ZTE Axon Mini review

Introduction


Last year’s ZTE Axon and Axon Pro were a delightful surprise – nicely spec’d out smartphones with vanilla Android on board all at very competitive price points. A couple of months ago, the company launched the Axon Mini. Not to be mistaken with a miniature version of the Axon Pro, this handset sits somewhere in the upper-midrange smartphone sector, with a middle-of-the-road processor and exotic features such as a fingerprint scanner and Force Touch screen. Last, but most certainly not least, the stock Android experience has been replaced by a complete re-skin with lots of new features, named MiFavor UI.

ZTE Axon Mini review
ZTE Axon Mini review
ZTE Axon Mini review
ZTE Axon Mini review
The Axon Mini isn't sold in the US, and most probably won't be. It's meant for the Asian markets, but daring tech lovers can still buy and import it from 3rd party websites. Prices vary, generally hovering around the $400 mark, but mind you, that's before shipping and tax. So, let’s see if what this smartphone has in stock is worth the trouble!

In the box:
  • ZTE Axon Mini
  • microUSB data cable
  • Wall charger
  • In-ear headphones
  • Plastic back cover
  • Quick start guide
  • SIM ejector tool

Design

Smaller, but still shiny

The ZTE Axon Mini certainly doesn’t look or feel like anything short of a well-made smartphone. Its back is covered in metal, save for a couple of faux leather strips nested at the top and bottom the panel, giving it a distinct touch. On the front, the display’s glass has more of an “island” look to it, as it doesn’t stretch to the very ends of the phone, but rounds off and stops just before the top and bottom bezels. In these spots, the uncovered metal body is engraved with symmetrical speaker grilles, bearing the Axon signature triangular patterns. These are not front-firing stereo speakers — the bottom grille holds a single driver, while the top one is reserved for the earpiece.

In terms of weight and ergonomics, we certainly like how the Axon Mini handles. Its power button is nested on the right, above the phone’s center and our fingers had no trouble finding it in any situation. The volume rocker is not hard to reach and operate, thanks to the handset’s rather compact size, but we found it to be a bit too high for our liking. The power and volume buttons all have a reassuring click to them, but an annoying wobble, too.

 

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In the box: ZTE Axon Mini, microUSB data cable, Wall charger, In-ear headphones, Plastic back cover, Quick start guide, SIM ejector tool

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Front view | Side view
ZTE Axon Mini
ZTE Axon Mini
5.65 x 2.76 x 0.31 inches
143.5 x 70 x 7.9 mm
4.94 oz (140 g)

ZTE Axon Mini

ZTE Axon Pro
ZTE Axon Pro
6.06 x 2.95 x 0.37 inches
154 x 75 x 9.3 mm
6.10 oz (173 g)

ZTE Axon Pro

OnePlus X
OnePlus X
5.51 x 2.72 x 0.27 inches
140 x 69 x 6.9 mm
4.87 oz (138 g)

OnePlus X

HTC One A9
HTC One A9
5.74 x 2.79 x 0.29 inches
145.75 x 70.8 x 7.26 mm
5.04 oz (143 g)

HTC One A9




Display

A subdued AMOLED panel

The Axon Mini sports a 5.2-inch AMOLED display with a 1080 x 1920 pixel resolution. This gives it a pretty sharp picture with a pixel density of 424 PPI. ZTE did a great job at subduing the oversaturation and punchiness that the AMOLED panels are known for. The display’s settings hold three color modes, named “Natural”, “Colorful”, and “Gorgeous”. They are basically three stages of color saturation, starting from a tame one to full-on vivid and overblown.

The screen’s greens and reds are noticeably not on point and its color temperature measures at 8,108 K. That’s quite far off from the reference value of 6,500 K, and we did perceive the display as noticeably cold, sucking the life out of some colors.

The viewing angles are excellent, with minimum color distortion present when we look at the screen from the sides. Its maximum brightness measures at 343 nits, which doesn’t sound great on paper, but we had no issue operating the smartphone on a sunny day. The minimum it would go to is 5 nits, which is OK, but not great for nighttime usage.

