Highlight –A big screen and features without the big price.
Meizu is no stranger to the world of smartphones, releasing new phones what feels like once per month. Meizu’s catalog in 2016 is certainly more full than most OEMs, and being added to it is essentially a giant version of a phone they released just a few months ago. Today’s review is all about the Meizu M3 Max, a phone that retails for a rather affordable $250, yet features some great specs and that quality metal build Meizu is famous for. Is a 6-inch screen really something you need on a device like this though, or is it worth the extra cash over the Meizu M3 Note with similar specs? Let’s find out.
Meizu’s M3 Max is a mid-range phone by most measurement standards, and that includes the price. At 1,699 Yuan (~$250 USD) the Meizu M3 Max is quite affordable, especially considering the price of other phones with this large of a screen. The 6-inch 1080p IPS LCD display on the front is powered by the MediaTek Helio P10 64-bit octa-core processor clocked at 1.8GHz, paired with a Mali-T860 MP2 GPU. 3GB of RAM powers the multi-tasking experience and 64GB of internal storage comes standard with a microSD card slot for expandable storage. This microSD card tray doubles as a dual-SIM card tray, supporting one nano SIM and a tray that functions as either the microSD card or nano SIM tray alongside. Underneath the all-metal body is a non-removable 4,100mAh battery with 24W mCharge fast charging via the wall charger included in the box. Surprisingly it only uses a microUSB port, not a USB Type-C, and also features a 3.5mm audio jack.
On the front you’ll find a 5-megapixel camera with f/2.0 lens, while the back holds a 13-megapixel Sony IMX258 sensor with f/2.2 lens and Phase Detection Auto Focus (PDAF) capability, as well as dual-color LED flash. Meizu’s unique multi-function home button and fingerprint scanner sits below the screen, and the whole experience is powered by Meizu’s own Flyme OS 5.2 running atop Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow. Meizu is shipping the M3 Max in an array of colors including Gray, Silver, Rose Gold and Champagne Gold. The M3 Max measures 163.4mm high, 81.6mm wide, 7.94mm thin and weighs a slightly above average 189 grams.
In The Box
Inside the box you won't find a whole lot of extras, in fact what's included here is more or less the bare minimum you'll need to get up and running with any smartphone. Underneath the phone sits a box containing the warranty and informational pamphlets, as well as a SIM tray ejector tool. Below that is another box containing a USB Type-A to MicroUSB cable, as well as a 24W wall charger for ultra fast charging.
Meizu’s displays are almost always pretty run-of-the-mill IPS LCD panels, and the larger 6-inch display on the M3 Max isn’t too much different. White balance is fantastic and is quite accurate, with only a very slight warm hue out of the box. Color temperature of the display can be adjusted easily in settings via a slider that moves from warm to cool, so any inconsistencies can mostly be fixed via this setting. Meizu has also included a new “eye protective mode” that can remove blue light from the display when viewing the panel at night before bed. This can be invoked on a schedule or on demand, and is part of a software trend over the last 2 years or so to help users brains be less stimulated at night. It’s also easy to adjust the font size in display properties, but there’s no display density changes, so on-screen elements are still the same, rather large size due to the physical screen size. Colors on the panel are nice and punchy without being over saturated, and brightness levels are nothing short of fantastic, with the ability to get super dim in dark conditions, as well as upping the brightness to torch-like levels in direct sunlight.
At 1080p and 6 inches this is still a very sharp display, with a density that’s still above “retina” quality, meaning you’ll never see pixels on the screen with the naked eye. Viewing angles are mostly excellent, displaying no color changing at any angle, and only a little bit of dimming once you past the 30-degree mark or so. Black levels are pretty poor, as is the case with many IPS LCS panels on the market, and these only get worse as you look from an angle, where the lighting on the panel can be easily seen across its face. Refresh rate is generally excellent, and you shouldn’t notice any real ghosting or trailing of pixels while moving quickly between high contrasting objects, such as dark icons on a light background. In general this is a pretty good display, with little to complain about other than black levels.
Hardware and Build
Meizu’s design has remained largely the same no matter which of their phones you look at. It’s often extremely difficult to tell the difference between one Meizu handset and another, but the M3 Max does have a few differentiating factors, namely the trim around the edges of the phone. Most Meizu handsets feature a smooth unibody design with curved edges and no lines or chamfers between the back or side edges of the phone. The M3 Max actually features chamfers on the back and front edges of the metal unibody, with curved sides all around. The overall shape is similar to the rest of Meizu’s lineup, but these chamfered edges help make it look a little more unique, and really help to give it a more premium feel even though it’s not a “premium” phone per say. Build quality is super solid, and with an ever-so-slightly above average weight of 189 grams, this one feels weighty and solid without actually feeling heavy or bulky. It’s also quite slim and doesn’t feel massive regardless of the 6-inch screen, thanks in part to some relatively small top and bottom bezels around the screen.
