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Featured Review: Meizu M1 Note – More Bang for Your Buck

March 15, 2015 - Written By Nick Sutrich

2014 was a landmark year for Chinese manufacturer Meizu, who had traditionally only released one flagship phone per year.  Fall 2014 brought about two flagships from the growing company, and in December they announced a new budget-minded phone designed to usher in a new crowd of Meizu owners.  Meizu has traditionally focused on the higher-end spec race in the smartphone market while providing more of a mid-range price for its devices, but the M1 Note is going to cost half of that all while sacrificing very little.  Today we’re giving you the full review of Meizu’s first budget-friendly phone, which is available for around $220, or about half the cost of the Meizu MX4.

Specs

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$200 phones are getting more and more impressive these days, and Meizu’s M1 Note is no slouch at all.  Meizu’s latest competition, the iOcean Rock M6752, features the same chipset and extremely similar specs for the same price, trading off things like battery size for extra RAM and a slightly different build.  In terms of specs this is right in line with what iOcean has made us expect, so check them out for yourself:

  • 5.5-inch 1080p Sharp IGZO display
  • MediaTek MT6752 64-bit 1.7GHz Octa-core
  • Mali-760 MP2 GPU
  • 2GB of RAM
  • 16GB or 32GB internal storage, no microSD card support
  • 3,140mAh battery
  • Android 4.4.4, Flyme 4.0 skin
  • 13MP rear-facing camera, LED flash
  • 5MP front-facing camera
  • 150.7mm tall x 75.2mm wide x 8.9mm thick
  • 145g

Display

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One of the most surprising features of the Meizu M1 Note is the display, which is one of the few consumer level phones to carry Sharp’s IGZO displays.  We haven’t seen too many devices with this type of display, as manufacturers usually prefer to use an IPS LCD or AMOLED display in their products.  IGZO displays use Indium gallium zinc oxide as a semiconductor instead of silicon.  These materials give the display the ability to pack more information in the same space because of their higher electron mobility.  This is useful for increasing resolution as well as requiring less power since light more easily travels through the materials.  IGZO displays can also have much higher response times than LCD displays can.

Meizu’s use of IGZO is interesting because it doesn’t push any resolution boundaries in the mobile world, and the refresh rate of the display is just as poor as the displays used in the MX4 and MX4 Pro.  That means you’re going to see obvious ghosting when moving things around on the screen, including scrolling through the UI, playing games, watching movies, etc.  It’s not a deal breaker but it’s annoying, especially to anyone sensitive to latency issues like this.  On the bright side the display is in fact quite bright and very visible outdoors.  Colors are punchy, contrast is fantastic and the black levels are every bit as good as those found on the MX4 and MX4 Pro, which are among the best I’ve ever seen on a non-OLED display.  Viewing angles are absolutely phenomenal and just about everything else I could praise a display for is wrapped up in this neat little package.  Touch sensitivity is off the charts too, and ranks among the most responsive mobile displays I’ve ever used.  The phone feels ultra responsive and quite a bit of it likely has to do with this.

Hardware and Build

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As a cheaper phone the Meizu M1 Note features much cheaper materials than the MX4 or MX4 Pro, but that doesn’t mean it actually feels like a cheap phone.  Many phones at this price range opt for the shiny plastic backs that many have come to loathe, and why this particular trend continues is beyond me.  That of course is the case here as the M1 Note has an ultra shiny, non-removable back that looks extraordinarily similar to an iPhone 5c.  Everything from the colors available to the shape of the overall phone, the circular capacitive home button and even the bottom speaker grille looks like an iPhone.  Without any sort of closer inspection, there’s no doubt that this will be mistaken for an iPhone 10 out of 10 times.

That being said the phone doesn’t actually feel cheap, and that comes from Meizu’s quality construction.  Everything here feels solid, from the clicks of the volume and power buttons to the overall solid feel of the device.  Many phones in this price range feel slightly hollow or overly light, but this phone somehow both feels super light and well built.  At 8.9mm thin this isn’t the thinnest phone in the world but it’s nowhere near being considered thick either.  All the edges of the device, including the back corners, are super smooth and slick.  They make the device feel a little more premium than it actually is priced at and feel really good in the hand.  Meizu is using some pretty small bezels here between the edge of the phone and the screen, giving this a slightly smaller frame than many other 5.5-inch display phones out there.

