If it feels like yesterday you read our in-depth review of the dual-core Meizu MX, you're not too far from the truth. In reality, it's been just over seven months and we've already moved onto the smartphone's quad-core sequel, aptly named the Meizu MX 4-core. Not only is it easy to confuse the two phones by name, but good luck trying to tell which one is which. Indeed, the two handsets are quite similar both inside and out, with the exception of some improvements in a couple rows on the 'ol spec sheet.
The biggest surprise isn't necessarily the speed with which the company cranked out a second MX, and it's not even the reasonable price (HK$3,099, or US$400, or the 32GB version, and HK$4,099 / US$530 for the 64GB). Nope, it's seeing Meizu, a manufacturer known for its copycat products, evolving into a relevant player beyond its native China. So how does this latest effort stack up? Read on to find out. 64 Photos
Meizu MX 4-core overview
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We highly doubt anyone would purchase a phone solely based on the quality of its packaging, but an extra bit of polish certainly makes for a more favorable first impression. What's more, manufacturers offering more intricate eye candy tend to be of the mindset that even the littlest details can make a difference. Meizu, it seems, understands this. The Meizu MX 4-core comes in an all-white box, and the unit we received featured a blue ribbon marking it as an engineering sample, and offering the tagline "Dream, upgraded. New surprises begin from here." Inside is a Chinese outlet plug with a female USB port on the right edge. Meanwhile, a minimalistic white book with the letters "MX" printed on it takes up the rest of the box. Here you'll find the first surprise the company is referring to: the "book" looks exactly like a Meizu-penned hardback novel -- or, perhaps, the largest user manual known to man. In reality, it's hollowed-out on the inside to allow room for the actual phone, with three pages of marketing material attached above it. We're not sure if this is one final attempt to deter potential thieves from looting the box, but it's not the only secret this particular "book" holds. Turn it around and you'll find an extra leaflet covering up another hollowed-out compartment containing a micro-USB cable and a handy tool to help you take off the phone's back cover. Sadly, we couldn't find any headphones hidden in the box, try as we did.
But what about the phone itself? If you've ever played with last year's dual-core MX, you may have a difficult time telling the two devices apart. That's because Meizu has, in an extremely rare move, put a new phone in nearly the same exact chassis. On the version made for the Chinese market you'll notice Meizu's name in Chinese on the top-right corner of the front side. But the only branding that can be found on the global iterations is the name of the phone (and its GB count, in the case of the white models). Aside from this, there are no telltale signs that this is the 4-core. If you haven't had the chance to handle the previous MX model in real life, we won't hold it against you -- both the current and old MX are a pretty rare sight outside of China, though Meizu is intent on expanding the phone's reach. Despite being sold for a reasonable HK$3,099 (US$400) in Hong Kong, a 32GB version of the phone will likely run you around $650 or so on this side of the Pacific (if you can find an e-tailer that has one in stock, that is). In this case, what newbies will find is a phone that borrows from Apple and Android, in terms of both hardware and software. This shouldn't come as much of a surprise since the company's most infamous device is the M8, a phone that bore a few similarities to the iPhone -- enough, at least, to draw the attention of Cupertino's legal team in 2010. The manufacturer has since chosen to put a heavily skinned version of Android on its phones, but as you'll see later in the review, it hasn't completely let up on the Apple design references.
Let's start with the tangible goods first: the front side features a 4-inch 960 x 640 ASV display with a pixel density of 288ppi. The resolution is the same as the Retina display, but it uses a larger panel. The bezel is rather large, and really should've been trimmed. The earpiece and VGA front-facing camera sit above the screen, but the real party takes place below the panel. Here, you'll notice a three-button setup that, at first glance, appears similar to what you'd find on many other Android devices: two capacitive buttons with a physical home key sandwiched in between. But look a little closer, and you may find yourself in awe with what Meizu's done. The home key resembles a tiny dome that rises above the surface of the screen just enough to offer easy access (you'll still want to be careful about accidental presses, however). As we soon discovered, with much delight, this button is quite comfortable to use once you get used to it.
So what's so special about the capacitive keys? As with the previous-gen MX, these keys are situation-aware: they light up with respect to the phone's orientation (portrait and landscape modes) and will also change depending on the availability of the feature each button represents. In other words, the key on the right will display three dots when there's actually a menu to utilize, but only one dot otherwise (for example, when you're looking at the home panel or settings menu, where the menu key is dormant). Additionally, both buttons will light up if you receive a notification while the phone's in standby mode. All of these features were on the previous MX, but we appreciate that Meizu chose to use them here as well.
