Highlight - Meizu brings a compelling package in the M5 Note, at a very low price
Meizu seemingly has a smartphone in just about every product category and every price range. The M5 Note is pegged as one of their cheaper models, but it still has quite a few tricks up its sleeve. The 32GB model (which is what we have) is about 999 Yuan, and that converts to around $145 USD, which makes it one of the cheaper smartphones on the market. But how does it stack up? Let's find out.
Meizu, like many other manufacturers out of China, have opted to stick with a full HD panel on their smartphones, and they've done that again here with the Meizu M5 Note. There's a 5.5-inch 1080p panel here which equates to about 403 pixels per inch. Powering the smartphone is the MediaTek Helio P10 processor. This is an octa-core processor with four 1.8GHz Cortex-A53 cores and four 1GHz Cortex-A53 cores. This is paired with the Mali-T860MP2 GPU along with either 3GB or 4GB of RAM. There are three storage models, 16GB and 32GB options come with 3GB of RAM and then the 64GB model comes with 4GB of RAM. There is also a micro SD card slot that supports up to 256GB of additional storage.
When it comes to the camera, there is a 13-megapixel sensor on the backside of the Meizu M5 Note. This sensor has an aperture of f/2.2, phase detection autofocus, and dual-LED flash. The front-facing camera is a 5-megapixel shooter with an aperture of f/2.0. There is also a non-removable 4000mAh battery inside powering the show with Android 6.0 Marshmallow and Flyme 5.2 (Meizu's own user interface).
In the Box
Meizu doesn't offer a whole lot of goodies in the box with the M5 Note, which is pretty much expected since the device does cost just under $150 USD. But there is a SIM ejection tool, the necessary paperwork that comes with any smartphone, and then the wall adapter and a micro USB cable, since the Meizu M5 Note does indeed use a micro USB connector instead of a USB-C port.
Meizu released quite a few smartphones in 2016, and for the most part they all looked pretty similar. The M5 Note does look quite a bit different, but it does still share a lot of the design aspects of other products they released last year, like the Meizu PRO 6, MX6 and others. One of the big changes is the sides of the device. Instead of being slightly curved, the Meizu M5 Note has flat sides, which may have given them more room for a bigger battery inside, seeing as the M5 Note's battery is much larger than the PRO 6 which is one of the company's more powerful devices, but not their flagship, that title belongs to the Meizu PRO 6 Plus. It does still fit comfortably in the hand, and that's largely due to the fact that the display is only 5.5-inches. Another change here is the antenna lines. On the PRO 6 and MX 6, the antenna lines were basically the same as the iPhone 7 (which came out months later). This time around, the antenna lines are closer to the edge, and are straight. They still look fairly minimal, but also still exist.
Another change, and it's one many people will like, is the fact that the camera no longer sticks out. The camera now sits flush with the back of the M5 Note, which is likely another thing that helped Meizu cram a larger battery inside. The overall feel of the M5 Note is actually very comfortable. Despite the device still boasting a pretty large top and bottom bezel on the front, the device is still pretty compact. Meizu did also opt to keep the 3.5mm headphone jack - which is located on the bottom of the device and is to the left of the micro USB port with the speaker on the other side.
The power button is on the right side, and is just below the volume rocker, both of which are in a great position. Making it easier to use either button with ease, and not worry about readjusting your grip on the Meizu M5 Note to actually turn down the volume or even power off the phone. When it comes to build quality, there really isn't a whole lot to complain about here with the Meizu M5 Note. It's a very subtle looking device, it's not showing off anything crazy, like some other phones. And it has all of the necessities too, like a headphone jack and a big battery.
Many people believe that 1080p displays belong on a mid-range smartphone these days. Well, this is a mid-range smartphone, but Meizu also uses Full HD panels on their flagships. The difference is that on devices like the PRO 6, Meizu uses an AMOLED display, instead of an IPS like here on the M5 Note. The M5 Note's display might not be as good, but for people looking for a cheap device, it's still more than good enough. At 403 pixels per inch, it's slightly lower than a good number of other devices out there, like the Huawei Mate 9, but by using a lower-resolution display it means that performance is even snappier and battery life is even better.
