Meizu is one of many Chinese smartphone manufacturers that have seen strong success in their home country, but have struggled to break into Western markets in the highly crowded budget smartphone space. Their devices are known for packing in a great array of hardware at an extremely low price, rivalling well-known Chinese giant Xiaomi in this regard.
The phone I have with me today is the Meizu m3 Note, a 5.5-inch budget device with an attractive price tag of just $170. This places it in direct competition with one of my favorite budget devices, the 3rd-generation Motorola Moto G, along with the mediocre Umi Touch I reviewed a couple of weeks ago.
The m3 Note could fall into the trap of offering good hardware but failing to use it properly; it’s a common thread among budget Chinese OEMs. However, with Meizu having produced smartphones since the early days of Android, the company has had years to refine their offerings. The m3 Note in particular is the third device in Meizu’s large screen series, which began in late 2014 with the launch of the original m1 Note.
I’ll be looking at the hardware in greater detail later, but there’s a lot of quality in this device at its price. There’s a 1080p IPS LCD on the front, an octa-core Helio P10 SoC on the inside, a huge 4,100 mAh battery, a fingerprint sensor, and a 13-megapixel rear camera. This sounds like a pretty decent collection of hardware for a sub-$200 handset.
I’m not mincing words when I say this: the Meizu m3 Note has the best build quality of any budget device I’ve used. The m3 Note could easily sit among flagship smartphone, such is the quality of this metal body. It’s not the most visually impressive handset – Meizu’s design team has clearly used the iPhone 6s Plus as inspiration for this build – but there is no shortage of premium materials or attention to detail here.
Most of the m3 Note’s back is a single piece of 6000-series aluminium, which comfortably curves around each of the long edges to create a near-unibody design. It’s rare for a budget device to use such nice metal, and it both looks and feels superb here. I especially like the clean, sleek look that Meizu has implemented, allowing you to enjoy the materials without intrusive branding or clutter.
The Meizu m3 Note sitting next to a 3rd-generation Motorola Moto G
Above and below this metal slab are two plastic sections designed to imitate the rest of the metal body. As these sections are separated by a neat, polished strip of metal, I don’t think they look too bad. The plastic sections certainly don’t have the same textural qualities of the metal, however in normal use you don’t have to touch these areas, and visually they fit in acceptably with the overall design of the m3 Note.
One of the things I really appreciate about the m3 Note’s design is the attention to detail. The build is near-perfectly symmetrical, which shows Meizu has really thought about the placement of some elements, like the camera and sensors above the display. The lack of noticeable seams speaks volumes about the solidness of this build, which translates to a great feel in your hands. These are the sort of things you typically see from high-end devices, not budget devices.
The solid volume rocker and power button are found in a comfortable location along the right-hand edge. In general, this phone is very ergonomic, thanks to comfortable curves around each of the edges and corners. I was also pleased with the thickness (8.2mm) and weight (163 grams), which is nothing groundbreaking but respectable considering there’s a huge 4,100 mAh battery inside.
Interestingly, the m3 Note is smaller and lighter than the iPhone 6s Plus in every way bar depth (the 6s Plus is 1mm thinner). Both phones have 5.5-inch displays, yet smaller bezels on the m3 Note make it slightly easier to use in one hand. Neither device is particularly friendly to those with small hands, though, as the display size is still above average.
The m3 Note is loaded with two speakers along the bottom edge, which as you might expect aren’t great quality. Between the speakers is a micro-USB port, the standard port used for charging and data transfers in budget devices. I don’t expect USB-C to filter down to these devices for a while now, so I have no complaints there. Along the top is a 3.5mm headphone jack, and on the left edge is a tray for housing either two nano-SIMs, or a nano-SIM and microSD card.
The other notable feature to this phone’s design is the fingerprint sensor found below the display. The sensor is surprisingly fast and accurate for a cheap smartphone, and I had no trouble using it to secure the device. This technology has come a long way since early iterations, and it’s great to see it now being cheap enough to include in budget devices.
Interestingly, there are no physical capacitive or on-screen navigation buttons on the m3 Note, aside from the fingerprint sensor which doubles as both a home and back button. Pressing in the sensor like a button returns to the home screen, while just tapping it like a touchscreen acts as a ‘back’ command. It’s a unique way to navigate, and something I haven’t seen outside of Meizu devices. Personally I prefer standard navigation buttons, but this single-button solution is fine when you get used to it.