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Meizu M6 Review – Metal and Glass for Less Cash

A solid entry-level pick

Meizu’s lineup of phones covers a pretty large swath of the smartphone price spectrum, but it’s their budget-minded phones that have made them famous. Meizu’s most recent budget-minded lineup, the M6 and M6 Note, fit in the entry-level market with designs and specs that make it feel like a 2017 phone in most ways. For RS6999 (~$109/€93), it’s pretty clear that Meizu is offering up a pretty incredible package for a small sum of money when compared to other smartphones on the market. Does this Flyme-powered phone have what it takes? Let’s take a look.

Specs

As of this writing, all shops that sell the Meizu M6 officially list it at RS6999, or about $109/€93. Meizu sells the M6 in a number of colors including, Champagne Gold, Electric Light Blue, Matte Black, and our review unit color, Moonlight Silver. A 5.2-inch 16:9 IPS LCD HD display (1280 x 720) sits on the front with fairly standard size bezels. A single physical home button/fingerprint reader is located below, featuring Meizu’s mBack gestures. Inside is a 1.5GHz MediaTek MT6750 octa-core processor, as well as a Mali-T860 GPU. Meizu sells the M6 in two different configurations: one with 32GB of internal storage and 3GB of RAM, and the other with 16GB of internal storage and 2GB of RAM.

On the front is an 8-megapixel camera with f/2.0 lens, while the rear facing camera sports 13-megapixel resolution and an f/2.2 lens. Inside the frame is a non-removable 3,070mAh battery. The dual nano-SIM card tray also takes a microSD card in that second SIM card slot for removable storage support. A single microUSB port with USB 2.0 speeds is on the bottom next to the single speaker, and a 3.5mm audio jack sits up at the top. Dual band WiFi 2.4GHz and 5GHZ are supported up to 802.11ac speeds, and Bluetooth 4.0 offers good wireless peripheral and audio support. The phone measures in at 148.2mm high, 72.8mm wide and 8.3mm thin, and weighs a rather light 143 grams. Meizu’s Flyme 6.0 skin sits atop Android 7.0 Marshmallow, and as of this writing features the September 2017 security patch.

In The Box

Given the price of the phone, there’s not much to be expected inside the box. Alongside the phone you’ll find a USB Type-A to microUSB cable, wall charging brick with USB outlet, a SIM tray ejector tool and the warranty card. It’s a simple box with a simple list of contents.

Hardware and Display

Meizu’s hardware hasn’t changed drastically in generations, and it would be perfectly forgivable if anyone mistook this for nearly any number of previous phones from Meizu. What appears to be a smooth metal unibody that wraps completely around the sides and back of the phone turns out to be a fancy polycarbonate one instead. Meizu has added a little flair this time around with the use of embossed text, which gives the Meizu logo on the back a 3D look and feel. The look of metal falls apart once you touch it though, and it becomes apparent that it’s actually made out of plastic. Still, the design looks metal in every way, and for a $100 smartphone it’s hard to ask for much more. The single round camera module on the back is symmetrical with the small dual-LED flash underneath, and the curved corners make this phone super comfortable to hold for even long periods of time.

On the bottom you’ll find a centered microUSB port surrounded by what look like two speaker grilles, however only the right one is actually a speaker. Up top you’ll find an off-center 3.5mm audio jack for headphones and other audio equipment, while the volume rocker and power buttons are located on the right side. The buttons feel solid enough and don’t wobble, and the fact that they’re all on one side means you can set the phone in landscape mode to watch videos without having to worry about pressing buttons on accident. The SIM tray sits alone on the left side. Up front are some fairly large bezels for 2017, mostly because of the fact that the screen is 16:9 instead of the taller 18:9 (2:1) aspect ratio that many displays have been moving to. The physical mBack home button resides below the screen, with a click in for home, light tap for back, and fingerprint reading functionality built in as well.

It’s hard to find a truly bad display nowadays, as even the cheapest phones have a more than serviceable displays most of the time. Meizu’s IPS LCD displays have always been pretty good, and that still is the case on the M6, despite its incredibly affordable price tag. All the basics are covered here, including good color reproduction, nice white balance and a decent contrast ratio of 1,000:1. Viewing angles are fairly standard for the price range, with some significant dimming at angles but no color shifting. Black levels are serviceable and are good enough to get the job done, and the brightness levels on this panel are certainly better than some we see at this price, with enough brightness to easily see outside without squinting.

