The ZTE Axon 30 Ultra is a seriously powerful smartphone for its price. At only $749, it still provides the latest Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 processor, a big 6.67-inch AMOLED screen with a 144Hz refresh rate, a long-lasting 4,600mAh battery, and a quad-lens rear camera. It’s a phone to take seriously if you’re in the market for a new Android phone, even if the lack of 5G support (in the United States) and wireless charging is less than ideal. But it isn’t the only impressive smartphone in its price bracket, and top of the list of its rivals must surely be the Google Pixel 5, which for $699 gives you one of the best cameras around, as well as great software, decent performance, a sharp OLED screen, and an endurable battery.
So which one is best? To answer this question, we put the ZTE Axon 30 Ultra and Pixel 5 through their paces, weighing them up in a head-to-head comparison test. We examine their specs, designs, displays, performance, cameras, and special features, putting all of these areas together to find out which is the better reasonably priced Android overall.
|Google Pixel 5||ZTE Axon 30 Ultra|
|Size||144.7 x 70.4 x 8 mm (5.70 x 2.77 x 0.31 inches)||161.5 x 73 x 8mm (6.36 x 2.87 x 0.31 inches)|
|Weight||151 grams (5.33 ounces)||188 grams (6.63 ounces)|
|Screen size||6.0-inch OLED||6.67-inch AMOLED|
|Screen resolution||2340 x 1080 pixels (432 pixels per inch)||2400 x 1080 pixels (395 pixels per inch)|
|Operating system||Android 11||Android 11 (MyOS 11)|
|Storage||128GB||128GB, 256GB, 1TB|
|MicroSD card slot||No||No|
|Tap-to-pay services||Google Pay||None|
|Processor||Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G||Qualcomm Snapdragon 888|
|RAM||8GB||8GB, 12GB, 16GB|
|Camera||Dual lens 12.2-megapixel wide and 16MP ultrawide rear, 8MP front||Quad lens 64MP standard, 64MP wide, 64MP ultrawide and 8MP periscope telephoto rear, 16MP front|
|Video||4K at up to 60 fps, 1080p at 240 fps||8K at 30fps, 4K at up to 60 fps, 1080p at 30fps|
|Bluetooth version||Bluetooth 5.0||Bluetooth 5.2|
|Ports||USB C (3.1)||USB C (3.1)|
|Fingerprint sensor||Yes, rear-mounted||Yes, in-display|
|Water resistance||IP68||No IP rating|
Fast charging 18W
Qi wireless charging 12W
Reverse charging 5W
Fast charging 65W
|App marketplace||Google Play||Google Play|
|Network support||All major carriers||T-Mobile and AT&T|
|Colors||Just Black, Sorta Sage||Black, white, blue, light brown|
|Review score||4 out of 5 stars||3 out of 5 stars|
Design, display, and durability
The ZTE Axon 30 Ultra is an attractive if not attention-grabbing smartphone. It sports an edge-to-edge display with a punch-hole selfie camera at the top, as well edges that curve down toward the phone’s sides. It also features an aluminum frame and a Gorilla Glass 5 rear, which looks glossy enough but is spoiled slightly by the ungainly rear camera module in the top-right corner.
To be fair, it’s about as good-looking as the Pixel 5, another nice smartphone that won’t bowl you over with its aesthetics. As with the ZTE, the Pixel 5 has an inviting edge-to-edge display, yet the overall design is pretty unadventurous and standard, at least compared to devices being put out by Samsung, for instance.
However, the ZTE Axon 30 Ultra packs a very impressive 6.67-inch AMOLED display, a resolution of 2400 x 1080 pixels (395 pixels per inch). This is enhanced further by support for a whopping 144Hz refresh rate, making video and other media run with incredible smoothness. Even with a 90Hz refresh rate and a 6.0-inch OLED display, this is something the Pixel 5 can’t match.
One thing the Pixel 5 can do, on the other hand, is provide an IP68 rating, indicating that it can survive immersion in up to 1.5 meters of water for as many as 30 minutes. The ZTE provides no official IP rating at all, so we’re liable to think that Google’s device will be at least a little more durable, a view supported by the fact it has an aluminum (instead of glass) rear.
This superior durability cancels out the ZTE’s more eye-catching display, so this opening round is a tie.
Performance, battery life, and charging
The ZTE Axon 30 Ultra runs on the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 chip, which uses 5nm (nanometer) transistors to offer superior performance to the previous generation of processors (which mostly used 7nm — or bigger — alternatives). It also uses at least 8GB of RAM, rendering it capable of handling every popular game or app doing the rounds right now. Unfortunately, the same can’t quite be said for the Pixel 5, although it does serve users well for the vast majority of purposes. It houses the Snapdragon 765G (7nm), which is fast enough, but may suffer a little slowdown if you’re running several apps at once or playing the most intensive games.