Display measurements and quality

Maximum brightness (nits)Higher is better Minimum brightness (nits)Lower is better Contrast Higher is better Color temperature (Kelvins) Gamma Delta E rgbcmy Lower is better Delta E grayscale Lower is better
ZTE Axon Pro 466
(Good)
1
(Excellent)
1:1111
(Good)
7185
(Good)
2.24
4.36
(Average)
6.01
(Average)
HTC One A9 345
(Average)
11
(Average)
unmeasurable
(Excellent)
6829
(Excellent)
2.1
2.42
(Good)
3.01
(Good)
ZTE Axon Mini 343
(Average)
5
(Excellent)
unmeasurable
(Excellent)
8108
(Poor)
2.23
4.36
(Average)
8.02
(Poor)
OnePlus X 298
(Poor)
1
(Excellent)
unmeasurable
(Excellent)
8816
(Poor)
2
7.9
(Average)
8.12
(Poor)
View all

The numbers below represent the amount of deviation in the respective property, observed when a display is viewed from a 45-degree angle as opposed to direct viewing.

Maximum brightness Lower is better Minimum brightness Lower is better Contrast Lower is better Color temperature Lower is better Gamma Lower is better Delta E rgbcmy Lower is better Delta E grayscale Lower is better
HTC One A9 48.4%
45.5%
unmeasurable
12.9%
1%
44.6%
110%
OnePlus X 66.4%
0%
unmeasurable
35.2%
0%
37.8%
60.8%
ZTE Axon Mini 66.5%
80%
unmeasurable
8.5%
0.9%
21.8%
51.2%
ZTE Axon Pro 85.4%
0%
84.1%
14.3%
7.6%
12.6%
34.6%
View all

The CIE 1931 xy color gamut chart represents the set (area) of colors that a display can reproduce, with the sRGB colorspace (the highlighted triangle) serving as reference. The chart also provides a visual representation of a display's color accuracy. The small squares across the boundaries of the triangle are the reference points for the various colors, while the small dots are the actual measurements. Ideally, each dot should be positioned on top of its respective square. The 'x: CIE31' and 'y: CIE31' values in the table below the chart indicate the position of each measurement on the chart. 'Y' shows the luminance (in nits) of each measured color, while 'Target Y' is the desired luminance level for that color. Finally, 'ΔE 2000' is the Delta E value of the measured color. Delta E values of below 2 are ideal.

This measurements are made using SpectraCal's CalMAN calibration software.

The Color accuracy chart gives an idea of how close a display's measured colors are to their referential values. The first line holds the measured (actual) colors, while the second line holds the reference (target) colors. The closer the actual colors are to the target ones, the better.

This measurements are made using SpectraCal's CalMAN calibration software.

The Grayscale accuracy chart shows whether a display has a correct white balance (balance between red, green and blue) across different levels of grey (from dark to bright). The closer the Actual colors are to the Target ones, the better.

This measurements are made using SpectraCal's CalMAN calibration software.

View all

ZTE Axon Mini review

Introduction


Last year’s ZTE Axon and Axon Pro were a delightful surprise – nicely spec’d out smartphones with vanilla Android on board all at very competitive price points. A couple of months ago, the company launched the Axon Mini. Not to be mistaken with a miniature version of the Axon Pro, this handset sits somewhere in the upper-midrange smartphone sector, with a middle-of-the-road processor and exotic features such as a fingerprint scanner and Force Touch screen. Last, but most certainly not least, the stock Android experience has been replaced by a complete re-skin with lots of new features, named MiFavor UI.

ZTE Axon Mini review
ZTE Axon Mini review
ZTE Axon Mini review
ZTE Axon Mini review
The Axon Mini isn't sold in the US, and most probably won't be. It's meant for the Asian markets, but daring tech lovers can still buy and import it from 3rd party websites. Prices vary, generally hovering around the $400 mark, but mind you, that's before shipping and tax. So, let’s see if what this smartphone has in stock is worth the trouble!

In the box:
  • ZTE Axon Mini
  • microUSB data cable
  • Wall charger
  • In-ear headphones
  • Plastic back cover
  • Quick start guide
  • SIM ejector tool

Design

Smaller, but still shiny

The ZTE Axon Mini certainly doesn’t look or feel like anything short of a well-made smartphone. Its back is covered in metal, save for a couple of faux leather strips nested at the top and bottom the panel, giving it a distinct touch. On the front, the display’s glass has more of an “island” look to it, as it doesn’t stretch to the very ends of the phone, but rounds off and stops just before the top and bottom bezels. In these spots, the uncovered metal body is engraved with symmetrical speaker grilles, bearing the Axon signature triangular patterns. These are not front-firing stereo speakers — the bottom grille holds a single driver, while the top one is reserved for the earpiece.

