They’re coming. It’s obvious isn’t it. With the amount of money firms like Xiaomi, Oneplus, Oppo, and indeed Meizu are pumping into R&D and quality control in order to compete with the ever-increasing demand from the global market for more budget-friendly smartphones, its inevitable that one of them is going to unleash something massive and to critical acclaim, right? Is Meizu’s latest offering, the MX5, that smartphone? Let’s take a look in the full Meizu MX5 review.
Meizu are perhaps the least known of the Chinese super-brands emerging as contenders for global audiences’ annual smartphone purchases. Xiaomi, Oppo, Oneplus; these are the names people have heard of pushing the boundaries, with perhaps OnePlus being the most recognisable, whilst Xiaomi being the undoubted king of the East. Meizu have however delivered a steady growth curve and have produced some great products over the last 12-24 months. The Meizu M2 and M2 Note, the previous flagship, the Meizu MX4 Pro, and recently the MX5. All of these products have delivered sturdy build quality and convinced global consumers, albeit a minority, to look to the East for their fix of flagship goodness.
They’re not new to the game either. Since 2003 the company has been delivered mobile devices (starting with MP3 players) and launched their first smartphone to the market, the M8, back in 2007. They’ve done well since then with them managing to shift nearly 9 million units in the first half of 2015 according to reports. They are no small beast, that’s for sure. It is fair to say they have been playing catchup however and with the MX5 they look to jump ahead of the competition.
|5.5″ 1080p AMOLED display|
|64bit Mediatek Helio x10 Octa-core Cortex-A53 CPU @ 2.2Ghz|
|PowerVR G6200 MP4 GPU|
|3GB RAM – 32GB ROM|
|20.7MP primary Camera with laser autofocus and dual LED flash – 5MP secondary camera|
|3150 mAh non-removable battery|
|Dual SIM card slots|
|Dimensions: 149.9 x 74.7 x 7.6 mm|
What an interesting way to start the ownership of a brand new phone; with a box that somewhat resembles a book. It’s a nice enough experience overall with rubbery-feeling exterior and feature pages internally, it’s just a shame the documentation is in only one language.
In the box, you’ll find:
- Meizu MX5 smartphone
- Micro USB Cable
- Wall charger
- SIM removal tool
- Warranty card and info (Chinese)
Hardware & Performance
The Meizu MX5 is a sleek and well-built device. That is evident as soon as you pick the unit up. A glossy black bezel, a small one though, surrounds the front of the device, with an aluminium back face coloured grey in this instance. On the left hand side is the dual SIM card slot, and on the right is the volume rocker, and the power button, both of which feel a little mushy. On to the top of the device and a noise-cancelling microphone and a 3.5mm audio jack are found. To the bottom and a speaker grill is offset to the right edge, whilst a centred micro USB slot, and another pinhole microphone complete the lineup. On the front face of the 5.5″ AMOLED display is a top mounted front facing 5MP camera, whilst a fingerprint scanner come-Home button sits towards the bottom of the device. On the reverse, embedded into that aluminium casing is the 20.7MP camera and dual-LED flash.
Across the top and bottom are t-slots denoting the antenna areas. That’s the first clue really. This device looks as though an iPhone 3GS and an iPhone 5 (or 5s) met behind the bike sheds and indulged in some extra-curricular activity! The curved, rounded edges pull from the 3GS’ DNA, whilst the chamfered edges look distinctly iPhone 5-ish. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, it’s just not particularly ground breaking in 2015.[pullquote align=”left” color=”#FF9900″]”Meizu’s MX5 fingerprint scanner gives Apple’s a run for its money; yes, it’s that good.”[/pullquote]
Holding the Meizu MX5 is a divisive action. On one hand it feels great to hold, and due to the 74% screen to body ratio the MX5 delivers, doesn’t feel particularly big, despite packing in the 5.5″ display. For a those who use devices in their left hand, the button placements can take some getting used to, but they are found easily enough with one hand. The flip side to this however is that the aluminium back is particularly polished and slippery feeling. Holding with one hand can become a drop-defying experience, and once the use of the phone has been completed, a huge sigh of relief is felt when pocketing or placing the phone down, once again into safety. Other phones are slippery. The Nexus 4 was, the iPhone 4 was, the iPhone 6 is to some extent. It just feels as though the Meizu MX5 has a particular finish which makes it a little unnerving to use, with one hand, on occasion. Due to the curved edges however, you’ll keep going back for more one-handed use due to the comfort factor.
