Two screens and two cameras add up to great fun
While many Meizu flagship phones have featured staggered launches throughout the year, normally upping the specs or increasing the size of the device, Meizu is changing it up for their first big flaship of 2017. The Meizu PRO 7 comes in two flavors; a smaller version, and the larger, more powerful PRO 7 Plus. It’s common for Meizu to release a larger version of its devices later on, but this time around they’re not just offering two different sizes, they’re prioritizing the larger one by giving it better specs too. Both phones offer a visually identical build, including that unique second screen on the back, and at the end of they day likely offer near identical experiences too, but this review will be focused on the bigger PRO 7 Plus. Let’s see what Meizu is offering this time around.
Meizu is shipping two different versions of the Pro 7; a smaller version with a 5.2-inch 1080p Super AMOLED display, MediaTek Helio P25 SoC, Mali-T880MP2 GPU, LPDDR4X 4GB of RAM and 64GB of internal storage (eMMC 5.1) for ¥2,880. A larger version of the phone ships with a 5.7-inch Quad-HD Super AMOLED display (2560 x 1440), MediaTek Helio X30 SoC, PowerVR 7XTP GPU, LPDDR4X 6GB of RAM and either 64GB or 128GB of internal storage (Samsung KLUCG4J1ED-BOC1 UFS 2.1) starting at ¥3,580. Both models feature a unique 2-inch Super AMOLED display (240 x 536) on the back. The smaller PRO 7 ships in black, gold and red colors, while the larger PRO 7 Plus is split into two groups: 64GB ships in matte black, space black, amber gold and crystal silver, while the 128GB ships in matte black and space black. The phones will be officially available in Brunei, Cambodia, Mainland China, Egypt, France, Hong Kong, India, Israel, Italy, Kazakhstan, Myanmar, New Zealand, Russia, South Africa, Spain, Ukraine and Vietnam.
A generous 16-megapixel camera sits up front, above the screen, while two 12-megapixel sensors are situated around the back. Both rear cameras feature f/2.0 lenses and a Sony Exmor IMX386 sensor underneath. This sensor measures in at 1/2.9” and features 1.25-micron sized pixels. The smaller Pro 7 measures in at 147.6mm high, 70.7mm wide and 7.3mm thin, weighing 163 grams and packing in a 3,000mAh battery. The larger Pro 7 Plus measures in at 157.3mm high, 77.2mm wide and the same 7.3mm thin, weighs slightly more at 170g, and packs in a larger 3,500mAh battery inside. A USB Type-C port in on the bottom and features ultra fast mCharge 4.0 charging technology. Meizu’s latest skin, Flyme 6.0, runs atop Android 7.0 Nougat. 32-bit/192KHz audio can be output from the 3.5mm audio jack on the phone thanks to the Cirrus Logic CS43130 chip inside.
In The Box
Sporting quite possibly the most elegant and gorgeous package of all time, the Meizu Pro 7 and Pro 7 Plus will impress you from the get-go. This space-age looking box stands vertically and features the phone and assorted boxes packed in a similar vertical fashion. Inside the presentation is just as slick, with the SIM tray eject tool right out front, and the phone in its own pocket between two boxes. One of these boxes holds the manuals, warranty pamphlets and USB Type-A to Type-C cable, while the other box holds the special mCharge 4.0 wall charger, which can output 5V, 9V or 12V and 2A of charging power.
Meizu made the switch to Super AMOLED with the PRO 6 Plus at the end of 2016, and it was every bit for the better. The 5.7-inch Quad-HD Super AMOLED panel on the PRO 7 Plus looks phenomenal, with those deep blacks and ultra high contrast ratios that only OLED can provide, and a set of ultra saturated colors out of the box. These saturated colors can be easily toned down in display settings, as the default dynamic display mode is by far the most saturated of the four options. Standard will give you the most color accurate option, and all four display modes feature identical white balance. This white balance looks good in general, and trends slightly warm, although it’s not noticeable unless directly comparing side by side with other displays.
