Highlight – Great features without breaking the bank
Meizu is back for another round with its latest budget minded smartphone, the Meizu M5. Skipping the M4 moniker altogether, Meizu has followed up the M3, which it released this past Spring, with the interestingly named M5, a phone sporting a polycarbonate body and an incredibly low price tag. While the numbers are certainly higher, it's visually impossible to distinguish the M5 from the M3 released earlier this year. Meizu has also increased the price just a bit from that device, from 599 Yuan for the M3 at launch to the 699 Yuan for the M5 at launch. Is the upgrade here worth the price adjustment, or should you stick with what Meizu already has on the market? Let's take a look.
The spec list is pretty similar to Meizu's previously released M3, however it does differentiate on a couple of levels. First up is a larger 5.2-inch 720p screen, as well as a bigger 3,070mAh non-removable battery under the hood. Meizu is also sporting a new camera sensor on the M5, and while it retains the same 13-megapixel resolution and f/2.2 lens of the M3, it features faster PDAF autofocus than the previous generation did. On the front you'll find the same 5-megapixel camera with f/2.0 lens above the display, as well as the mBack physical button below the display. Running the show is a MediaTek MT6750 octa-core processor clocked at 1.5GHZ, as well as a Mali-T860 GPU.
The Meizu M5 ships in multiple colors including Blue, Champagne Gold, Matte Black, Mint Green and White. You'll find a single microUSB port, single speaker and a 3.5mm audio jack on the bottom of the device. The Meizu M5 weighs in at an incredibly light 138 grams, and its polycarbonate body measures up at 147.3mm high, 72.8mm wide and 8.2mm thin. Our review unit came with 16GB internal storage and 2GB RAM, which retails for 699 Yuan (~$101 USD). Meizu also makes a model with 3GB RAM and 32GB internal storage for 899 Yuan (~$130 USD). Folks needing extra storage will be happy with the microSD card support here, and that same microSD card slot doubles as a second nano-SIM card slot for folks that need two SIM cards instead.
In The Box
For $100 it's not hard to understand why only the bare essentials are included. You're getting a phone with a SIM tray eject tool, warranty guide, USB Type-A to microUSB cable, and a 5v/2a wall charger. That's about it, nothing flashy or excessive in this minimalist packaging.
The IPS LCD panel on the Meizu M5 is about as average as you'll find, sporting the usual LCD positives and negatives. Per IPS standards viewing angles are excellent and exhibit only a bit of dimming, however you will notice the backlight at certain angles more than others, making blacks even more gray than usual. Subsequently black levels on the panel are OK at best, looking darker the dimmer you set the backlight, and significantly more gray as the backlight intensity increases. Color balance is pretty good, with a slight hue towards to cool side of the spectrum. You can adjust the color temperature of the panel a bit in display settings, but it never quite looks natural no matter where it's at on the slider.
The 720p resolution is low for this size of a panel, coming in at 282 pixels-per-inch, or around 50 pixels-per-inch lower than what's considered a "retina" display. This means seeing pixels is easy and images will look soft no matter what you do, and 720p is pretty low resolution at this point in 2016 as well, even for a less expensive phone. Refresh rate of the pixels is pretty slow too, and you'll regularly find trailing and ghosting when scrolling around on the screen, especially on higher contrast points like dark icons on a light background. Brightness levels are at least quite good, and range from very dim in a dark room, to very bright in sunlight. It's not the brightest panel around but you shouldn't have to do much to see it in direct sun, outside of blocking the rays with your hand at the worst. Lastly Meizu includes an automatic "eye protect" mode, which will filter out blue light in the evenings to help you sleep better if you're regularly on your phone til the very end of the day.
Hardware and Build
699Yuan/$100USD is incredibly cheap for any phone, and it would be surprising to see good specs with a quality build. Meizu has chosen to keep the polycarbonate build of the M3 intact on the M5, including what appears to be an identical design to that phone. The M5 is unbelievably light and tends to feel a bit cheap when holding it, but there's only a slight give to the plastic when pressing it in on the back. Outside of this the build feels quite nice and matches what's expected from Meizu's design studio, not to mention that it's quite difficult to tell this apart from an iPhone's general design language. The glass is curved on all edges towards the polycarbonate body and gives it a higher quality look and feel than straight glass would. Meizu's new colors are striking and look great against the black glass panel on the front.
On the right side you'll find the power button and volume rocker, both plastic buttons, while the left side holds the SIM/microSD card tray. Nothing is at the top, instead all ports are at the bottom including the 3.5mm audio jack, microphone, microUSB port and the single speaker. The corners and edges of the back are perfectly rounded and feel really nice in the hand, with no sharp corners to irritate hands when holding it in any position. On the back you'll find the round camera lens with dual-LED flash below it, and the Meizu logo just below that. As has been the case with any Meizu phone in the past few years, you'll see the multi-function mBack button below the display on the front. This button serves as a physical home button, capacitive touch back button as well as a fingerprint scanner.