Meizu places its power button on the right placed just above the mid-point of the phone, with the metal volume rocker right above it. These buttons all have a satisfying click and feel high quality without a doubt. The dual-SIM tray is on the right, and most of the ports are found on the bottom, with the 3.5mm audio jack, microUSB port and the single speaker all residing at the bottom. On back you’ll find the horizontally-centered camera lens and dual-LED flash above the Meizu logo, while the front holds Meizu’s unique multi-function home button and fingerprint scanner combo.
Performance and Memory
MediaTek’s processors have come a long way over the past few years, and now it’s becoming impossible to tell the difference in daily performance between this and a more expensive component in many ways. Apps launch quickly, work without lag or slowdown, and generally perform as you would expect on a significantly more expensive flagship device. Every 3D game tested ran well, with silky smooth graphics and short loading times. Most of the time the phone woke up lightning fast, with near instant recognition of fingerprints via the fingerprint scanner residing in the home button, but there seems to be a significant sleep bug that causes the phone to hang every now and then. During this period the phone stays asleep and won’t wake up for seemingly anything, however spamming the home and power buttons for a couple of seconds would eventually queue up enough instances of the wake up call to get it going again. It’s not fully clear where this issue resides, but it’s likely that a future Flyme OS update will fix it. This isn’t a complete deal breaker since it doesn’t happen all the time, but when it does happen it’s incredibly frustrating to say the least.
Benchmark results are pretty low for a modern smartphone, and are about level with Spring 2014 flagship phone levels of performance on average. Two and a half years is difficult to go back to for performance levels, but regardless of the raw numbers you probably won’t notice these much in daily performance. Check out all the benchmarks ran on the Meizu M3 Max below.
As is common with a smartphone sold primarily in China and/or Europe, LTE simply will not work in the US. 3G data and calls were superb on T-Mobile, and I found that the signal quality was stronger on T-Mobile’s 3G HSPA network than many phones out there, delivering a quality data signal inside of tough to reach buildings where others failed or had inconsistent signal quality. Be sure to check with your carrier to see if the Meizu M3 Max is compatible with its network, particularly if you’re concerned about 4G LTE connectivity.
Meizu does offer built in PPPoE and VPN connectivity though, so folks who commonly use these protocols to access other networks, or work remotely will be happy with the built-in functionality without having to download an extra app. There’s no NFC on this phone, just like many out of China don’t have, so no mobile payments will be coming from the M3 Max. Bluetooth 4.0 is also supported here, but no aptX means just regular Bluetooth audio quality.
With a 4,100mAh battery and such a low power chipset, you’d imagine the battery on the M3 Max would last well over a day and possibly encroaching on 2 full days. During the review period, however, this does not seem to be the case, and although I never found the phone even getting close to dying after a full day, I wasn’t blown away by the numbers either. On its best day at around 14 hours off the charger and just over 4 hours of screen on time, the battery hovered around the 20% mark at the end of the day. This is good but not amazing, again especially considering the size of the battery, much less taking the low power SoC into account.
Meizu’s odd battery stats don’t allow tracking longer than 12 hour blocks, but it’s likely that light to moderate users will be able to get to the end of the day with closer to 40% or so. Folks that need a quick top-up should bring the included charger with them at all times, as this proprietary 24W charging solution is a whopping 6 watts higher than the ultra fast Qualcomm Quick Charge 3.0 solution that’s popular among flagships, and will easily give you a full day’s battery top up in around 30 minutes.
Sound hasn’t been a particular focus for Meizu in the past, but they generally include good quality DACs that deliver balanced, clear sound for headphone and other audio playback. The Meizu M3 Max definitely fits this bill, as the overall sound was great on my car’s sound system, and also sounded full and clear through a number of different high quality headphones. There’s no built-in equalizer to adjust audio properties with, so if the default sound output doesn’t do your music justice, you’d better have some sort of external equalizer or software solution to deal with it.
Likewise Bluetooth audio will also sound pretty standard, as there’s no aptX support here for higher bit rate audio when devices support it. Sound coming from the bottom-facing speaker is equally as average, and essentially just gets the job done and nothing more. Music won’t sound great coming from this speaker, both because of its location and overall quality, but games and videos should be just fine when needing to use it. The speaker is at least nice and loud and only distorts slightly at the maximum volume.
