“The two 5.2-inch displays on the Axon M combine to make a screen measuring 6.75-inches”
Foldable / dual displays on portable devices have been the holy grail for brands. From Lenovo to Samsung to even Microsoft – everyone has either showcased a concept or filed a patent to make this vision a reality. However, Chinese brand ZTE beat them by being the first to market such a device, monikered Axon M. While it might not be the ultimate smartphone with a foldable display, it does indicate that more offerings aren’t far away. At ZTE’s booth at MWC, we spent a fair bit of time to understand the functionality of the Axon M smartphone and whether it’s worth watching out for. Read on to know what we think.
Let’s clear this up front: the ZTE Axon M doesn’t have a foldable display, instead it has dual screens attached together with a hinge. Think of it like a book that opens outwards with screens on the outside. That means the secondary display is at the back, and as such, the Axon M is like any other smartphone. The display at the rear is also thinner than the one on the front. However, in our brief usage, the device came across as quite robust and the opening / closing of the dual displays was smooth as well.
Along with the 5.2-inch panel up front, you’ll find a couple of sensors and a camera. The SIM tray, volume up and down buttons, a power switch doubling up as a fingerprint reader and a customisable key (can be set to open any app) is available towards the left, since the hinge is on the right. A Type-C port for charging flanked by stereo speakers and a 3.5mm output is present on the top and bottom respectively.
Once opened, the two Gorilla Glass 5-protected displays create a tablet-like 6.75-inch screen. You can use the two displays in various modes: extend, mirror, and dual. But whatever the modes, the hinge will always be in between, and depending upon the mode, you’ll either be extremely bothered by it, or give it a pass. These modes can be easily changed with the M key available in the software-based navigation bar, and the good thing is that you can understand the functionality of each of these modes with the icons. ZTE is making full use of Android’s split-screen functionality for enabling these capabilities. The device can also be used in the tent mode, not unlike Lenovo’s Yoga series of laptops, letting you enjoy movies with your friend sitting on the other side – though we aren’t sure if it’s really practical. While we need to spend more time with the smartphone before giving our verdict on the usage, the dual mode is probably the most useful of these as you can use two apps side by side.
The software version on the phone is Android 7.0 Nougat, and it comes with quite a few apps preinstalled. This is to give consumers an idea as to which apps are customised to harness the phone’s capabilities.
To ensure the smooth working of dual displays, powerful hardware is essential, and that’s where the ZTE Axon M seems to fall behind. The phone utilises the Snapdragon 821, which is already a generation behind the current Snapdragon 835 processor. And now that the successor to the SD835 chipset has started to appear in devices, the Axon M’s Snapdragon 821 seems rather outdated. Another reason we’re highlighting the older processor is the fact that split-screen is a performance-intensive feature, and in the case of ZTE’s offering, it’s the lynchpin. Accompanying the chipset is 4-gigs of RAM, which is quite good for ensuring multiple apps run fine. The device ships with 64GB of storage, that can be extended further up to 256GB by adding a microSD card.
Interestingly, the Axon M comes with a single 20-megapixel f/1.8 shooter at the front. Its default mode is for selfies, and if you want to use it like a normal camera, then you have to flip the phone and use the secondary display as the viewfinder. The Axon M is powered by a 3,180mAh battery.
The ZTE Axon M is certainly an interesting smatphone, and the brand must be commended to make something like this available commercially instead of just showcasing it as a concept. If the brand takes the learnings from this one, and applies them to its second-gen offering along with ensuring a bezel-less form factor – especially for the hinge – there’s little doubt that it’ll be giving tough competition to giants who have such devices in the pipeline.