Meizu’s panels have traditionally been very bright panels, and the switch from IPS LCD to AMOLED hasn’t changed that a bit. The display is super bright and is very easy to see outdoors, all while having the ability to get nice and dark when needed. The response time/persistence rate is pretty good, and although there is some noticeable ghosting when scrolling through some high contrast thing (read: black text on white background), it’s not visible in most situations. Viewing angles are excellent, and exhibit some color shifting only at extreme angles. Many times modern displays that exhibit visible color shifting of any kind are due to the oleophobic coating on the glass, not the panel itself, and this panel exhibits far less than most modern phones do.
It’s not often you see a phone with more than one screen, and even then most dual-screen phones feature a smaller secondary screen above the main one. Meizu went for something different this time around, and it’s even different than the dual-screen Yotafone, which also features a screen on the back. Instead of a large e-ink screen the way the Yotafone has, Meizu uses a small 2-inch screen instead, situating it near the right side of the phone (left if you’re looking at the back). This screen is placed under the dual-camera array for a reason; it can be used as a viewfinder so that you can use the excellent cameras on the back of the phone. This is particularly important for the portrait mode that’s available with the dual cameras on the back, as it can produce ultra high quality portrait shots without the need for someone else to take the shot.
The camera can be launched directly from the screen, by double tapping to wake and then sliding down to launch, or clicking the icon in the camera app. The three major main modes (original, beauty, blur) can be switched between with a swipe left or right, and clicking anywhere on the screen starts a 3-second timer to take the shot. Waking the screen will show the day of the week, time and current weather conditions and temperature. Swiping over will give a larger display of the temperature and some slightly more detailed information, and another swipe will page over to the dedicated pedometer found in the phone. Some notifications will also be displayed on this screen, including incoming calls, messages, current music playing and just about anything else that would normally be displayed in the notification shade. It’s pretty clear that, aside from the selfie portrait mode, the display is meant to help you discretely manage notifications while the phone is lying face down on a table, and could be extremely convenient for folks that often find themselves in this position.
Hardware and Build
Meizu’s hardware design hasn’t changed much over the years, but the Pro 7 marks the first time that we’re seeing some kind of significant change or addition to that design in quite some time. The big highlight comes in the form of the OLED screen on the back of the phone, positioned right below the dual camera lens. This single pane of glass is situated on the rightmost edge (left when looking at the back), and even features a slight curve to that edge, although it doesn’t reach all the way over as the front edge of Samsung’s line does. The aspect ratio is much taller than the main screen on the front, and as a result things are displayed a little differently too. Above the display are both cameras, with the dual-tone LED flash to the left of the camera lenses.
The back itself is a single piece of aluminum, aside from the glass cutout and the antenna lines at the top and bottom, which are barely visible, especially on the black review unit we have. Meizu’s logo is now vertically oriented and aligned to the bottom right edge, being etched into the metal so that it doesn’t rub off over time. You’ll find a single speaker, 3.5mm audio jack and centered USB Type-C port along the bottom, while the dual nano-SIM card tray sits on the left side. The right side holds the power button, which is set just above the mid-point of the phone, and above it the volume rocker. These are situated in a great place, especially the volume rockers, as they’re comfortably placed to adjust volume while on the phone. They don’t protrude very much though, and both are smoothed, powdered metal, so they aren’t necessarily easy to distinguish either.
The powdered metal covering the phone is slippery as anything, in humid weather or not, and begs to use the case that’s included in the box. While it’s a shame considering how nice and sturdy the build on this phone feels, it’s better than dropping and breaking the phone, especially since it has two screens that could easily break if dropped the right way. All sides of the phone are rounded off, and the phone is uniformly thin all around, being just a hair thicker than the USB Type-C port at the bottom. The front looks very Meizu in every way, from the single mBack button below the screen, to the shape and size of the bezels around the display. The mBack button is slightly recessed into the frame and requires a click to operate, although a touch will trigger the capacitive sensor found within the button, acting as a back button. The button also doubles as a fingerprint scanner. A number of sensors and the front-facing camera surround the earpiece module, and there’s even some sensors found within the earpiece housing.
