For 5 months I’ve been using the ZTE Axon as my primary phone and though this device has a bunch of positives going for it, the overall experience has been anything but. I almost didn’t want to write this post because of how frustrated and disappointed I am with this device currently but decided that it needs to be written/said so with apologies in advance to ZTE here we go.
When I went to the launch event for the ZTE Axon I remember distinctly how big of a deal they made about the time they put into the development of this device. They made clear that they had looked into what the consumer in the North American markets wanted out of a mobile device and that ZTE had done everything possible to meet the demands of the consumer. After using the phone for 5 months, I find it somewhat hard to believe they spent as much time as they claimed they did because often the user experience on the ZTE Axon is downright horrendous.
Bundled Keyboard TouchPal: Full of Spam
First I’m going to start with one of the biggest offenders in the terrible user experience category; ZTE’s choice of bundled keyboard, TouchPal. I don’t care what the ratings are for it in the Google Play because those are probably from people who downloaded it of their own accord. To me, the keyboard is downright spammy and an insult to consumers who don’t want core apps to be freemium versions with ads and attempts at taking over elements of your device without permission.
The pre-release version of the ZTE Axon which I received included a version of TouchPal which would pop up ADVERTISEMENTS on top of the keyboard. Literal scrolling ads taking up my precious screen real estate from a keyboard which was forced on me in the first place is not OK. When I called ZTE and TouchPal out about it on Twitter, ZTE apologized profusely and said it must have been a mistaken inclusion in the pre-release version of the software on the pre-release device and they replaced it for a new, post-release ZTE Axon. TouchPal, on the other hand, tried to justify their inclusion of ads by saying that they had to make money somehow. (No, seriously, check out the screenshot below.)
While I wholeheartedly agree that app developers deserve to make money for their hard work, if a manufacturer is forcing an app on me – especially a core app like a default keyboard! – it is not OK to force users to have a freemium version on their devices. I wouldn’t even be mentioning this because it was only supposed to have happened on the pre-release version. Unfortunately, TouchPal was not quite finished with me.
At random intervals, TouchPal would decide to inform me that I totally needed to be aware of this brand new font that they had launched or of some special new theme they now had. I mostly ignored these minor annoyances until one morning I couldn’t figure out how to shut off my alarm because…
…TouchPal had auto-updated and had decided it’d be fun if it took over my lock screen with ads and some measurement of how many words I had typed that day versus other users of their keyboard globally. This happened even though I had switched my phone over to Google Keyboard and hadn’t used TouchPal in months. I groggily could not figure out how to properly hit the snooze button because I had never seen this screen before in my life and got really, really annoyed. I have since totally disabled TouchPal on my phone since apparently not using it isn’t enough.
Lesson here for manufacturers: If you are going to be bundling third party apps which are core to the user experience on your devices you had better make very sure it is software which provides a stupendous user experience.
The next disappointment on the ZTE Axon was the camera. Despite being told at the launch event that they recognized how important it was for the phone to be able to capture loud audio clearly, be able to capture great images in low light, and that the camera should capture images quickly, they did not deliver on any of these promises. If you’re using the camera in the right situation, then yes, it will take some really glorious photos. But if you’re not using it in an ideal situation (which is probably 60% of the time) your pictures aren’t going to look that great. I decided to test the ZTE Axon one night against an HTC One M8 and an LG G4 when I was in CityPlace Toronto looking east towards the CN Tower, below are the results:
Super specialized camera settings also mean other apps (specifically I have noticed this in Snapchat) have trouble using the camera. This is because the ZTE Axon’s camera app allows you to easily up the light the camera allows you to brighten up the photo before you take it. The problem is an app like Snapchat just uses the default settings for the camera so the auto-focus always ends up super, duper dark in a low light environment without any way of turning the brightness up.
Further, if you’re trying to record video in a loud environment, the phone does not deliver on its promise to capture it clearly unless there is next to no bass in that music. Recording video at a concert or in a club and the audio will sound terrible…so terrible that it won’t even be recognizable as music and just sound like static. (I know this because I’ve gotten quite a bit of feedback on my Snapchats!)
Design Decisions Make ZTE Axon A Right Handed Phone
If you look at the above picture you will probably notice that most of the holes in the top of the phone are just there for show and only a few of the ones on the right hand side of it have a speaker behind them. The microphone on the bottom of the Axon is on the far left side. This means that if you hold the phone in your left hand the speaker will not line up with your ear unless you hold the phone so it is basically hanging off the side of your head. This in turn makes it so the microphone won’t properly line up with your mouth because it is basically at the side of your neck so you have to hold the Axon extremely awkwardly in order to use it when you put it in your left hand. You basically have to hold the phone completely horizontally with your arm and elbow raised above what’s comfortable and normal.
This may seem irrelevant to all you righties out there but remember that when we righties are on the phone and need to write down some information or use our mouse to click on something on our computers we need to use our right hands. Unless you put the phone on speaker, you’re going to switch it into your left hand and then no one will be able to hear you and you won’t be able to hear anyone until you adjust to the awkward pose the ZTE Axon requires for left-handed use.