The display here isn't perfect on the Meizu M5 Note, but it is pretty good. It may not win any awards for being the best display, but during our time with the device, we really had no complaints with the quality of the screen. Sure blacks could have been a bit darker, but that is also one of the advantages to using an AMOLED panel over an IPS. One of the big issues that we see with smartphones in this price range is with the digitizer. For those that might be unaware, the digitizer lives under the display and it is basically what tells the device that you touched the display, and where you touched it. In cheaper devices, the digitizer is often of lower grade and has issues with response. Resulting in lag and sometimes just not registering your touches at all. But with the Meizu M5 Note, that is not a problem at all. In fact, when it came to lag, we had no issues with it.
The Helio P10 is a pretty unknown processor in the West, but it's pretty popular over in Asia. Many manufacturers use it in their mid-range devices. it's basically like a Snapdragon 600-series processor, when it comes to performance. Paired with the Mali-T860MP2 GPU, it does offer some rather impressive performance, on a smartphone that is as cheap as the Meizu M5 Note. We've been using the M5 Note for about a week as our daily driver, and other than a few slow-downs, the device kept up with heavy usage all week-long. Obviously you'll notice some differences coming from a device with a high-end processor like the Snapdragon 820, but that's to be expected, since this is a slower clocked processor. The Helio P10 performed pretty well in day-to-day usage, it really only suffered in gameplay, which even then, it did pretty well.
While the Helio P10 did suffer in gameplay, it was mostly only in high-end games with loads of high-end graphics. Occasional games will work just fine here. With 3GB of RAM, there is also plenty of space to keep all of your favorite apps and games open in the background. We never actually needed to clear our recents for more RAM. Which is something that is common on every smartphone, even those with less RAM, and that is due to the fact that Android handles RAM really well these days.
The performance on the Meizu M5 Note isn't the best, but you're not paying for top-notch performance here, so the M5 Note isn't really for heavy users (unless that doesn't include gaming). The M5 Note is more geared towards those that don't need a smartphone to do everything under the sun, and want to save some cash. The Helio P10 and 3GB of RAM (or even 4GB if you go with the higher-end model) is going to be perfect for most people, and definitely shouldn't be a deal breaker.
Meizu has been using their physical home button as their fingerprint sensor for a few years now. Their home button is actually an all-in-one button. It acts as a back button, home button and fingerprint scanner. The fingerprint scanner is just as fast as you would expect from Meizu. You don't really notice any delay, but if you are using another device - particularly a Huawei device who are known for having blazing fast fingerprint sensors - you may notice a difference. Definitely not a deal-breaker though. The fingerprint sensor is fast and accurate. And that's really what matters. Additionally, since the Meizu M5 Note does run on Android 6.0 Marshmallow, it does also support the Fingerprint API that Google debuted. So you are able to authenticate yourself in apps that have support for that API. This includes using your fingerprint in the Google Play Store instead of typing in your password.
Speaker & Sound
Here on the M5 Note, you'll notice that the speaker is on the bottom of the device, beside the micro USB port. This isn't the most ideal position for a speaker, but it has become the norm in the smartphone industry. This is largely because manufacturers are wanting to make phones with larger screens, but not a larger footprint. Which leads to making bezels as small as possible. That also means that putting speakers on the front of the device is pretty difficult. And having one on the back isn't a great idea either. So many are putting theres at the bottom of their device. It's a pretty good position, since you can still hear the sound, even if the device is sitting on a desk.
Now the actual quality from the speaker isn't all that great. It is definitely loud, but there are times where it can sound a bit tinny. Now, we've found in our time testing out this device that if you turn down the volume just a tiny bit, the sound actually sounds much better. And it's still plenty loud, in most environments. Of course, the lows aren't as bassy as you might expect from most smartphones in 2017, but it's still more than capable. Let's also not forget that there is a 3.5mm headphone jack here, so you can plug in some good headphones and get some great sound too.
