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Smartphones

Meizu 15 smartphone review: refreshing design differences and surprisingly good cameras

Meizu doesn’t follow the pack when it comes to design, and its anniversary handset looks different, has useful additional features and takes decent photos especially with a 3X zoom. The only downside is a relatively short battery life

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 26 May, 2018, 11:48am
UPDATED : Sunday, 27 May, 2018, 4:58pm

Phone maker Meizu has come a long way since it made MP3 players in the early 2000s, carving a niche for itself selling budget and mid-tier smartphones in China and developing markets such as Vietnam, Indonesia and the Philippines over the past decade. To mark its 15th birthday this year, the company, based in Zhuhai in the Pearl River Delta, has recently released an anniversary phone that is, appropriately, named the “15”.

Design and hardware

Meizu’s phones have always followed its consistent design language, eschewing the trend-chasing constant redesigns of other Chinese companies such as Vivo. The 15, likewise, looks and feels similar to previous Meizu devices, which also makes it an outlier in the 2018 phone space: the 15 is a metal phone with a 16:9 aspect ratio display, and a circular home button on a bottom bezel that’s not ultra slim.

Some may wonder if it’s wise to stick with old trends, but they do give the 15 a somewhat refreshing user experience. It’s been a while since I’ve had to press into a home button, and the tactile feedback is an oddly satisfying sensation.

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It helps that Meizu didn’t skimp on components: the home button of the 15 actually isn’t a moving mechanical button, but a faux-button that uses the same haptic engine inside the iPhone 7 and 8 to simulate the feeling of a click.

Likewise with the display: the 5.5-inch panel is a Samsung AMOLED custom-made for the 15, and it is vibrant and sharp. The older 16:9 aspect ratio does mean the phone is wider, but Meizu’s trimmed the left and right bezels down to virtually nothing. A mid-range but capable Snapdragon 660 processor handles the rest.

For optics the handset flanks the 12-megapixel main f/1.8 shooter with a 20-megapixel telephoto lens. The pixel packing secondary lens offers 3X lossless zoom.

Software and features

The 15 runs Meizu’s Flyme skin over Android 7.1.2, and it’s heavy software. Flyme changes the way users move around Android, using the home button for both “home” and “back” functionality – differentiated by either long or short presses. Bringing up recent apps requires a swipe up. The phone has no app tray.

Navigation will take some getting used to for those jumping over from other Android phones, but Flyme is quite intuitive. I’d still rather have stock Android, but if I must put up with a third party skin,

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Flyme is a lot less annoying and clunky than Huawei’s EMUI or Vivo’s FunTouch OS.

Part of the reason is because Flyme’s additional features are genuinely useful, unlike the gimmicks that other Chinese phone brands usually throw out there (example: tilting a Vivo phone to zoom in and out of photos).

For me, one of the favourite additions is screen-off short cuts: I can draw an alphabet on the 15’s display when the phone is locked to immediately jump into an app. These are all customisable, so I can draw an O to launch the camera, or Instagram, or Gmail.

Performance and battery life

One of the early impressions I got from using the device was that it ran a bit slow. But as I tested I realised it’s just Flyme’s animation-heavy software that gives off the illusion of a longer than usual wait for apps to open and close. The phone’s RAM management handled background apps appropriately, and overall the phone ran smoothly.

I’m most impressed with the phone’s camera, which is surprisingly good for a mid-range phone. The main Sony IMX 380 sensor has responsive shutter speeds, fast autofocus and optical image stabilisation; while the secondary telephoto camera produces very clean 3X zoom images. It’s a level of detail I expect from Samsung and Huawei phones that cost more than twice the price.

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Photos in low light or challenging situations obviously can’t compare to those taken by top models, but they’re still respectable. If not for the existence of the similarly-priced Xiaomi handset, the 15 would probably be the best mobile camera under US$400.

Battery life is nothing to write home about – a 3,000 mAh cell can only do so much, especially with this older version of Android running. You’ll need your portable battery pack for a long day out.

Conclusion

Priced officially at 2,499 yuan (in Hong Kong it costs HK$2,800), the 15 certainly gives you a lot of bang for your buck. The just-released OnePlus 6, however, offers a far more powerful chip set for HK$1,000 more.

But for those who hate that Android phone makers are shamelessly copying the iPhone X’s notch and Samsung’s glassy design, the Meizu 15’s willingness to do its own thing is a breath of fresh air.

Dimensions: 143mm X 72mm X 7.3mm

Weight: 152g

Display: 5.5-inch 1,080 X 1,920 AMOLED panel

Battery: 3,000mAh

OS version reviewed: Android 7.1.2 with Flyme UI 7.0 on top

Processor: Snapdragon 660

Cameras: 12-megapixel Sony IMX 380 sensor with f/1.8 aperture and 20-megapixel telephoto lens; 20-megapixel front facing camera.

Memory: 4/6GB RAM; 64/128GB ROM

Colours: black, white, blue, gold

Price: 4GB, US$391; 6GB, US$470