It seems like every new Chinese phone is better than the last. Here at Android Headlines we've begun to really specialize in reviewing the latest and greatest from China regardless of the price point, but the nature of the beast keeps the price point for these phones low and the specs bleeding edge for the price. MediaTek's latest 64-bit chipsets have enabled these cheaper phones to no longer feel like a cheap phone, rather they end up performing just as well as the most expensive phones out there at the end of the day. Sure the resolution of the display panel might be lower, and the materials used to actually manufacture the phone are cheaper, but it's likely most people don't care. This is what many of the up and coming Chinese manufacturers are banking their money on, so does the Mlais M52 Red Note stand up to this challenge? Let's find out.
As we've seen in the past $159 is starting to buy some seriously amazing hardware, with a powerful 64-bit octa-core chipset, 720p HD screen and plenty of RAM to do whatever you need.
- 5.5-inch 720p IPS Display
- MediaTek MT6752 1.7GHz Octa-core Processor
- Mali T760 MP2 GPU
- 2GB of RAM
- 16GB internal storage, microSD card support
- 3,200mAh battery
- Android 4.4.4
- 13MP rear-facing camera, LED flash
- 8MP front-facing camera
- 152mm tall x 78mm wide x 8.2mm thick
We just reviewed the uleFone Be Pro which costs the exact same $159, and right off the top the Mlais M52 Red Note is lighter, slightly smaller, features the same size 5.5-inch 720p screen, a faster processor and a bigger battery. On specs alone the Mlais certainly knocks the socks off anything else in this price range, and even encroaches on phones in the next tier of $200+ phones like the Meizu M1 Note in almost every regard.
For a 5.5-inch 720p panel this display looks phenomenal. It feels sharper than other 5.5-inch 720p displays, is more vibrant, has better color reproduction, contrast levels and even viewing angles. It's basically about as good as an LCD 720p display could get in my eyes, as most of these panels aren't found on phones even marginally more expensive. There's no noticeable ghosting at all and no bleeding from the lit parts of the edge of the screen unless you tilt it significantly to the side. Overall this is a fantastic panel that'll make anyone happy so long as they keep the price point in mind, and even then it'll likely surprise most.
The digitizer isn't all that great but it's not nearly as bad as the one on the uleFone Be Pro. Multiple touches are registered just fine and there's no bleeding over of touch point when fingers get close, but I found it very difficult to type quickly with two fingers rather than using a swipe input method. This is more than likely a driver issue that could be fixed in a future update as we've seen with phones like the OnePlus One and Oppo Find 7.
Hardware and Build
Cheaper price tag means cheaper hardware and build, there's just no way around it. That being said this doesn't feel as cheap as the Xiaomi Redmi Note even though it looks almost identical to that product. Even the three capacitive keys below the screen on the front look just like the Xiaomi Redmi Note, which is probably the reason the phone is called the Red Note in the first place. It's a little lighter than some phones at this price range but doesn't feel hollow or cheap. The whole body is covered in a shiny, slippery plastic that's likely going to need to be covered in some sort of case if you have any hope of ever keeping the phone from receiving drop damage. The phone comes in four different colors for you to choose from: white, black, coral and teal. What's awesome here is that all four of these colors are included in the box and are easily swappable thanks to the simple plastic snap-off back.
In addition to these extra backs my model came with a circle S-View case that's clearly a take-off of the LG G3 window cases out there yet is called the same thing as a Samsung window case. The back is a transparent dark grey, muting any color back you have on the phone but at least still displaying it for everyone to see. The window itself is incredibly useful and displays either and analog or digital clock of your choosing, as well as music support without even having to open the case up. This was unbelievably handy and worked very well, as closing the case whether the screen was on or not always shows the quick window. Buttons are easily accessible when the case is closed and in general I found this to be the preferred way to use the phone.
The rest of the phone features a pretty typical button and layout configuration for most Chinese smartphones out there. The power button is on the right side, volume rocker on the left side, USB port and 3.5mm headphone jack on top and a speaker bar near the bottom of the back. A single LED sits below the reasonably sized camera lens on the top, and of course your three capacitive menu, home and back buttons sit below the screen on the front. It's likely that if there's an Android 5.x Lollipop update for this phone this menu button will become a recents button, but until then it serves as a menu button.
