-wide-angle cameras, while the 8MP is a periscope camera with 5x optical zoom. The phone has optical image stabilization, phase detection autofocus, laser autofocus as well as HDR10 and electronic image stabilization for videos, whereby the resolution can reach 8K at 30 frames per second or 4K at 60 or 30 fps.

ZTE Axon 30 Ultra camera moduleAndy Boxall / Digital Trends

The cameras take good photos, but it’s all very inconsistent. Often times you take a picture that you are really happy with, like the one I took of the bee on a flower. It’s crisp, colorful, and full of detail. The photo of the black and white Mini Countryman shows a good white balance and a lot of atmosphere. Then take photos that don’t look good at all, like the wide-angle shot of the black Jaguar car, which obscures the details with shadows compared to the standard shot and has too much edge distortion. In other cases, photos can be oversaturated, like the picture of pink flowers.

There is certainly no evidence of the Oppo Find X3 Pro’s consistency here, despite the multiple 64 MP cameras. However, under most normal conditions, the main camera takes good photos, the portrait mode is effective, and the periscope zoom offers a good level of detail and a welcome versatility. The Axon 30 Ultra has received a software update since I’ve been using it and more may be added to improve the camera’s consistency over time.

When announcing the Axon 30 Ultra, ZTE spoke of a special feature that uses all four cameras at the same time. The description was ambiguous at the time and turned out to be of little help. The function called Multi Camera shows a preview of all cameras in a picture-in-picture view. You can tap any preview to switch to the main view, but the camera will still only take one photo at a time. I couldn’t find a point in time when I really wanted to use it.

Side view of the ZTE Axon 30 Ultra camera moduleAndy Boxall / Digital Trends

It can’t compete with the Google Pixel 5, OnePlus 9 Pro, or Samsung Galaxy S21 + cameras, but the ZTE Axon 30 Ultra’s camera still takes good photos under the right conditions, especially for the price.

Performance and battery

With the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 5G processor and 8GB of RAM, this is a flagship phone that offers flagship phone performance. Playing Asphalt 9: Legends isn’t a problem, surfing the Internet, playing videos, and multitasking via messaging apps, Twitter, and streaming on Chromecast didn’t worry the Axon 30 Ultra either. The Snapdragon 888 offers so much power that it’s hard to imagine when it would start fighting. I certainly haven’t found this point in my time with the Axon 30 Ultra.

The charging port of the ZTE Axon 30 UltraAndy Boxall / Digital Trends

The 4,600 mAh battery has more than enough guts to keep everything running, and a 65 W quick charger is included for emergencies. However, with moderate use, the phone will easily last a few days or more on a single charge. Even with heavy use, it didn’t drop below 40% on a day with the automatic screen refresh rate active.


I was expecting the software to be the reason I would take my SIM card out of the Axon 30 Ultra, and while it’s not perfect, it’s a lot better than I thought it would be. It’s overdone Android 11 with ZTE’s MyOS 11 user interface, but the changes to the basic look of Android are minimal.

The ZTE Axon 30 Ultra is a very pleasant surprise

The quick settings in the notification shade have been redesigned, there are a few different icon shapes and different colors, but that’s about it. There are some games and apps pre-installed, but nothing you wouldn’t find elsewhere. It’s quick and fluid, never got too annoying, and hasn’t suffered from unreliability.

The app display of the ZTE Axon 30 Ultra

Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

ZTE Axon 30 UItra shows Google Chrome

Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

ZTE Axon 30 Ultra settings

Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

ZTE Axon 30 Ultra Selfie Camera

Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

There are a couple of problems, however. Notification support is patchy, some messages don’t arrive until I’ve unlocked the phone, and weird bugs like the sound of the camera shutter staying loud and proud even after I turned it off. However, these problems could be resolved with a software update.

Price and availability

The 8GB / 128GB ZTE Axon 30 Ultra is available now from ZTE for $ 750 or £ 650 in the UK. A version with 12 GB of RAM and 256 GB of storage costs $ 850 or $ 750, but we recommend the cheaper one as it is a better value. Notably, ZTE USA has confirmed that the phone will work despite the 5G Modems only have a 5G carrier tape that connects to T-Mobile and none for AT&T. However, it will work fine on both with 4G LTE.

Our opinion

The ZTE Axon 30 Ultra is a very pleasant surprise. The phone has desirable specs, a mostly decent camera, long battery life, and a reasonable price. It’s easy to live with on a day-to-day basis provided you forgive the software bugs and inconsistent camera performance, which is easy to do as it doesn’t cost $ 1,000.

ZTE Axon 30 Ultra in hand from the sideAndy Boxall / Digital Trends

However, the price means you’ll have to forego some of the features we’ve come to expect from flagship phones. The Axon 30 Ultra doesn’t have wireless charging, and it doesn’t have an IP rating for water resistance. It’s all very reminiscent of the pre-OnePlus 8 models from OnePlus – an affordable phone with some limitations.

Now OnePlus’s primary phones don’t really take up that space and companies like Xiaomi don’t sell their phones in the US, so there’s definitely room for the ZTE and the Axon 30 Ultra. The good news is, when you’re ready to go hunting for your next phone outside of the usual suspects, you’ll be satisfied. However, be aware that this is not the phone for you if you are desperate for 5G now or in the future.

Is there a better alternative?

The ZTE Axon 30 Ultra 5G’s price tag of $ 750 stands alongside the $ 699 Google Pixel 5, which has a better camera but a smaller screen, and the $ 800 Samsung Galaxy S21 and its beautiful screen. Alternatively, the Apple iPhone 12 is priced at $ 799, with great camera, performance, and battery life. Thinking outside the box could lead you to the $ 600 Asus Zenfone 8, which offers similar performance and software in a much smaller body, and the $ 730 OnePlus 9. It’s not as good as the more expensive OnePlus 9 Pro, but it’s still so worth considering.

How long it will take?

Since it lacks water resistance and has a glass case, you need to treat the Axon 30 Ultra 5G well if you want it to last a long time. ZTE promises the phone will be updated to Android 12 by the end of this year or early 2022, but does not confirm any plans for further updates. Technically, the phone will easily last two years, but if your camera needs or your need for 5G change during that time, the shortcomings can get frustrating.

Should you buy it?

Yes, it has all the major specs for a reasonable price. Note, however, that 5G is unlikely to ship in the US.

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