In terms of weight and ergonomics, we certainly like how the Axon Mini handles. Its power button is nested on the right, above the phone’s center and our fingers had no trouble finding it in any situation. The volume rocker is not hard to reach and operate, thanks to the handset’s rather compact size, but we found it to be a bit too high for our liking. The power and volume buttons all have a reassuring click to them, but an annoying wobble, too.


Front view | Side view
ZTE Axon Mini
ZTE Axon Mini
5.65 x 2.76 x 0.31 inches
143.5 x 70 x 7.9 mm
4.94 oz (140 g)

ZTE Axon Mini

ZTE Axon Pro
ZTE Axon Pro
6.06 x 2.95 x 0.37 inches
154 x 75 x 9.3 mm
6.10 oz (173 g)

ZTE Axon Pro

OnePlus X
OnePlus X
5.51 x 2.72 x 0.27 inches
140 x 69 x 6.9 mm
4.87 oz (138 g)

OnePlus X

HTC One A9
HTC One A9
5.74 x 2.79 x 0.29 inches
145.75 x 70.8 x 7.26 mm
5.04 oz (143 g)

HTC One A9




Display

A subdued AMOLED panel

The Axon Mini sports a 5.2-inch AMOLED display with a 1080 x 1920 pixel resolution. This gives it a pretty sharp picture with a pixel density of 424 PPI. ZTE did a great job at subduing the oversaturation and punchiness that the AMOLED panels are known for. The display’s settings hold three color modes, named “Natural”, “Colorful”, and “Gorgeous”. They are basically three stages of color saturation, starting from a tame one to full-on vivid and overblown.

The screen’s greens and reds are noticeably not on point and its color temperature measures at 8,108 K. That’s quite far off from the reference value of 6,500 K, and we did perceive the display as noticeably cold, sucking the life out of some colors.

The viewing angles are excellent, with minimum color distortion present when we look at the screen from the sides. Its maximum brightness measures at 343 nits, which doesn’t sound great on paper, but we had no issue operating the smartphone on a sunny day. The minimum it would go to is 5 nits, which is OK, but not great for nighttime usage.

Display measurements and quality

Maximum brightness (nits)Higher is better Minimum brightness (nits)Lower is better Contrast Higher is better Color temperature (Kelvins) Gamma Delta E rgbcmy Lower is better Delta E grayscale Lower is better
ZTE Axon Pro 466
(Good)
1
(Excellent)
1:1111
(Good)
7185
(Good)
2.24
4.36
(Average)
6.01
(Average)
HTC One A9 345
(Average)
11
(Average)
unmeasurable
(Excellent)
6829
(Excellent)
2.1
2.42
(Good)
3.01
(Good)
ZTE Axon Mini 343
(Average)
5
(Excellent)
unmeasurable
(Excellent)
8108
(Poor)
2.23
4.36
(Average)
8.02
(Poor)
OnePlus X 298
(Poor)
1
(Excellent)
unmeasurable
(Excellent)
8816
(Poor)
2
7.9
(Average)
8.12
(Poor)
View all

The numbers below represent the amount of deviation in the respective property, observed when a display is viewed from a 45-degree angle as opposed to direct viewing.

Maximum brightness Lower is better Minimum brightness Lower is better Contrast Lower is better Color temperature Lower is better Gamma Lower is better Delta E rgbcmy Lower is better Delta E grayscale Lower is better
HTC One A9 48.4%
45.5%
unmeasurable
12.9%
1%
44.6%
110%
OnePlus X 66.4%
0%
unmeasurable
35.2%
0%
37.8%
60.8%
ZTE Axon Mini 66.5%
80%
unmeasurable
8.5%
0.9%
21.8%
51.2%
ZTE Axon Pro 85.4%
0%
84.1%
14.3%
7.6%
12.6%
34.6%
View all

The CIE 1931 xy color gamut chart represents the set (area) of colors that a display can reproduce, with the sRGB colorspace (the highlighted triangle) serving as reference. The chart also provides a visual representation of a display's color accuracy. The small squares across the boundaries of the triangle are the reference points for the various colors, while the small dots are the actual measurements. Ideally, each dot should be positioned on top of its respective square. The 'x: CIE31' and 'y: CIE31' values in the table below the chart indicate the position of each measurement on the chart. 'Y' shows the luminance (in nits) of each measured color, while 'Target Y' is the desired luminance level for that color. Finally, 'ΔE 2000' is the Delta E value of the measured color. Delta E values of below 2 are ideal.