Performance and Memory
MediaTek's MT6752 processor is an absolute beast, especially at the 720p resolution the phone runs at. Using AnTuTu I was told it was almost as fast as a Galaxy S5, HTC One M8 or any of the other Snapdragon 800/801 powered phones out there. I even ran games side by side with the Snapdragon 805-powered Nexus 6 and the Mlais M52 Red Note ran everything at a higher framerate with less stuttering and hitching than the Nexus 6. It's important to remember that the Nexus 6 is literally four times the resolution of this phone, meaning there's a lot more processing power required to actually display the same thing at the same framerate, but it's impressive nonetheless. As long as you don't mind 720P this thing will run absolutely anything you throw at it with a perfect framerate.
Multi-tasking was great even though it's activated via long-pressing on the home button. Dedicated Recents/Overview multi-tasking buttons are always preferred and having to hold down the home button slows the process down considerably, but when I needed to switch between apps the phone did so flawlessly. With 2GB of RAM at this resolution there's essentially never any redraw between apps no matter what you've got open, so those precious web pages won't have to reload while you're playing a round of whatever the latest mobile game is.
With a 3,200mAh battery, a processor with power requirements as lot as the MediaTek MT6752 and a 720P screen you'd expect the battery life to be pretty crazy, and if you did you'd absolutely be correct. I was impressed with the battery life of the uleFone Be Pro which features a slightly lower power chipset but a significantly smaller battery at 2,600mAh, but this blows that one out of the water. Standby is phenomenal, losing only a few percentage points over night, but it's not the best performer we've seen from the likes of recently released Chinese smartphones with similar chipsets. Actual usage borders on the best I've seen in a while, with 40% battery remaining after the first day and a half with the phone and nearly 2 hours screen on time. I was also streaming music quite a bit that day and taking pictures with the phone, two factors that typically drain battery, not to mention the initial setup and syncing of apps and my Google account.
Phone Calls and Network
Another superb section and a win for the Mlais M52 Red Note. While it doesn't support T-Mobile's LTE network it does widely support the HSPA+ 3G network, and even in spots where I almost always drop calls this phone kept the signal going. It's nice not to have your conversation interrupted at the same point every day, and the days I've been using the Mlais M52 Red Note have been filled with less annoyance because of this. In terms of network speed you're going to get the regular HSPA+ speeds we've all been used to before LTE came along. That translates into roughly anywhere between 8-15Mbps download and between 0.5-2.5Mbps upload on T-Mobile's network. AT&T doesn't have as fast of an HSPA network but it's still enough to stream any media you're going to want to consume on a wireless network. For those that need it the Mlais M52 Red Note supports two SIM cards, one regular sized and one micro sized, as well as robust SIM management for directing calls, texts and data through a specific SIM.
When all other things fail to deliver a truly excellent experience on a phone, the software experience can be paramount to the ultimate success of that device. The Mlais M52 Red Note uses a nearly identical build of Android 4.4.4 KitKat as the iOcean Rock, uleFone Be Pro and the Elephone P5000 to name a few that we've reviewed this year. This means that if you've ever used any of those devices or read our reviews on those you'll know what to expect. Basically it's a skin-free version of Android 4.4.4 KitKat that includes a few extra features to help you out during the day. The Mlais M52 Red Note has more added features than most of these and from what I can tell is identical to the release on the uleFone Be Pro. It's refreshing to see so many Chinese manufacturers using a skin that's this light, and it'll be even better when all these phones receive their Android 5.0 Lollipop updates too.
The phone seems to ship with a circle window case meaning you can check the time and date, see if you have any missed calls or text messages, and even control the music playing on your phone without ever having to open the cover on the screen. This sort of functionality has been around for a long time now but has mostly only been available on more high-end phones like the Galaxy Note 4 or the LG G3. You can change the clock between digital and analog modes and even select different color backgrounds to suit your tastes. There's also a special screen timeout mode for this circular window including 3 and 5 seconds as well as keeping it the same as your regular screen sleep time. Opening and closing the cover at any time will bring up the circular window no matter if the screen is off or on and was a super convenient way to wake the device up and let it sleep without ever having to use the power button.
Speaking of waking and sleeping, many screen-off gestures are included in this particular software package which include double-tap to wake as well as drawing different letters on the screen to launch different apps. I have the same problem here as I did with the other phones running this particular version of Android though: it doesn't check the proximity sensor to see if the phone is in your pocket or not. This means plenty of accidental app launches, phone unlocks and probably lots of pocket dialing of people on your contact list. Thankfully the circle case saved me from doing this, and I found double-tap to wake to be super convenient with the circle case on, otherwise I'd turn this feature off in a heartbeat.
