Meizu MX4 review

Rare, quirky, and fun: You’ve never used a phone like this before

The OS is quirky, the hardware gorgeous, and the camera takes super pictures. However, the limited app store attached to Ubuntu Mobile could make the MX4 frustrating to live with every day.
The OS is quirky, the hardware gorgeous, and the camera takes super pictures. However, the limited app store attached to Ubuntu Mobile could make the MX4 frustrating to live with every day.
The OS is quirky, the hardware gorgeous, and the camera takes super pictures. However, the limited app store attached to Ubuntu Mobile could make the MX4 frustrating to live with every day.

Highs

  • Beautiful hardware
  • Excellent camera
  • Bezel-less, high contrast screen
  • You’ll standout from the crowd
  • Well-priced

Lows

  • Poor battery life
  • Limited apps
  • Official sales restricted to Europe

DT Editors' Rating

Everyone you know that owns a smartphone probably owns one that runs Android or iOS. There may be a few rebels with Windows Phone — or a few has-beens with BlackBerrys — but the chances aren’t very high. To stand out in the mobile world today, you’re going to have to consider something else. Ubuntu Mobile wants to be one of them.

Like the relationship between Windows Phone and Windows on the desktop, Ubuntu Mobile is Canonical’s mobile edition of its operating system, and a step towards the company’s goal of providing a single OS that works on every type of device. It has been around for a while, but the OS is finally being sold on a phone worthy of closer examination. The device is the Meizu MX4, which until now was better known (in China, at least) for running Android.

So Ubuntu Mobile now comes installed on a well-made, sleek smartphone with high-end specs. That means we should take notice … so the question is, what’s Ubuntu Mobile like to live with each day? And would you want to?

Ubuntu Mobile’s fun, when it works

Here’s what may come as a surprise — Ubuntu Mobile is different, yet familiar enough that you won’t feel lost, confused, or overwhelmed. It’ll take a day’s solid use to feel at home, and there’s enough depth that you’ll still find new aspects to tinker with after a week. This isn’t like a skin over the top of Android — which only feels different on the surface — it’s a completely new way of working on your phone.

Gestures are the key to navigation. A swipe from the left shows a quick access menu where you’ll find the gallery, camera, phone, and messaging shortcuts. Swipe from the right and you get a tabbed-style view of all running apps. Swipe from the top and bottom of the screen and there’s a notification/settings pane and app management screen respectively.

At the core of Ubuntu Mobile are Scopes, which are like multiple home screens focused on a single task or theme. The Daily Scope shows messages, calls, calendar entries, the weather, and more. The NearBy Scope shows localized search results, a Photos Scope collates images on your device, plus pics from Facebook and Instagram, and there’s a Videos and Music Scope too.

What’s Ubuntu Mobile like to live with each day, and would you want to?

Designed to speed the process of finding relevant information, often used apps, and content, Scopes work well. You have to stop thinking about opening an app each time you want something — the Scopes bring that previously app-based data and information to the forefront. It takes some getting used to, but the NearBy Scope is particularly handy, due to pulling in data from Yelp and other local apps. It speeds things along, and removes the wait time for opening an app.

Outside of the Scopes and the gesture control system, using Ubuntu Mobile was similar to Android, with a key difference — it’s fun. Whether it’s more enjoyable to use because it’s new remains to be seen, but for the first few weeks, I didn’t tire of picking it up and sliding through the Scopes.

Meizu MX4 with Ubuntu front top angle full

Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

However, it’s not utopia, particularly if you’re already a long-time smartphone owner, and have an allegiance to certain apps. There’s an Ubuntu app store, but if Whatsapp, Hangouts, WeChat, or almost any other messaging app is essential in your mobile life, you’re out of luck. Like Windows Phone, you’ll have to find a way to live without them by using alternatives. For example, if you’re a Google Maps fan, you’ll have to get used to Here Maps. The lack of commonly used apps is the biggest hurdle Ubuntu faces in its quest for new users.

Other positives? It’s damn fast to start up, and Scopes can be personalized by signing into relevant accounts. Other negatives? These sign-ins don’t always work (I couldn’t get it to recognize my Instagram or RunKeeper account), and there’s no wearable support. This is Ubuntu Mobile in a nutshell — fun, but frustrating.

The MX4 is a great companion

Say you decide to take the plunge, and make Ubuntu Mobile your mobile OS of choice. How about the Meizu MX4 phone itself? It’s a beauty. The chassis is made from aluminum, and the rear panel plastic, but with a very classy sheen to it. The screen is just over 5.3 inches, and it has very thin bezels — and seeing how the phone is from September of last year, this was way before thin bezels were considered the bee’s knees of fashion, too. Yes, it does look like an iPhone from the front, but that’s hardly a terrible thing.

It’s a completely new way of working on your phone.

The plastic rear panel unclips, but only to let you put the SIM card inside. There’s no MicroSD card slot, and the battery is non-replaceable. Despite being a healthy 3,100mAh capacity, it’s not very long-lasting, and even in regular usage it’ll struggle to last the day. Show it a hard time and it’ll definitely run out of steam before the day is over. This could be down to software optimization, rather than the hardware itself, and updates have steadily improved the battery in the past few weeks. It’s still not good though.

Returning to the hardware, the Meizu MX4 weighs only 147 grams and is curved like an iPhone 3G, making it very comfortable to hold. A MediaTek octa-core processor with 2GB of RAM provides the power, and despite apparently being modified by Meizu, it appears to function much like other examples. That chip and the PowerVR G6200 GPU handle basic gaming without a problem but can get a little stuttery if you try to do things too quickly. That includes swiping through the Scopes.