Automatic brightness is a little on the dark side, and I preferred to keep manual brightness because of this. Pixel persistence is slightly high, with obvious trailing behind moving objects, but nothing that’s game breaking while using the phone. While there’s no always on display, you’ll be able to wake up the phone and instantly launch apps or perform tasks via screen-off gestures. These can be highly customized to launch any app on the phone, as well as a handful of common tasks like switching songs or launching the camera. Gestures include simple directional swipes (up, down, etc.), or drawing letters (e, m, c, etc.).

Performance and Benchmarks

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Our review unit is the lower end M6 with 16GB of internal storage and 2GB of RAM. At this point in 2017 it feels like these are the bare minimum specs for doing most anything on a smartphone, and you’ll find that some patience can be required during regular use of the phone. Often times I found that apps would unload from RAM pretty quickly, and switching back and forth between more than 2 or 3 apps at a time would require a full reload of an app. This adds a couple seconds onto each task, as the processor and other components inside the Meizu M6 aren’t the fastest in the land, but so long as you’ve got a bit of patience, it shouldn’t be too much of a bother. Meizu uses a unique way of switching between tasks that, instead of just pressing a button, require a swipe either from the bottom bezel upward, or from the right side of the screen inward.

The biggest issue with multi-tasking comes in the form of Meizu’s overly aggressive background task restrictions, which keep apps from running in the background most of the time. This isn’t anything new for Meizu phones, in fact it has caused issues for users for years now, and still has yet to be turned off by default. Without significant tweaks to the oddly organized “permissions” section of the Security app, users will find that notifications for messages, emails and other apps simply won’t happen unless they are in the foreground and being used. Most users will never know why this is happening and will likely find themselves frustrated with the fact that notifications don’t happen in a timely manner. Meizu desperately needs to alter this behavior, as it really should only be enabled while battery saving mode is on, not during normal use.

App and game performance is decent at best, but nothing stellar. If nothing this is where the lower price is felt the most, as it’s easily the most difficult part to overcome on our particular configuration. 2GB of RAM borders on the low end of what’s really usable with multiple applications, and MediaTek’s MT6750 processor doesn’t help things much either. Apps take noticeably longer to load and perform tasks than they would on more expensive phones, and I would see apps hang for a split second from time to time while they were obviously loading something.

Gaming, subsequently, is a decent affair, but nothing great. Games will run fairly slow but are still very much playable. Overall it’s not a bad performance experience by any means, but once again you’ll just need to have patience for most things on the phone. Being a budget SoC means that you’re going to be getting budget performance out of the Meizu M6. As far as benchmarks are concerned, it’s just a fact that having a slower chipset means you’re going to find benchmark scores at the bottom of the charts for 2017 smartphones. See all the benchmarks we ran below, including 3DMark Slingshot, AnTuTu V6, GeekBench 4 and PCMark internal storage test.

Connectivity, Sound and Battery Life

Primarily designed for 4G LTE connectivity in Asian and European markets, it was nice to at least have 3G HSPA connectivity here in the US on T-Mobile. Connection strength and compatibility here were just fine, with no frills or extras like WiFi calling or Voice over LTE (VoLTE) available. It will certainly be a requirement for some folks to have dual SIM cards, and that’s where Meizu offers a good deal of options to help users get the most out of multiple networks. Meizu provides easy ways to set data caps and allowances on each SIM, as well as which types of data are allowed through each network. Bluetooth 4.0 low energy (LE) is pretty standard now and offers connectivity with all the latest wireless devices. Similarly the WiFi radios in the M6 offer good connectivity strength and speed, with no noticeable slowdown caused from them.

In an age where some of the most basic requirements are not met by smartphones, Meizu continues to offer users the ability to connect their existing audio peripherals via the 3.5mm audio jack up top. Audio output here sounds good, with little issues in terms of harsh processing or analog noise. It’s not high-res audio output that you’d get on a much more expensive phone, but that shouldn’t be expected anyway. Quality audio output can be had from here with any headphones or car audio system, and the simple EQ and headphone presets might help some users better tune the audio to their liking.