Network & Phone Calls
Just as a disclaimer here on this review, the Meizu M5 Note does not support 4G LTE networks in the US. That goes for most smartphones that are made for the Chinese market. We did get some time on 3G and HSPA+ networks on T-Mobile, but no 4G LTE. Which is to be expected, even if it is a bit of an annoyance. Having said that, the network connection seemed to have performed about as we had expected it too. It wasn't as fast as T-Mobile's LTE network is, but HSPA+ is still mighty fast. WiFi also performed the same as it has on other devices that we've used.
When it comes to phone calls, the Meizu M5 Note worked as expected. It was able to make phone calls, it didn't drop any, and users on the other end said that we were nice and clear. Not HD Voice clear, as that is not supported on the M5 Note, but still pretty clear which is still important. The Meizu M5 Note also does not support VoLTE, at least in the US.
Bands supported by the Meizu M5 Note include:
GSM 900, 1800, 1900
HSPA+ 900, 1900, 2100
FDD LTE 800, 850, 900, 1800, 2100, 2600
TD-LTE 2300, 2600
On the Meizu M5 Note, we ran three benchmarks. These included AnTuTu, 3D Mark, and Geekbench 4. On AnTuTu, the device scored a 45,126 which was low enough to keep it in last place. Over on Geekbench 4, it scored a 687 in the single-core test and a 2129 in the multi-core test. Finally, over on 3D Mark it scored a 324. Keep in mind that this is a mid-range smartphone, so these are mid-range scores. You can check out the full score results in the gallery below.
The Meizu M5 Note has a pretty large battery, along with a very efficient SoC and a 1080p display. All of these ingredients make for some incredible battery life, and that is exactly what we got out of the M5 Note during our time reviewing the device. However, Meizu's Flyme OS has messed around with the battery stats reporting (this isn't new actually), so when going into the settings to check your stats, you can only set it for a specific time-frame - 3, 6, or 12 hours - instead of the entire battery cycle from the minute you unplugged it. Which means that the screenshots below don't show the entire battery cycle, in fact most of them don't even show half of them, since this phone does regularly last about two days on a single charge.
Due to the way battery stats are reported here, it's tough to say how many hours on screen you can get with this device, but our guesstimate would be around 6-8 hours of on-screen time. Which is pretty good, considering our usage included loads of YouTube videos, using Snapchat (which is notoriously bad at sucking battery power) and more. For a smartphone with a 4000mAh battery, it actually performed better than I had expected. I might even say that it performed better than the Huawei Mate 9, which has the same size battery, although it does have a slightly larger display.
The big downside to having a large battery in a smartphone, is charging it. Luckily, most smartphone makers are now including a form of fast charging or quick charge (even if they aren't using a Qualcomm chipset) into their devices. Making it easy to charge up these large batteries, faster than ever before. But not with the Meizu M5 Note. It charges at a normal speed. But it's still fairly fast. And since it does last so long, I only plugged it in at night, and by the time I wake up, it's fully charged. So there's no real complaints here, but it wouldn't hurt to add in some form of fast charging into devices like the M5 Note.
When it comes to software, our review unit of the Meizu M5 Note is running on Android 6.0 Marshmallow, Flyme 5.2.11 OG and the October 5th, 2016 security patch, at the time of writing this review. Which means every aspect of this software is out of date. Meizu should have Flyme 6 on the Meizu M5 Note, but it's not surprising that they don't, considering their newest flagship the PRO 6 Plus doesn't even have the update just yet. That is definitely something that Meizu needs to work on, is getting updates out faster, and keeping their phones up-to-date, even on a phone that is as cheap as the M5 Note, since it is still a very popular smartphone. It's worth noting here that Google Play Services were not installed when we unboxed the phone. This isn't uncommon for phones in China, considering Google is banned there, many people don't use it. But it is pretty simple to set up. Just jump into the "Top Apps" app on the home screen and you'll see the Google Services Installer there to install it. It doesn't take more than a couple of minutes.