Performance and Memory
MediaTek became famous for their low-powered, low-cost processors, and since their inception have grown into the mid to high-end market. Offering processors covering the gamut of performance and price classes, MediaTek's Helio line powers plenty of phones out there. Meizu has often jumped between MediaTek and Samsung Exonos chipsets for their phones, and this generation utilizes MediaTek's latest X-series for the PRO 7 Plus, as well as a PowerVR 7XTP GPU for the graphics side of the house. Everything on the phone runs lightning fast, from launching and running apps, to playing the latest graphic-intensive games, the PRO 7 Plus handles it all with finesse.
Meizu has long used its "mBack" button system, differing itself from the many other manufacturers out there that make Android phones. This single button is a tap for going back, and a physical press for going home. Swiping up anywhere on the bezel to the left or right of the button brings up the multi-tasking menu, and it's here we see the biggest change. Last generation we saw a significantly improved multi-tasking solution from Meizu that utilized the vertically scrolling card system from stock Android, albeit being a reversed flow. This time around Meizu has gone to an iOS style scrolling row of cards, where the cards are all stacked horizontally from left to right. While user preference likely decides whether or not this is a positive move, it's less conducive to quickly switching between apps, and not being able to double-tap a dedicated Overview button (as other Android phones has) means no instant way of switching between two apps.
It's certainly not all negative though, as Meizu has some rather interesting functionality found when these thumbnails are dragged down. Apps can be locked into memory, keeping an app running at all times for instant access instead of letting the system remove their footprint for other apps to use. Apps can also be blurred out so that someone else can't read the screen via the "secret" button; something handy for when you're scrolling through apps and don't want others to read what's on the screen. There's also of course the native multi-window function that shipped with Android 7.0 Nougat last year, and allows two apps to be run on screen at once. Functionality works identically to stock Android, except for calling up multiple windows of course, which is done by dragging down the thumbnail of an app in the multi-tasking Overview screen, followed by clicking on the multi button. Resizing each window is done with the line in-between the apps on screen, and dragging all the way up or down will return to the main app filling up the full screen.
A floating white orb can be enabled, called SmartTouch, which can be moved around the screen to fit your comfort level. This can be used in place of the home button, and a range of options exist for customization: tap, double tap, hold, slide up, slide down, and slide left or right. This last part in particular is one of the most genius implementations you'll find on any Android phone, as it essentially "alt-tab's" through open apps. This ultra quick moving between screens helps make up for the fact that there's no quick button to press to move between apps, and even adds in an extra layer of efficiency by allowing users to move between more than just two apps at a time.
When it comes to benchmarks, the PRO 7 Plus sits right about at the performance level of a top-tier 2016 flagship phone. That may not sound encouraging considering we're already halfway through 2017, but benchmarks don't always reflect real world performance, simply because real world apps and games may never push the level of performance that a benchmark can measure. Still it's worth noting that the processing power of the PRO 7 Plus won't match 2017 flagship phones in many respects. GeekBench 4, one of our normal benchmark tests, wouldn't run due to an error. Check out the rest of the suite of benchmarks we run below.
As Meizu generally only sells their phones in Asia and Europe, you should expect the range of supported signal to only encompass the countries where it’s officially supported. 3G seems to generally be supported worldwide, and I had no issues getting both 2G EDGE and 3G HSPA+ on T-Mobile's US network. 4G LTE coverage will likely only be supported outside of the US though, and potential buyers need to be aware of those possible limitations.