The left side of the MX 4-core is home to a volume rocker, while the top has a power / standby button, a 3.5mm headphone jack and an opening for a noise-cancelling mic. Heading down to the bottom you'll find the micro-USB port (which supports USB host, MHL for HDMI output and S/PDIF for digital audio connection), along with the same pair of mysterious dents as before (which do serve a purpose: professionals insert a special tool into these holes to remove the back cover). The right side of the phone is completely devoid of buttons.
Around back, you'll see the 4-core's 8-megapixel camera and LED flash at the top, and a pair of speaker grilles located on the lower left corner -- a horrible position for the external speakers when you're holding the phone in portrait mode. The cover is incredibly glossy, but looks can be deceiving. Instead of using a single standard layer of plastic, both 4-core models offer a dual-layer setup with each measuring 1mm thick. Look closely at the headphone jack or speakers and you'll see what we mean -- the outside stratum is actually a transparent plastic, so what you really see is the white plastic underneath. This crystal-like build appears to be another hardware flourish that few other phone manufacturers have attempted to duplicate. Still, you'll notice another connection to Apple here: the finish here calls to mind the materials used on the original white iBook, iPod and flat-panel iMac. Additionally, the LED flash is located on the outside of the back cover, rather than the body of the phone. It's able to function with the help of two contact points on the reverse side of the cover that are used to provide power and grounding.
As with the last-gen MX, the back cover is removable, except it doesn't require that special tool we mentioned earlier. In the current model, unfortunately, removing the backing requires nothing short of an act of Congress. To do this, take either your fingernail or the funky guitar-pick-like tool from the box and, beginning at the micro-USB port on the bottom edge, work your way around the edges until the cover pops off. Your reward for this achievement is access to the micro-SIM tray... and that's it. There is no user-accessible microSD slot. The 1,700mAh battery (an improvement over the original's 1,600mAh capacity) gives the misleading impression that it can be lifted out of its comfortable bed. In fact, though, this isn't possible without thoroughly tearing down the device. This inconvenience may be minor to some, but as you'll see later in the review, it can become a source of irritation for frequent travelers or users who demand as much power as possible.
The MX 4-core's measurements of 121.3 x 63.3 x 10.3 mm (4.78 x 2.49 x 0.41 inches) aren't envelope-pushers by any stretch of the imagination, but they do make for a fairly comfortable in-hand experience. The edges are straight, with a very slight taper on the back that flatten toward the middle. This reviewer was able to handle the device well enough with his average-sized hands, though the phone's glossy finish makes the 4-core a little slick-feeling. At 4.9 ounces (139g), it's a bit heavier than what we'd imagine a phone of this size would weigh, but it's at least light enough that most people won't notice or care (it's just one gram lighter than the iPhone 4S, after all). We found ourselves intrigued by the mystery surrounding the quad-core CPU. Most spec sheets and third-party diagnostic apps confirm that the silicon embedded within the latest MX is a rebranded 1.4GHz Exynos 4412 chip with a Mali-400MP manning the graphics and a full gigabyte of RAM to supplement both. The mystery, however, is that despite the mounting evidence, Meizu won't specify exactly what chip is used. We were simply told that it's named the MX5Q, though a simple Google search matched this chip with the Exynos. (Even some of the company's marketing materials confirm that this mysterious SoC is a 32nm Cortex A9 wafer clocked at 1.4GHz, without getting more specific.)
Lastly, an element of the phone that should be of particular interest to international roamers and T-Mobile US customers is Meizu's inclusion of a pentaband (850, 900, 1,700, 1,900 and 2,100MHz) HSPA+ / UMTS radio, which tops out at 21Mbps. It also has quadband GSM / EDGE. Lastly, it contains radios for Bluetooth 2.1 and WiFi 802.11b/g/n but lacks NFC support.
