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Axon Pro Hands-on: Dual Rear Cameras for $450 Unlocked

Watch out, OnePlus. The unlocked phone space is heating up, and ZTE is going for a big slice of that pie. At its NYC launch event, ZTE showed off the Axon Pro, a 5.5-inch QHD smartphone that's the first handset in the U.S. to offer high-fidelity (Hi-Fi) audio along with dual rear cameras. The Axon Pro is available for pre-order now via Amazon, eBay, Newegg and ZTE's website for $450 unlocked.

I snagged some hands-on time with the device and found it classy, zippy and intriguing.

One of the device's standout features is its dual camera setup on the back, which promises faster autofocus. A 2-megapixel lens on top captures exposure and depth of field information, while the 13-MP one below takes the pictures. While I couldn't tell if it was that much quicker than other smartphones when I shot pictures in the harshly lit demo area, the Axon Pro snapped away without delay. I really liked that the camera's interface puts pro controls, such as aperture, right on the viewfinder without having to activate a "Pro mode" first.

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Another highlight is the ability to refocus a shot anytime after it's been taken. I enlisted the help of a ZTE demo person to test this feature out. After changing the shooting profile to F-Mode, we snapped a group of rabid reporters trying out the camera, and tapped on various parts of the scene as we viewed the picture to change the focal point. It's like Samsung's Selective Focus feature, except you get to choose virtually any part of your picture to keep sharp, instead of just near, far or all. The rear camera setup is also capable of recording 4K video.

The 8-MP front camera took a pleasant selfie, and the camera app offers the usual face beautifying and smile-recognizing features you get on most phones today.

ZTE is also touting the Axon Pro's dual sound chips for high fidelity (Hi-Fi) audio, saying it is the first phone in the U.S. to support Hi-Fi. The chips support recording and playback of Hi-Fi sound and, with wind noise reduction filters and dual microphones, the setup is supposed to deliver high quality sound. In the noisy demo area, I wasn't able to try this out for myself, and we'll have to wait till we get a unit of the Axon Pro in to test this claim out.

Measuring 6.06 x 2.9 x 0.37 inches, the Axon Pro jutted out slightly in my hand, but its slightly curved shape makes it easy to grip. The device is oddly reminiscent of an LG G4 or the Asus ZenFone 2, aside from the grill pattern on the front and between the back cameras. The Axon Pro will be available in blue, gold and silver, and the gold unit I tested had a more premium feel to it than previous ZTE phones I've tested.

I also liked looking at pictures on the Axon Pro's 5.5-inch WQHD (2560 x 1440) display, which is made of Gorilla Glass 3. Colors, such as the bright green of Google's Hangouts app were vibrant. The phone runs a simplified Android experience that's basically a clean, minimalistic overlay on top of Android Lollipop, which I found aesthetically pleasing and clutter-free.

Home pages slid by quickly as I swiped from screen to screen, and apps launched almost instantly as well. That's thanks to the Axon Pro's octa-core Snapdragon 810 CPU and 4GB of RAM. This phone should also offer good endurance, thanks to a generous 3,000-mAh battery, which is larger than the Galaxy S6's 2,800-mAh pack.

ZTE also announced Axon Passport 1.0 today, which is a warranty package for the phone. The two-year warranty guarantees you a replacement phone if you have a problem with it within the qualifying period. ZTE will pay for shipping both ways to get your device replaced. Passport 1.0 also comes with a 30-day money back program, and the company said it will provide Axon with any of the latest Android updates from Google.

These are impressive specs for a phone at this price, and will certainly give competitors something to sweat about. OnePlus is announcing the follow-up to its flagship One later this month, with an expected price between $350 and $450. That phone will have the same Snapdragon 810 processor as the Axon, a USB Type-C port (something the Axon doesn't have), and leaked sketches indicate the OnePlus 2 might also have a dual camera setup. 

Staff writer Cherlynn Low covers smartphones and apps for Tom's Guide. Follow her @cherlynnlow. Follow Tom's Guide at @tomsguide and on Facebook.