Featured Review: Meizu MX4 Pro

It was only a month ago that we reviewed the Meizu MX4 but here we are with Meizu's next mobile phone iteration, the Meizu MX4 Pro.  To be fair to Meizu the original MX4 did come out in September but Meizu is doing something a little different this year from previous years.  Usually Meizu releases one flagship per year and gives some significant upgrades to each phone but this year they're coming out with a second phone, the followup to the successful MX4 and essentially supercharging that experience.  The MX4 Pro goes on sale this weekend and will likely sell very well and there's a very good reason for that: Meizu has crafted not only a phenomenal phone but also a fantastic software experience.  Pair that with some great hardware upgrades, a slightly bigger but significantly higher quality and higher resolution panel and you'll quickly see why Meizu is the rising start of China.  How much better is the experience from the MX4?  Let's find out.

Specs

  • 5.5-inch 2560 x 1536 pixel IPS LCD
  • Exynos 5 Octa 5430 (2.0GHz 8-core made up of quad-core Cortex A-15 and A-7)
  • Mali-T628
  • 3GB of RAM
  • 16, 32 or 64GB internal storage, no microSD card support
  • 3350 mAh Li-Po battery
  • Android 4.4.4 FlymeOS 4.1
  • 20.7 megapixel 1/2.3″ Sony Exmor RS sensor
  • 5.0 megapixel front-facing camera

Every single spec that makes up the Meizu MX4 Pro has been bumped up from the Meizu MX4 with the exception of the rear-facing camera which still uses the Sony IMX220 20.7 megapixel 1/2.3" sensor.  This means that you're not only getting a boost in speed but an increase in resolution, a larger battery, more RAM and a better front-facing camera.  Everything here is top of the line including the brand new Exynos 5 Octa 5430, which is Samsung's newest Exynos processor and the first mobile processor built on the 20nm manufacturing process.  This should result in faster speeds, less heat and lower power usage.  As you can see from the bands below the phone once again support basically every wireless spectrum used out there except for US LTE.

  • LTE 1800 / 2100 / 2600 (Band 1, 3, 7)
  • TD-LTE 1900 / 2300 / 2500 / 2600 (Band 38, 39, 40, 41) (China Mobile)
  • HSPA 850 / 900 / 1900 / 2100
  • TD-SCDMA 1880 / 2010 (China Mobile)
  • GSM 850 / 900 / 1800 / 1900

Display

When I used the Meizu MX4 I was impressed with the panel, as I'm usually someone who enjoys AMOLED panels over LCD, however the panel on the MX4 had some incredible color vibrance without looking fake and deep black levels.  Meizu stepped up their game with the MX4 Pro and not only bumped the resolution up from 1080p on the MX4 to QHD 2K+ on the MX4 Pro, but also put a panel with even deeper blacks and less ghosting than the one on the MX4.  At this point the black levels on this LCD are nearly as good as AMOLED blacks where the black parts of the screen are nearly as dark as the black material used on the phone itself.  That's pretty incredible and something almost never seen on LCD's.

The resolution received a significant bump up to 2K+ which is actually slightly higher resolution than the other QHD/2K phones on the market.  Meizu does this by keeping the 5:3 aspect ratio of the MX4 which makes the MX4 Pro a little bit wider than most Android phones out there, hence the slight resolution bump vs a 16:9 panel.  At 5.5 inches this panel has an incredible 542 pixels per inch which means no matter how close you get to the screen it's impossible to see pixels with the normal human eye.  There is still a little bit more ghosting here than I've seen on other IPS LCD panels but nothing earth shattering or even very noticeable in most situations.  Overall I think this is my new favorite LCD display on the market!

Hardware and Build

The same high quality build from the original Meizu MX4 is here in all its glory with the chamfered metal band running around the outside of the phone and the faux-metal removable back gracing the palm of your hand.  Besides the slight increase in size from the 5.36-inch screen to the 5.5-inch one, the phone itself isn't much larger physically moving up to 150.1 x 77 x 9 mm from the MX4's 144 x 75.2 x 8.9 mm.  It's also a hair heavier at 158g but honestly it's still so light you won't care about it's weight at all.  The construction of the phone is very solid and doesn't feel hollow or cheap in any way at all.

A big departure from the original MX4 is the new physical home button that also features a capacitive button within it as well as a finger print reader.  This allows Meizu to use your finger print for security purposes like unlocking the phone or making payments, and the capacitive functions allow them to use it as a back button instead of a dedicated back button.  The click of the home button is very satisfying and the button itself is set within the body instead of being raised like on a Samsung phone, meaning you're not going to accidentally press it and wake it up this way in your pocket.

Unfortunately the power button is still on the top of the phone, making using the thing an absolute burden no matter how you hold it.  There's a reason most phones have the power button on the right side; your thumb is already there!  Meizu oddly enough realized this and you can use the home button as a power button instead.  Why both of them are on there is a mystery to me but that's how it is.