This measurements are made using SpectraCal's CalMAN calibration software.

The Color accuracy chart gives an idea of how close a display's measured colors are to their referential values. The first line holds the measured (actual) colors, while the second line holds the reference (target) colors. The closer the actual colors are to the target ones, the better.

This measurements are made using SpectraCal's CalMAN calibration software.

The Grayscale accuracy chart shows whether a display has a correct white balance (balance between red, green and blue) across different levels of grey (from dark to bright). The closer the Actual colors are to the Target ones, the better.

This measurements are made using SpectraCal's CalMAN calibration software.

View all

Interface and functionality

MiFavor is a letdown

There’s no way around it – we really dislike the MiFavor interface, both in look and function. The interface offers 4 different icon packs right from the box, but we found the pictures to be bland and confusing, making it hard for us to quickly find the apps we are looking for. 3rd party app icons get put inside frames, styled accordingly to the current icon pack of choice. Said frames, however, come up with a random color, or covered in black and grey stripes. These change by themselves all the time for no apparent reason.

In terms of operation, the interface is laggy. There are a lot of unpleasant tear-ups, most prominent when unlocking the phone, and an ever-present delay in response to user input, which is most noticeable when typing on the keyboard. The phone’s fingerprint reader often takes quite a while to react. If the reading was wrong (and it often is), the user needs to lift their finger and place it again, often resulting in another awkwardly long wait time before we know whether the unlock attempt was successful or not.

The Axon Mini’s Force Touch works pretty similar to how 3D Touch on the iPhone 6s functions, at least in theory. Certain stock app icons will show a contextual menu when they are pressed on, the gallery will give you a larger view of a picture, and scrolling through fullscreen pictures or fast-forwarding through videos can be done by pressing on one of the display’s sides. There’s no Force Touch functionality inside the stock email app, however. As far as the actual usability of the feature – we have to say, it feels very unnatural, due to a combination of the aforementioned lag and the vibrational feedback the _phone_ gives off when it registers a press. It just feels, pardon the pun, forced – as if we are battling with the device to squeeze out that contextual menu. One can certainly learn to use it, however, and we found it to be most useful when we want to start the camera app with a certain mode engaged (emergency selfie!).

Keeping up with modern trends, the MiFavor interface has a MiAssistant guard app, which gives the user control over app permissions, junk and antivirus scanners, and keeps rogue processes at bay. It’s a well-made piece of software, which actually has a working whitelist and we had no issue setting it up so that our chat notifications would always come on time, while unneeded apps’ processes would be decimated and not waste any precious battery.

There is also something to be said about the Axon Mini’s settings menu. It is divided in two tabs – “Common”, which houses the sub-menus that one is most often to look for on an Android handset, and “All”, which is home to most of the phone’s settings arranged in a rather garbled and confusing manner. We said “most” for a reason — for example, you can’t change the homescreen’s wallpaper from anywhere in Settings. This can only be changed from a context menu, which can be found next to the software navigation buttons when the user is viewing a home screen. The lock screen is changed in a similar manner – one needs to be looking at the actual lock screen, which has a pull-up menu from the bottom. Keeping in tone with the overall feel of the MiFavor UI, this is just irrational, and we have to admit – we had some trouble finding out how to change the pictures on the lockscreen.

The interface also features an abundance of unlocking methods – iris-scanning via the frontal camera, voice unlock, fingerprint sensor, and the usual PIN or password choices. The first two are the most clunky and unreliable – it just feels as if ZTE threw a lot of features in there, but perfected none.

System performance


The ZTE Axon Mini is equipped with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 616 SoC and 3 GB of RAM. Playing graphic-intensive games on the device can be accompanied by a frame-drop, so trimming out the extra details from the games’ settings, if possible, is often desirable. Commendably, the _phone_ didn’t get hot when playing demanding games, such as Godfire or Hitman: Sniper, and were able to squeeze out solid and pleasureful play sessions with it as a gaming device.

