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Featured Review: Mlais M7

June 24, 2015 - Written By Nick Sutrich

Mlais has really been pumping out the phones lately, with each one featuring something unique about it over others.  This is great for consumers as it gives them great variety and choice in their mobile phone purchasing decisions, all while keeping the price down to a reasonable level for many customers out there.  Mlais M7 is the latest mid-range device from the fledgling Chinese company and specializes not just in pushing spec boundaries in many aspects but also uses a next-generation TouchID fingerprint sensor on the back.  Let’s take a look at the M7 in detail and find out just what $180 buys this time around.

Specs

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The past couple of months have begun to deliver phones with rather similar specs around the $150-200 or higher price bracket, with varying degrees of change depending on the manufacturer.  The Mlais M7 differentiates itself via its build and TouchID fingerprint sensor, and also features 33% more RAM than most phones at this price range too.

  • 5.5-inch 720p IPS Display
  • MediaTek MT6752 64-bit 1.7GHz Octa-Core Processor
  • Mali T760-MP2 GPU
  • 3GB of RAM
  • 16GB internal storage, microSD card support
  • 2,600mAh battery
  • Android 5.0.2
  • 13MP rear-facing camera (Sony Exmor IMX135) , LED flash
  • 5MP front-facing camera
  • TouchID Fingerprint Scanner
  • 149.5mm tall x 76.8mm wide x 8.6mm thick
  • 160g

Display

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The display is certainly one of the areas that had to be skimped on a bit to get this build quality at this price range, not to mention all the other higher-end specs too.  720p isn’t the most amazing looking resolution at 5.5-inches, but it really doesn’t look bad either.  After all, this was the resolution our TVs were running not 10 years ago except on a far smaller screen, bringing up the pixel density considerably.  Also, remember that the resolution trade-off means better performance, which we’ll discuss a bit later.  Overall the display really looks phenomenal despite the relatively low resolution, and you likely wouldn’t even know it was “only” 720p without comparing it to other displays anyway.

Image quality is equally as good as the sharpness, with excellent color reproduction that isn’t over-saturated at all and black levels that are actually very good for an LCD.  There’s no obvious light bleed from the edges of the phone and viewing angles are fantastic from all but one direction in which the black levels drop like a rock, but colors stay strong and accurate.  The refresh rate of the panel is phenomenal and I didn’t notice any obvious ghosting or other side effects of a slow panel.  Digitizer performance was excellent and I had no issues texting super fast on a keyboard like Fleksy, which excels at using multiple fingers to quickly type words.  Digitizer performance is important to a quality experience on a modern smartphone and the Mlais M7 doesn’t disappoint here.

Hardware and Build

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The quality of this build quickly reminded me of how well Mlais builds their phones in general.  We’ve seen this on other Mlais phones we’ve reviewed and this one is absolutely no exception to that rule.  A metal frame binds the internals together with a tough material that feels weighty and quality, and all the edges around the phone feature a matte black painted metal as well.  There’s a chrome trim around the top and bottom of the trim around the entire phone, giving an almost mean and sleek look to the phone.

The back of the phone features a soft-touch plastic that adds a nice grip and level of quality to the device too, giving it a great feeling in the hand.  Here’s where you’ll find the signature TouchID fingerprint sensor that’s recessed into the back plate of the phone with a ribbed chrome trim, giving it an advantage over some other phones with fingerprint scanners.  This recessed scanner keeps users from smudging up the camera lens, which itself juts out a bit from the frame of the phone and features a single LED flash to the right of the lens.  There’s also a small speaker bar on the bottom left of the back just under the logo.

Around the frame you’ll find nothing on the bottom or the right side, while the left side features both the volume rocker and power button.  Up top both the microUSB charging port and 3.5mm headset jack are located side by side, adding convenience when users need to charge the phone and listen to music at the same time.  At 160g this is an average weight device that feels just right since it’s made of metal.  There’s nothing worse than a phone with metal feeling like a cheap plastic phone, and the Mlais M7 avoids that stigma completely while remaining light enough to be comfortable.

The face of the phone features some nice, small bezels that are right in line with even most flagship phones nowadays.  Most phones don’t have LG’s ultra-thin bezels but this is right in line with most Samsung phones and others at this price range too.  Below the screen is a white rounded-square capacitive home button that’s always visible and has a backlight for easy viewing in dark lighting.  To the right of the home button is a lit capacitive back button, and to its left a menu button.  The button to the left actually appears to be an overview button in looks but unfortunately, acts like a menu button.

Performance and Memory

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MediaTek’s MT6752 is their fastest mid-range 64-bit Octa-core chipset based on the latest Arm A53 standard and boasts speeds quite a bit faster than Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 615, which is packed in phones around the same price.  Having only a 720p screen means that this phone is even faster than ones that feature a 1080p display, giving the performance advantage to the Mlais M7 over some others at this price range with higher resolution screens.  Running games and other performance-intensive apps was like a hot knife cutting through butter; the M7 took everything I threw at it and ran it like a dream.  Even benchmark scores were through the roof, outperforming even most higher-end phones that just came out this spring.  This is slightly artificially inflated because of the sheer chasm between the resolution of the Mlais M7 and the quad-HD phones that came out this Spring, but in the end it doesn’t matter to the user who’s now got just as fast of a phone for a fraction of the price, no matter what the reason.

