Smartphone makers are looking for new features to try out and ZTE has gone all-in on its new flagship model unveiled today at a New York City event. The Axon M has not one but two 5.2-inch, 1080p displays with a hinge in the middle allowing the phone to be unfolded into one massive display.
ZTE has chosen to power the Axon M with a Snapdragon 821 processor running Android Nougat 7.1 paired with 4GB of RAM. No dual cameras are in store for the Axon M. Due to the folding design, only a single 20MP camera is present that can be used to take pictures in any orientation you desire. Unfortunately this creates a somewhat clunky user experience, having to turn the phone around in order to switch between the two different screens if you want to take a selfie.
Packing two displays and last year's high-end processor, battery life is going to be a major concern. A non-removable 3,180mAh battery can be found inside the phone. ZTE claims the handset should be good for one day of use although it is unclear if that rating was tested with both displays active. Having only 1080p screens instead of higher pixel count 18:9 displays could result in reasonable battery life but it still will not be all that impressive.
One advantage of the dual screens is that tent mode becomes an option. Sharing videos and pictures with friends can be done by mirroring the display contents when the phone is partly opened. This is a somewhat practical idea but how much anybody intends to use this capability is unknown. It may turn out that end-users keep the phone closed and use the front display most of the time because it is inconvenient to constantly open and close the phone.
Having a tablet-sized screen that can shrink down to fit in your pocket does have some productivity benefits.
Multitasking on the Axon M may be a great experience. Similar to having dual monitors on a desktop, once you get used to the extra screen real estate, it may be very difficult to go without it. Opening applications side-by-side makes it very easy to reference documents and web pages while responding to e-mail or checking your messages.
One potential drawback is app support as it relates to extended displays although ZTE claims that the top 100 Android apps are all supported in dual-screen mode. Android apps that do not have a tablet version are typically limited to use on one display and cannot be stretched across the entire 6.75-inch combined screen.
Since the hinge only allows 180 degrees of movement, both displays are always on the outside and thus, exposed to environmental conditions. Finding a durable case for the Axon M may be difficult as well due to limited support from accessory designers. ZTE's previous Axon smartphones lacked support from both OtterBox and LifeProof; the Axon M is not expected to be supported by either of them.
Overall, the Axon M appears to be a fairly average smartphone aside from the fact that it comes in an unusual form factor. Launching in November as an AT&T exclusive priced at $24.17 a month for 30 months, the Axon M costs a total of $725.10. Coming in clearly at a premium price just below the Galaxy S8, only time will tell whether the unique display offering is enough to garner the interest of consumers.