As stated before the phone is available officially in Brunei, Cambodia, Mainland China, Egypt, France, Hong Kong, India, Israel, Italy, Kazakhstan, Myanmar, New Zealand, Russia, South Africa, Spain, Ukraine and Vietnam. There is no NFC support. Bluetooth 4.2 is supported, although there’s no aptX support, so only regular quality Bluetooth audio streaming is supported. Dual-band 2.4GHz/5GHz WiFi is available up to 802.11ac speeds.
You can expect better than average battery life on the Meizu PRO 7 Plus when compared to most flagship phones on the market. Most days I would find the phone had around 75% left after half a day's use, and by the end of the day I often saw 40% or more left of the battery. Heavier use days would bring it down to around 15-20%, and more in line with normal flagship-type battery life, but standby is generally excellent on the phone. Some of this is optimization on Meizu's part, but some of it is also a false positive when it comes to identifying actual good battery life. This sounds a bit weird, but it's all in how Meizu manages background data and app usage, and at times it can be problematic.
Take my usual suite of communications apps for instance: Hangouts, Allo, Inbox, Discord and a handful of others. I had to add all of these apps to the background data and usage exception list to get them to deliver notifications in a timely manner. By default Meizu uses a strict wakeup timing method of checking for updates in-app and allowing notifications to come through. Setting the phone to performance mode doesn't fix this automatically, you'll need to go into the security app and set the background data and app usage to "always allow," otherwise you'll experience delayed notifications.
At times this would mean multiple emails missed for quite some time, and messages that go unread until I opened the app. This is an annoying thing to have to specify, as many users will likely miss messages and emails and not understand why it's happening. While I understand it's done to arbitrarily save battery and mobile data costs, the default shouldn't be to put apps to sleep so aggressively, or at least have an easy one-button way of turning this off. As it stands you'll need to change these settings for each individual app within the security app.
Cirrus Logic's new CS43130 chipset inside produces some great audio quality, ramping up the output to an incredible 32-bit 192KHz quality. You'll of course need a music source of high quality to fully enjoy this potential, but when provided, the hi-res audio output here is good in most respects. In my car audio system I found the bass was a tad too heavy, but turning down my sub woofer helped equalize the sound to normal levels. This trick makes many headphones sound better than usual, but there's no simple way of fixing this with a single button click on the phone.
It's still good to see high-res audio support make its way to more and more phones, although you won't be enjoying super high quality Bluetooth playback since there's no aptX support. The single bottom-firing speaker sounds great overall, outputting lots of volume and remaining clear despite the volume level. In a regular room the speaker can verge on deafening when turned all the way up, yet it still retains a clean output with no audible distortion. Don't expect the quality to replace a good dedicated speaker, but the volume will certainly do the job better than most phones will.
Flyme 6 launches with the Meizu PRO 7 Plus, a significant update that was debuted at the time of the PRO 6 Plus's announcement at the end of last year. Flyme 6 brings about some important refinements to Meizu's tried and true Android skin, and further solidifies the look and feel of the OS, all while making good strides to turn Flyme into something truly excellent. Many of Meizu's essential design philosophies have remained since the beginning; things like mute and vibrate buttons in the notification shade for quick toggling of sound modes, media volume receiving the priority adjustment when using the volume rocker, and single-button navigation throughout the phone.
The software navigation bar went the way of the Dodo some time ago, but it's one of the evolutions that Meizu has gone through to find its unique identity in the world of so many Android manufacturers. Mostly unchanged is the home launcher, which at this point is one of the things that makes the phone feel older than it might otherwise. It's a fairly standard launcher that's very basic in most aspects. Apps are laid out on the screen in a random iOS-like pattern, and there's no obvious way to sort them by name or type. There's no long-press functionality, and no real options whatsoever in general when it comes to customizing the launcher.
Meizu does have a good theme engine, however the software build on our review unit did not allow theme or wallpaper changing; something consumer units won't have to worry about. These themes change basically everything on the system, from fonts to icons, wallpapers, sounds, the notification shade and even animations. Flyme is a smooth, well presented OS that's every bit as fast as it is stylish. There are important settings for locking the phone down in specific circumstances too, like a "Kid Space" mode that helps keep kids from using apps they shouldn't be, or a "Game Mode" that turns off those pesky back buttons and other gestures that can get easily pressed while gaming.
