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ZTE Axon 30 Under Display Camera and new Axon 30 Ultra model confirmed

Luckily avoiding the fate that befell Huawei, ZTE has been left free to continue its smartphone business unobstructed and even sell some of those in the US. More than that, however, the company was even brave enough to push forward one of the holy grails in smartphone design. The ZTE Axon 20 5G’s under-display camera or UDC, however, didn’t really live up to expectations, but the company has now confirmed that a next-gen version is coming soon under the Axon 30 flagship name.

When it revealed what would be the world’s first phone with UDC last year, ZTE was quite forthcoming with the innovations it made in that arena. In contrast, it has been pretty silent this year aside from the fact that it was indeed working on a second-gen UDC when everybody thought it abandoned that venture. There has been a recent rumor that its second attempt will be arriving soon and ZTE has just confirmed and teased that it will indeed happen this year.

It simply said that a new generation of camera phones with UDC technology is coming soon and that it will bear the Axon 30 name. It also teased a render of what the phone would look like, which is unsurprisingly almost 100% screen on the front. That said, it is just a marketing render so the absence of a visible “patch” above the UDC sensor should be taken with a grain of salt.

The teaser doesn’t give an exact date for the Axon 30 5G with UDC’s announcement, but ZTE does put a timestamp on another Axon 30 variant coming this week. On July 9 at 10 AM local time, ZTE will unveil a configuration of the Axon 30 Ultra with 16GB of RAM and a whopping 1TB of storage. Details are still thin on this new model, especially its global availability, but it won’t be too long a wait to get the official word.

As for the ZTE Axon 30 5G with UDC, rumors claim it will debut on July 22. Whether it becomes available in global markets, particularly the US, is still a matter of debate. More importantly, it remains to be seen, literally, if it will indeed bring the promised improvements to the UDC technology co-developed with Visionox.

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ZTE Axon 30 with an under-display camera might launch soon

ZTE impressed the world when it announced it has the industry’s first smartphone with an under-display camera or UDC. The ZTE Axon 20 5G, unfortunately, didn’t impress reviewers when it came to that camera’s actual performance. When the company announced the Axon 30 series last April with a traditional punch-hole cutout, most presumed ZTE has given up on the technology. It turns out it may have just been biding its time to show off the hard lessons it learned from last year’s ZTE flagship.

UDCs are a sort of holy grail for smartphone makers, allowing them to push out almost all bezels without resorting to tricks like popup cameras or cutting out a part of the screen. The problem is that manufacturers will have to balance screen quality and allow light to pass through to the camera underneath. For its first attempt, the Axon 20 didn’t perform well on both accounts based on reviews.

There was a very visible square area above the camera where the screen density was noticeably lower than the surrounding area. That may have been negligible compared to the disappointing quality of photos and videos that the front under-display camera produced. It was a brave first try, and it almost seemed as if ZTE went back to the drawing board.

A new report from Chinese media now claims that isn’t the case and that the Axon 30, ZTE’s latest flagship, will have a new variant with an improved UDC. The company’s engineers have supposedly been able to figure out how to eliminate the effects of having an active screen area on top of the camera. In addition, the new module is said also to improve color reproduction, one of the biggest complaints about the ZTE Axon 20 5G’s front-facing camera.

According to the report, ZTE will announce the UDC variant of the ZTE Axon 30 this July. It will definitely be interesting how much it has improved, if at all, but it remains unknown if the company will also launch it in global markets just like it did the other Axon 30 models.

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ZTE Axon 30 Ultra 5G launches globally

Unlike Huawei, ZTE seems to be back on its feet and is even doing just fine, at least in the smartphone market. Not only is it able to sell its smartphones in the US, it even has access to components and software that Huawei can’t even touch. Proof of that is the new ZTE Axon 30 Ultra 5G, a mouthful of a flagship that just launched globally, including in the US, with high-end specs that surprisingly don’t ask much when it comes to price.

