meizu mx review quad 04 640x424Most people in the USA have never heard of Meizu, and that’s because it is a Chinese company that has not yet entered the U.S market. However, they have made a name for themselves abroad by launching this cute quad-core phone: the Meizu MX.

The name stands for “M10″ and it was unveiled in December of 2011, then was launched several times in 2012 in a dual-core, then quad-core version. It had people lined up in front of stores, so we were really curious to get our hands on one. For some of you, this will be your first introduction to Meizu. For others, this review will bring additional details about the Meizu MX. But all of you should pay attention: this company is rising fast.

Technical highlights

Android Ice Cream Sandwich 4.0.3 with Flyme 1.0.3
Display: 4”, 640 x 960 pixels
Dimensions: 121.3 x 63.3 x 10.3 mm, 139g (4.9 oz)
Processor: Samsung Exynos quad-core 1.4GHz, 1GB RAM (Mali-400MP GPU)
Storage: 32GB
Battery capacity: 1700 mAh
Cameras 8MP f2.0 (BSI) back, VGA front
HSDPA 850 / 900 / 1700 / 1900 / 2100 (HSPA+ on USA AT&T and T-Mobile)
Bluetooth 2.1

Context

We all use smartphones differently, so it’s important that I tell you what I do with my smartphone(s): I typically check email often with the built-in email app (via Microsoft Exchange), and reply moderately because typing on the virtual keyboard is tedious. I browse the web several times a day to check on news sites, but rarely watch movies or play music. I don’t call much – maybe 10mn a day, if at all.

On the “apps” side, I have a couple of social networks (FB, G+), a receipts manager and random apps (<20), but I rarely play games or do something super-intensive like video editing. This usage pattern will affect battery life and the perception of what features are useful. Now you know where we’re coming from…

Industrial design

meizu mx review quad 03 640x424The Meizu MX design is very cute and it’s not without reason: it is a rather “heavily” inspired by the iPhone (pre-iPhone 4), and its gentle curve in the back feels iPhone-ish as well, which is a good thing…

As an inherent property of a 4” phone, this is a device that can easily be used with a single hand. At 139g, the Meizu MX weighs about the same as an iPhone 4S. I’m comparing with these two devices because you have likely seen both, and there is little chance to see a Meizu MX in a store for now.

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Next to a Samsung Galaxy S3

The front of the phone is extremely clean and minimalist. There isn’t a Meizu or carrier logo (we have an unlocked version). I like this a lot. The ear speaker and front camera are visible at the top, and at the bottom, there a single small button that serves as the “Home” button. The unlock screen is beautiful and simple. From there you can access the Phone app, the SMS app and the Home screen.

The left side only has the Volume Controls, which are very discrete. The top hosts the 3.5mm jack and a Power Control button that protrudes enough to be easy to find and to press. This is really important because that’s the button that you typically use the most. At the bottom a micro USB port allows for charging and wired data connectivity with a computer.

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The back of the phone can be removed to access the micro-SIM tray. It is surprisingly more difficult to remove and use than most other phones, but the advantage of having a rigid back cover is that this part of the phone looks and feel much more sturdy.

Overall, the Meizu MX is very cute, and it has turned a lot of heads in Asia so far. Let us know what you think of the design in the comments.

Display

meizu mx review quad 11 640x424The display resolution of 640 x 960 matches the iPhone 4S resolution, but this is not exceptional these days. I have not heard a lot of people complain about this, so it probably definitely fine for now. The LCD display uses the ASV (Super Advanced View) which has been developed by Sharp.

The visual quality is similar to many IPS displays, and the viewing angle is just as good. Overall, I find the display to be pretty good, but it could use better contrast and brightness: when watching movies, the blacks are dark grey and the screen is more reflective than OLED alternatives. Also, at 50%, the screen is dimmer than others that I have on hand.

What’s new?

There are two things that set the Meizu MX apart from other Android phones. First, it was the first quad-core using the Samsung Exynos quad-core processor — yes, even before the Galaxy S3 came out. That makes it a very fast phone, and we’ll come back to this later.

The second thing is the Meizu Flyme interface, which is quite different as what the stock Android is. The overall idea of swype is to “simplify” things, and it may work if you don’t have a lot of apps or widgets. However, I personally found it to be a bit confusing, especially for users who are already familiar with Android.

Flyme = Meizu’s custom user interface

Basically, Flyme does not have a specific “app area” (app drawer) where all the apps icons can be seen. Instead, downloaded apps appear directly on the phone’s home pages. As you download more apps, more home screens will be automatically added.