We've already reviewed numerous devices from Meizu with Flyme 5 on-board, so there's not a whole lot that is new here for us. But for those unfamiliar with Flyme, the first thing you'll notice is how colorful it is. Flyme 5 has plenty of colorful icons, as well as wallpapers. Which actually really help to make this 1080p display look even better. Like most user interfaces on devices coming out of China, there's no app drawer here. This is something that those in the Eastern part of the world seem to really like. But here on the Western side, not so much. But, that is fixable, seeing as all you need to do is download a third-party launcher from the Google Play Store and you're good to go.
One of the smaller, but definitely appreciated changes that Meizu made in Flyme 5 was moving the settings shortcut on up to the notification shade. Before this, you'd need to leave the Settings shortcut on your home screen to get to it (now it just sits in a folder of stuff you never use that often). Now one of the cooler apps that Meizu has included is the "Security" app, although I'm still puzzled as to why this isn't included in the Settings app. This app has all kinds of great features that you'll want to use to keep your device in tip-top shape. This includes a cleaner, which will show you how much cache is on your phone, especially useful if you are in need of space. it also shows you junk files, redundant APK's and more. If you're phone is running a bit slow, you can use the Accelerator to speed things up a bit. This will mostly close apps from the background and keep them closed until you open them. You can whitelist apps here, so that they don't get closed. There's also a power setting, which shows you the approximate amount of time that is left on your device, before it needs to be charged. This is estimated based on your usage. There are also different power modes there to help keep your phone going as long as possible. Again, it's a bit weird that none of this is in the settings app as it should be.
Software on Meizu smartphones isn't necessarily bad. The only real issue we have is the fact that they are typically out of date, which does open up users to security risks. Especially when it's still sitting on a security patch from October, when it's now February. If Meizu can get updates out to their devices in a faster manner, then Flyme OS would be a great user interface. Sure it won't be everyone's favorite, but it does add in tons of great features that even AOSP is still missing, as well as making their devices really stand out from the others that are on the market (like those from Xiaomi, Huawei and ZTE, also big names in China).
When it comes to the camera, the M5 Note actually is rather impressive. The backside houses a 13-megapixel camera, which is made by Sony and has a f/2.2 aperture. It actually takes some rather good photos. Now it's important to note here that when it comes to pictures, part of it is the sensor, but often times the bigger factor is the post-processing software that Meizu has built. And it appears, at least to the naked eye, that Meizu has done a great job with the software here. Just about every picture I took with this phone came out pretty good. Now obviously something like the Galaxy S7, Huawei Mate 9 or another smartphone with a higher price tag, would do a better job. But given the hardware here, it's really good. The background isn't overblown, pictures aren't overly saturated, there's really not a whole lot to complain about. Even the shutter is lightning fast.
Now the actual interface of the camera app is also an important aspect. What good is there having a slew of features in the camera app, if no one knows where they are? That's not the case with the M5 Note. You can choose modes from the button next to the shutter key. This includes Auto, Manual, Video, Beauty, Panorama, Light Field, Slow-mo, Scan, Macro and GIF modes. There is an HDR feature, but it's an either on or off type of thing, there's no Auto HDR, and it's actually in settings, so it's not a simple toggle, like some of the other features here. Something that would definitely be nice to have. Of course, you also have all of your favorite filters available for making your pictures your own.
You can check out all of the picture we took with the Meizu M5 Note (even the bad ones) in the Flickr Gallery linked below. These are all in their original resolution and are un-edited, so you can truly see how good or bad they actually are.
Outdated Security Patch (5 months old, at the time of writing)
Micro USB connector instead of the newer USB-C
The Meizu M5 Note is a pretty good mid-range smartphone. It's right on par with something like the Moto G4 that is available here in Western markets for around the same price. The M5 Note really shines in its build quality and battery life. There's just not enough to be said for how good the battery life is on this phone, which is especially important for those that need their phone to last a full day, especially those that are heavy users. The only real issues we had with this device can all be fixed with software updates, so the future is looking bright for the Meizu M5 Note.
Should I Buy the Meizu M5 Note?
If you live in a country where the Meizu M5 Note supports all of the bands that you need for LTE, then definitely. Just remember that you get what you pay for - even though you get a whole lot for how little you pay for with the M5 Note.