Privacy has clearly been a concern for Meizu, as they not only offer the blurring out option for the Overview/multi-tasking screen, but also offer several system-wide privacy modes. This privacy mode can be automatically enabled by entering a special PIN or specific fingerprint, setup in the Privacy Mode options itself, and keeps just about everything you're doing in this mode under a veil of secrecy. A completely separate set of contacts, photos, apps, videos and even files can be stored under this mode, and any photos or videos you take will only be accessible while in this mode. The browser defaults to incognito mode, and locking the phone will automatically exit this mode.
There's also a Guest Mode that has the same type of features, allowing you to hand the phone over to someone else without worry of them being able to access your data. Things are compartmentalized in a way that other data isn't easily accessible in this mode, and you can rest assure that personal messages and other data won't be seen when unlocking with a certain password or fingerprint, which activates the mode automatically just as it does with privacy mode.
You'll even find gesture and button customization up the wazoo. By default you can enable a handful of built-in gestures: double-tap the screen to wake, slide up to unlock, slide down for notification shade, and slide left or right to change the song playing. These can all be done without turning the screen on at all, and you can also draw the letter c, e, m, o, s, v, w or z on the screen and launch any app of your choice. The home button can also be customized to an extent; double tapping the home button by default launches the camera, but can also be changed to playing music or doing nothing instead. Long pressing the home button works as a power button too, which is unique and interesting.
Meizu's camera software finally saw a significant upgrade and overhaul in Flyme 6, and all of those upgrades are here for the better. The interface is pretty industry standard looking, with a large white shutter button on the bottom, a toggle switch to the left to move from front to rear cameras and back, and a gallery button on the bottom right. Swiping left or right modes from Beauty, Photo and Video modes (in that order from left to right), and additional modes can be found in the button on the top left. All modes are Makeup, Pro, Slo-mo, Time-lapse, panorama, Scan (QR codes), GIF and Black & White.
HDR is no longer a separate mode, but rather toggled via the button on the dedicated top bar. There's no auto HDR though, so users will need to remember to toggle this if needed. Flash can also be toggled from here, as well as the dual-lens blur effect that's good for portrait mode type shots. Filters can be found via the magic wand icon, and simple options like Grid line toggle, Tilt indicator, Date stamp and location can be found in options. Multi-frame low light mode is automatic and enabled by default, and is denoted by a yellow crescent moon icon on the main display. Second screen options were covered in the appropriately named section above, but can be called up either by the button on the right side of the camera software display, or double tapping the back screen and swiping down.
Pro mode is exceptionally good, and gives users tons of options to tweak via a pop-up bar above the shutter button. Shutter speed can be adjusted between 1/5000th of a second up to 20 seconds, and ISO can be adjusted from 100 to 1600. Other options include manual focus, exposure value, saturation, contrast, and white balance. Another super interesting mode is the Black & White mode, which uses one of the two rear sensors to take a monochrome shot. Both Sony Exmor IMX 386 sensors on the back are identical, except for one important feature; one is a monochrome version of the other sensor. This helps Meizu identify subjects better for the portrait mode/blur effect, but also doubles as a way to capture true monochrome subjects when desired.
Camera Performance and Results
Meizu's camera experience is incredibly fast to say the least, and often launches in under 2 seconds flat, even from screen off. Double tapping the home button calls up this mode from anywhere, and it's nice to have something so reliable to nearly instantly launch the camera. Focusing isn't nearly as fast, and is about on par with the LG G6's 1-1.5 second focus times. This isn't a long time per say, but when compared to phones like the Galaxy S8 or HTC U11's essentially instant focus times, these can feel very long. HDR speed too is a little slow, a problem Meizu has had for some time, but this time around it's at least fast enough to be useful in situations where there's little to no movement. Just be sure to leave the HDR off when taking shots of moving objects, or else the subject will turn out blurry.
