ZTE is now back in business, and today at IFA it revealed its latest Axon flagship phone — which won't be coming to the US. With no Axon 8, ZTE has jumped straight up to the Axon 9 (with a superfluous "Pro" suffix). In its short keynote, the company was adamant that it was striving "once again to improve the impressive sound of Axon," and apparently the best way to do that was by removing the Axon 7's high-end analog audio/headphone jack experience. Coupled with a strangely high €649 price tag, ZTE seems to have forgotten why people liked the Axon series in the first place.


Live Video Product Launch happening right now! #ZTE #Axon9Pro #IFA2018

Posted by ZTE Device on Thursday, August 30, 2018


SoC Qualcomm Snapdragon 845.
Display 6.21" "FHD+" 1080p equivalent 18.7:9 (2248x1080) AMOLED.
Storage 128GB UFS2.1
Battery 4,000mAh, QC 4.0, wireless charging.
Rear Camera 12MP (Sony IMX 383 1.4µm pixel size) f/1.75 w/OIS,  20MP 130-degree wide-angle,  "2PD" phase-detection AF, flash.
Front Camera 20MP f/2.0.
Headphone jack NO.
Software "Nearly Stock" "Android O," precise version unspecified.
Water resistance IP68.
Dimensions 158.5 x 74.5 x 7.9 mm.

In today's announcement (which also included a teaser of ZTE's abstract plans for 5G in 2019) the company was trying to spin the Axon 9 Pro as a visual and auditory experience — where, presumably, the previous Axon 7 was all about audio. One of the ways it wants to do that is via MEMC, which is a form of motion interpolation. Apparently, when playing lower frame-rate videos, your Axon 9 Pro will have the same sort of motion interpolation that consumer televisions do. It's a polarizing feature (I absolutely hate how motion interpolation looks), but there are sure to be those that appreciate it. The display will also support HDR10 and other more common features like an artificially inflated dynamic contrast ratio and outdoor adaptive display.

Like every flagship in 2018, The Axon 9 Pro has some nice marketable AI. The AI does things: camera things, performance things. Whatever.

On paper, the ZTE 9 Pro sounds like pretty much every flagship from 2018 in the rapidly homogenizing phone market, but the company has also decided to drop the high-quality headphone jack output from the Axon 7. That decision seems to be wildly inconsistent with its desire to further improve "The Sound of Axon." Moving to USB-C will apparently result in "an amazing experience," that seems to imply ZTE didn't really understand just how popular the analog audio output quality in the Axon 7 was. It still has Dolby-tuned stereo speakers, but those hoping for the same high-end headphone jack-equipped experience will be out of luck without a dongle.

Of all the details about the Axon 9 Pro, the price makes the least sense. ZTE seems to think it can charge €649 for the Axon 9 Pro, even as similarly equipped devices like the OnePlus 6 go for €519. This is especially confusing given the Axon 7's most popular feature outside audio performance was the disruptive €449 price ($400 in the US).

Germany will be one of the first markets for the Axon 9 Pro, with other parts of Europe and Asia to follow. So far, ZTE has not announced that the phone will be coming to the US.