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Featured Review: Mlais MX Base

September 20, 2015 - Written By Nick Sutrich

Mlais is one of the many smaller Chinese manufacturers that specializes in making a range of low-cost smartphones that run Android but often surprise at the level of performance or features offered for said price.  The Mlais MX Base brings up the bottom line of the company’s latest line of handsets, offering a baseline feature set for around $130.  There’s little to be surprised about here when looking at specs if you’re familiar with the $130 Android-powered smartphone market, so what exactly is Mlais doing to help differentiate it’s latest from the pack?  Let’s find out.

Specs

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Like many other $130 Chinese smartphones the Mlais MX Base is powered by a quad-core MediaTek MT6735 1.3GHz 64-bit processor.  Paired with this is a Mali-T720 MP2 GPU and 2GB of RAM, as well as 16GB of internal storage.  The back of the phone is fully removable and features two SIM card slots, a microSD slot and a removable 4,300mAh battery.  This is a huge battery, especially for this range of a phone, and will provide ample battery life.  Sticking to the back of the device we’re looking at an 8-megapixel camera with f/2.0 lens and a single LED flash.  On the front sits a 5-inch 720p LCD screen and of course the whole experience is driven by Android 5.1 Lollipop with a light skin.  Dimensions of the phone run pretty slim especially considering the size of the battery.  You’ll find that the Mlais MX Base is 71.5mm wide, 145.8mm tall and 9.9mm thin and weighs 168g.

In the Box

The inside of the box is pretty barren, which is probably to be expected from a $130 phone in most situations anyway.  You’ll find just the phone itself, microUSB cable and wall charger included as well as a manual.  Our phone had a screen protector pre-installed on the phone itself, and we were even shipped a tempered glass screen protector and a flip-style case.  These likely won’t come with every order but you may be fortunate enough to score these extras with your device too.

Display

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A well-balanced display is difficult to find at this price range, but the MX Base actually has a pretty decent 720p display to behold.  Color balance hints ever so slightly cool, but white balance still looks really good, and whites appear almost completely naturally white regardless of the slight color hue here.  Color reproduction is excellent and not over or under saturated at all, everything looks quite natural.  Resolution of course isn’t stellar but it’s not bad either, at around 300 pixels-per-inch it’s not quite Retina level (around 330PPI for reference) but it’s not too far from that either.  There’s some significant light bleed coming from the top of the screen that makes the status bar look more like a gradient than a flat color at most angles, but it’s not too bad to be distracting most of the time.

Black levels are not bad and are definitely better than quite a few displays in this price range, which is always refreshing to see from any LCD.  Refresh rate could be better as there’s some noticeable ghosting when things are moving quickly, but it’s not enough to ruin anything.  Last but certainly not least is the digitizer, which could use a bit of work.  While it’s not the worst digitizer seen on phones we’ve reviewed in this price range it’s nowhere near the best either, catching most presses but getting a little confused once things get fast.  Typing quickly on Fleksy, for instance, ends in a mess of text and ghost swipes that end up deleting or changing words, meaning you’re just going to have to use a Swype-style keyboard or slow down when typing.

Hardware and Build

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The Mlais MX Base is made of plastic and it doesn’t really try to hide it much either.  Sure there’s a brushed metal look to the plastic silver edges of the device to fool the eye, but it’s not going to fool anyone once you touch it.  The back is also a soft-touch plastic so it feels a little more like rubber, giving that extra grip to the phone that’s sometimes needed.  The back of the phone is slightly squishy when pressed but isn’t anything too bad, just feels a little on the cheaper side when compared to a comparably priced Doogee Valencia 2 Y100 Pro for instance.  The top of the device sits the microUSB port, 3.5mm headset jack and even an IR blaster for using the phone as a remote control.  On the right is the power button and on the left is the volume rocker, standard Android configuration that provides maximum comfort in most situations.  You’re also going to find 3 capacitive buttons below the display; menu, home and back.

Performance and Memory

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The MediaTek MT6735 is an entry-level quad-core processor and often performs that way on many devices.  Mlais seems to have done some optimizing here though because it definitely feels snappier and benchmarks better than some other devices running that SoC (system-on-a-chip).  To make things a little more astounding the phone even performs better than the Doogee Valencia 2 Y100 Pro that we just reviewed, which uses the exact same chipset yet performs quite a bit worse on paper and in general use.  At 720p the resolution isn’t exactly going to be taxing on the processor and it definitely feels like that, with UI elements blazing by an unhindered speeds and most 3D games running like a dream on this phone.  What’s really impressive though is the memory speed used here, which is equally as fast as most flagships to date.  This is considerably faster than most phones in this price range by quite a bit, easily quadrupling the performance or more in some cases.