If you've perused the spec sheet, you shouldn't expect the 4-core to have a top-notch display. Still, it's actually a little better than the resolution would suggest. It can't really compete with the Retina display (despite having the same resolution on a larger screen) or the HTC One X's SLCD 2 panel -- its whites aren't as bright, and its blacks aren't quite as dark. However, it does offer a wide color range and we liked the amount of detail retained in images, though some high-res videos showed slightly oversaturated colors. As the non-PenTile (RGB) screen delivers a pixel density of roughly 288ppi, we had a difficult time picking out jagged lines or any form of pixelation. The viewing angles are so wide that the display remains usable even if you're viewing it nearly edge-on. We could read almost everything on the screen in direct sunlight as long as the display was cranked up to full brightness. The only exception was when we tried viewing detailed images or videos.
After booting up the device for the first time, you'll find that Meizu's Flyme OS is not your average Android skin. If you think Samsung and HTC have gone too far in their respective Android user interfaces, prepare to shift rather uncomfortably in your chair for the next few paragraphs -- it's going to be a bumpy ride. Indeed, Meizu's homebrewed skin may be a stranger to the Western hemisphere, but it still emits an aura of familiarity despite the fact that it bears virtually no trace of Google's stock UI. That's because after just a few minutes of playing with the device, we were reminded more of iOS than Android. (As we mentioned earlier, this comes as no surprise; we imagine Meizu has been on speed dial in Apple's legal office for several years.) Flyme OS, which we've seen on previous Meizu devices, is an interesting mash-up of the two popular operating systems.
At first, the lock screen makes it seem like Flyme won't be a drastic departure from stock Android. Date and time are at the top just underneath the notification bar and above the music controls (only displayed during playback, of course), while three quick-access icons sit at the bottom of the screen. When sliding the icons up, Flyme adds in a clever animation that makes it appear as though the destination screen is being dragged up along with the icon itself. The home panel is your typical 4 x 4 grid with the app dock hanging out at the bottom and a larger-than-usual status bar up top. The bar, which is twice as thick as the standard Android option, displays the date and time on the left, with all notifications pushed to the right. Meizu also threw in the remaining battery capacity on the lower right portion of the bar. As a side note, the status bar shrinks down to the normal size when you enter an application.
The app dock is also unique. Up to five icons can reside within it, though only four can be switched around. The one app that isn't going anywhere is Meizu's very own web browser, which we'll return to in just a moment. Perhaps the most jarring change in the Flyme setup, however, is the omission of an app tray. Every single app on the device is displayed on one of the home pages in the same style as iOS (and MIUI, incidentally). What's more, you can have up to 12 pages to place your apps and widgets, and each one is created in exactly the same fashion (dragging the app as far to the right as you can until a new panel appears). Having so many pages is frustrating, though, because the OS doesn't have a way of jumping to the panel of your choice, which means you have no choice but to swipe from page to page. What if you just can't live without the app tray? Here's an easy solution: download a launcher that still supports one and your problem becomes a thing of the past. We installed Apex and were able to bring up a very familiar menu, complete with apps and widgets. By the way, multitasking also leans closer to Apple's approach: long-pressing the menu button brings up a horizontal bar with three layers. The middle layer is the most prominent, displaying four app icons at a time. To find more recent apps, just slide your finger to the left and you're treated to another set of four. Above these icons sits a button that enables you to close all of your open apps in one fell swoop. If you prefer, you can still get rid of them one at a time by long-pressing icons until a large X appears below, after which you just drag and drop it. The bottom layer is reserved for a basic music player, which unfortunately doesn't appear to offer any support for third-party apps.
The notification bar is also slightly different than what you'd typically expect. On top, you'll find a set of quick-toggle buttons for WiFi, airplane mode, Bluetooth, GPS and sync. The date and a "clear all" button hang out just above these. However, the most interesting part is over on the right: a drop-down menu allowing you to switch between WiFi networks and the type of mobile network (you can choose between 3G-only, GSM-only or auto). Notifications can still be swiped away one at a time if necessary. Lastly, you can only drag the bar itself down as far as the bottom-most notification; in other words, if you don't have any to look at, the bar will only go down far enough to expose the quick controls found at the top. This may feel jarring to some, but we actually appreciated that the notification drop-down didn't unnecessarily obscure whatever it was we were looking at. Despite its Apple-inspired layout, the device runs Ice Cream Sandwich -- version 4.0.3, to be exact. This means you still have access to the Play Store and whatever widgets you want. But without an app tray, where can you find the widgets? They're in the settings menu, under "customize" -- not necessarily the first place you'd think to look, but it's there nonetheless. Fortunately, unlike last year's MX, you can place the same widget in more than one spot. Speaking of ICS, there are a few features missing from Flyme. Face Unlock, for instance, is MIA, as is the data usage setting. Additionally, many of the core apps have been tweaked, the stock keyboard isn't included as an option, Android Beam isn't supported (naturally, since NFC isn't onboard) and so on.