Headset Problems While On Calls
This may just be a problem with the review unit I was given by ZTE but I have noticed that very often when I have the JBL headphone accessory that came with the ZTE Axon plugged in during a call at one point or another it’s microphone will simply cease working. I will then have to unplug the headset and switch to speakerphone or regular handset mode in order to continue my conversation. This can be annoying, to say the least.
Although ZTE claimed they spent a lot of time researching what users in this market want out of their devices they dropped the ball so many times that I find that hard to believe. Yes, I am a power user and yes, I am aware the ZTE Axon is supposed to be a mid-range device but that does not excuse things like the horribleness of TouchPal and the ridiculous contortions one has to go into in order to use the phone in their left hand. As cellphone and mobile technology has advanced over the years and the population has become more and more versed with technology we have come to expect more from our devices. If this is what ZTE is selling as a mid-range device, I would be scared to see what they consider low end. ZTE, you’re going to have to significantly step up your game on the next outing if you hope to make a dent in the North American market.
The ZTE Axon is available from Fido for $0 with 2-year Tab24 agreement on a Smart plan here
I love the BlackBerry PlayBook I won in the #PlayBookCHI contest. I love using it to read my Google Reader RSS feeds; watch TV, movies, and other media in HD; and browse the web. I love how it is small enough to fit inside most winter coat pockets and barely weighs much when I throw it in a messenger bag yet it is still big enough to have a screen on which I can fully enjoy watching media. However, there is one big problem that I find as a user of the PlayBook – the app ecosystem. The PlayBook app ecosystem – or number of apps available for the PlayBook – is still quite low.
According to a CrackBerry forum discussion here there were 2,653 PlayBook apps available in the BlackBerry App World catalog as of June 22, 2011. While that number DOES keep growing every day, in order for RIM (Research In Motion) to really make their offering attractive to consumers they have to step up their game in pushing the creation and release of apps for the PlayBook. Read more…
Yesterday, I saw that Social Times did a quick review of an app called Tweetcaster Pro for Android which was available for free (usually it is $4.99) via the Amazon Appstore. It seems that every day the Amazon Appstore offers a people who use their Appstore – which is different from the Android Market. That’s really awesome, in my opinion, that is until I ran into a roadblock. This was a roadblock I have seen from other non-major app stores before too; they ask for my credit card info before they’ll allow me to check out and download the app.
Why, pray tell, do you need my credit card number and information for a free app Mr. App Store owner? Again, this is not something which is specific to Amazon’s app store it is just their store where I most recently encountered this issue. In my opinion if you are going to offer a deal such as this get the mechanics of it right. Offer people who “buy” the free app a coupon code, for example, this way when it comes time to put payment information in for checkout we have something to enter that doesn’t require us giving you personal info you wouldn’t be otherwise entitled to for a free item.
This is just my $0.02 on the matter, maybe some of you out there disagree with me but I think most would agree. Feel free and encouraged to weigh in I’m the comments.
Going To Be Trying Out Android OS Soon – Forcing Myself To Use It To Really Get Acclimated – The Journey Begins Soon
Before my switch to BlackBerry I had a long term love affair with Symbian devices made by Nokia using the s60 (or Series 60) interface starting with my first one, the Nokia 3650 in 2003. Over the next 6 years I, in order of usage (as a primary phone for an extended period of time), used the:
- Nokia E51
- Nokia E61
- Nokia E61i
- Nokia E62
- Nokia E71
- Nokia N-Gage QD.
Finally, I switched to BlackBerry after Nokia made it clear through a lack of communication with their customers in North America that they didn’t care about us and refused to issue regular updates and support like the rest of their markets received. That, coupled with the fact that it seemed like no new innovations were happening with Nokia devices, no major software providers were formatting their mobile software for s60, the terrible way Nokia’s s60 handled email, and the so-so web browsing experience (for the time) made me leave Nokia and get my first BlackBerry – the BlackBerry Bold 9000.
I have since used for an extended period of time the Bold 9000, the Bold 9700, and the Torch 9800, the last one which I won from RIM’s BlackBerryScene Twitter account and wrote about here and am pictured celebrating on the left.
I love my BlackBerry Torch, don’t get me wrong. There is no such thing as a perfect phone, in my opinion, and there never will be. No phone has it all and no phone can do the job for every consumer – and I would be surprised if this ever changed but smarter people with more knowledge on their respective subjects than I have on this subject have been proven very wrong when making big statements like that so I hesitate to do so.
HOWEVER, do not take this as a sign that I am leaving what is referred to on Twitter as “Team BlackBerry” with the hashtag #TeamBlackBerry. In my capacity writing for a different blog, one that is a major Canadian cellular blog – I think a lot of you know which one but as far as I can recall I have never openly stated it on here so I won’t now either – my editor wants me to start reviewing Android devices so he wants me to get acquainted with the OS a lot better than I already am.