Because you have to hold down the home button rather than having a dedicated overview button like Android devices should have, an extra second or two and an extra step both keep multi-tasking from being the quickest and easiest go-to solution when using the phone.  Thankfully though multi-tasking was equally impressive regardless of the slower way of having to use it.  Apps came up lightning quick, showing that they’re sitting there in memory waiting to be used when you call on them.

Benchmarks

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Benchmark results came out good for a phone of this price, and will probably astonish those looking for cheaper 2-year old phones as this one performs basically the same as some 2-year old flaghips.  MediaTek’s chipsets have been getting better and better, and 2015 is definitely the year where they’ve impressed us the most.  Check out the benchmarks below and see for yourself how it compares!

Phone Calls and Network

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The MX Base worked perfectly on T-Mobile US’s 2G and 3G networks, but as usual doesn’t have the right spectrum support for their 4G LTE network.  Call quality was excellent, reception was fantastic even in indoor areas, and overall I have zero complaints about the MX Base being used as a phone.  Worldwide band support is here for other networks though, and you’ll find that the MX Base works on 2G GSM networks at 850, 900, 1800 and 1900MHz.  3G HSPA support is available via 850, 900, 1900 and 2100MHz, while 4G LTE is actually available too at 800, 1800, 2100 ans 2600MHz.  Check with your carrier of choice to see if any of these bands are supported before jumping on board of course.

Battery Life

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These types of less expensive smartphones tend to have pretty good battery life, especially in 2015, and that’s in large part due to their lower resolution screens and lower power processors.  The Mlais MX Base has both of those things, but it also has an absolutely massive battery as well, one that’s double the size of many phones under 5-inches on the market.  As a result expect some pretty insane screen on time with this and lots of streaming and browsing before even having to think of charging the phone.  In my testing I regularly got over 6 hours of screen on time, which is consistent with the battery size here given that I get 3-4 hours screen on time with most phones on the market.

Sound

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Many times sound reproduction in less expensive phones leaves a bit to be desired, especially when running them through a higher-end sound system where nuances can be picked up better.  That being said the sound reproduction on the Mlais MX Base is pretty good and will certainly do a fine job on many headphones out there, especially earbuds which don’t usually give as high of sound quality.  The more you ramp up the sound system’s quality the more you’ll hear that the range of sounds offered here is a bit on the low side, but many people aren’t going to care about super high-quality audio anyway, so this will be left up to you.  There is a built-in equalizer that helps balance audio depending on what you’re listening to, and more than likely many people will be happy enough with what’s presented here.  Using the speaker on the back of the phone for audio gets the job done but it’s not going to sound good; this speaker is just too small and being on the back of the phone doesn’t help things either.

Software

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Mlais is good about leaving Android alone and not messing with what looks good or what works, and there’s nothing different here in that regard.  What you’ll find installed on the phone is a very stock looking version of Android 5.1 Lollipop, a refreshing trend that’s beginning to take serious foothold in the smartphone market as a whole.  All the awesome advantages of Lollipop 5.1 are here including fast WiFi and Bluetooth switching via the notification shade, easy brightness adjustment as well as a number of other quick toggles.  Actionable lock screen notifications are here and ready to make your life just a little bit easier.  Audio profiles are also included as a quick toggle right on the notification shade, so no need to press volume and then adjust the volume, it’s all a single click away on the shade.

Other features are pretty light and are mostly found in the off-screen gesture section.  Here you’re going to find ways to wake up the phone or launch apps without having to press buttons, rather just drawing shapes or letters on the screen instead.  There are 12 total gestures, 10 of which control or launch apps.  While it’s a good idea you may find that some of these, particularly the more simple gestures like double-tap to wake, often go off in your pocket.  You’ll need to pick and choose based on which ones do and don’t go off in your pocket, or just carry the phone another way so that the screen isn’t brushing up against your leg, which is the problem in the first place as it thinks you’re intentionally trying to touch it.

Security features abound here and give the user quite a bit more power over their experience than even many phones of a more expensive caliber do.  Per-app permissions are a thing the Google is only just now adding into Android 6.0 Marshmallow as a standard feature, however it’s already built into the Mlais MX Base’s OS.  This gives users over each and every permission that all apps installed on the phone have, so it’s easy to deny things like GPS or contacts reading to any app you don’t feel 100% comfortable with.  There’s also an auto-start management section under security that lets users stop apps from automatically starting with the phone, a feature that’s all too handy with some ad-supported apps out there.