On the right side of the device, you’ll find the dual SIM tray, which actually fits two SIM cards inside of it at the same time.  Up top is a 3.5mm headset jack and a super awkwardly placed volume button.  Thankfully the home button doubles as a power button as well for turning the screen off, and also functions as the notification light.  The left side of the phone holds both volume buttons, which are separated instead of being a unified volume rocker as many other Android phones have, and feel absolutely excellent thanks to the solid click they make when pressed.  The bottom of the device holds the microUSB port and the single small speaker.  On back you’ll find the camera and dual-tone dual-LED flash, while the front of the device features only a single circular home button.

Performance and Memory

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If someone were to hand you this phone and ask you how much it cost, there’s a likelihood you wouldn’t guess in the range of $200.  That’s because the Meizu M1 Note doesn’t feel anything like a cheap phone in any way, especially not in the performance aspect.  This phone is every bit as fast, if not faster, than many high-end phones I’ve used.  Apps launch in a split second, multi-tasking is lightning fast, and even though it’s “only” got 2GB of RAM I never once saw an app reload or redraw when moving back and forth between them.  Swiping up from either side of the home button brings up the multi-tasking menu, which is unfortunately just a row of 4 icons with the app’s name under the icon.  I didn’t have too tough of a time identifying which apps were running but having the thumbnail appear above the app would have made things significantly easier to identify what’s running rather than trying to remember what the app’s icon looks like.

In terms of gaming performance I was utterly impressed with the performance of this device.  Every single game I tried ran like a dream, which is impressive given the price and the fact that this is a full HD 1080p screen.  Performance with a resolution like this is usually only reserved for phones twice this price.  Games like Assassin’s Creed Pirates, Temple Run 2 and Into the Dead ran like a dream, just to name a few ones that were tested.  The only exception I ran into was Brothers in Arms 3, which seems to have a problem with MediaTek chips in general as it performs equally as horrible on other phones with other MediaTek chipsets I’ve used as well.  There’s really nothing of note to improve here performance wise, and there’s no reason someone wouldn’t be completely happy with how this phone performs even if it were a more expensive device than it is.

Battery Life

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Some people have become worried by the trend of including non-removable batteries in phones, and if that’s something that is a deal breaker then you’re going to have a problem here.  Meizu has tried to mitigate the problem of not being able to carry around a spare battery by including a rather generous  3,140mAh battery, which is the same size found in powerhouse phones like the Galaxy Note 4 and Nexus 6.  Having a chipset that’s should theoretically be more energy efficient than those phones helps things too, and the IGZO display should cut down on energy usage as well.  In practice I didn’t find the battery to be any better or worse than the aforementioned phones, which means it gets a full days’ battery life no matter what you do.

I was able to play intensive 3D games, stream music, chat all day on Hangouts, make phone calls and still make it home with 25% battery left at the end of the day on my first day of using the phone, and that trend continued in subsequent days.  Super heavy users may have to turn down the brightness or carry an external power supply around with them, but most people won’t have any issues with the battery life here.

Phone Calls and Network

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In my experience T-Mobile’s US network doesn’t always play well with Chinese phones, and while I didn’t have as many problems with the Meizu M1 Note as I’ve had with some other Chinese phones I’ve reviewed, the experience was far from flawless. While using the phone the call quality was just fine, and I was actually impressed with the signal strength of the phone as I was able to move through most areas where T-Mobile’s network has poor reception without dropping a call.  In general AT&T’s network will have better compatibility here, as it shares plenty of the same spectrum with Chinese carriers.  The M1 Note also includes dual-SIM capability for countries that need and support that sort of thing, with robust support for SIM management.

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Data was the biggest issue for me though as I found myself constantly getting disconnected from T-Mobile’s network and having to reset the radio on the device.  When I did have a data connection it was a solid one though, pulling down great speeds from T-Mobile’s HSPA+ network.  I also had issues with WiFi networks not staying active while the phone was idle, forcing me to wait a couple of seconds after turning the screen on until data was active again.  This was sporadic but consistent no matter what WiFi device I connected to, and I assume would likely be fixed in a software update.

Software

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The Meizu M1 Note we used for this review was packing Flyme OS V4.2 (pronounced fly-me), which is a slightly newer version than what was on the Meizu MX4 Pro when we reviewed it.  There were no obvious software distinctions versus that phone, so please check that review for the full overview of what Meizu brings to the table.  In general though as was discussed in the performance section there’s almost nothing to complain about here outside of the usual oddities that Chinese manufacturers tend to create when changing up Android as much as they do.

We’ll just take a quick look at some of the things that makes Meizu different from other manufacturers.  First up is the most obvious thing: the home button.  Meizu only uses a single home button and nothing else on the face of the device, making this completely unique from other Android phones out there.  Pressing home does what it sounds like, while swiping up on the home button acts like pressing the back button normally would.  Swiping up from the bezel on either side of the home button opens up multi-tasking, and holding down home while the screen is on shuts the screen off and locks the device.