To add Widgets, you have to go to Settings > Customize > Widgets. The choice is very small (8 widgets) but Sear and Power Control are there, so we’re talking about the bare minimum, and maybe not even that if you want a Clock widget.

If you want to switch from one app to the other, it’s also possible via a “menu” long press, which triggers the appearance of a row of apps, iOS-style. From there, you can drag and close the apps from the “Recent” list, although I don’t think that this actually closes the app.

Once you get used to Flyme, it’s OK, and there are no big issues associated to it. If anything, it is responsive, and stayed that way as we used the phone. However, it’s not really faster than a stock Android ICS, and does not add an obvious value to the user experience. While it is probably OK for a new user, experienced Android users may actually be annoyed by the change. You’ve been warned.

For those who get an Unlocked version, you should know that this is one of the rare Penta-Band handset (the GSM Galaxy Nexus is too), so it should work fine with T-Mobile’s HSPA+ network.

Killer apps

Virtual keyboard: Ironically, despite having hundreds of thousands of apps at their disposal, most users still refer to text-based communication as being the “critical” application for them. That’s why you must not underestimate the importance of a virtual keyboard. The more productive you want to be, and the more likely this element may get in the way.

The virtual keyboard is simple and looks *almost* like a stock Android keyboard (the layout is a little different). The really cool thing about it is that it is really responsive and very fast. I find it even faster than my iPhone 4S keyboard and just about as fast as the Windows Phone keyboard which remains my personal reference for responsiveness. I have a Chinese phone, so the lack of auto-complete and other dictionary-based keyboard feature may be “normal”. That also contributes to the responsiveness of the keyboard.

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Email: The email client is very clean. I really like the design and the typography. A white background will ensure that emails are as readable as possible, even in bright conditions (sunny day). It is possible to apply actions (delete, move…) to multiple emails, making curation a breeze. Most Android phones now get this right, so it’s no surprise.

The email client also doesn’t “cheat” by downloading emails only upon interaction with the email app, so that’s a good thing.

Some clients “cheat” by checking only the notifications, but download the actual message only when you open the email app. This *may* save some battery life, but it is also a major annoyance in my opinion. I get a lot of emails, so this is a big deal for me, and I feel like I can actually get some work done in an efficient way with this. On a daily basis, the most important features are the search and background download. Not having a search is a “no go”, and having the app load the emails only when you open the app is frustrating.

Calendar : The calendar view is a bit different from the stock Android one. The monthly & daily view are about the same, but the weekly view only shows a list of event, sorted by time. Overall, I found the calendar to work just fine.

Google Maps: Google Maps is an app like any other, so the Meizu MX is capable of using the latest version: 6.11.1 at the time of writing. As usual, Google Maps provides an excellent mapping experience. I particularly like the fact that maps can be preloaded to the local storage so you can save on data and battery life. It’s pretty awesome. The Navigation app provides a very good navigation experience. It basically replaces a personal navigation device (PND). This clearly gives an edge to Android when compared to other platforms that do require paid apps to provide similar functions.

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Skype video coming from a PC

meizu mx outgoing skype

Skype video on a PC, coming from the Meizu MX

Skype works relatively well, and audio-only calls should be just fine. Durning our tests, the incoming video calls (from a PC) had excellent video quality, while the outgoing video (from the phone) was pretty blurry. This is not due to a camera issue, but is caused by the processing power that is required to compress a Skype video on the fly. This is probably not using the hardware video encode because Skype uses a different video format than what the video chip can handle. This is a relatively common situation for smartphones, and the Meizu MX does a similar job than what competing handsets would.

Entertainment (excellent)

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Video: With a quad-core Samsung Exynos processor, multimedia is most definitely not an issue for the Meizu MX. It was able to handle all our usual 1080p videos with ease. That’s not surprising given that even most less powerful phones can do it as well.

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Gaming: Games like Riptide GP mostly run at 60 FPS, and never dip below 30 FPS (performance does fluctuate, more on that later). It is fair to say the Meizu MX can run the latest games without any major troubles, but I just wished that performance was more consistent. If you’re into Zombies, you can also try Dead Trigger.

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Speaker-quality: The speaker is pretty good in a quiet room, but it won’t top the best phones out there. It’s actually surprising that the Meizu MX speaker works as well as it does given that there are just two tiny holes for the sound to come out. I rate this speaker a “good+” but it can’t get “very good”, or “excellent”

Imaging

Photo: the Meixu MX offers very good photo quality and excellent low-light photo capabilities, which users would surely appreciate during dinners and parties. Things actually show up in the photos a little brighter than what my eyes perceive, which is in general a good thing for low-light photos. The images can be a bit noisy but it’s a lot better than being too dark, and it won’t matter for web usage (Facebook…) because the noise will go away when the images are resized down.