 

Performance, Memory and Multi-Tasking

Samsung's newest Exynos 5430 Octa-core chipset can be found inside of the Meizu MX4 and it shows in nearly every way possible.  Apps run smoother, games look and play better, and things like live wallpaper that seemed to struggle a bit on the MX4 no longer struggle on the MX4 Pro.  It's possible that moving away from MediaTek to an Exynos means better support since there's a ton of Samsung phones out there in the world packing Exynos processors rather than this just being a boost in overall performance.  The popular benchmark AnTuTu backed me up on this too showing that the MX4 actually outperforms the MX4 Pro in many areas of the processor benchmark, but the MX4 Pro still feels like a faster, smoother machine.  Bumping the resolution up to 2K+ on the MX4 Pro could also explain these performance differences as it's about 50% more pixels to render than 1080p.

Oddly enough even though there's 50% more RAM on the MX4 Pro I found there were more stutters when moving between apps and moving to different parts of apps.  Diving deeper into the hardware I believe this is a hardware problem and not a software one.  Running memory speed benchmarks, Androbench being the main one, the problem is immediately obvious.  Meizu has packed quanitity into this phone, not necessarily quality, and the NAND read/write speeds just aren't as fast as many other phones out there.  Take a look at the benchmarks below compared to the OnePlus One, a phone of similar monetary value, and the Nexus 6 which is priced quite a bit higher than both phones.  The quality and speed of the memory is really obvious in benchmarks and just as obvious in daily usage.

Speaking of multi-tasking Meizu unfortunately kept the poor multi-tasking tray design from the MX4, where a swipe up from the bottom bezel pulls up a little drawer at the bottom of the screen with a row of 4 icons showing the most recently used apps.  You can scroll through these like pages but you can only see the icons and the name of the app, making multi-tasking this was a bit of a nuisance.

Thankfully they came up with a super unique idea called SmartTouch that keeps a persistent semi-transparent bubble on the screen that can be moved anywhere you'd like.  This bubble acts as a back button when clicked, or if you swipe it the phone performs different actions.  Swiping down always brings down the notification drawer, while swiping up brings you back to the home screen.  Swiping left or right will move between opened apps just like alt-tab will on a computer.  This was by far the most useful part of SmartTouch and I found myself using it immediately and getting to really love this method of multi-tasking.  It's super efficient and easily the quickest way to multi-task I've ever seen on a phone.

Battery Life

What sort of battery life can you expect out of the 3350mAh battery that's in the Meizu MX4 Pro?  Given the increased screen size and resolution it makes sense for Meizu to have increased the size of the battery too and it shows by giving us essentially the same battery life the MX4 had.  I was easily able to go a full day on a single charge and still have plenty of battery left at the end of the day if I needed it for a few more hours or something.  I'm sort of a weird user when it comes to screen on time but this one got me around 3.5 hours, which is exactly what I've gotten with basically any phablet in the last two years.  Others will likely find that 5-6 hours of screen on time is normal here, especially when the brightness isn't left on high, and leaving everything synching in the background was just fine.

Software

 

Meizu updated their own in-house OS, Flyme, to version 4.1 with the release of the MX4 Pro.  This features some tweaks and a few really interesting little additions to Android not seen elsewhere.  I already talked about the SmartTouch bubble in the multi-tasking section but that was easily my favorite addition to Flyme over version 4.0.  The other really big feature is the finger print scanner and all that comes with it.  Unlocking the phone is the most rudimentary feature of the finger print scanner, allowing you to securely lock your phone with a pin and use your fingerprint to unlock the phone instead of using the pin.  This is a single-press type of scanner meaning you don't need to slide your finger over it like Samsung has you do, rather it's more like Apple's method where you just place your thumb on the home button and the phone unlocks.  I found this to be incredibly quick and efficient, taking only a fraction of a second to see my fingerprint almost no matter what angle I placed my thumb on the scanner.

The other big feature of the finger print scanner is Meizu's own MPay mobile payment system which allows you to use the built-in NFC chip to turn your phone into your wallet.  This payment is secured by your fingerprint and ensures you're the only one using the phone to pay with your cards or your bank account.  Unfortunately I wasn't able to test this system as it's only available in China, but given the accuracy of the fingerprint scanner when performing other actions on the phone the MPay system should be fantastic so long as it's widely supported in China.  This was the battle that Google has been fighting for years with Google Wallet and one that's only been won in the US with the advent of Apple Pay.  Another positive here the phone actually features NFC, something often not found in Chinese phones.  I was able to quickly and easily transfer photos between my OnePlus One and the Meizu MX4 Pro by touching the phones back to back and pressing and holding on the screen of one phone.  This is a fantastic way to easily and quickly share photos and other files and it's a breath of fresh air to finally see this on a notable Chinese flagship phone.