Meizu MX 4-core screenshotsSee all photos
We're glad that third-party keyboard support is allowed on the MX, because we grew increasingly frustrated with the default option. Perhaps we've become spoiled by devices with larger screens, but the keys here are not only difficult to press accurately, they're arranged in left orientation. Faster typists will be concerned with the lack of autocorrect features, although word prediction is an option. It also took us a while to get used to the placement of the standard punctuation keys: instead of putting them with the other symbols or on a separate button, they're only accessible in the word prediction row when you hit the space bar.
As with the previous MX, the Play Store is limited to just one download at a time, contrary to the standard Android style, which provides for multiple streams. In fact, it seems as though the official Google store has been put on the backburner, since it's tucked away in an obscure folder (you can move it) while the Flyme App Store sits front-and-center on your home screen. This comes as no surprise, given the prevalence of alternative application markets found in China. Some core Google apps, such as Gmail and Google+, were noticeably absent from the start as well, while other random programs like Talk and Translate made the cut. Don't worry, these apps can still be downloaded easily enough. Of note is the ability to add your own Flyme account, which allows you to backup and restore your contacts, calendar, messages, call logs and settings whenever you need it. You also have access to the aforementioned homegrown Flyme Store, which hooks you up with a repertoire of apps geared mainly toward the Chinese market. Don't get too excited, though -- it's relatively small, with roughly 20,000 apps added to its collection.
The remote control feature we saw on the dual-core MX didn't make a return appearance on this particular version, but Meizu tells us that the feature is only taking a brief hiatus and we should be seeing it again in the future. We're hoping to see this re-enabled in a later update, but we won't hold our breath. But enough about cool features that can't be found on the device -- let's discuss some more unique additions that can be used, like Flyme Voicemail. The service is similar to standard Visual Voicemail in the sense that you don't have to dial into your carrier's voicemail number to listen to your messages. But there are plenty of unique details here to make it a compelling concept in its own right. For instance, all of the messages are recorded locally and stored on the phone's Recorder app, which means you can listen to each voicemail immediately after the caller leaves it. You can also choose to have the feature enabled whenever there is no answer or even every time somebody calls. It's a lovely idea, but it needs some work: none of the voicemail messages were very clear; the voices sounded garbled and extremely distorted. Additionally, the phone app allows you to record calls, and you can pick which parts of the conversation are recorded, just in case certain portions of the call need to stay off the record. In fact, you can even choose to have every conversation recorded automatically. To be clear, the recordings won't be perfect -- while the mic picked up our voice well and offered crisp playback, the other side of the line came out just as garbled as it did on the Voicemail feature. Still, you can at least hear the recording well enough to make out what everybody is saying. (This might be a good time to remind folks it's best to make sure the person you're chatting with knows you're recording the conversation.) You can also import and export contacts from the phone application, as well as filter out unwanted callers.
Another Flyme-branded service is Flyme Messaging, which is essentially Meizu's equivalent of iMessage; it only works if both parties are registered on Flyme and online. Meet both of those requirements and your message will be sent using data instead of as a text.
Flyme even offers its own take on the standard smartphone timer: a multi-segmented timed task list. This means that instead of featuring just a single timer that needs to be reset every time you want to start a new task, you can set multiple timers, each beginning after the previous one ends. If that isn't enough, you can even set up multiple lists of timed tasks. The music and video players on the 4-core have a different look and feel than you'll find on the corresponding apps in stock Android. The music app, for instance, sticks to Flyme's simple aesthetic, but still offers a five-setting EQ with a few pre-programmed genres (including a custom option) and the ability to set up playlists and folders. The player adds an easy-access sleep timer for anyone who likes to fall asleep listening to their favorite Carly Rae Jepsen tunes. Finally, it also searches the internet to find lyrics and cover art for the song you're currently playing. It even scrolls through the lyrics in real-time, so you can sing along to your heart's content or skip ahead to your favorite verse. This feature's performance ultimately depends on how eclectic your musical tastes are, and indeed, our results were mixed. Often, if the system is confused as to which artist or album it's looking for, it will give you a few possible options to choose from, and generally gets it right once you give it a nudge in the right direction. Other times, however, the player would download the right lyrics but the wrong version of the song (we fired up New Order's "Temptation" but it pulled down Moby's cover).
