With the Meizu 15, the company has shown it can provide a great camera for under $400 USD
Meizu announced its latest smartphone, the Meizu 15, just a little over a week ago. This release was to celebrate Meizu's 15th anniversary, after opening its doors in 2003 making MP3 players and then moving into smartphones in 2008. It supposedly has Meizu's best camera ever put into a smartphone, and is a pretty well built phone that will cost around $400 USD. But is it worth the cash? Well let's find out.
On the Meizu 15, the company has put a 5.46-inch display with a 1920x1080 resolution here. Meaning that it has kept the 16:9 aspect ratio, but it does have very minimal bezels, with a 79.8-percent screen-to-body ratio here. That's about the best you can do on a phone that is this small. The Meizu 15 sports the Qualcomm Snapdragon 660 chipset which is an octa-core chipset with four 2.2GHz cores and four 1.8GHz cores. It is also paired with the Adreno 512 GPU for some great graphics performance. Alongside the Snapdragon 660, there is also 4GB of RAM and either 64GB or 128GB of storage available. There is also a micro SD card slot available for providing more storage should you need it.
Meizu has adopted the dual-camera setup on the 15 here, and is using a 12-megapixel main sensor that has a f/1.8 aperture and is 1.55um wide. While the secondary sensor is a 20-megapixel that is slightly smaller at 1.0um. Meizu has included four-axis optical image stabilization, as well as 2x optical zoom on the 20-megapixel sensor. We also have dual pixel phase detection and laser auto-focus, as well as a six-LED dual-tone flash.
Wrapping up the specs here, there is a 3,000mAh capacity battery inside the Meizu 15, along with a USB-C connector for charging. Meizu has Android 7.0 Nougat on board with Flyme v7 as well. It does also support both WiFi 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands, so you can get some ultra-fast WiFi speeds out of this one. Bluetooth 4.2 and GPS is available, but there is no NFC on-board. However, Meizu did opt to keep the headphone jack.
In The Box
The unboxing experience is actually really nice here. The box is a bit more "premium" than most other phones today, with a soft-touch feel all around it and a black "15" on the front, which is subtle but still nice looking. Now inside the box, you'll find the Meizu 15 along with the usual assortment of paperwork, a SIM ejection tool, a USB-C cable and a wall adapter. There's no real surprises here, like a case, but that's usually the exception and not the rule.
The Meizu 15 is actually pretty good looking. We have the black model here, which has a brushed metal look on the back, and the Meizu logo is also black, so it's almost impossible to see. The antenna bands have been pushed to the bottom and top of the phone - a trend that Meizu actually began doing a few years ago, even before Apple did. And these are also black, so that they blend in really nicely, actually. The dual-cameras are located in the center, in a vertical position with the LED ring below it. Unlike many other smartphones, Meizu did opt to keep the camera in the center, versus near the upper-left corner of the phone. Other than the camera, the backside actually looks very clean.
While the backside does look nice and clean, it does attract fingerprints more than a glass backed smartphone. That's because this isn't a purely metal-backed smartphone. It uses stainless-steel aluminum composite material, but it's not purely stainless steel. It feels a bit like plastic but not quite, almost like a plastic and metal hybrid material. It makes the phone look great, but not quite as nice feeling in the hand. This was to keep it lightweight, but still a bit rugged, in case it does get dropped. The back is slightly curved, so it does fit in your hands nicely, but it would feel nicer if it were plain metal.
Meizu did opt to keep the headphone jack, which is at the bottom, to the left of the USB-C connector and the speaker on the right side. On the left side of the phone is the volume rocker, which isn't so much a rocker, as it is two actually separate buttons. This makes it easier to feel which is volume up and which is volume down, when in the dark or not looking at your phone. The right side houses the power button. The power and volume buttons are nice and clicky, and don't feel mushy at all here.
The front is also pretty clean, with almost non-existent side bezels, and very small top and bottom bezels. The top bezel houses the earpiece which is pretty small, and almost tough to see, with the camera just below it. While the bottom bezel houses the fingerprint sensor. Now while that's all you can see on these bezels, there are also other drivers and sensors housed there, but Meizu has done a good job at minimizing these bezels without going with a taller display.
The Meizu 15's hardware is pretty decent, but it's just not that premium, compared to other smartphones launching these days. And where this is supposed to celebrate the company's 15th year in business, you would think that Meizu would go all out on hardware, and instead are using a "premium" mid-range processor in the Snapdragon 660. But, it's also important to keep in mind the price point here, which is just under $400 USD, and that puts it in the range of the Moto G series from Motorola, and it competes well on that front.