Moving back to the home button Meizu has added a number of things you can do with the home button itself.  Pressing on it takes you home, and long pressing it puts the phone to sleep.  There are also a few other options for touching the button including making it the home button no matter if you press the physical button or just touch it, turn it into the back button by just touching or turn the capacitive feature off altogether.  I found the back function to be preferable since there's no dedicated back button, but turning it off might make you get more used to the SmartTouch hovering bubble.

Meizu has ramped up the game with off screen gestures and has provided a ton of completely customizable gestures.  These gestures come in the form of things like drawing a circle, a V, a W, an M, etc.  There are all sorts of shapes that can be drawn when the screen is off and the phone is asleep and you can choose any installed app to launch immediately by drawing these gestures on the screen.  This is a much better implementation than I've seen elsewhere, including even on the CyanogenMod packed OnePlus One where you can't set what the gestures do, only turn them on or off.  I found the drawing up and down to be way too sensitive and I unlocked the phone in my pocket constantly, but turning those two off fixed that issue completely.

Meizu appears to have fixed the defaults bug that was present in Flyme 4.0 where you couldn't change the default messaging app.  This allows you to use other messaging apps instead of the built in text messaging app, which in my case I prefer the way Google Messenger looks but at least you get the choice now.  Much of the rest of the interface and features are the same as on the original Meizu MX4, so check out our review of that device and the rest of the how to articles we have right here!

Sound

Sound was every bit as good as on the MX4.  The headpiece was super clear when making calls, and loudspeaker was super loud and clear as well, easily being able to hear it where I need it most: the car while driving.  Output via the headphone jack opens up a number of different output modes within either the music app or the sound options in the system settings menu.  Besides the equalizer found on the MX4 Meizu has included a Hi-Fi sound option that enables you to choose from three different output modes as well as auto-detect mode.  These include low gain for earbuds and other lower-fidelity headphones, high gain for headsets, and line out for external amplifiers like car stereos and home receivers.  The difference in audio quality is profound with these settings, and I found the audio quality to be higher than basically every other phone I've ever used.  Phenomenal job here Meizu, this is really the phone you want if you're an audiophile.

Camera

The camera is the exact same sensor as found on the Meizu MX4, and so is the software.  I do swear that the HDR shutter is a little faster though, as I was never able to get a ghost-free image on the original MX4 using HDR and I got quite a few even when free-hand holding the MX4 Pro.  HDR is phenomenal on this device and really exhibits everything that's good about HDR shooting on a mobile device when it's done right; highlights are toned down, dark places are lightened up, and colors are accurate and great looking.  The software tends to bias more toward low ISO and high shutter though, which is unfortunate in low lighting conditions where it's difficult to use the auto mode to take any kind of decent shot.  Thankfully Meizu still has the amazing manual mode on the camera which lets you adjust tons of different camera options to get just the right shot no matter what lighting condition.  Check out our how-to here with some tips and tricks on how to make the best use of the manual mode on the phone.

Below you'll find some camera samples, some of which are taken by our editor Alex Maxham while on his trip to China for the unveiling of the Meizu MX4 Pro.

      

Final Thoughts and TL;DR

Meizu has knocked it out of the park yet again and is offering a phone I feel is superior to any other Chinese phone on the market.  This means there are plenty of apps and services that only work in China, like the Meizu App store and the MPay mobile payment service, however Meizu has plans to expand these outside of China in the future.  Until then though you'd be hard pressed to find a better 5.5-inch phone specifically built for the Chinese market with features that just aren't offered anywhere else.  For those of us outside of China the attraction to the phone is definitely less given that some of the key services won't work for us, including LTE network speeds in the US, but it's still a compelling phone at a good price.

The build quality is excellent, software is well polished and exudes a unique style that feels very Meizu, and overall the MX4 Pro is one of my favorite phones of the year.  I'm still not a believer in physical home buttons but the options that Meizu has included allow me to never have to press the thing outside of using it for a power button, which at this size of a phone actually was rather comfortable.  There are plenty of software customizations to be found, a phenomenal camera with tons of shooting modes and lots of manual control, and in general Meizu wants this phone to be an experience all your own, not necessarily just the one of their choosing.  Definitely check out the MX4 Pro if you get a chance!

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About the Author
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Nick Sutrich

Event / Reviews Editor
Nick has written for Androidheadlines since 2013, is Review Editor for the site, and has traveled to many tech events across the world. His background is as Systems Administrator and overall technology enthusiast. Nick loves to review all kind of different devices but specializes in Android smartphones, smartphone camera reviews, and all things VR, both here on the site and on our YouTube channel. He is very passionate about smartphones and the continued improvement they can bring into people’s lives and is an expert on many different types of technologies, including mobile devices, VR, and cameras. Contact him at [email protected]
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