Likewise simple SBC Bluetooth audio is supported for wireless audio, which is passable but not nearly as high quality as the wired audio would be. The single bottom-firing speaker does a good job of providing adequate volume for any task, all while offering good enough sound to make it worthwhile. Playing games or watching videos on the phone should be just fine, although the placement of the speaker will of course require you to cup your hand around the bottom for best effect. Music playback won’t sound fantastic since it’s such a small speaker, but it’s good enough if you need music in a pinch.

Battery life overall is excellent, and this is with disabling most of the battery “saving” features that are enabled out of the box. Even with allowing my normally used email and chat apps to run in the background, I often got well over 4 hours of screen on time and battery life to last a full day without issue. While Meizu’s quick charging isn’t quite as fast as some industry leaders, a top-up of about 30 minutes will still easily last you through the rest of a day if you so need it. The biggest problem with battery life isn’t the longevity, it’s actually the ridiculous restrictions on background apps that are enabled by default. To make matters worse, it’s very difficult to find what causes apps to stop running in the background unless you know where to look; the oddly named “Security” app that’s pre-installed on the phone.

Software

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Flyme has long been the name Meizu uses for their own in-house skin, and the OS has evolved and matured over the years as expected. This is the same update we saw land late in the Summer, but Meizu has continued to tweak and add things since then. Despite the obvious heavy skin on top of Android, Meizu keeps the feature set relatively light, focusing more on making the overall experience better rather than adding in extra stuff you might not use. Behind the scenes you’ll find two big pieces that are designed to keep the phone feeling new over long periods of time: One Mind, and Auto Repair. One Mind is a spin on the usual background task handling routines that Google has built into Android, and Meizu claims these will improve over time to better handle apps and content you normally open.

Auto Repair is a function that works overnight, where users typically keep their phones on a charger for several hours, to clean the cache and other temporary storage locations. This keeps the phone from having too much junk bogging down daily tasks, and Meizu will also automatically apply system updates while charging overnight too. In similar fashion to this “mode,” Meizu offers a new gaming mode to keep notifications and other distractions from messing up your gaming, including high performance modes for the processor to smooth out gaming, and network connection protection to ensure connections in multiplayer games are stable.

In the looks department, Meizu continues to offer a theme engine that lets users change out things like icons and wallpaper to better customize their phones, but it’s not quite as robust as some other theme engines on the market are. Still, there are a good number of choices on Meizu’s theme market, and new and updated ones are added on a regular basis. New animations and a new Overview (multi-tasking) screen are present in Flyme 6 and work well, although it’s pretty clear that Meizu is working off a heavily iOS-inspired look here. Overview is represented by screenshots of each app which scroll in a horizontal row, accessed either by swiping up from the bottom bezel, or inward from the right side of the screen. Each app shows its memory usage, and swiping up will clear the app. Conversely, swiping down will show additional options for each app, including locking it into memory, moving it over to a private space, or running it alongside another app in split screen.

This private spaces concept moves us into the next category for Flyme: security. Meizu touts the secure nature of Flyme and its phones, and for the most part this is certainly accurate. Users have the ability to enter one of three modes when unlocking the phone: normal, guest, or private. Each of these modes can be assigned a password or separate fingerprint to unlock the phone, and each is a completely separate virtual “phone within a phone” too, meaning data kept in one of these modes is inaccessible to any of the other modes. Similarly, Meizu offers a Kid Space mode that simplifies the interface to only show apps approved by parents for their kids to use, and offers timers and other limitations to keep kids out of restricted spaces, and from using the phone for too long.

The biggest issues with security come in the form of both nuisance created by the security app, as well as an issue with app permissions. By default our phone seemed to accept all permissions for any given app, and we were never presented with the normal accept or deny dialog for each permission that apps ask for. Rather these needed to be managed within the security app; something I’d wager most people simply wouldn’t do. Automatically accepting permissions without user input creates a clear security issue if rogue apps are installed, and could be an easy way for user information to be breached.