There is a 5.46-inch OLED display here on the Meizu 15, and it looks really nice. As you'd expect from an OLED screen, the blacks are nice and deep, and the colors are also pretty saturated. The color temperature here is not perfect, it runs a bit on the warm side, but Meizu does allow you to adjust the temperature to be either warmer or colder, in the settings. It's still a 1080p resolution display here, which at this size, it's really not an issue. The display does look really good, even at 5.46-inches, and watching videos and such on this display is really incredible.
Inside the Meizu 15, there is the Snapdragon 660 processor along with 4GB of RAM. Now while the Snapdragon 660 is not a Snapdragon 800-series processor, it is still pretty powerful and more importantly, it sips on the battery. So you're getting great battery life with great performance here, at least on paper. And that does translate to real world usage. Using the Meizu 15 over the past week and a half has been an absolute joy. It runs everything just as fast as the Xiaomi Mi MIX 2S, which has Qualcomm's newest high-end processor, and we haven't noticed any slowdowns here. Now there are a couple of apps that would lag a bit on the Snapdragon 660, but that isn't unique to the Meizu 15, that has happened on other Snapdragon 660-devices like the Vivo V9 we recently reviewed.
Overall, performance on the Meizu 15 is not an issue. While it would have been great to see Meizu stick a Snapdragon 845 (or even the slightly older 835) inside the device, the Snapdragon 660 is definitely no slouch. And add in the 4GB of RAM, and you're going to have a great experience with the Meizu 15.
Stereo speakers here on the Meizu 15 sound incredible. Meizu joined the train of adding stereo speakers to its smartphones with the 15 and it makes watching videos even better on this smartphone. The bottom firing speaker is paired with the earpiece and gives you a great experience. Even if you cover up one of the speakers, you won't notice a difference in sound quality here. Speaking of which, there's plenty of bass and clear mids and highs, unlike most other cheaper smartphones, where the speaker is usually pretty bad. This is a good thing for the Meizu 15, and makes it an even better media powerhouse.
Meizu has kept its fingerprint sensor on the 15, and made the sensor even smaller - in an effort to make the bottom bezel even smaller. While it's smaller, it's still just as fast and accurate as most other smartphones on the market right now. It's located on the front of the device, below the screen and is ultra quick at unlocking the device. Now the fingerprint sensor isn't the only way to unlock the Meizu 15. The company has also added face unlock, so you can use your face to unlock the phone. Now this is a bit slower than some other smartphones out there, but not so slow that users won't use it. But do keep in mind that it does use the front-facing camera, so it's not as secure as what Apple uses for Face ID. But it will unlock your phone quite easily.
Phone Calls & Network
The model of the Meizu 15 that we have here is the Chinese model, as that's the only one available right now. But it will be coming to other countries in the near future. Having said that, it means that this model does not work in the US. It will connect to 2G networks on T-Mobile and AT&T, but it won't work at all on 4G LTE networks in the country. That's common for Chinese smartphones that do not sport worldwide bands like the Meizu 15. But we did get a chance to use it on China Unicom while in Wuzhen for the launch event, and it worked quite well. LTE speeds were similar to the Xiaomi Mi MIX 2S in the same location. On WiFi, the Meizu 15 also performs about the same as other smartphones we've tested, so there's no issues with network speeds here.
On the Meizu 15, we ran three benchmarks: AnTuTu, Geekbench 4 and 3D Mark. On AnTuTu, it picked up a score of 123,305, while over on 3D Mark it got a score of 1359. Now over on Geekbench 4, it picked up a single-core score of 1612, and a multi-core score of 5789. These are all pretty good scores and put the Meizu 15 right where it should be based on the hardware inside the device. You can see the full results in the gallery below.
With a full HD display, a 3000mAh capacity battery and a Snapdragon 660 processor inside, the Meizu 15 should keep running all day long and then some. And that is definitely the case with the Meizu 15. It will last you all day long, even on a heavy usage day. Though we have noticed in the software that the battery usage stats will sometimes reset itself if the phone hasn't been used for an hour or two. Which is a bit strange, and makes it tougher to keep a gauge on how much screen-on time we achieved during the review process. But you should be able to get a good five or more hours of on-screen time here.
The Meizu 15 does support Qualcomm's Quick Charge 3.0, so you'll be able to quickly charge up the Meizu 15 in just under an hour. Which is also good if for some reason the Meizu 15 does begin to die in the middle of the day. You can quickly put it on the charger and top it off in just a few minutes. Definitely a good thing there.
Meizu launched the 15 running an older version of Android, with Android 7.1.1 Nougat on-board. And that is paired with Flyme 7, which is a bit more paired back and closer in-line with AOSP. While it may not look like it on the surface, there are several hints throughout the OS that it is getting closer to AOSP - likely due to Meizu working closer with Google. Now since it is running on Android Nougat, it's tough to say whether this one will get Android P (or even Android Oreo), but Meizu did say that it has begun working on Oreo, which is at least a good thing.