The specs sheet for ZTE’s latest flagship looks almost typical at first glance. The Snapdragon 888 and 8GB of 12GB of RAM is what you’d expect from high-end phones these days while the 6.67-inch AMOLED screen boasts of a 144Hz refresh rate despite a slightly lower FHD+ resolution. Unlike the Axon 20 5G before it, however, it opts for a more traditional punch-hole cutout.

What makes the Axon 30 Ultra 5G stand out, however, are three of the four cameras on its back. On paper, having three 64MP cameras, one of which is a Sony IMX686, sounds pretty impressive. Those three cover portrait, wide-angle, and ultra-wide-angle shots while a separate 8MP camera with a periscope-style lens handles 5x zoom shots.

That said, the phone does sound almost normal in all other aspects, especially as we have yet to see the Axon 30 Ultra 5G in real-world tests. What makes it unique from other flagships this year is the price tag it carries. At least when it comes to US dollars, ZTE is selling it for $749 for the base 8GB RAM and 128GB storage model.

The ZTE Axon 30 Ultra is now available for purchase around the world directly from the company’s online store. It comes with ZTE’s own MyOS 11 based on Android 11 and, presumably, with Google Play apps and services pre-installed in international markets.

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ZTE Axon 30 Ultra preorders kick off May 27

ZTE revealed its latest flagship device in China in April and recently offered up a preorder date and the date for the global rollout of the device. Preorders will begin for the Axon 30 Ultra on May 27, with global deliveries starting on June 4. Preorders will be accepted via the ztedevices.com website, and those who preorder will get a special extra at no cost.

That extra is a free pair of ZTE TWS earbuds. The smartphone preorder price is $749/€749/£649 for the version with eight gigabytes of RAM and 128 gigabytes of storage. A version featuring 12 gigabytes RAM with 256 gigabytes of storage sells for $849/€849/£739. The smartphone will be available in the US, Canada, most of Asia, most of Europe, and most of the Middle East.

For those unfamiliar with the Axon 30 Ultra, some of its highlights include a Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 processor, 144-hertz seamless display, Cinematic 64MP quad-camera array, NexGen Wi-Fi 6E + 5G Connectivity, a 4600 mAh battery, and support for 65 watt fast charging. The camera is one of the focal points for the smartphone.

It features an ultra-wide camera within f/2.2 aperture and a 120-degree low-distortion lens. The camera array also has an additional 64MP portrait camera with an F/1.9 aperture and 35mm focal lens length. The wide-angle camera is also 64MP resolution with a Sony IMX686 image sensor, F/1.6 aperture, and optical image stabilization. The final camera in the array is an ultra-zoom lens featuring 8MP resolution, F/1.9 aperture, 5x optical zoom with optical image stabilization, and up to 60x hybrid zoom. ZTE also integrates laser detection autofocus and the ability to record 8K video.

The display is a large 6.67-inch full HD+ AMOLED with a 20:9 aspect ratio and 360Hz touch sampling rate. The screen covers 100 percent of the DCI-P3 color gamut with a 10-bit color depth. The operating system out of the box is Android 11 with MyOS11 over the top, and the phone has dual SIM cards and an optical in-display fingerprint sensor.

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ZTE second-gen under-display camera might not fix its biggest flaw

At MWC Shanghai, ZTE flaunted its next-gen technologies for under-display imaging sensors, including its second under-display camera or UDC. It remains the only smartphone maker that can boast of a commercial product that utilizes a screen with absolutely no cutout, but the ZTE Axon 20 5G can’t really boast of producing great selfies because of it. There may have been hopes that its next UDC would address this problem but while it does get an upgrade, it doesn’t actually address its most glaring issue.

There are two main hurdles when implementing an under-display camera. The first is how to mask the hole above the camera so that the screen looks flawless when the camera is not in use. The other is its diametrical opposite and deals with how to let light through the camera despite having “normal” screen pixels on top of it.

The new ZTE UDC improves on the former by increasing the pixel density of the patch of screen above the hidden camera from 200 to 400 ppi or pixels per inch. That means that, when displaying a large block of color, that area will hardly be visible. That said, that was hardly visible anyway on the first-gen UDC.