Camera

Meizu overhauled its camera UI in Flyme 6, and for the most part it’s a positive move. The interface looks nearly identical to many phones out there, and again has a clear iOS influence in both its looks and navigational aspects. Swiping left or right anywhere on the screen moves between the Beauty, Photo, and Video modes, while additional modes are located in the rather vague looking mode switching icon in the top left. From here you’ll find Pro, Slo-mo, Time-lapse, Panorama, Scan, and GIF modes. The rest of the interface is pretty common, with a big white shutter button at the bottom for pictures, a quick shortcut for gallery, and toggle switch to move between the front and rear cameras. Along the top is a row of icons that change depending on the mode, all of which offer quick ways to toggle things like flash, HDR, timer, and other settings.

Pro mode offers way more functionality than even many flagship phones offer, and represents one of the most positive aspects of Meizu’s camera software. Users can adjust shutter speed from 1/500th of a second up to 10 seconds long, and ISO from 100 to 1600. Manual focus is available, although without focus peaking or another visual aide, it’s difficult to manually focus on the right spot. Exposure compensation is available from +/-2, and picture options like saturation, contrast and white balance are all adjustable via sliders. It’s rather full featured and certainly unexpected on a phone in this price range.

Downsides to the software are the incredibly slow launch speed, which often takes 5 seconds or longer to even load the camera software up, as well as an HDR mode that’s mostly a miss. This HDR mode is thankfully easy to enable via the quick button up top, unlike previous Meizu camera designs that had it hidden in the settings menu, but the results of the mode just don’t look great most of the time. Often it seems like HDR mode simply raises exposure rather than expanding dynamic range, which in turn washes out a scene and overexposes it. Occasionally though it will enhance a shot the right way, but this seems to only be during very bright lighting conditions where it can bring out shadow detail rather than tone down overblown highlights.

Regular photo mode is phenomenal for this price range, and a lot of ti has to do with the new multi-shot algorithm that Meizu calls “N-to-1.” Simply put this means that the camera takes multiple photos upon pressing the shutter button, and quickly analyses them to decide which is the best photo. The others are then thrown away behind the scenes, and what you’re left with is a single photo that the software identified as the clearest and cleanest shot. Overall detail and processing are solid, and most lighting conditions were served well by the camera. Lower light photos are usually pretty good, with clean, clear shots that were blur free. The biggest issue is in darker rooms where little light is taken into the shot, causing many low light shots to simply look dark.

The front facing camera is excellent, to say the least, and certainly eclipses many phones in this price range and beyond. 8-megapixels is a good resolution for a front-facing camera, and delivers crisp, clean shots that are well balanced overall. There’s a bit of haze that happens with strong light sources, but without a proper HDR mode on the front facing camera, this is difficult to avoid. Likewise video mode on both front and rear cameras is great, offering 1080p video on both sensors, but no image stabilization to be had. This translates to clean looking video that’s crisp, but not 4K sharp, and looks pretty standard in most ways. Like the rest of the camera quality, there’s nothing offensive about the video taken here, but it doesn’t go out of its way to blow minds either. Check out the full gallery below.

The Good

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Incredible price

Solid overall experience

Quality audio via 3.5mm jack

Great battery life

Above average camera for the price

Fast fingerprint scanner

4G LTE in certain markets

System gestures are handy

New security modes are great (private spaces, etc.)

Digitizer responsiveness is super tight

The Bad

Flyme’s background app restrictions cause havoc with notifications

Performance can be limiting

Multi-tasking is poor on the 2GB RAM version

App permissions are broken

Camera is extremely slow

Conclusion

As Meizu’s latest entry-level smartphone, the M6 certainly pushes many of the right buttons, especially for the price. A solid, yet dated looking, design keep it from looking budget-friendly, and performance is decent on most levels. You won’t be doing any intense gaming on this phone, but it’ll play simple titles just fine, and run apps just as well too. Multi-tasking is hampered on the 2GB of RAM version, but the 3GB RAM one should help this quite a bit. The biggest problems still lie in the background app restrictions that are enabled by default in Flyme, which keep apps from delivering notifications for things like email and chat messages. While these can be disabled, they are very difficult to find, and really should only be enabled in battery savings modes where such things can make all the difference in the world. Still for such a small price it’s hard to nitpick too much, but it’s worth noting that these are setbacks you’ll likely come across, were you to pick up the Meizu M6. Overall it’s a solid entry-level phone with lots of potential.

Meizu M6 Review – Metal and Glass for Less Cash

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