Flyme 5.2 based on Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow launches with the Meizu M3 Max, which is great to see considering there have been quite a few phones launched by Meizu this year that are still on Android 5.1 Lollipop. Android 6.0 Marshmallow brought about a number of back-end improvements as well as native fingerprint reading libraries for app support, which means that apps like Paypal or maybe even your bank’s app can authenticate with your fingerprint instead of a username and password. Meizu also offers ways to lock individual apps behind a fingerprint or password. Aside from this you’re getting essentially the same Flyme OS that you’ll find on the rest of Meizu’s lineup that has been updated with Flyme 5.
This includes even the ability to gain root access out of the box, although you’ll need to accept Meizu’s disclaimer of waving the warranty on software issues if you trigger root access. Some pretty robust theme engine support has been added too, and while Meizu has supported themes for a long time now with its OS, it hasn't always had a marketplace with this many themes that are easy to find and install. On top of this Meizu has a number of dedicated folks who create new themes on a regular basis. What's not always regular, however, are Android security updates that Google releases each month. Our review unit, for instance, shipped in October, yet its security patch is still April 2016’s update from Google. This multi-month gap in security updates could spell issues with users, and this was one of the reasons Google decoupled security updates from main OS updates in the first place.
Meizu’s camera software has remained largely unchanged for a long time now, for better or worse, and in general offers a fairly sub-standard set of features compared to most phones. The interface at first seems similar to other phones, with a giant white shutter button in the middle of the bottom section of the screen, flanked by a mode change button and a last picture taken thumbnail. The top/far side of the screen features a few quick toggles including flash, timer, live filters, swapping front/rear cameras, and settings.
The most obvious missing pieces when compared to other phones’ camera software is a lack of dedicated record button to quickly record a video upon camera launch, and no easy way to toggle HDR without going into settings and toggling it there. Manual mode is at least quite full featured and offers options to manually adjust shutter speed, ISO, manual focus, exposure compensation, saturation, contrast and white balance. This mode has considerably more options than most phones on the market offer by far, much less in this price range.
Camera Performance and Results
Launching the camera is fairly below average at this point, although it’s still quicker than less expensive new phones out of China without a custom interface. Meizu’s software in general isn’t the fastest thing in the world, but it offers some decent point and shoot speeds that’ll get the job done most of the time. There’s no super quick way to launch the camera outside of turning the screen on first and swiping out from the camera icon, so no double clicking the power or home button to immediately take a shot. One thing that is incredibly fast, even when compared to many flagships, is the speed of the burst mode. Pressing and holding on the shutter button will take as many as 30 shots in a single second, a staggering number of photos that will all but guarantee you get a good enough shot when the action is fast, such as a sporting event or other activity. Focus time is fairly slow though, so you’ll want to make sure the phone is focused and ready before taking a shot, burst or not, or else you’ll probably end up with an out of focus photo.
Quality overall isn’t anything to write home about, but in general is good for the price range and offers some solid shots depending on lighting conditions. As is almost always the case nowadays, day time shots look good and offer good zoom detail, with accurate colors and good dynamic range. HDR mode is too slow for most settings and will leave double images on all but the most still scenes, so use this sparingly. This might also be the reason Meizu continues to hide the setting instead of making it automatically toggle, or even bringing it more out in the open. Low light shots are pretty good but fall short of some other phones in this price range, namely Xiaomi’s best cameras in this price range. The amount of light let into the sensor is pretty good, but the high amounts of noise in general coupled with the heavy denoise filter means most night time photos will be pretty devoid of rich detail, but don’t come out looking terrible. The colors and light balance are at least accurate, which does a lot for night time or low light shots as a whole.
The front-facing camera is pretty decent and offers average capture in the best lighting scenarios. In darker areas you’ll find it often tries to hold the shutter open a little too long, resulting in blurry photos. It’s not terrible, but it’s not fantastic either. Video wise things are pretty standard fare now for a more budget minded phone, and you'll find support for video recording up to 1080p/30FPS. This will get the job done and help catalog those family memories, just don't expect award winning video quality here and you'll be happy enough. Check out all the pictures and video we took with the Meizu M3 Max below.
Ability to grant root access without firmware modification
All ports on the bottom
Some very nice software features in Flyme UI
Underpowered for the price
Meizu has once again delivered a phone that's priced well and delivers quite above expectations in some areas, while falling short in only a few. It's hard to come by phones with a 6-inch or larger screen nowadays, so the pickings are certainly slim for the most part, but if you're looking for a good performer with a slightly above average camera and some great features, this is a great device to look for. Folks in need of a high performance phone definitely need to look elsewhere though, as the SoC used here is pretty underpowered compared to other devices in the $250 range. This one's a winner in some cases and not so much in others, but overall it's a pretty good entry into a niche market that doesn't have a ton of competition.