Multi-tasking is about as fast as it can get while still requiring the home button to be long-pressed.  This sort of way of reaching the Overview screen is antiquated and slow for sure, but once you’re there clicking on apps brings them up immediately with no reloading or refreshing of web pages.  3GB of RAM helps this a lot and really the only thing that could make it faster would be to actually make the button to the left of Home an Overview button as it’s labeled.  For now though it still acts like a menu button, making multi-tasking just a little bit slower than it should be.

Battery Life

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Many times it’s been said that skins on top of Android only cause problems, particularly when it comes to performance and battery life.  That certainly seems to hold true here, as a 2,600mAh battery found in phones like the Galaxy S6 wouldn’t normally last an entire day without battery saving mode when actually being used as a normal phone.  Somehow Mlais has squeezed the juice out of this battery, delivering a whopping 6 hours of on-screen time for me in daily usage.  This was backed up by running Futuremark’s PCMark for Android and the stressful battery test that puts the phone through its paces for hours.  Standby time was equally impressive as I left the phone alone for two straight days with only an hour of on-screen time during this period, syncing enabled, etc. and it still only lost less than 20%.

Phone Calls and Network

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Using the phone on T-Mobile’s 3G network was a breeze that required no additional setup or tweaking.  This isn’t always the case with non T-Mobile phones, particularly when it comes to MMS settings and phone calls.  Since FDD-LTE is really only found in China and a few other areas you’re not likely to experience those sorts of speeds on the Mlais M7 outside of said countries, however that doesn’t mean its 3G modem isn’t worth talking about.  I got great signal with it and excellent speeds for HSPA, providing plenty of bandwidth for streaming music, videos and other media.  Phone calls were equally as good, pulling in a good strong signal and providing as quality of calls as can be on a regular cell network without HD Voice.  The same would be true of AT&T or any GSM network in the US or otherwise, but of course double check with the compatible bands listed below:

2g – 850, 900, 1800, 1900MHz

3G – 850, 900, 1900, 2100MHz

FDD-LTE – 800, 1800, 2100, 2600MHz

Software

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UI/Apps

Mlais has begun shipping their phones with Android 5.0 Lollipop out of the box, and as a result the base user experience is considerably better than previous phones Mlais has shipped. That doesn’t mean previous phones from Mlais have been bad, it’s just nice to have the Lollipop experience without having to wait for or manually update the phone. What you’ll find here is a version of Android 5.0 Lollipop that looks and feels very much like the stock version of Lollipop that Google showed off last Summer at I/O 2014. What’s different is the addition of a number of features, which is the same vision Mlais has had with their previous phones; don’t mess with what Google has done, rather just add to it to complete the experience.

Even the launcher that ships with the phone very much looks and feels like Google’s stock Android launcher, the Google Now Launcher, just without the left-side Google Now screen. In the notification shade dropdown you’ll find an additional audio profiles quick toggle, but not much more than that. Jumping into the settings menu reveals a few more features that add to stock Android. These settings include the ability to draw different shapes and letters on the screen while the phone is asleep to launch specified apps, and double-tap the screen to wake. I would recommend using a password, fingerprint-protected or other similar method of lockscreen to keep the phone locked though, as it doesn’t check the proximity sensor or front-facing camera to see if it’s in a pants pocket. This causes some accidental wake-ups and will most assuredly cause accidental phone calls or other interactions with the phone if not protected.

As far as built-in apps are concerned there’s no bloat on this phone at all. The basic messaging, email, calculator and other apps like that are included and nothing more. There’s no virus scanners, no partnerships with big companies and no extra storage space taken up from the get-go. Google Play Services and the Play Store are on here by default and give access to Google’s billion-plus apps and all their great services, all of which can be used at your discretion or not as it is with most Android phones.  What’s also great to see here is that Mlais has been providing regular updates either monthly or even weekly in some cases, all of which are quickly done since it’s effectively a skinless version of Android.

Security

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Here’s where I would usually just talk about per-app profiles, since Chinese phones specialize in this sort of thing, however I’m pleased to say that the Mlais M7 Note features some additional security features too. The biggest of which is one of the selling points of the phone: the fingerprint scanner. Unlike the fingerprint scanners on many other Android-powered phones this one doesn’t require you to swipe or hold it in place for a long time. Rather Mlais calls this a TouchID scanner, and it shares more than just the namesake with Apple’s implementation of scanning your fingerprint. This means that lazily placing your finger on the scanner, which is conveniently located in a nice little dimple on the back like the Moto X series of phones have, and the phone will almost certainly read your print with no issues. There were a few times that I had to place my finger on it a slightly different way but it’s so quick at actually seeing your fingerprint that it was a completely painless experience.