An excellent Sony camera, spoiled by a less than perfect app

Meizu made the wise decision to fit Sony’s 20.7-megapixel, 5-element lens on the MX4, and it snaps excellent images. The screen on the device is also well-equipped for showing them off, with surprisingly warm and bright color reproduction and high levels of contrast.

The camera app isn’t very fancy. It has an HDR and a panorama mode, but that’s about it. The only post-photo editing tool is a crop feature, and annoyingly, there’s no quick access to the camera app from the lock screen. You can slide in the app shortcuts, but still need to enter your PIN code.

Meizu MX4 with Ubuntu screen top angle

Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

The shutter speed isn’t super fast either, but provided you leave HDR mode on, the camera will take fantastic pictures. It’s one of those cameras that gets better the more you use it, because you begin to recognize its strengths and shoot accordingly. The camera is one of the most important aspects of a modern smartphone, and having one you actually want to use is a considerable benefit. The MX4 didn’t disappoint, despite the less than perfect user experience.

Just know what you’re getting in to

There’s one word that sums up the Ubuntu Mobile-powered Meizu MX4 — quirky. It’s a little like the first few versions of Android. Limited app support, less than perfect UI, and not very refined, but crucially, full of promise. The quirkiness makes it hard to recommend to anyone considering defecting from Android or iOS, or someone who wants to use the phone every day. Without some key apps, it may end up being frustrating, or worse, not realistically useable each day. I certainly found it that way, and couldn’t carry it as my sole device purely because it didn’t have the app support I needed to get stuff done.

However, if you’re already plugged into the Ubuntu ecosystem, or a jaded smartphone owner looking for something new — someone who understands the drawbacks — then the MX4 comes highly recommended. It’s a truly high-end piece of hardware, which helps no end in making the transition over to something new less painful.

It’s not a phone for everyone, then. It’s reasonably priced though, at 300 euros, or about $330, which is $100 less than the MX4 running Android. Meizu will only ship to Europe, however, so you’ll have to find an alternative method if you want one in the U.S.

If you’re considering owning an Ubuntu Mobile smartphone, chances are you know the pitfalls, and are willing to accept the quirks. If that’s you, then the MX4 is only the device to choose.

Highs

  • Beautiful hardware
  • Excellent camera
  • Bezel-less, high contrast screen
  • You’ll standout from the crowd
  • Well-priced

Lows

  • Poor battery life
  • Limited apps
  • Official sales restricted to Europe
Mobile

Leave the laptop at home, the iPad Pro is the travel buddy to take on vacay

The iPad Pro is a powerful tablet that's perfect for creatives and professionals. How does it fare when traveling with it as a laptop replacement? We took it on a two week trek in Japan to find out.
Mobile

How to switch from iPhone to Android: The ultimate guide

If you've decided to bridge the great tech divide and leave Apple's walled garden for the unknown shores of Android, then you'll find all the tips and advice you need to begin switching from an iPhone to an Android device.
Product Review

The Black Shark gaming phone takes a big bite out of your free time, but the software sinks it

The world is being treated to an ever-increasing number of high-powered gaming phones. With so many great options already out, is there room for another? The Black Shark thinks so. But is it any good? We find out.
Product Review

The iPad Pro is the best tablet ever. But don't sell your laptop just yet

Apple has unveiled a big redesign for the iPad Pro, slimming down the bezels, adding Face ID, and the ability to attach and charge the Apple Pencil. All of this comes at a high cost however, as the iPad Pro starts at $799.
Mobile

Apple is spending $1 billion to hire up to 15,000 new employees in Austin

Apple has announced a series of expansions across the U.S. -- including a massive expansion to the company's Austin campus that will see it spending $1 billion to accommodate for up to 15,000 new employees.
Outdoors

Google Maps makes it easier than ever to find a Lime bike or scooter

Google Maps has added a new feature that helps you find a Lime bike or scooter in just a few taps. The feature currently works in 11 U.S. cities served by Lime, with more coming next year.
Mobile

Ditch your smartphone for a year and win $100k from Vitaminwater

Vitaminwater is willing to part with $100,000 if you're willing to part with your smartphone partner for a year. Could you last for a year armed with only a 1996-era phone? Here's your chance to find out.
Mobile

Quirky smartphone accessories you never knew you needed

Looking for a few accoutrements to make your smartphone even better? If you, or someone you know, is a sucker for accessories, you'll want to check out our collection of quirky smartphone accessories you never knew you needed.
Music

Here's our head-to-head comparison of Pandora and Spotify

Which music streaming platform is best for you? We pit Spotify versus Pandora, two mighty streaming services with on-demand music and massive catalogs, comparing every facet of the two services to help you decide which is best.
Deals

Walmart drops prices on Apple Watches and other fitness trackers

Smartwatches, fitness trackers, and wearable heart rate monitors from Apple, Samsung, Fitbit, and Garmin are popular gifts. Wearables are smarter and more capable than in earlier years. We found the best wearables deals on Walmart.
Wearables

The best Wear OS watches

There are a ton of different Wear OS watches out there, but which one's right for you? No matter what you're looking for from a smartwatch, here are the best Wear OS watches out there.
Emerging Tech

Capture app saves money by 3D scanning objects using iPhone’s TrueDepth camera

Capture is a new iPhone app created by the Y Combinator-backed startup Standard Cyborg. It allows anyone to perform 3D scans of objects and share them with buddies. Here's how it works.
Home Theater

How to master your equalizer settings for the perfect sound

You may know what an EQ is, but do you know how to adjust equalizer settings for the best possible sound? We go through the basics of the modern EQ and lay out some guidelines for how to achieve tip-top sound from your system.
Smart Home

This device detects when your pet is at the door and opens it for them

Tired of waiting for your dog to come inside, or running home in the middle of the day to let your four-legged friend out? Wayzn automatically opens sliding doors for your dog and gives you remote control.