The Axon 9 Pro also packs updated cameras. Instead of a color and monochrome sensor pair like on older versions, the new flagship's rear camera setup matches a 20-megapixel RGB sensor with a 12-MP wide-angle camera that offers a 130-degree field of view. In the camera app, you can tap on an icon to switch between the regular and wide-angle lenses, or switch to Portrait mode to shoot a photo with artificial depth of field. I found that this worked best in optimal lighting conditions -- in a photo of my handsome video producer, the Axon accurately outlined his face, keeping it tack sharp while applying a soft blur to everything else in the background. When I captured a backlit subject, though, the effect was a little muddyy. ZTE also offers a new Sport mode that's supposed to keep moving subjects in your frame sharp and in focus, and it seemed to work well in my limited testing on fast-walking passersby.
I was a little worried that the 20-megapixel front camera might be overkill, and I usually shy away from overly sharp sensors for selfies, but I was pleasantly surprised by the portrait I snapped on the Axon 9 Pro. It was bright, colorful and crisp -- but not too crisp. Granted, I was again in flattering lighting conditions, so it's not difficult for most cameras to do well in such situations. The front camera also should come in handy with the new face-recognition feature for unlocking your phone with a glance.
Everything else about the new Axon feels like ZTE playing catch up. The device is rated IP68 for water-resistance, supports Qi wireless charging and has an 18.7:9 aspect ratio -- all traits we've come to expect from 2018 flagships. Though the company switched to a more modern USB-C port (and ditched the headphone jack like almost everyone else), it maintained its attention to audio quality by packing stereo speakers with dual power amplifiers for clearer Hi-Fi sound at louder volumes. Other than the backing music to the Life of Pi video, which was rounded and clear, I wasn't able to test the phone's speakers, unfortunately.
There were some other features I didn't get to try. The Axon 9 Pro will support a new real-time translation feature for up to 29 languages, although I didn't get to check this out at my demo and the company didn't share more details on how this works. There's also the AI-powered management tool that predicts your behavior and "automatically terminates unused applications and removes their files or fragments from the system," while somehow optimizing battery life. It's not very clear yet how this will work, and is really the sort of thing I'll again need to conduct real-life testing to evaluate.
It's another slight disappointment that the handset will ship with the now-outdated Android 8.1 Oreo, but if it's any consolation at least ZTE kept its hands off the software like before, leaving stock Android alone as it should.
Fans of the Axon series will find the latest flagship a satisfying update, even if the Vision tech fails to impress in real life. The Axon 9 Pro's AMOLED display is already a colorful canvas, although it could stand to be a little brighter. For the price, ZTE's premium spec offerings are worthy of at least a second look.
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