ZTE Axon 20 5G Hands-on: The under-display camera under-delivers
You’ve seen notches, you’ve seen pop-up cameras, but you’ve never seen under-display cameras until now. The ZTE Axon 20 5G is the brand’s latest upper mid-tier phone, and it has one stand-out feature: the camera sits underneath the display, never to be revealed fully to the naked eye. Unfortunately, I don’t really think the technology is there just yet. This was the first phone to release with an under-display camera back in September, though it was released exclusively in China at the time.
I’ll be doing a full review of the ZTE Axon 20 5G for the XDA YouTube channel, but for now, these are my initial thoughts on the display and the front-facing camera.
About this hands-on: ZTE sent us the Axon 20 5G for review at the beginning of December. ZTE had no input regarding the content of this article.
ZTE Axon 20 5G Specifications
|Specification||ZTE Axon 20 5G|
|Dimensions & Weight|
|SoC|| Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G:|
|RAM & Storage|
|Battery & Charging|
|Fingerprint sensor||In-display fingerprint sensor|
|Android Version||MiFavor 10.5 UI based on Android 10|
The ZTE Axon 20 5G’s display is pretty good
Thanks to the notchless experience of the ZTE Axon 20 5G, I’m reminded of what I loved most about smartphones with pop-up cameras — they gave me a completely bezel-less experience. It looks good, feels good to use, and as I always say, 1080p on a smartphone of pretty much any size is fine. The Axon 20 5G is one of the biggest phones I’ve ever used, with a screen size of 6.92-inches, but it’s still nice to use, and the full HD+ resolution display does the job fine. Would I have liked a 1440p display instead? Absolutely, but the ZTE Axon 20 5G delivers a nice viewing experience as-is.
The display is also a high-refresh-rate, 90Hz panel, but I noticed that 60Hz is enabled by default in the system settings. I needed to manually make the switch, which I thought was a bit odd. I worried that maybe 90Hz would cause issues as a result, that maybe I would face battery drain or there would be noticeable hiccups. Thankfully I came across no such issues, and I’m unsure why ZTE doesn’t just enable 90Hz by default. It’s one of the selling points of the phone, and not having it switched on by default is weird.
One thing I picked up on, however, was that in MiFavor UI (ZTE’s Android variant name) it refers to a “notchless display” in the “top area settings”. The status bar, which covers the under-display camera is all-black, and when I made the switch to “notchless display”, I realized why.
Turning on notchless display allows wallpapers to fill the top of the display, and it also allows the status bar to change color to fit the currently used app. Check out the photo below and focus on the center of the status bar.
Can’t make it out fully? Here’s it zoomed-in for you.
This, sadly, is not something that only my camera was able to pick up. Whenever the status bar area is of any colour, it’s instantly noticeable and stands out. If you do buy this device, I highly recommend keeping the status bar hidden. I didn’t really pick up on it until I went diving through the settings, but it’s something to keep in mind and shows how early this technology really is.
The front-facing camera itself
With an under-display camera, I wasn’t really sure what to expect from the quality. I was intrigued by whether it would actually work well and be usable as any other front-facing camera, and if I’m honest, it just barely passes the mark. I’m really not a fan of this device’s front-facing camera, and I think only those who rarely use it will really be satisfied. I’ll spare you all a few hundred photos of my face, but really, all of the photos are just as bad as each other.
The problem with the camera is just how blurry it is, which seems to be a side effect of it being under the display itself. I know the two photos above are in lower light, but the same blurry smoothening effect can be seen in all lighting conditions. In fact, when in direct light, any light sources shown in the viewfinder will bloom heavily and destroy the photo quality entirely. The best way I can describe photos from this camera is “soft”.
Overall, this selfie camera ranges from tolerable to… pretty much unusable. If you’re someone who wants selfies that look good, then this is definitely not the phone to get. If you don’t care about selfies then that’s fine, but keep in mind that the weird “mesh” of sorts will be visible over any content being shown on the display.
Has ZTE released this phone just to get this new, innovative tech to the market first? Honestly, it’s highly possible. It’s cool, I really like what it means for the future, but the experience is definitely not to the standard that I had set. I’m excited about the future of under-display camera technology, but this phone definitely isn’t its best representative.
The (initial) verdict
Look, this isn’t a review. It’s my initial thoughts on the under-display camera tech that makes this particular smartphone stand out, and sadly, I think it’s a bit ahead of its time. Do I dislike the ZTE Axon 20 5G because of it? Definitely not. It’s a fun device to use, I love the display, and the Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G is as good as ever. However, pointing out the glaring issues that are evident after using the device for a few minutes can’t go unnoticed, and sadly, they take away from what would otherwise be a fantastic experience. This camera technology is interesting, and I’m excited to see where it goes. ZTE hasn’t nailed it just yet, but it’s a good first start… and, if I’m honest, feels a little bit too early for consumer hardware.
If you’re interested in my final verdict on the ZTE Axon 20 5G, I’ll be doing a review over on the XDA YouTube channel soon, where I’ll go more in-depth and talk about performance, the back cameras, and more!