Video:The video performance reflects most of the still photo qualities of the Meizu MX. The low-light performance is excellent as well at the price of additional noise in the photo.

Gesture capture: the camera app has a Gesture Capture mode, where instead of “tapping” the shutter button, the user can use the front camera as a shutter-release mechanism, by obscuring the camera with a finger without touching the screen. The idea is that taps can cause some shaking motion, which shows up as blurry photos. Although this is not a problem that people widely complain about, it’s an interesting idea that deserves some air time.

Performance

Antutu is an overall system performance benchmark (CPU, graphics, storage), and what it shows is that overall, most recent phones land in a comparable performance footprint. This means that unless you do something very specific (like “gaming” or “downloads”), those phones should provide a similar overall performance.

meizu mx antutu

Note, the Galaxy S3 is the dual-core version here.

In Antutu, the Meizu MX performs really well and tanks among the best devices that we have recently tested. Antutu tends to scale linearly with the number of score, but keep in mind that most apps are not optimized for multiple cores, so take this as an indicator.

Nenamark 2 is a test aimed at measuring the graphics processor performance. It is handy, but keep in mind that the latest games use much more complex techniques that are not represented in this test.

meizu mx nenamark 2

To be honest, I was expecting the Meizu MX to perform better here. Two things that should be taken into account: for one, the performance is sometimes capped by the 60FPS limit of the benchmark, which the MX occasionally surpasses. However, the performance fluctuates quite a bit and can go sub-45FPS as well. Yet, most games should run fine, but I would expect the same fluctuations to happen.

SunSpider is a Javascript test that mostly measures how good the Javascript engine is. Performance jump of 100% have been witnessed after software updates, so keep in mind that this may not be a great CPU test. It also uses a single-core, so it won’t be able to differentiate much between single and multicore architectures. Also, please don’t consider it to be a “web performance” test, because it is not. Most of the perceived web performance is felt during the load time and rendering time, both of which often have nothing to do with Javascript performance.

meizu mx sunspider

The Meizu MX doesn’t do so well in the JavaScript benchmark test. The main explanation is that it uses an older JavaScript engine. More optimizations have been done since, and there is a good chance that they will get in during the next OS update. At the moment, this is what we have.

Perceived performance: Synthetic benchmarks can only carry us so far. What they don’t show for example is the user experience is smooth and responsive (responsiveness is not always solved with brute-force processor power). In the end, what good is raw performance if you can’t perceive it?

The Meizu MX is a relatively fast phone, and everything is pretty responsive. In my opinion, it could have been even faster if the Flyme user interface was tuned. For example, scrolling from one from screen to another is slower than on other high-end Android phones because it was designed that way: Flyme seems to scroll one pixel at a time, when others scroll by two pixels at a time. This results in a fluid, but slower motion.

Battery life

When we streamed a movie from Google Play for 60mn, the battery usage was around 13%-15%, which is pretty good for that type of usage. This is also due to the fact that the video format that Google stream matches the hardware video decoding capabilities of this phone. The overnight battery depletion is around %5, which is pretty good as well.

 Keep in mind that battery life varies a lot depending on the apps that run in the background, your network reception, your local network density and the amount of time that the: display is ON. You can always refer to the Android battery report to see what is consuming the power. Finally, keep in mind that network transactions generated by apps can appear as “Android” as it is ultimately the OS that handles those transactions.

For the battery-conscious, the Meizu MX lets you force 3G (vs HSPA+) or voice-only if you want to extend the battery life of the phone by clamping on data. I’m not sure that HSPA+ uses more battery than 3G, but 3G is usually better than LTE in terms of battery life. This also depends on your distance to the cell tower, so take this as a general remark. Removable battery: no.

Conclusion

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The Meizu MX quad-core is an interesting phone from a design perspective, and we can see why it created so much noise when it was announced and available. Of course, the world has a bit changed since, but this handset clearly puts Meizu on the radar of a huge audience in Asia, and of enthusiasts in the West.

Right now, the Meizu MX is not officially available in the USA (imports only), and I don’t imagine that customers would go out of their way to procure one while there are so many good options available through carriers.

Instead, this is more a “taste” of things to come from Meizu, which sure has larger ambitions than the huge Chinese market. The integration of a high-end quad-core processor mixed with a nice organic design certainly reflects the fact that Meizu wants to aim high in a highly competitive world.

My advice to Meizu: continue to aim high with the specifications, but don’t lock customers in a user interface that is too different from other Android devices. Don’t hesitate to use large screens.

What do you think of this phone?

Filed in Cellphones >Reviews . Tags: Android, Meizu and meizu mx.
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