The highlight of the show is the new portrait mode, made possible thanks to the dual lenses on the back of the phone. These sensors detect a subject and attempt to blur the background, giving the photo a much more professional, SLR-style photo. These types of shots are only good for either portraits or detailed, up-close shots of objects, and can't be used for most types of shots, or even video. Results of the portrait mode are stunning; tons of detail, great dynamic range and excellent focal points are all strong suits of the mode. All the processing is done real-time too, so there's no waiting for the phone to do something after taking the shot.
In general though, the results of the camera are not super impressive. Many images turned out darker than they should be; even daytime shots are oddly dark, and it feels like something is just off in the software. Looking at the details of each image doesn't immediately show any problems. Daytime shots are often around 100-200 ISO, and shutter speeds all look OK too. It feels like most of the shots I took are either too dark or too blurry, even when there's a fast shutter speed used (1/100th of a second or faster). Zoom detail ranges from good to acceptable from scene to scene, but there's a lot of issues that seem to point to lower quality lenses being used here. It's unfortunate too given the sensors, which are generally great sensors and should produce excellent imagery.
Other important qualities of the picture, like dynamic range, are not great either. HDR mode helps this a bit, but in general HDR looks more fake and seems to do more harm than good in most situations; possibly one of the reasons why HDR is not automatic in the first place. Low light conditions are pretty terrible no matter how you slice it too, which is particularly surprising since Meizu touts a new 4-stage algorithm to help enhance low light shots. When I got a good low-light shot out of the phone that wasn't blurry, things looked great. I saw ISO max out around 13,000, which is encouraging to see Meizu pushing the sensor hard enough to let lots of light in, but in general ISO is prioritized far too often over shutter speed.
This results in shutter speeds that are too long, creating a shot that's plagued with blur due to natural hand jitter. Even the 4-stage algorithm that's automatically activated has the same problem, and it seems like the photos that are taken and combined end up being just a few pixels off from each other, creating a photo that would be bright and detailed if it weren't for for blur in the way. The front-facing camera is average at best, and often blows out the scene in an effort to make the foreground (person) brighter. This would be more acceptable if the dynamic range of the sensor was better, but unfortunately it just isn't. It's not bad, but it's not great either, but thankfully the screen on the back of the phone allows the use of the considerably better rear cameras to be used in these types of situations.
As is the case in photo mode, dynamic range in video mode is much better on the rear camera than it is on the front. The front camera tends to overexpose the entire scene, brightening up the foreground subject but making the background far too bright and losing detail in the process. Video from the back of the phone looks good, with crisp 4K video when enabled, but again dynamic range seems to suffer a lot when compared to other flagship phones. There's also no image stabilization (either that or it's not very good), resulting in video that's relatively shaky when moving around. See all the samples and videos in the gallery below.
Back screen is innovative, although still limited in its options
Above average bottom-firing speaker
32-bit audio output
Tons of awesome OS options in Flyme 6
Fast and feature-rich new camera software
Lots of privacy settings
Average camera results at best
Peak performance not up to par with similarly priced phones
Problems with notifications out of the box unless tweaked
Meizu's latest flagship phones sports plenty of positives, including a hot new design and build, a great AMOLED screen on the front and back, and some killer features. The new dual-camera system can produce some stunning results in the right light, and that portrait mode is killer, but the overall results are average at best. Battery life is good, and even sometimes great, but comes at the expense of a performance difference between the PRO 7 Plus and other phones in the same price range. Audio output is excellent, and even though there's only a single bottom-firing speaker, the results are loud, clean and clear. Flyme 6 brings lots of great features to the table too, sporting tons of options and oodles of customizability. Overall it's a great choice, especially if you're a Meizu fan, and offers fantastic value for the price in most respects.