Performance and Memory
2GB of RAM is becoming fairly paltry for Android phones in general, even for 720p screens. Even still memory management should be better than it is on the M5, at least on the 2GB version we have for the review. I found that apps would regularly have to reload, even if you had just switched away from them for a second or two. Some apps don't face this issue, but more often than not I would have to wait an extra 2-3 seconds for the app to reload, and depending on the app I might not even be back to where I left off. For instance Google Play Music goes back to the home screen when reloading, meaning whatever album I was searching for probably won't be on the screen after switching away from it. This doesn't cause issues with background music play or anything like that, but it makes navigating on the phone slower. The 3GB model of the M5 likely has better performance in this department, although we can't vouch for that particular unit.
Overall performance of the OS was pretty good, however there was a bit of hitching and stutter that you won't find on the newer MediaTek processing packages. Why Meizu chose to stick with an older MT6750 instead of putting a newer Helio P10 processor in here is a bit of a mystery, aside from possible pricing reasons, but it certainly makes the phone feel older than something that was announced at the end of October 2016. Still it's not likely to make anyone mad, as it performs well enough to get the job done and certainly works better than $100 phones from a year or two ago to say the least. Impressively enough these performance issues do not carry over to 3D gaming, instead it feels like a completely different phone when gaming. Even the most intense games on the Google Play Store resulted in buttery smooth performance, with nary a hitch or long loading point. This is a great mobile gaming device without a doubt, even with the lower resolution.
As a result of using an older, low-power SoC, you'll find benchmarks for the Meizu M5 to be quite low to say the least. Our normal 3DMark tests wouldn't run, so see the rest benchmarks we were able to run on the phone below.
LTE comes standard with almost every phone shipped nowadays, and the Meizu M5 is no exception if you're a resident of China. Folks International to China probably won't see the same network connectivity though, although you may find the phone could support LTE in your own country. Here in the US the phone only works on 3G HSPA+ networks and below, such as T-Mobile, AT&T or one of its many MVNOs like Cricket or Straight Talk. No NFC is included here, so you won't be making any mobile payments with the Meizu M5 despite having a fingerprint reader. Bluetooth v4.0 is supported, and dual-band 2.4GHz and 5.0GHz WiFi up to 802.11n speeds are supported.
In Flyme 5.2, based on Android 6.0 Marshmallow, Meizu introduced some adjustments to Google's new Doze method of saving battery. The default configuration for the scheduled wakeup mode means that apps are only allowed to request information during certain intervals, an effort to keep apps from waking up too often and draining your battery. This works far better than Xiaomi or Huawei's implementations for comparison, but still keeps some apps from delivering timely notifications. There were times where I went 10 minutes or so without receiving a notification, only to realize it was delivered a few minutes late. What's improved here over other OEM's implementations is that I actually received all the notifications I should have, even if they were delayed. Even still I opted to turn this feature off, as it didn't appear to save much battery life and instead gave me notifications on time, every time.
Battery life as a whole is good for the phone, lasting all day without any issues. Meizu's battery usage graph works differently from other OEMs, and as such it's difficult to see how much screen on time is actually achievable during a single day, however I never had a day where I needed to top up the battery regardless of heavy usage. Quick charging works via the included adapter in the box, but you'll need to make sure to use this wall charger to get the quick charge effect as the phone has very specific voltage requirements to qualify for quick charging.
Sound output via the 3.5mm audio jack on the bottom is excellent overall, and while it's not the highest quality you'll find among smartphones, it's difficult to dock Meizu much simply because of the price of this phone. Phones in this price range used to have pretty awful sound output, but Meizu is using some good DACs here as well as some great balance in software. There's also a built-in software equalizer that helps balance things out further if you need it, be it listening on headphones or through a more powerful stereo system. Output via the speaker on the bottom is pretty lousy though, and you'll find that the audio is incredibly flat, not loud enough and generally a bit tinny. This one is only good for watching the occasional YouTube video or playing simple games, definitely not for listening to music or anything that needs better quality to be enjoyed.
The beauty of a well thought out Android skin like Flyme is that users who don't want to, or can't afford to buy the most expensive phones out there, can still enjoy more premium-minded features. All the same features you'll find on the more expensive Meizu handsets are here, and Meizu even ships this phone with Flyme 18.104.22.168, which runs atop Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow. Flyme 6 may be on the horizon, but for now this is the latest version available and even includes the October security patch to boot, unlike some of Meizu's other phones. The latest Flyme features like scheduled eye protection, multi-tasking via the card-like interface instead of icons, floating icons instead of bottom bars and more. Meizu has been updating their UI consistently with new features for a while now, and it thankfully only seems to build upon those instead of taking them away or replacing them.
Meizu includes quite a few little tools and apps, and it all starts with the app recommendation panel. Upon first setup of the phone you'll be greeted with this screen before you get to the home screen for the first time. Meizu regularly updates this list of apps to give you recommendations for what's hot and worth downloading, and I found that it recommended a good handful that I regularly use right out of the box. Since this phone has full Play Store integration, all of these apps link to their respective Play Store listings, and there's no fiddling with a 3rd party app store outside of China. Meizu also includes a number of tools in the "toolbox" app including flashlight, mirror, level and more.