On the software front, Flyme hasn't changed a lot, but there are some notable changes. A lot of these changes are under-the-hood to make the operating system run smoother and faster, which is always appreciated. Meizu has fixed up the notifications in Flyme 7, making each notification an actual card. This looks really clean and makes it easier for you to go ahead and swipe away each card in your notifications. And of course, the quick settings are above that, which can be customized like usual. There's still no app drawer here, that's something that is pretty common in the East, but here in the West, users prefer an app drawer with a clean home screen. Luckily, you can install a third-party launcher and get that app drawer back.
Like most smartphones these days, there is also a game mode available here. The game mode, when enabled, will boost the processor and GPU to give you a better experience, and also turn on Do Not Disturb, so that you aren't disturbed while playing games. Meizu also has its SmartTouch feature on the 15, which has been available for quite some time. It's essentially a dot that floats on the screen. Tapping on it will go back, slide up goes home, slide down opens the notification shade and sliding left or right opens recents. It's a pretty nice feature to have, especially if you want to get rid of the navigation keys and get even more screen real estate on the 15.
Flyme is still pretty bright and colorful, it's actually not a bad looking software experience, to be honest. And now that many issues are fixed - like the fact that you couldn't read Gmail or Inbox notifications in the notification shade - it makes Flyme even better. There are still some things that need to be fixed, but it appears that Meizu is walking back some features that were changed just because. And that is likely due to what its customers told the company, and it's always good when a company listens to its customers.
Meizu claims that the camera on the 15 is its best camera ever on a smartphone. It also claims that it is right up there with what Xiaomi and Huawei offers, and beats anything that OPPO and Vivo have. We beg to differ, while the camera on the Meizu 15 is pretty good, it's not quite that good. Meizu is using Sony's latest sensor, the IMX380 on the 15 here, which is a 12-megapixel wide-angle sensor and a 20-megapixel zoom lens, which gives it a f/1.8 aperture. That means you should get some great low light imagery from this camera, and that was the case in most instances for us, as you'll see in the gallery below. Meizu also added some AI, but for some reason that is only on the front-camera and not the rear cameras. Which is likely why the Meizu 15 falls short compared to some other competitors.
The camera did take some good shots through the review period. It even performed well in a few lighting conditions that were tough, like at a bar which had blue lighting and the rest was dimly lit. It still got the colors right. While it wasn't as sharp as we would have liked, it turned out pretty good. Meizu does have portrait mode here, and it also works pretty well. We'd say it's right on par with most other cameras, except for maybe the Pixel 2's cameras. There is a picture in the gallery below that was taken in the Shanghai Pudong Airport that actually came out quite nice, even though the lighting in there was pretty tough. Basically what we are saying is that the camera on the Meizu 15 is great, but it's not the best. Meizu still has room to improve, and we definitely hope it does with its next smartphone.
Software here is also pretty good. Meizu has kept the camera app pretty minimal, with the different modes at the bottom and a few shortcuts at the top - like HDR, flash, etc. There are three modes shown, which are the most popular ones. That's Portrait, Photo and Video. Under the "More" tab, you'll find Pro, Panorama, Scan, Time-Lapse, Slo-mo and Square. So you do have quite a few options with this camera, even though it is hidden. The camera app is pretty minimal, which is actually a good thing, and it's fast to jump into which is also good. There's actually a lot to like about the camera on the Meizu 15.
Still a 16:9 display
Old version of Android (Android 7.1.1)
The Meizu 15 is a good option for a lot of people. As is usually the case with Meizu, the company is targeting a really aggressive price point. The Meizu 15 starts at 2499 Yuan which converts to about $394 USD. That's a pretty incredible price for a smartphone with these kind of specs. Now there is the Meizu 15 Plus, which might be a better option, though we didn't spend a lot of time with that model, so it's tough to speak on it. But it does have a slightly better processor in the Exynos 8895, also has more RAM at 6GB and also a larger display. Both smartphones are likely great options, and the Meizu 15 is a smaller smartphone, that the company is calling a "one size fits all" since it gives users a larger display in a smaller form-factor.
Should you Buy the Meizu 15?
If you're looking for a smartphone that isn't too expensive, but can hold its own against many of the other heavy hitters out there, then the Meizu 15 is definitely worth taking a look at. It has a great camera, a great display, and even keeps the headphone jack. While it is unfortunate that it does not have NFC included here, that isn't an issue for Meizu's biggest market, China. Which doesn't use NFC much, if it all. You can purchase the Meizu 15 now from Meizu's website in China, and it'll be coming to other countries in the coming months. Meizu hasn't yet said when exactly it'll launch outside of China yet, however.