The Meizu MX5 delivers the sort of performance you’d expect from a device in 2015. All applications are snappy and transitions are likewise. Some games can bog down the slightly underpowered PowerVR GPU, but not many and not by much. Performance can be managed by a setting that allows the use of an aptly named “performance” mode, which readies the eight cores available to the Meizu MX5 and fires them into action when required. The result of this can be seen in the AnTuTu benchmark where both balanced mode and performance mode were tested. Whilst MediaTek have had a rough ride over the last couple of years with Qualcomm being the go to SoC of choice for the biggest OEMs, they’ve done a good job here; potentially good enough for others to sit up and take notice.
Where Chinese phones tend to become a little less competitive versus their Western counterparts is in the radio department. The Meizu MX5 bucks this trend and delivers some great call quality and data speeds, testing primarily on the Three UK network whether there is only one, or indeed two Nano SIM cards installed. The Meizu MX5 has a dual-SIM card slot and making use of this device as a personal and work phone using two different SIM cards was a joy. In 2015, you’d expect that though right?
Another hallmark of 2015 flagship devices has been the fingerprint scanner. Most notably, Apple and Samsung have both made huge strides towards delivering this technology, however the Apple implementation is by far and aware the most reliable. Meizu’s MX5 fingerprint scanner gives Apple’s a run for its money; yes, it’s that good. The fingerprint scanner has been completely and utterly flawless during my month of use, never-failing to recognise my prints on the first attempt, and at a truly phenomenal speed. It needs to be seen to be believed! The button itself, when not being used to read fingerprints, acts as a home button and can be used to launch the built-in digital assistant also. It’s very easy to use without clicking, but also is easily clicked when required. It’s a nice balance to the implementation and one I think others would do well to
steal learn from.
One area that seems to have gone backwards in the last 12 months in almost all flagships it the battery performance. The Meizu MX5 doesn’t necessarily do an awful lot to buck this trend. The MX5 has average battery life and average stand alone drain also. That ‘average’ tag transfers to around 3-3/5 hours of screen on time (ability to actively use the device) across a good 10-15 charging cycles. This isn’t bad by any means, but with a 1080p AMOLED screen, I’d be expecting perhaps a little bit more. The Meizu MX5 is in good company in the “not quite what you’d expect from the battery” category. Many of the phones released in 2015 specifically with Android Lollipop seem to have similar “meh” battery deployments. It’s no secret at this point that Google’s latest OS isn’t as kind on the power resource as many would like, so 3.5 hours of screen on time doesn’t seem to bad when see under that particular light.
By now we’ve normally looked at the display and extolled the virtues of its brightness and colour representation. Well, the Meizu MX5 display, whilst AMOLED (which is a big plus battery wise), is a little middle of the road. It’s got absolutely nothing to do with the resolution. 1920 x 1080 is absolutely fine for 5-6″ smartphones in our opinion. No, the issue is more around maximum brightness and colour reproduction. Using this device in the sunlight is a little challenging as the auto-brightness can be a little slow to update. Luckily the second of my gripes is easily dealt with. There is a colour temperature setting in the software to allow tweaking of this.
Finally, the speaker, although bottom facing is relatively adequate. It’s no Boomsound, but it delivers enough detail to make it usable as a media consumption device which, let’s face it, is what all phones are now. It can crackle at the top end, but we’re talking beyond reasonable volume use. Don’t expect clear and rolling lows here, but again, as I mentioned, it’s adequate.
Software & UI
The Meizu MX5 wraps its own Flyme 4.5 OS around Android 5.0. Flyme, like many Chinese skins, permeates throughout the UI. If you’ve never used a device that utilises Flyme, or similar UIs such as EMUI, think of it as an ‘Androidised’ version of Apple’s iOS. Delivering home screens full of applications rather than an App Drawer as per stock Android is something of a hallmark of Chinese skins it seems. Folders can be created to house groups of applications, and can even be added to the dock at the bottom of the default home screen which is nice.
Flyme OS delivers solid Android mainstays such as pull down notifications, gestures (double tap to wake, swipe up to search apps, etc) and widgets. Built in also is a theming engine, a do not disturb setting which is the best I’ve ever used (it actually mutes everything but that which you want to receive!), some nice bundled applications such as email, messaging, calendar etc and some good utilities which become VERY important the more you use the device. The thing to remember is that the Meizu MX5 is NOT a Google Play Services device. Of course it can be retrospectively installed, but if you like your devices stock, and are a keen Google services user, this is not the device for you. Flyme does a good job of negating some of feeling of loss relating to the Google services, but it falls short, way short, in others. The themes are nice, but the fact the theming store is purely Chinese is not. Having a built-in digital assistant is the “in” thing in the last 24 months or so, and the MX5 delivers. Again, it’s only in Chinese which can make for some funny party tricks when in a group of people!