Quick toggles have some additions over stock Android including audio profiles for quick and easy profile switching as well as cast screen built right in. There's notification light customization that allows you to change the blinking color of the notification light for calls, messages and general notifications. This is handy for knowing when you've missed a call or message without ever having to pick the phone up and look at it, and helps you prioritize when to do so. You can schedule the device to turn on and off if you'd like, and there's even native VPN support for those needing to access their work's network from their phone.
There's lots of added security included over the standard Google stuff including per-app permissions and mobile anti-theft protection. As is included in other phones with this particular software build mobile anti-theft allows you to set up a set of codes to remotely wipe your device and lock it if it's stolen or lost. Per-app permissions give users the ability to control how each app accesses data including allowing or denying access to things like your contacts list, GPS location and more.
Overall I was very pleased with the sound output of the Mlais M52 Red Note, whether it be from the 3.5mm headphone jack up top or the sound bar on the back. What's actually interesting about that sound bar is that it's not actually a bar speaker at all, rather a large rectangular speaker on the back with a bar design on the back cover. Either way it produced some pretty decent and clear sound for a phone speaker, and while it wasn't the loudest speaker in the world it got me through a truck ride on the highway with the phone on loudspeaker. Still I could ask for a bit more volume here, as it was marginally difficult to hear the person on the other end.
Music output from the device was solid and sounded better than all the other phones I've reviewed in this price range. A lot of times lower cost phones can end up producing flat audio that still doesn't sound great after equalizing the output. This phone, however, sounded good without having to equalize the audio and of course was even better once I did. There's a built-in software equalizer and a smattering of generic options like audio enhancer, loudness, audio surround and even a lossless Bluetooth audio mode. Anyone who's used Bluetooth for their main music output source knows that it can sometimes sound tinny, and the sound itself can crackle as a result of a number of issues with Bluetooth communication. I experienced none of that here and was able to enjoy crystal clear sound on my Bluetooth speaker without interruption.
At this price range a good camera isn't exactly to be expected, but I was pleasantly surprised at the results that came from the Red Note's camera. By default the camera starts out at 8 megapixels instead of the 13 megapixels advertised, and I found that it generally takes better pictures at 8MP anyway. While this is odd I'm not going to question it much, as you get more detail from the 8MP shots and better overall lighting for some reason. I would also recommend turning anti-shake mode on as it applies a very gentle denoise filter and seems to work similarly to other phones out there where it takes a few shots instantly and blends them together, creating an image that's nearly noise free and full of plenty of detail. Below you'll see an example of the Moto 360 in lower lighting conditions with anti-shake on and off. Notice in the picture with anti-shake on there's considerably more detail in the entire picture and the denoise filter actually helps increase the detail instead of decrease it as we've seen from so many other phones out there.
HDR mode is decent and gives pretty good results in some lighting conditions, but is a little too strong at times. You'll notice in the one with the children's playground that the shot without HDR just looks better even though there's less detail in the shadow areas, as the HDR shot comes off looking fake. The camera did a great job of correcting the tint of the picture for different lighting conditions, giving accurate colors and hues in all types of light. As is the case with a cheaper sensor there's a bit of discoloration no matter the lighting condition but it's only really noticeable sometimes, so it's not always an issue.
Video is nothing short of lousy, with lots of compression and digital noise from the 3gp format used instead of using a higher quality codec like most phones use nowadays. It basically looks like decent SD video no matter what mode you put it in, and I found that leaving it at the default "high" setting instead of turning it up to "fine" produces the best picture possible. Check out the sample shots below to judge for yourself!
I'm not entirely sure how low we can keep pushing the bar for phone prices and still get a good performing device, but the Mlais M52 Red Note has exceeded my expectations in every way. Everything from the performance of the phone in games, multi-tasking and other daily apps to the actually pretty darned good camera for the price was impressive. Audio output is excellent in every measurable way, and there's a good bit of control over how it sounds thanks to the built-in equalizer and lossless Bluetooth mode. The value gets extended even further as Mlais includes all 4 color backs inside the box, giving you the option to switch them out whenever you'd like, and mine even came with a flip circle window style case.
A very stock looking version of Android keeps things like and fast and doesn't offend with its looks, and the few extra features that are included are superb. Do Not Disturb mode is missing completely from this but that will be fixed with the Android 5.0 Lollipop update which is scheduled to release any time now. The only thing left to fix is the digitizer which has trouble keeping up with super fast typing, but isn't unusable in any way as we've seen with some phones in this price range and lower. Overall this is easily one of the best phones under $200, with the Meizu M1 Note being the next worthwhile phone if you want to spend over $200.