ZTE's chunky new device looks out of place in 2017, but it's the most intriguing phone of the year.

(IBexTech) - In a year of great smartphones, ZTE's new Axon M would seem to stand out, but not in a good way. Rival devices such as Samsung's Galaxy Note 8, the OnePlus 5T, and Apple's iPhone X are beautiful and sleek, have powerful processors, are made with premium materials, and include advanced features and cameras.

By contrast, the Axon M is chunky, heavy, and kind of slow. But looks — and even speed — aren't everything. The Axon M is actually a compelling device, in part because a unique feature: it's built around two fully functional screens that are joined together on a hinge. The phone is a thing of wonder. The Axon M doesn't look like a phone from 2017.

ZTE's device is thick, heavy, and has huge borders around both its displays. Compared to svelte and sleek phones such as the OnePlus 5T, Samsung's Galaxy Note 8, and the Essential Phone, it looks like a brick. The Axon M's blocky design is similar to that of the Razer Phone, but even that phone is sleeker than ZTE's new gadget. But it's got a unique feature in it's second screen. The hinge feels sturdy and when you close the second screen it makes a satisfying click. The second screen can be used in various ways. You can activate a dual-screen mode on the phone by pressing a button at the bottom of the Axon M's display. It's located next to the standard three Android buttons. The phone's basic dual-screen mode makes it look and feel like a small tablet. The phone's basic dual-screen mode makes it look and feel like a small tablet. Apps can use both screens to display information. One drawback: The dividing line between the two screens can get in the way of text and images. Videos and games can take advantage of the dual-screen feature The feature is a mixed blessing for such uses. It's great to have more room to display videos and games. But the border between the screens can get in the way. The Axon M's dual-screen mode really shines when you turn the phone on its side. If you rotate the Axon M 90 degrees while watching YouTube in dual-screen mode, you'll be able to watch a video on the top screen while seeing the information and comments about the video on the bottom screen. You can also use the Axon M's dual displays to show two apps simultaneously.

This capability is incredibly useful — it's the epitome of smartphone multitasking. I was able to use the feature to browse for articles in Chrome on one screen while using Google Maps on the other screen. The drawback of this capability is that the Axon M doesn't always seem up to the task of displaying two apps at once. In dual-screen mode, it feels sluggish, especially compared to other recent smartphones which have more powerful processors than its Qualcomm Snapdragon 821.

This phone can display two apps at once even when turned on its side. During my long commutes, I've frequently wanted to be able to browse the web or check my social media accounts at the same time that I'm watching a YouTube video. The Axon M allows me to do just that; the experience is like having two phones. There's a serious case to be made for a phone with two screens. As smartphones have become the dominant form of computers, there's been a growing desire for them to be able to do what any PC can — allow users to easily interact with more than one app at once. Various companies have experimented with different multitasking solutions. Some have introduced picture-in-picture modes that let users watch videos in tiny windows layered on top of other apps. Others have offered split-screen modes that divide a smartphone screen between two apps. Neither has been ideal, because they force the apps to shrink to the point where its difficult to interact with them. The Axon M's dual screens potentially offer a much better solution.

With that said, I have yet to fully test and review the Axon M. But its design alone will likely give many consumers pause, because it isn't the most svelte or sleek of devices. Others might be turned off by its price — $725 — and the fact that it's exclusive to AT&T.