The Axon Mini’s internal storage is 32 GB, with 24.5 GB actually available to the user. That’s more than enough storage for the non-demanding user, but if it runs out – there’s a microSD card slot for expansion of up to 128 extra GB.

Performance benchmarks

AnTuTu
Higher is better
ZTE Axon Pro 53535
HTC One A9 40632
OnePlus X 40173
ZTE Axon Mini 36300
Vellamo Metal
Higher is better
ZTE Axon Pro 2136
HTC One A9 1078
OnePlus X 1542
ZTE Axon Mini 1199.66
Vellamo Browser
Higher is better
ZTE Axon Pro 3533
HTC One A9 2331
OnePlus X 2661
ZTE Axon Mini 2268
Sunspider
Lower is better
ZTE Axon Pro 1018.9
HTC One A9 1712
OnePlus X 1285.5
ZTE Axon Mini 1412.8
GFXBench T-Rex HD on-screen
Higher is better
ZTE Axon Pro 36
HTC One A9 16
OnePlus X 23
ZTE Axon Mini 15
GFXBench Manhattan on-screen
Higher is better
ZTE Axon Pro 15
HTC One A9 6.6
OnePlus X 10
ZTE Axon Mini 6.1
Basemark OS II
Higher is better
ZTE Axon Pro 1351
HTC One A9 957
OnePlus X 1185.66
ZTE Axon Mini 888.33
Geekbench 3 single-core
Higher is better
ZTE Axon Pro 761
HTC One A9 738
OnePlus X 910.33
ZTE Axon Mini 709.3
Geekbench 3 multi-core
Higher is better
ZTE Axon Pro 3204
HTC One A9 3063
OnePlus X 2415.33
ZTE Axon Mini 3122.6
View all

Internet and connectivity


The Axon Mini supports high-speed 4G LTE over bands 1, 3, 7, 8, 12, 17, 20, some of which are covered by AT&T and T-Mobile, but only in limited regions.

The phone’s stock browser is not among the best, as it didn’t work well with heavy websites, but we encountered no issues working with Chrome. Using Google’s browser, the Axon Mini is a pretty stable and reliable Internet-browsing device. The screen’s crispness naturally lends itself well to text-heavy content, while the 5.2-inch display makes it easy to navigate big websites.

Other connectivity includes Bluetooth 4.0 and, naturally, Wi-Fi 802.11 b, g, n, n 5GHz, ac.


Camera

Needs light

The Axon Mini’s 13 MP main camera produces grainy shots with accurate, albeit slightly washed-out colors most of the time. Looking at a 100% crop of a picture taken with the phone reveals a lot of sharp-looking noise. The camera also struggles quite a bit when there is the slightest hint of dynamics in a scene. Try to get a shot that contains both sunlit objects and natural shadows, and you will get burned highlights to the point that the objects become invisible, or very dark shadows. So, an even lighting is required whenever you are trying to take a photo. As a result of all of this, the pictures often end up being overly dark, bland, or lifeless.


The phone’s HDR mode is capable of making dynamic shots better. Sometimes, it will look fake or filterish (samples 10 HDR and 22 HDR), while at other times it will end up looking just right against all odds (samples 8 HDR, 12 HDR, 16 HDR). It’s a bit slow to process a photo and it can produce some blurry images, so steady hands are required!

During nighttime, however, it seems nothing can be done to battle the blurs. When the surroundings get dark, the camera struggles with maintaining focus, while long shutter speeds result in messy photos.

An elaborate Manual mode is available, offering controls for shutter speed, ISO, fine-tuning the white balance, and exposure compensation. In terms of options available, it’s on-par with the best Manual modes out there, and we like the fact that the camera reacts instantly to us manipulating the sliders — we’ve seen some more expensive devices show a delay when we try to set the manual focus, for example. The only beef we have with this mode is that its settings are a bit tough to access, requiring a precise tap on a small button, and then the fact that the sliders take up more than half of the viewfinder.

There’s also a Panorama mode, which takes 360-degree panoramas with pretty good stitching, but some visible blurring; a document-shooting mode, capable of straightening our shots of papers and whiteboards, which you’ve done at an angle; and your run-of-the-mill filters and beauty modes.