Both phones ship with 128GB of internal memory as standard, although the ZTE Axon 30 Ultra offers models with 256GB or even 1TB of storage, with the Pixel 5 sticking with only one model. Neither phone comes with a MicroSD card slot, so you’ll need to make do with internal storage (or the cloud).
As for the battery, things are fairly close, although the ZTE Axon 30 Ultra just about beats the Pixel. Its 4,600mAh will comfortably last a full day under heavy use, with some battery left for the next morning. The same more or less goes for the Pixel 5, which has an ample 4,080mAh battery, but will have a little less power remaining at the end of a busy day.
The ZTE also boasts fast charging at 65W, letting you recharge in around an hour. The Pixel 5 only recharges at a maximum of 18W, but unlike ZTE’s phone, it also supports wireless and reverse charging. Still, with faster performance and a slightly more generous battery, this round goes to the Axon.
Winner: ZTE Axon 30 Ultra
The ZTE Axon 30 Ultra promises plenty of camera for your money. It has a quad-lens setup, featuring a 64-megapixel standard lens, a 64MP wide lens, a 64MP ultrawide lens, and an 8MP periscope telephoto lens. The Pixel 5, on the other hand, makes do with only a dual-lens rear camera, comprising a 12.2MP wide and a 16MP ultrawide lens.
Of course, impressive camera hardware doesn’t always result in impressive photos, and the ZTE Axon 30 Ultra is a very clear example of this. Our review found that it can be frustratingly inconsistent, with some photos being just too imbalanced in terms of darkness and saturation. By contrast, the Pixel 5 is one of the best camera phones you can buy right now, with Google’s software making the very best of the relatively modest hardware at its disposal. Shots are almost always clear and dynamic, with even novice photographers able to take highly usable snaps by simply pointing the phone and tapping.
Unlike the Pixel, the ZTE does let you capture 8K video at 30 frames per second. That said, it’s a marginal feature that will be valuable only to people with an 8K TV (if at all), while Google’s phone has a noticeably better camera overall.
Winner: Google Pixel 5
Software and updates
The ZTE Axon 30 Ultra runs on Android 11 treated with ZTE’s own MyOS 11. Its enhancement of the basic Android experience is largely superficial, adding different icon shapes and colors and a different layout for quick settings, among other cosmetic flourishes. While it largely offers a seamless experience, it does suffer from one or two bugs, such as receiving messages only when the phone is unlocked, and not muting the camera shutter in silent mode.
One more serious issue affecting the Axon is that ZTE has confirmed only one update, to Android 12. After this, the future of the phone (as far as its OS is concerned) is uncertain. This isn’t an issue that will impinge on the Pixel 5, which, being a Google phone, will receive updates speedily and for the longest possible time.
Winner: Google Pixel 5
The Pixel 5 is a fully-fledged 5G phone, supporting the faster mmWave band, as well as the longer-range sub-6Hz band. This gives it plenty of future-proofing for the time when 5G networks are widespread throughout the United States and much of the rest of the world. This isn’t entirely the case for the ZTE Axon 30 Ultra, which despite being advertised as a 5G phone won’t support 5G in the United States. In actual fact, it will connect to one 5G band with T-Mobile, but that’s it, so its connection options are very limited, effectively making it a 4G-only device.
Neither phone has any other notable special feature beyond 5G support (or a lack thereof). The Pixel 5 does offer several Google-only software features, such as the artificial intelligence-based Call Screening services (which flags spam), as well as Smart Reply (for in-app messages) and Google Duo video calling.
The ZTE doesn’t offer any bells or whistles, so this round goes to the Pixel.
Winner: Google Pixel 5
Price and availability
The ZTE Axon 30 Ultra begins from $749 (for the version with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of memory), and jumps to $849 for the model with 12GB of RAM and 256GB of storage. It’s supported by T-Mobile and AT&T, and can be bought from ZTE, or select online retailers.
The Pixel 5 is priced at $699 (there’s only one model — with 128GB of storage — available), although you can now find it for a little less than this price at certain retailers, if you’re lucky. It’s supported by all major carriers, and sold widely online.
Overall winner: Google Pixel 5
The ZTE Axon 30 Ultra is good, but the Google Pixel 5 is better overall. The main difference is the camera, which in the Pixel’s case is one of the best you can buy on any phone, whereas the ZTE’s may occasionally frustrate. Other than this, the Pixel offers better software with some more useful special features, more frequent updates, and full support for 5G. It isn’t quite as fast as the Axon 30 Ultra, but it’s fast enough, while its 4,080mAh battery will also keep you going between charges.
Nonetheless, the ZTE Axon 30 Ultra is a very good phone. It may be preferable if you want the best possible display, with its 144Hz refresh rate sure to impress many an onlooker. If you want the best possible camera, however, go for the Pixel.