ZTE Axon 7 Mini

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We love the ZTE Axon 7: It's a well-built, well-equipped Android phone at an excellent $399 price. So how about a more affordable version? Today at IFA, ZTE introduced the Axon 7 Mini, which is a lot like the original Axon 7, but kicked down a notch in size, price, and specs. ZTE hasn't yet announced an exact price or release date, but so far the phone looks promising.

Holding the 7 Mini, which comes in gold or silver, I was struck by how much it feels like the Axon 7. It's made from the same materials and maintains the same shape, with a gentle curvature at the sides making it thinner. It isn't actually that much smaller than the Axon 7, but it's 0.15 inches narrower, at 2.8 inches, rather than 2.95. Depending on the size of your hand, that can make the difference between a phone that's comfortable to hold and use with one hand, and one that isn't. It's also lighter, at 5.4 ounces rather than 6.1.

ZTE Axon Mini and Axon 7

But I'd shy away from calling this phone a true "mini." Folks who want something iPhone-sized will be, as is usual with generally larger Android devices, disappointed. Here at IFA, the only small phone we've seen that's really worthy of the name is the Sony Xperia X Compact, at 4.6 inches.

Almost all of the specs have been kicked down a notch, though. Gone is Quad HD screen, alas: we're now working with a 5.2-inch, 1080p panel, which is just as bright as the Axon 7's 5.5-inch screen, but lower resolution. The processor is now a Qualcomm Snapdragon 617 (as opposed to the top-of-the-line Snapdragon 820), storage is down from 64GB to 32GB (plus a microSD card slot), the main camera is 16MP (down from 20), and ZTE is only promising compatibility with AT&T and T-Mobile—not with Verizon or Sprint like it does with the bigger Axon 7. The battery is down to 2,705mAh, but that shouldn't an issue given the reduction in screen size and resolution. A round fingerprint sensor on the back remains.

ZTE Axon Mini Back

And although ZTE promises an Android 7.0 Nougat upgrade for it this fall, the phone won't support Google's Daydream VR, because that requires a flagship-level processor.

One thing has been improved, ZTE's Jeff Yee told me. ZTE went from two audio chips to one, which he says delivers even clearer audio through the headphone jack. Both Axon 7 models have dual, front-facing speakers.

ZTE Axon Mini Side

There's a lot of competition in the midrange market right now, with choices ranging from the OnePlus 3 to the Huawei Honor 8 to the Motorola Moto G4. If the Mini stands out, it'll stand out for build quality. It's a warm, gorgeous metal unibody design in jewel tones, at a level where most of its competitors are plastic. The smaller size actually helps play that up: since you can more easily wrap your hands around the Axon 7 Mini, you are more able to appreciate its warm metal and curved form.

The Axon 7 Mini is coming unlocked to the US by October. ZTE didn't give a price except to say that it will be less expensive than the Axon, which costs $399.

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