The selfie camera is an 8 MP snapper and produces ok-ish images. There is a lot of grain to be seen when zoomed and, when the lighting is unfavorable, digital noise is easily seen. You won’t be taking the perfect selfie with this one, but for the most part – the details are good enough for a selfie enthusiast’s social media sharing needs.

Clips taken with the Axon Mini’s camera suffer from the same issues with high-contrast scenes that the pictures do. That aside, the videos are nicely detailed, show accurate, lively colors, and the continuous autofocus works great – it’s quick and on point.


Camera speed

Taking a pic (sec)Lower is better Taking an HDR pic (sec)Lower is better CamSpeed score Higher is better CamSpeed score with flash Higher is better
OnePlus X 2
3.2
711
543
ZTE Axon Pro 2.4
No data
534
423
ZTE Axon Mini 3
5.7
661
577
HTC One A9 3.1
No data
662
459
View all

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Multimedia


The AMOLED screen on the Axon Mini lends itself well for picture and clip viewing. It’s nicely detailed, shows contrasts well, and has the capability to overblow and oversaturate colors, if that’s what you desire. We had no trouble doing our daily YouTube channel surfing with it.

The Axon Mini’s loudspeaker is not particularly deep or clean, but manages to produce a somewhat passable sound picture. It will rarely distort at loud volumes. It's also a bit weak.

Audio output

Headphones output power (Volts)
Higher is better
HTC One A9 0.928
ZTE Axon Pro 0.583
OnePlus X 0.44
ZTE Axon Mini 0.27
Loudspeaker loudness (dB)
Higher is better
HTC One A9 72.3
ZTE Axon Pro 80.3
OnePlus X 73
ZTE Axon Mini 69
View all

Call Quality


ZTE Axon Mini review
One needs to get used to the offset earpiece hidden beneath the phone’s top grille when positioning the Axon Mini against their ear. Once that’s taken care of, the user is treated to a clear, detailed, and loud sound – a pretty solid in-call experience overall.

The other party in our calls was also able to get our voice loud and clear, without issue understanding us, even when we were walking the busy streets.

Battery life

Beyond a full day

ZTE Axon Mini review
As we mentioned earlier, the Axon Mini features a MiAssistant app, which will kill apps when the phone is sleeping – something like Sony’s Stamina Mode, but not as elaborate. As a result, the handset takes care of any unwanted battery drains, and we found it to have a remarkable standby time. During our time with the phone, we never felt paranoid about running out of juice and we often spent a day and a half without recharging (when only using it casually).

On our battery test, the device lasted for about 7 hours, which goes to show that even if you spend most of the day with the Axon Mini in hand, you will still be able to get quite a bit of use from it before having it die out on you.

Battery Benchmarks

Battery life (hours)
Higher is better
ZTE Axon Mini 7h 15 min (Good)
ZTE Axon Pro 6h 15 min (Average)
HTC One A9 6h 3 min (Average)
OnePlus X 5h 57 min (Average)
View all

Conclusion


As mentioned, the Axon Mini isn't sold in the USA. You can still buy it from 3rd party websites for around $400 before tax and shipping, but be sure to check what cellular bands the model you are buying supports.

If you’ve felt that we’ve been too critical of the smartphone thus far – it is this price point that caused us to be. Well, that and the fact that we really liked the vanilla Android-toting Axon Pro. The Mini packs a lot of tech, impressive on paper but not so much in real life. Force Touch – great, but unresponsive and unnatural-feeling; fingerprint scanner – awesome, but not quick or reliable; iris scanner and voice unlock – clunky and impractical; 13 MP camera sounds great, but performs worse than some cheaper handsets we’ve reviewed. It feels more like a tech fan’s toy than an actual, fleshed out upper-midrange smartphone.

All that aside, it does look and feel good in the hand, it’s compact and ergonomic, has good call quality, and even some nice ideas throughout its custom Android skin. But not one of these ideas strikes us as completed and perfected. Rather, the MiFavor interface is, at this point, so undercooked that it left a bad taste in our mouths.

In other words – go for the Axon ($330), or Axon Pro ($400), both of which are sold in the US. If you want to test an Android smartphone with Force Touch just out of curiosity, this is not the one to sate that hunger. post from sitemap