A granular approach to applications and the way they operate on the device is something that many old school mobile device users will be thankful for. Beware though, it truly is a double-edged sword. For example, the ability to denote which applications can auto-start at boot, are cleaned from memory when not in use, and which will be closed if utilising too much power after a certain period, all sound like good inclusions to allow more granular control over the device. In truth, this is perhaps the biggest draw back to the device. Applications you wish to get a notification from simply MUST be added to the relevant white lists to ensure that it continues to run. This is something the stock Android deployments from Google simply manage behind the scenes. For the first week I was wondering why my Textra SMS application was so quiet. The reason? Flyme has closed the application to save memory and as such no notifications came through. This is a similar story for many of the applications I regularly use. No problem you might say, however it’s a big problem when for some unknown reason the application you want to white list is not appearing in the list of applications available to white list. That’s when the confidence you have in the device might start to wane. The applications to control some of the this idiocy are, thankfully, very user intuitive. The fact they need to be used at all is a little tiresome however.
The software on the Meizu MX5 can be summarised thus; quick, consistent, but a little antiquated in its functionality.
The 20.7MP camera available on the Meizu MX5 sports a number of additional technologies which look to make this a cumulative mother load. The sensor used in this package, the Sony IMX220 is one of the largest deployed in any smartphone. It features an f/2.2 aperture lens, and also delivers laser autofocus which can deliver a focus within 0.2 seconds. Sadly, there is no optical image stabilisation here (Note to OEMs – this is a must!) which can detract somewhat from the quality of some freehand shots. This is especially noticeable in night shots.
As you can see, some of these are decent and some are a little grainy. That pretty much sums up the camera on the Meizu MX5. It’s adequate for day-to-day shots and social media sharing. Great shots are the reserve of the tripod users and steady-hand gang, along with perfect light scenarios. Amazing shots are possible, but you’ll most likely get similar to the above shots from point and snap photography with this unit. The front facing camera is again, more of the same. Decent in good light, and grainy in low light. Decent enough for video calls and the occasional selfie. One of the sample shots in the collection is a group selfie shot and that was in good daylight, so good shots are possible from the front facing camera also.
There are the usual sort of filters and editing, but nothing to knock your socks off.
The camera is also capable of recording at 4K (2160p) at 30fps, 1080p at 60fps and 720p at 100fps. Without OIS, recording can be difficult, but again, as with the still shots outcome, most of the recordings are par for the course, with the odd one being amazing. One thing to note here is that there is no auto-focus. Auto-exposure works just fine, but if you want to re-focus on different areas of the scene, a tab on the screen will be required. Not a deal breaker, but a little old school.
It’s going to happen. Oneplus did it in 2014 with the Oneplus One, and there will be another big Chinese name, very shortly, to deliver something with the build quality the global market expects, as well as the software package, and support wrap around that are required to get consumers to part with their hard-earned money. The Meizu MX5 falls just short of this perhaps, but for a phone that runs close to £300 unlocked, it’s still a very competitive product. The build is good, if not dynamic. The optics are very good on paper and can, on occasion, live up to that billing also. The software has come on leaps and bounds in the last 12-24 months, however it’s still lacking for the truly global-market touch with many purely Chinese sections once you get into the depths of the phone.
If Meizu continue down this road, we could be sitting here in 2016 looking at a product delivered by them that is truly a major player. In my opinion, they need to tweak their software packages a little more, really adjust for the global market and look to do something a little different with the design if they want to achieve that however. The basics are all there though. A fingerprint scanner that is up there with the best (in my opinion, it sits proudly at the top of the list) is a prime example of what Meizu can deliver. I for one am really excited to see what they come up with next. The Meizu MX5 sits as my “best of the rest” product versus the established players currently. Those flagship devices with a £600+ price tag don’t deliver all that much added value for the doubling in price, that’s true enough, but what they do deliver just helps polish any rough edges. Meizu need to learn that art, and I have no doubt they will. In this particular race, coming second to those companies is nothing to be ashamed of, especially if it’s used as a spring-board to bigger and better things.