The video player, meanwhile, keeps to the bare essentials. You're first greeted by a gallery-styled layout, with all of your titles showing up in one folder. This is the only major frustration we found with the app: in order for movies to show here, the file needs to be placed in a specific folder (this is also true for music, by the way). Fortunately you can still view any of your vids directly from the file manager if you need to, but it's an unnecessary nuisance. Once you begin watching the movie, you're presented with basic controls at the bottom, the file name on the top-left corner, volume to its right, and buttons to adjust the brightness and screen lock (to prevent the display from turning off during a crucial moment).
The MX 4-core retains the same 8-megapixel backside-illuminated CMOS sensor found in the dual-core version, with f/2.2, autofocus and an LED flash just as before. As such, this camera finds itself in the same league as stars like the iPhone 4S (surprised?) and the Sony Xperia arc S. But it's important to consider which features are built into the user interface. Though it offers many similarities to the MX, Flyme's ICS skin is more streamlined than its Gingerbread equivalent. Its ISO is limited to 800 (versus 3200 on the MX), it only offers one wide dynamic range setting (down from four), has fewer scene mode options and generally delivers a much cleaner look.
The sidebar contains the virtual shutter button in the middle, flanked by a camcorder toggle switch on one side and the gallery button on the other. On the opposite end of the viewfinder are the flash modes (auto, on and off) and the front-facing cam toggle. The menu gives five paths for you to wander. Capture mode lets you choose between panorama, normal mode, smile detection and burst shot. ISO comes next, followed by Scene Mode (night, landscape, macro and text scenes are the only alternatives you're offered), white balance and "other." That final option is where you'll find the wide dynamic mode, gesture capture and geotagging toggles. Lastly, holding the on-screen shutter button appears to lock focus, but not exposure.
Meizu's use of handy shortcuts doesn't stop with the camera, either. While you're in the app, the volume down button acts as a camcorder toggle switch and the other side of the volume rocker works as a single-stage shutter button -- this may come as a disappointment to some, but we're happy to see the company include at least some type of physical shutter. This is the same setup as we saw on last year's model, but this time the camera app will work in two landscape directions. This gives you the chance to take images with the volume rocker on top, which makes for a more natural photo-taking experience.
Another feature carried over from one MX generation to the next is Gesture Capture, which lets you take a shot just by placing your finger (or the side of your hand) above the front-facing camera. By letting you take the image without physically tapping the phone, it's designed to reduce the chance of shaking or blurriness.
While we expected the image quality to be virtually the same on the 4-core as it was on the original MX, we were surprised to see a slight improvement on the newer device. Looking at the pictures side by side, you may notice that the 4-core's version displays more natural tones and a small improvement in white balance. We were also relieved to see that, true to the promise of ICS, the shutter lag was greatly minimized and the app itself was noticeably quicker.
We were happy to see daylight images churning out natural and realistic colors without any clear exaggerations in saturation, and we were pleased with the majority of our shots. Taking advantage of the BSI sensor was also a great experience, as it came in handy in low-light situations. In one instance, we activated night mode outside with only a porch light turned on around 30 feet away, and the sensor grabbed enough errant light from it to produce a usable image. Of course, an unfortunate side effect to this is that the shutter remains open for a longer period of time, making moving objects turn out blurry when they're close to the camera. (The results were generally much better for those objects in the background.) The macro focus mode gave us average results, as we were able to properly focus on objects as close as 5-10cm from the lens. When compared with the Galaxy S III's macro mode, however, we discovered that fewer details made it into the MX's shots. 46 Photos
Meizu MX 4-core sample shots
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The front-facing cam was the only major disappointment, but our expectations were already set by its VGA sensor. Each image picked up too much noise for our taste, while colors were washed out in sunlight. The app also doesn't allow an adjustable settings menu while in this mode.
Moving on to video recording, we first noticed that little has changed since the last MX came out -- including Meizu's insistence that 720p should be the default resolution, despite the camcorder's ability to record at 1080p. If the company's concerns are with limited storage, the additional storage space in the 4-core (32 or 64GB, as opposed to the dual-core's 16GB) should be enough to change its mind. At the very least, it would be helpful to have some sort of notification the very first time the camcorder is booted up.
