New York – ZTE USA will bring unlocked phones to the U.S. market under the new Axon series, starting with a model positioned as an “affordable premium smartphone” said to match or beat the performance of the latest flagships from Apple, LG and Samsung at a lower price.
The $449.98 Axon Pro is ZTE’s first flagship phone designed in the U.S. for the U.S. market, developed with input from U.S. consumers who cited a smartphone’s audio and video performance and battery life as key concerns, said Jeff Yee, VP of technology planning and partnerships for ZTE USA. He said the phone delivers better audio performance than any other smartphone in the U.S. market, thanks to a 192kHz/24-bit DAC and separate 192/24 ADC made by home-audio DAC maker AKM Semiconductor. The phone delivers “the highest sound quality from any smartphone in the U.S.,” Yee said.
The price of the metal-chassis phone is lower than that of the iPhone 6 Plus at $750, LG G4 at $600, and Samsung Galaxy S6 at $700, and it offers more RAM at 4GB, the company said. Axon’s price includes high-performance $40 JBL earbuds.
The series will represent ZTE USA’s flagship series, senior strategic marketing director N. Andrew Elliott told TWICE.
The LTE phone will be available unlocked July 27 through www.zteusa.com, Amazon, eBay, and Newegg.com , but the company is looking at additional distribution, including brick-and-mortar retailers, said Elliott, The company could also eventually bring it to carriers, he said. An installment-payment plan isn’t available but “sounds interesting,” Elliott said.
The company has marketed unlocked Nubia-brand phones in the past in the U.S, but Nubia sales and marketing are now handled by ZTE subsidiary Nubia out of China.
In the U.S., ZTE offers 66 ZTE-branded phones through all four national carriers and through regional carriers, Elliott noted.
Audio performance: To improve audio performance, the Axon Pro leverages Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 810 cellular chipset to decode 192/24 high-resolution audio files, including FLAC, and convert them to analog. About 10 phones in the U.S. market use the chipset, including the HTC One M9, LG Flex 2, and Sony Z3v and Z4, a Qualcomm spokesperson told TWICE.
The Axon Pro, however, takes audio a step farther with the inclusion of two dedicated audio chips from AKM, one a 192/24 DAC for playback and the other a 192/24 ADC for stereo recording , both designed specifically for high-res smartphones. The DAC includes a high-quality headphone amplifier.
The chips are AKM’s first high-res audio chips for smartphones but not its first audio chips for smartphones. ZTE is the first smartphone supplier in the U.S. to implement the chips, AKM said.
AKM sells audio DACs to home-audio manufacturers such as Denon, Marantz, Onkyo and Teac and to high-res portable-audio supplier Astell & Kern.
The Android Lollipop OS, Qualcomm noted, supports 192/24, whereas earlier Android OS versions supported CD quality. Apple’s iOS supports only CD-quality resolution, he added.
AKM representatives at the phone’s unveiling here contended that the Axon Pro delivers better dynamic range at up to 110dB and less total harmonic distortion at -99dB THD+N than the iPhone 6.
The Axon Pro uses additional technologies and dual microphones to capture clear audio from subjects up to 20 feet away, the company added.
Video: On the video side, the phone is promoted as offering D-SLR features, thanks to a chipset and software from Altek Group to deliver 4K 30fps video capture, boost low-light performance, and deliver faster image capture, an Altek spokesperson told TWICE.
Altek leverages dual main cameras with 13- and 2-megapixel performance to enable users to capture images and change the focus after taking a picture by simply pressing the part of the image that they want to sharpen or blur. To deliver this capability, the second camera captures additional data such as exposure and depth of field, Altek explained.
The second camera’s ability to captures depth information also improves low-light performance, Altek said.
Other key camera features include 0.151-second auto focus, shutter speed up to 1/90,000th of a second, and aperture opening to f/1.0.
Altek compared daytime pictures taken by the Axon Pro to those of a $2,500 Canon D-SLR.
Other features: The device also features 4GB RAM, 64-bit 2GHz octa-core Snapdragon 810 processor, 5.5-inch quad-HD 2560 by 1440 display with Gorilla Glass 3, Android 5.1.1 OS, 32GB storage, 3,000mAh battery, 4G LTE in all T-Mobile and AT&T bands as well as in global bands, ability to charge up to 50 percent in 30 minutes, and choice of three colors,
The phone is backed by a two-year warranty in which ZTE will fix any problem for free. The warranty includes free shipping back and forth for the first year of ownership.
Purchasers also get a full credit if they return the phone for any reason within 30 days, and the company promises quick and easy updates of the latest Android updates.
Brand awareness: In other comments, ZTE said its brand awareness in the U.S. shot up to 34 percent, double that of a year ago, based on the results of a recent survey. Awareness has been aided by the company’s partnerships with NBA teams. The company also recently enlisted the support of pro golfer Danny Lee.