Meizu's Security Center app is probably the single most useful place on the entire phone when you first start it up, as it contains powerful tools for managing data use, battery management, harassment blocking and more. Included in this section you'll find a general junk cleaner and "accelerator," data management for managing Wifi and Cell data usage, harassment blocking for keeping those annoying numbers from calling or texting, permissions management for everything from apps that auto-start to individual app permissions, file management, virus scanning and plenty of different battery modes and options. All of these work incredibly well, and while things like "accelerating" your phone by emptying RAM are useless and generally do more harm to battery life than good, they are still things that many users like and don't have to download extra apps to get.
It's been some time since Meizu changed their camera software at all, and what you'll find here is generally the same software Meizu has included on its phones for a while now. Modes can be changed via a dedicated button next to the shutter, and 9 different modes are included with the phone. There's no quick record button in photo mode to quickly take a recording without having to switch modes, but you will be able to take pictures while recording. Mode switching can take some time though depending on which mode you're switching to, and generally the method of switching between important modes like photo and video is incredibly tedious and takes far too long. There should be a way to switch quickly between these two most used modes, and that's probably the biggest detriment to the software in general.
What's also not so great is having to manually switch to HDR mode, something that should be automatic, or at least a quick toggle button on the main interface. Hiding this mode means most users will probably never remember to switch to it. Surprisingly a manual mode is included here, something that's usually only reserved for far more expensive phones, and in general is a great way to adjust properties of the camera to achieve better results. This is particularly true in lower lighting conditions, where you may want to focus on spots that the auto focus can't quite get, or adjust the ISO or shutter speed to levels that the auto mode doesn't always want to go. In general this is a great manual mode and it's impressive to see it included on a phone in this price range.
Camera Performance and Results
Meizu's camera software is certainly fast, and will rival even far more expensive phones in its speed and performance. Launching in under 2 seconds from the lock screen. There's even a way to launch the camera quickly using a customizable gesture in the settings, something that keeps the camera launching fast every time without having to first turn on the screen. Focusing happens in about 1 second from moving the camera, and in general the phase detection auto focus here does an excellent job of focusing on the right subject every time. Picture taking speed is instant, and there's no shutter lag or processing time to wait for. In general this is a fast, fantastic picture taking experience.
Quality really shines over other phones in this price range too, and you're likely to find that in good lighting this more than does the job. Comparing to most phones in this price range, this sensor has truly excellent dynamic range, even with HDR disabled. It's certainly not going to rival larger or better sensors like ones in the Google Pixel or Galaxy S7, but this phone also costs 1/6th of the price of those devices, and should be gauged as such. What's most important here is that the phone pulls the right exposure levels out for the scene at hand, and I never found a time where the phone would make the foreground overly dark to compensate for a bright sky or other bright back-lighting, and so on and so forth.
Lower light shots definitely suffer from the sensor quality though, and usually come out soft and lacking detail. What's impressive here though is that this sensor doesn't seem to fall victim to many of the normal issues we see on cheaper sensors in low light. There's no weird discoloration of the scene, no strange artifacts from overly high ISO, and generally the picture is clean. There were times when the shutter speed was too high for a hand-held shot and should have been faster, and this was the only real place Meizu could likely improve upon the experience. 1/20th of a second is a reasonable amount of time to hold open for lower light shots, yet these photos still turned out blurry more often than not. Some electronic image stabilization would definitely help cure this.
The front-facing camera is decent but doesn't go out of its way to do much in the way of a quality, high resolution experience. Still it's decent enough for social media posts and performs well enough in low light, even though the shutter constantly seems to be held open too long. This means ever so slightly blurry images in mid to low lighting, but again you'd probably not notice much or care if posting to social media. Video mode is great overall, but the phone defaults to 480p 4:3 video for both the front and back cameras. For 480p video this actually looks quite good, but it's peculiar that, at the end of 2016, any OEM would have defaults for less than 1080p quality on a device that supports it, especially going all the way back down to SD quality out of the box. This is a silly setting and certainly needs to change, but once you move it up to 1080p the sensor once again shines over the rest in this price range. There's no excessive wobbling of video when moving, and again dynamic range is excellent, colors and white balance are accurate, and overall video on this phone looks great. Check out the full gallery below.
Looks more expensive than it is
Lots of OS features
Great sound output via 3.5mm audio jack
Larger screen than predecessors
Low resolution screen
No LTE in North America (will work in other parts of the world, however)
While the performance of the SoC could be better, being priced so low means Meizu only has so many options for what it packs in the M5. Even with the performance hitches and occasional slow loading of apps that we saw, the Meizu M5 performs admirably at this price range, and shows that Meizu knows how to balance these phones to cut corners in places that don't matter as much. With a design that looks nearly identical to Meizu's other phones, be that positive or negative for you, and a build that's quality even though it retains the plastic materials of yesteryear, the Meizu M5 is really a great choice for those on an ultra-tight budget that are looking to get all the features they want and aren't picky about blazing every day performance. With a well above-average camera for this price range, great audio out and excellent performance in gaming, the Meizu M5 is a fantastic pick overall.