The 1080p video quality (1,920 x 1,088 at 31fps, MPEG-4 AVC main profile at level 4 and 10.5Mbps bit rate) is reminiscent of what we saw on the last MX, with the exception of the green overcast we noted during last year's review. Choppiness was kept to a minimum (with only a little bit in low-light situations) and the mics do a great job of capturing audio. Continuous autofocus is still missing here, though the action can at least be mimicked manually with the viewfinder's tap-to-focus capability, which allows you to focus on any part of the screen. Take a look at video we recorded in all its 1080p glory below:
Performance and battery life
As we discussed earlier, the MX 4-core houses a mystery 32nm quad-core Cortex A9 chipset clocked at 1.4GHz, and Meizu has been coy about revealing any more specifics. As we said, though, a quick Google search (as well as a litany of third-party system diagnostic apps) has exposed the wafer's true identity: it is, as we suspected, a rebranded Exynos 4412. (Again, this shouldn't come as a shock since last year's MX featured the dual-core Exynos 4210.) In other words, barring any unknown tweaks on Meizu's end, this is virtually the same chip featured on the Galaxy S III and is accompanied by a Mali-400MP GPU and 1GB RAM.
But Meizu has a neat trick up its sleeve that Samsung's flagship device doesn't: the ability to underclock the processor as a way of preserving battery life. Called "CPU level," this option is hidden in the accessibility section of the settings menu and lets you choose between three performance tiers -- low mode limits the chip to 800MHz, medium bumps it up to 1.0GHz and high mode pushes the processor to its full potential at 1.4GHz (though we suspect there are plenty of code connoisseurs eager to prove that this clock speed is for the birds). As we'll explain, you may find yourself switching back and forth more frequently than you'd expect.
In true Engadget tradition, we ran the Meizu through a full gauntlet of benchmarks to see what this thing's made of. How does it fare against its previous generation as well as some of its quad-core competition? We've tabulated the results below.
|Meizu MX 4-core||Meizu MX dual-core||Samsung Galaxy S III (I9300)||HTC One X|
|SunSpider 0.9.1 (ms)||1,463||1,537||1,460||1,773|
|GLBenchmark Egypt Offscreen (fps)||96||71||99||63|
|SunSpider: lower scores are better. Note: Meizu MX dual-core results recorded on Android 4.0.3 with Flyme 1.0 build.|
Given the Exynos chipset, we weren't surprised to see Meizu's new flagship play ball with its silicon brother, the GS III -- but one significant difference here is that the 4-core rocks a much smaller display and lower resolution, which naturally had an impact on some of the scores (namely, Quadrant). Chances are that Meizu's heavyweight Android skin may have also had an adverse effect on the phone's scores. Regardless, it still emerged as the champ in half of the benchmark tests we ran, with respectably modest margins the rest of the time.
As for real-life usage, the quad-core device performed as we expected -- insofar as processing power, at least. We were concerned by how frequently the 4-core froze on us -- it typically stalled at least once a day during regular use, but there didn't seem to be any rhyme or reason for these hiccups. It often occurred during menial tasks that aren't taxing to the processor. When we encountered these bugs, the screen would stay frozen for a few minutes until it finally went black and the phone automatically rebooted. Meizu told us it's addressing this in an upcoming firmware update for the Chinese model, but we're still waiting to see a compatible build for the international version.
There are some bugs that Meizu's engineers hadn't been aware of, which may have a negative effect on your overall experience. The Gmail app, for instance, is incapable of downloading attachments or conducting a standard search, even though the proper buttons and user interface elements are all present. (In discussions with Meizu, reps were quick to recommend that we use its native email client for Gmail, which utilizes IMAP.) We've also seen overlapping text in the calendar app when using the agenda view.
|Meizu MX 4-core battery life||Endurance test||Average use|
|High mode (1.4GHz)||3:30||6:00|
|Medium mode (1.0GHz)||5:12||10:00|
|Low mode (800MHz)||5:20||12:00|
Equally disappointing -- if not even more so -- is the battery life. Our endurance tests, which involve looping a video with WiFi and data enabled and the screen fixed at 50 percent brightness, told a terrible tale. The 4-core lasted only three and a half hours in high CPU mode (1.4GHz), five hours and 12 minutes in medium (1.0GHz) and five hours and 20 minutes when turned to the lowest setting (800MHz). The small difference between medium and low modes was a little perplexing, but our theory is that the screen's power consumption likely dominated the CPU in the latter setting.