There’s only a few apps included in the package and the whole experience is generally kept to a very light fare.  There’s a backup and restore to SD card app, FM radio, sound recorder and ZaZaRemote app for controlling TVs and other IR-blaster compatible devices.  Outside of that it’s just the normal Google apps and a very light packing of them too, not even the full Google Apps package is here so you’ll need to download Hangouts, Drive and a bunch of other Google apps if you’re used to using them from the Google Play Store.  This super-light approach to the phone keeps lots of space free from the get go and doesn’t bog the phone down with extraneous features you might not use, and even if you want more features there’s likely an app that’ll fill the gap.

Camera

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All of Mlais phones have the name “Alps” on the registry of the device, so if you’re running benchmarks or just looking at the EXIF data from pictures you’re going to see this name everywhere instead of Mlais.  How appropriate then that I took this one to the Bavarian Alps with me during my time in Germany for IFA and came back with some pretty nice pictures from the device too!  Using an 8-megapixel Sony sensor the Mlais MX Base does a great job of taking pictures in nearly any lighting condition, including lower light, and offers a wide range of ISO and shutter speeds to make up for lack of light.  There’s definitely a denoise filter here but it really did a great job the vast majority of the time in removing elements of noise in the image without killing all the detail.

The level of detail presented in the shots is incredible for any phone running an 8mp sensor, $100 or so phones notwithstanding.  One of the biggest surprises here was the there appears to be zero lens aberration anywhere in any of these shots, something almost no phone at this price range seems to be able to hold up to.  Most of the time you’d see slight blurring or what looks like out of focus areas on cheaper lenses, particularly near the sides of the picture, but none of that is present here.  On top of that Mlais seems to let the ISO go to the maximum that the sensor will handle, bringing out tons of detail even in near-zero lighting conditions even if there is a heavy amount of noise present.  Even indoor lighting proved to be an easy job for the camera, which handled even single light sources inside at night well without doing the image harm.

Dynamic range, color reproduction and exposure balance were all excellent, and I never really found myself worrying about the camera getting the scene wrong.  HDR worked quite well in combining exposure brackets, although it took a few seconds for each shot to be taken and process.  What’s surprising about this is that I never got a blurry image when using HDR, something that can’t normally be said about phones that use older exposure bracketing methods as it has to take one picture after the other at different exposure levels and combine them, and usually hand jitter or something moving in the scene ends up making things a bit blurry.

Video is certainly the weakest point of the camera and a lot of that probably has to do with the processing power the device has.  It’s just not up to par to deal with the more intense processing that higher quality HD video puts processors through, and as such you’re going to end up with 720p video that doesn’t look incredibly sharp.  Still it’ll get the point across, especially if you’re just sharing videos on social media or other places where you might not be too worried about image quality in the first place.

Software wise this is pretty typical fare for less expensive Chinese smartphones, as the vast majority of them seem to run the same camera software suite as the rest.  The positives of this software are that you’ve got dedicated camera shutter and video shutter buttons right at the start, so taking a picture or starting a video is a single press away, saving precious time for when you quickly need to get a shot.   There’s lots of modes including live photo mode, motion tracking mode, panorama and even an interesting mode that takes multiple pictures and lets you look at an object like it were a 3D model.  These all work well but some of them, like live photo mode, will degrade the image quality of a picture in favor of taking a bunch of fast shots at once.  There’s also plenty of tweaking to be seen here, including white balance, sharpness, hue, saturation and a ton of other image quality options.  Check out the screenshots above to see all the options and the Flickr gallery below for all the full resolution samples.

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Conclusion

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The Mlais MX Base is a solid phone without a doubt.  It’s running the latest version of Android, 5.1 Lollipop, as well as a few extra features that help enhance Android rather than trying to fundamentally change it.  The fast MediaTek processor packed within runs the UI and 3D games easily and without stutters, and the 2GB of RAM included makes multi-tasking a breeze.  The ultra-fast internal storage is unique among phones in this price range and keeps things running smoothly on the phone even during application installs.  While the screen itself is pretty pedestrian for this price range and features an HD LCD panel at almost-Retina quality resolution, the digitizer needs a lot of work and will definitely frustrate those who are used to typing quickly.  At least the rest of the phone is solid though, including the sound output and even the camera, which fared better than most in this price range.  Last but not least if you’re looking for 2-day battery life this is the phone to get, as the battery is twice the size of most phones out there.  If you like what you see you can grab one for yourself for around $115 from our trusted partners at GearBest!