The Axon 30 Ultra 5G is a premium handset, that much is evident upon a passing glance, and the impression gets confirmed when you hold it your hand. Glass front and back, metal frame, slim bezels, curved edges - the ZTE has all the markings of a flagship.
Starting around the back, the Axon's Gorilla Glass 5 panel has a frosted anti-glare finish that comes with the usual trade-offs - it's not as prone to accumulating fingerprints, and it's even more slippery than a glossy panel.
Our review unit is in the 'Black' colorway, but in reality, you'd be getting more of shades of gray type of effect, depending on how light hits it. There's a small-ish ZTE logo in the bottom right corner, joined by a '5G' badge, so others know you've got next-gen connectivity.
Three other color variants should be available, at least in China. The Blue one looks more like mint in pictures and follows the Black in terms of design accents - or lack thereof. The White has a pearlescent effect going on, but also bold AXON branding along the left side. That same AXON is stamped on the faux leather panel of the Light Brown variant too.
The camera assembly is a pretty prominent one - it needs to be, with all those megapixels inside. There are 4 camera modules in there, a laser AF emitter/receiver pair, dual LED flash and even a mic. A '3x64MP' badge advertises the main attraction, and the lens specs are written below it. A metal lip to one side carries a Neovision Photography branding.
Our Black review unit has a matching gray finish of the camera cluster, as does the White variant. The Blue and Light Brown colorways opt for a black camera surround, making it more prominent.
The whole camera island sticks out by over 2mm, and you'd think it would make the phone wobble on a table. It sort of does, but only if you deliberately poke it on the left above the 1/3 position - point is, you can type on the keyboard without the handset rocking, if you're one to do that sort of thing.
The Axon's frame is metal, as our 'highly scientific' test in a refrigerator indicates, and it's treated to a shiny finish, most visible on the flat top and bottom ends. The usual bits and pieces are in their usual locations - USB-C port on the bottom alongside the SIM slot, main loudspeaker and mic, plus yet another mic up top.
The sides are much thinner, barely a couple of millimeters. A bit more meat on the right allows for the button cutouts - the power button is around the midpoint of the phone, the volume rocker is above it. Both controls are adequately sized and click very positively, the power button has a textured finish giving you tactile feedback. There's nothing of note on the left side.
The display used for the Axon 30 Ultra is another one of its premium touches. It features gently curved sides that end in some of the thinnest black borders on the market. The top and bottom bezels are similarly minimal, with the bottom one ever so slightly thicker.
The fingerprint reader on the Axon is of the optical under-display variety, so nothing unusual for the class. What is a bit out of the ordinary is the sensor's high placement - you could say it's in a more natural position that way, even if it may take some getting used to if you're coming from virtually any other handset.
Up top, there's a punch hole for the selfie camera, which ZTE points out is 2.6mm in diameter, though the black non-display surround makes that more like 4mm. In any case, it's hardly an eye-sore - not more than other punch holes, at least.
The earpiece is a barely visible slit where the display's Gorilla Glass 5 meets the frame. It also doubles as a speaker.
The Axon 30 Ultra 5G measures 161.5x73x8mm and weighs 188g. That puts it roughly on par with competitors like the vivo X60 Pro+, OnePlus 9/9Pro, Galaxy S21+ or Mi 11 - a couple of mm or grams here or there hardly make a difference at this point.
What could be a differentiator, on the other hand, is that the Galaxy and the OPs have IP68 ratings, while the ZTE doesn't.