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The notification shade is a little bit different from other Android phones in that some of the quick toggles, like WiFi and Bluetooth, actually have an expandable menu to quickly connect to other devices.  Oddly enough there’s no quick way to get to phone settings, which is annoying to say the least, but you can change around the default buttons and choose from 15 in total to display.  Also to note another oddity is the way volume is controlled on the phone.  The volume rockers adjust media volume at all times no matter what you’re doing, so adjusting the volume is done only by going into settings.  This is annoying to say the least and needs to change in a future version of Flyme OS for sure.

Users will also find that when using a 3rd party keyboard on some apps, like Hangouts for instance, that trying to fix a word or move the cursor simply doesn’t work.  You need to put the keyboard away to move the cursor, and it has something to do with the built-in system keyboard on the phone.  Gaining root access and removing the system keyboard completely fixes the issue, or you could just use the built-in keyboard if that works well enough for you.  This is a bug that is known and will hopefully be fixed in a future update as well.

Sound

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The Meizu M1 Note features a single speaker on the bottom of the device, ensuring that your hand cupped around the bottom echoes the sound better than a speaker on the back would.  That doesn’t mean this is really any better quality than most single back speakers that you would find on plenty of Android device out there, just better placed.  The speaker itself is loud enough to where using loudspeaker on a phone call was audible even in my truck on the highway.  Listening to other audio such as YouTube videos was perfectly fine on this speaker, as the clarity and volume were adequate.

The DAC on the Meizu M1 Note seems to be better than many other phones in the $200 ballpark, but that doesn’t mean it can compete with many in phones more expensive.  Something has to give to fit this price point and this is one obvious place.  The audio output was passable at best on a higher end sound system, whereas I found it to be adequate on a lesser quality sound system. There’s a built in equalizer but since this doesn’t seem to be a very high powered amp inside the phone adjusting any of the levels in the EQ just lowered the volume.  There’s also a DAC setting in the music app for certain headphone brands and models, but none of them were sufficient to improve the sound in my truck.  This phone certainly wouldn’t be my first choice to listen to music on, but it’s passable with cheaper earbuds or other lower quality sound systems.

Camera

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When you think $200 phone you normally don’t think great camera, but the Meizu M1 Note is here to change that completely.  13-megapixel sensors are common even in the cheapest of Android phones out there, but there’s a level of quality that comes with a better sensor that you’ll find here.  There’s very little noise even in lower lighting, and the overall color reproduction is absolutely stellar.  Meizu’s denoise filter isn’t too harsh although I did find that in some lighting conditions it can tend to cause some haloing on certain parts of the image, especially when zoomed in.  Overall I’d put this right up there with the camera on the Galaxy S4 or Note 3, except with much faster shutter speeds, resulting in significantly better low light imaging with less blur.

On a negative note HDR is yet again nearly useless as it is on all other Meizu phones.  I don’t know what Meizu’s issue with HDR is but the way photos are taken is simply too slow for all but the brightest lighting conditions (i.e. direct sunlight).  It’s painfully obvious that exposure bracketing is used here, and the camera is very slow to change exposure, leading to long shutter times and plenty of double imaging in most HDR photos.  On a positive note there are some really interesting options here including a mode to take a shot with all items in focus and refocus after the shots is taken.  There’s also slow motion video and up to 1080p 30FPS video too, all of which were great quality.  Since there’s no optical image stabilization video can be a little shaky in some situations, but it’s nothing we haven’t seen before on plenty of other Android phones, and certainly not expected at this price range.  Overall this is bar none the best camera I’ve seen on a budget phone without hesitation.  Check out the gallery below and see if you agree!

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Conclusion

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For $220 I absolutely wouldn’t recommend any other phone on the market, so long as you’re not on T-Mobile or one of their MVNO’s of course.  You’re getting a phenomenal build for the price and a great looking phone at that, but it’s definitely going to make some people think you’ve got an iPhone if you’re OK with that sort of thing.  The camera is absolutely the best in this price class, and the display is top-notch as well.  Performance is by far the best in this category and competes even with phones double the price or more.  Meizu’s Flyme OS is unique and has its quirks, but it’s ultra fast, responsive and can be very pretty too.  My biggest complaint is the sound output, which could be better, especially when used on higher-end sound systems.

As always we recommend 1949deal.com as a trusted place to get the Meizu M1 Note if you are interested in getting it.  For the 16GB model they have the white version, blue version, yellow version and green version.  The 32GB model comes in a white versionand a blue version.