The real-life usage results were just as depressing: with the occasional call, moderate surfing, a little photo-taking, a steady stream of email and continuous social media updates, we ran out of juice in six hours on high mode and 10 hours on medium. The only scenario that got us almost an entire day was when the processor was clocked at 800MHz. This means the casual user may be able to use this as their daily driver without needing constant electrical nourishment, but power users won't be so lucky.
How about that internet? On the highest performance setting, we saw little to no lag when bringing up a photo-heavy site like Engadget. We were able to scroll through the entire page as we waited for the last pictures to appear, which frankly didn't take very long on an HSPA+ connection anyway. As if we needed any more persuasion, the 4-core grabbed some very convincing SunSpider and Vellamo scores, with the former grabbing some of the best scores you'll find on a phone at the moment. We were quite satisfied with how well HD movies fared when playing them back on that 960 x 640 display. After playing multiple 1080p and 720p movie trailers on all three CPU settings, we came away impressed with the 4-core's ability to crank through all of them without nary a frame skip. Audio and video remained in sync the entire time on the phone, and MHL playback left us happily enjoying our multimedia with seldom a hitch.
With headphones, audio playback performance was excellent. It's one of the best multimedia devices in that regard -- we were experienced a diverse tonal range, and the volume was more than sufficient for our needs. The external speaker is loud enough, but we wouldn't want to listen to music or watch a full-length movie without plugging in a pair of headphones -- especially when using the phone in portrait mode, since it's easy to cover the speaker with your hand. Despite some dreadful playback performance from Flyme Voicemail, the small earpiece was sufficient for real-time voices to come through to our satisfaction. While our callers mostly reported we sounded clear, we apparently sounded slightly muffled on occasion. We never suffered any dropped calls during our time with the phone, and the 4-core's reception was on par with the AT&T Galaxy S III. GPS took a little longer to lock into an exact position than on some other flagships we've tested recently e.g., the GS III and HTC One X), but it generally took less than half a minute to get the right location. Once it locked onto our coordinates, it stayed accurate most of the time. On occasion, unfortunately, the blue dot would wander a few miles away, but it would return after a few curse words of encouragement on our part.
The quad-core variant of the MX also saw some slight improvements in USB transfer speeds. It chugged along at roughly 10MB/s while moving an hour-long video to the phone. That's not the fastest we've seen (especially when compared to the Xiaomi Phone), but it's still better than the dual-core's 8.5MB/s performance. Rather than opting for Bluetooth 4.0, Meizu decided to go with version 2.1 + EDR. We never had any problem connecting the 4-core to any other device using this wireless standard, and this phone is no exception. Unsurprisingly, it took longer to transfer files -- moving a .MOV file from our desktop to the phone was successful, but it clocked in at an average pace of 55KB/s. Pushing the same file to a v4.0 device averaged 120KB/s. Fun fact: if you initiate a Bluetooth file transfer with another MX device, one of them then becomes a WiFi hotspot and the transfer uses WiFi for better speed.
At the close of this lengthy review, we're left with a somewhat bizarre dilemma on our hands. It's hard to say no to a quad-core Exynos device that offers a plethora of clever features experienced by Android fans on this side of the Pacific Ocean -- especially at such a tempting price. But packaged in with the good are a handful of tradeoffs that you'll need to accept before whipping out your wallet. Power users (and most moderate phone users, for that matter) will scoff at the battery life and the smaller qHD display, and fans of traditional Android skins may reject Flyme's heavily stylized (and iOS-like) look. Additionally, there are still quite a few wrinkles in performance that need to be ironed out before it's ready to hit the global stage. And it may be hard to justify searching lands near and far to find a 4-core when unlocked devices like the Samsung Galaxy Nexus offer a buttery-smooth performance, use stock Jelly Bean (Android 4.1) and can be yours for less hassle at a lower price.
Despite some of its flaws, we can't help but have a hearty helping of admiration for a device like the MX 4-core. It's playing the role of the underdog in the mobile industry, and its creator has been hard at work, coming up with some clever new ideas that will only stand to benefit consumers in the long run. It's been fun trying to unlock the many little secrets this phone holds, and -- as the box itself promises -- we're sure there are plenty more surprises in store for those who crave cool new phones.
Richard Lai contributed to this review.