At this point in time the fingerprint scanner really only works as a way to unlock the phone, as Android doesn’t have a built-in way to pass this along to other apps in Lollipop (that comes with M), and Mlais hasn’t provided a specific way to do it either. That’s not a problem, just something to note as it’s really only a convenient way of securing your phone. A backup PIN has to be created just in case the phone isn’t able to read your print for some reason, so make sure to make this a strong PIN for security reasons.

Per-app permissions are of course a big deal here as stock Android 5.0 Lollipop still doesn’t have this sort of thing built in. Per-app permissions allow users to control which permissions apps are individually allowed to access. This includes everything from accessing your contacts, GPS location, sending text messages and more. Don’t like an app seeing your location? Just go into the permissions dialog and turn it off, simple as flicking a switch. Users can sort by permissions too, so if you’re nervous about apps reading contacts or other sensitive information you can easily see a list of all apps that can access this information at a glance.

Sound

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Sound reproduction out of the box was better than some at this price range. The DAC Mlais uses produces clear, solid sound with great highs and deep bass. My biggest gripe out of the box is that the mids are a bit too high, which obviously is going the differ depending on the type of music you listen too, as that affects some types of music more than others. There’s a built-in equalizer that works well but at the end of the day the DAC isn’t high-powered meaning the more you adjust things in the equalizer the lower the volume goes. Your mileage may vary here as it will with any audio playback device, and of course your usage of headphones versus a dedicated audio system will do the same.

The speaker on the back of the phone does the job just fine and is probably about as good as I imagine a back-facing speaker can get.  It’s loud, clear and produces good overall tones for such a size speaker.  I had no issues watching movie trailers and hearing both the dialog and music, playing games, or anything else that would normally be acceptable to listen to via the speaker on a phone.  Obviously you’re not going to get quality music listening out of most phone speakers so don’t expect that here, but if you’re in a pinch or don’t have another means of listening it’ll work just fine.

Camera

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Cameras in this price range are generally nothing to write home about but they get the job done.  The Mlais M7 packs a 13 megapixel sensor that more often than not takes great shots, but it won’t compare to those taken with more expensive phones.  Still so long as you keep it on auto mode it’s likely that you’ll be satisfied with the shots.  The biggest problems are the overly simple software and the lens of the camera, which we’ll dive into first.  The sensor behind the scenes is the Sony IMX135 which is famous for being in the LG G2, G3, Samsung Galaxy S4, Moto X 20014 and a ton of other phones too.  That being said the lens is just as important on the sensor and it feels like Mlais may have skimped a bit with the lens here, although I’ve certainly seen much worse.  The focus  range on the lens seems to hit the sweet spot closest to the middle with some hazing as you get further out to the edges.  This isn’t uncommon in phones but it’s not always as noticeable as it is here.

Taking the bit of weird focusing out of the equation the rest of the image generally looks great.  White balance and color balance are all good and the camera does a great job of getting those important parts of the picture just right.  Clarity of the picture is pretty great at both a macro level and at a distance, as this is a true 13-megapixel sensor unlike some of the 8-megapixel interpolated sensors that tend to be used at this price point.  In general the level of noise in the shots is great, and even in situations with a high ISO the denoise filter does a great job of getting a balanced shot that removes RGB noise all while keeping most of the detail.  It’s only in really extreme examples with the night mode that this gets out of hand, a mode I wouldn’t recommend using.

HDR can be useful in some shots but overall it lowers the amount of detail in the shot over the auto mode.  I would recommend using it only in extreme lighting situations where nothing is moving, otherwise there’s too much of a risk of getting a double image.  Other modes include burst shot with up to 40 pictures at a time by holding the shutter button, panorama, moving image tracking and multi-angle shot.  These are mostly novelty modes and won’t be used very often, but some of them can really come in handy.  Video quality is pretty great overall, delivering 1080p video that’s crisp and clear.  There’s noise reduction on the video, digital image stabilization and even object tracking by simply pressing and holding on an object.  The software did a great job of keeping the object in focus and keeping it tracked on screen too.  Check out the sample shots below to see the quality for yourself.

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Conclusion

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Here we’ve got another quality built, well-specced and fantastically priced phone by Mlais.  This time around it’s not just the metal frame build we’re happy to see but the lightning fast and accurate finger print scanner on the back and the incredible performance delivered by MediaTek’s latest octa-core processors.  The camera will certainly do just fine in most situations and give you plenty of lasting memories to put in scrapbooks, share on social networks and the like, or even just take some nice looking wallpaper with.  Sound output was great out of the box and doesn’t require much tweaking to get just right, and the audio from the speaker on the phone is certainly just fine too.  Phone calls, MMS and 3G data worked just fine in the US and should be compatible with all GSM carriers.  All this powered by Android 5.0 Lollipop with some added features will deliver a great experience to just about anyone for under $190.