This, unfortunately, doesn’t exactly address the issue that the ZTE Axon 20 5G’s front-facing camera produced poor images and videos. In fact, it could even make that worse because a higher pixel density suggests more pixels packed together that will let less light through. ZTE hasn’t gone into detail about the new technology, though, so we’ll have to wait for its explanation.

The company also showed off what is the industry’s first under-display 3D structured light sensor for use in face and body recognition for AR or security applications. Both this and the UDC are expected to show up on the ZTE Axon 30 Pro though the date for that phone has not yet been leaked.

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ZTE Axon 20 5G under-display camera flops in DxOMark tests

Last year, ZTE boasted about having accomplished what even the likes of Samsung still failed to do. It brought the world’s first commercially available under-display camera on a smartphone and explained how it pulled off this difficult trick. As much excitement as it generated, it also raised doubts on how it would work in practice. Early feedback was less than encouraging but perhaps the most damning comes from DxOMark’s review that almost put the ZTE Axon 20 5G at the bottom of its selfie list.

Putting a camera under an active display is no easy task, which at least justifies ZTE’s pride. Making it work, however, is one thing but making it work well is a whole different game. Unfortunately, DxOMark found very little to praise in the Axon 20 5G as far as the 32MP selfie camera is concerned apart from being an impressive party trick.

The camera’s biggest problems were in white balance and color, which actually isn’t surprising considering the technical hurdles that had to be overcome with this UDC technology. If you thought some phones produced pasty selfies, they have nothing on the color shading, color casts, and color quantization of the Axon 20 5G. Artifacts are also prominent and image quality degraded even further when the screen above the camera is actively emitting light, something that only ZTE’s camera app fixes.

Video is noted to be only a little less bad though has the same problems with color and exposure. Stable focus is the one good thing about it but that’s only because it has a fixed focus system.

With an average score of 26, the ZTE Axon 20 5G almost sinks to the bottom of DxOMark’s list for selfie tests, narrowly beating the ironically named Intex Aqua Selfie for the title of worst selfie camera. DxOMark does note that, for its price, the phone might still be good for other things, especially with its novelty. Just don’t expect much from selfies and video calls.

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Verizon’s $50 Yahoo phone is a rebranded ZTE Blade A3 with lots of pre-installed apps

No, you didn’t wake up in 1999. But the next time you take a trip to a Verizon store, you’re going to see a new phone on shelves alongside the iPhone 12 and Pixel 5 that might seem like you traveled back in time.

As part of the new Yahoo Mobile MVNO that launched back in March, Verizon is selling a new Yahoo phone for $50 with a very-90s purple back and a very-late-2000s mindset. It’s the first smartphone slapped with Yahoo’s branding and as expected, it’s loaded with Yahoo apps.

First the specs:

  • Dimensions: 137.4 x 67.5 x 10.5 mm
  • Display: 5.45-inch 720HD LCD
  • Processor: Mediatek Helio A22 MT6761
  • RAM: 2GB
  • Storage: 32GB
  • Camera: 8MP
  • Battery: 2,660mAh

So yeah, you shouldn’t expect to do much with this phone. It’s not clear how skinned the Android 10-based OS is, but Yahoo says it has “an easy-to-use interface providing a user-friendly experience.” But it also says the phone will “deliver a smooth performance and longevity,” so we should probably take that with a grain of salt.

We asked Yahoo if there were any plans to update the Yahoo phone to Android 11 but have yet to hear back.

One thing the Yahoo phone will deliver, however, is extra apps. Verizon is leaning into the Yahoo branding big time and loading up your phone with tons of apps that we assume can’t be deleted, including Yahoo Mail, Yahoo News, Yahoo Sports, Yahoo Finance, Yahoo Weather, and Yahoo Mobile.

Speaking of Yahoo Mobile, the phone is exclusive to the MVNO, which offers unlimited data on Verizon’s 4G network for $40 a month.

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