Daydream-ready Virtual Reality on the Cheap: The ZTE Axon 7

At the Dark Android Project, I’ve talked about the coming advancements in Android-based VR for some time. And during my full review on my tech podcast, Sovryn Tech, I discussed how at Google I/O 2016 that the company now has a new platform for Virtual Reality that they will be baking right into the Android operating system itself, called “Daydream”.

SIDE NOTE: Interestingly, this push is very similar to Microsoft’s recently announced “Windows Holographic”, which is a push to bake “Mixed Reality” (apparently a combination of the ability to present Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality) right into Windows 10. Alphabet/Google is doing the same thing, they’re just doing it with Android.

As described at Google I/O, though, Daydream will not work on any Android phone. In fact, it won’t function with ANY phone that has been released to date. Having a Daydream-ready smartphone isn’t just about having the latest version of Android (Android N, in particular), but it requires various hardware functions, as well. So that fancy shmancy Galaxy S-whatever you just laid out hundreds of dollars on? Nope, it’s not going to work with the new VR hotness, that being Daydream. Sorry.

However, if you can be a little patient, the very first Daydream-ready phone is going to be released in the next month or so, and it’s coming from an unlikely manufacturer: ZTE. Specifically, the soon coming ZTE Axon 7 is the Android phone that will deliver the Daydream goods first. And at a price tag starting at $450…frankly…this is a pretty good phone.zte-axon-7-8916-008Of course, yes, it comes in the now obligatory gold (with other colors available, as well), and at least one of the models of it will be available in the US: The 64GB of storage with 4GB of RAM model. While I’d rather shell out for the much more impressive 128GB of storage and 6 GB (!) of RAM version…I’ll have to get crafty to get my hands on that one in the US (but I think it’s worth it). Let’s have a look at the rest of the specs:

  • 5.5-inch; 2,560×1,440 pixels
  • 5.98×2.95×0.34 in dimensions
  • Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow (until N is released)
  • 20-megapixel rear camera, 8-megapixel front camera
  • 2.2GHz quad-core Snapdragon 820
  • 3,000mAh (nonremovable) battery
  • Back cover fingerprint sensor
  • USB-C
  • Dual Sim; Daydream-read

It’s a good question as to whether or not any other manufacturers will even release midrange priced Daydream-ready devices at all, so the Axon 7 may be the only choice for a more selective wallet. Alphabet/Google will likely sell a Daydream-ready phone at a fair price (perhaps the Nexus 5X’s successor), and that will be great to have as a reference model, but the opportunity to get a phone with 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage is hard to pass up, and Google likely won’t offer a phone with all of that.

But what about getting that beautiful “stock” version of Android that Nexus devices always have? Well, fortunately (and interestingly), ZTE allows Axon 7 owners to switch between stock Android and their skinned version on the fly. This is a great option that more manufacturers would be wise to consider (though I realize why they don’t, pre-installed app revenues and all).

Let’s be clear, this is NOT a phone that I would recommend for a super-secure Dark Android device, but it is a phone I’d recommend if you want to be on the ground floor of what may be the future platform of Virtual Reality (whether or not a I like it), that being Google’s Android-based Daydream. As I’ve said many times on this blog and on Sovryn Tech, the Virtual Reality (or Mixed Reality, whatever) revolution is either going to happen on mobile, or it isn’t going to happen at all.

Another question is whether or not ZTE will be making their own Daydream headsets and controllers, but I don’t think that question needs answering since ZTE doesn’t really need to. An entire economy is likely going to build around Daydream, and getting third-party peripherals will be the way to go, just as it was with Google Cardboard.

So if you’re looking for a futureproof smartphone, I think the ZTE Axon 7 is definitely the first place to look, especially that international 128GB of storage and 6GB of RAM version. Wooo…as we used to say in the old days of gaming, “Now you’re playing with power!”

Carpe lucem!