When Chinese MP3 player manufacturer Meizu decided to reinvent themselves as a mobile phone company, they first released the Meizu M8 back in 2008. The M8 wasn’t really suited for international users, which left quite a few people dissappointed. Now, two years after the M8, comes the Meizu M9 which launched to huge queues all over China. For those unfamiliar to the Meizu M9, it’s an Android 2.2 smartphone with a 1GHz CPU, world-class UI and a high definition 960×640 resolution display. Most importantly, it only costs 2,500 RMB unlocked, which is equivalent to $380 dollars or €270 euros.
We managed to get our hands on a M9 a while back, and have now used it long enough to review it. Have Meizu applied their learnings from their previous phone and created the perfect smartphone this time around? Stick around to find out.
Meizu M9 has a simple and clean design, with the front in piano black and the back in dark grey with a matte texture. At a glance, it looks pretty similar to offerings from other Android manufacturers except for one detail. On the top right corner above the screen, there is an ancient Chinese seal, with two Chinese characters for Mei and Zu. This adds an unique twist to the otherwise simple design.
Upon turning on the Meizu M9, one of the first things you notice is that it’s fast. With its 1GHz CPU, Power VR 540 GPU and its 512 MB of RAM, everything is a breeze. Even the latest 3d Android games.
Those who have studied Meizu M9′s specifications will know that its hardware configuration is pretty similar to the iPhone 4’s. Like the iPhone 4, the M9’s CPU is also ARM Cortex A8-based. In Meizu’s case, it’s the Samsung S5PC110 rather than the Apple A4. Clock speeds and the phones’ internal memories are also the same.
The Meizu M9 has a gorgeous display, matching iPhone 4’s Retina Display with a Sharp AVS display with the same resolution. Looking at the 326ppi screen, it’s near-impossible to see individual pixels and surfing the web is a pleasure, as text is very readable even without zooming. Gaming is also very pleasurable on this screen, as textures and sprites are rendered in super high resolution. There are already a lot of games that support the M9’s native resolution, but for those that aren’t, we’re happy to report that Android’s upscaling looks a lot nicer than iOS’. It’s safe to say that Meizu M9’s display is undoubtedly one of its main selling points.
A recent firmware update was said to improve the color balance, but we have never had any problems with this nor noticed any differences after updating.
Meizu M9 comes with a 5 megapixel camera that can record 720p HD video. The camera is a pretty standard 5 megapixel camera that you’d expect to see in a smartphone, and takes great photos with its autofocus during daylight. Like in most cameras, nighttime photography on the M9 leaves a bit to be desired.
The video recording is of great quality when it works, but a known bug is that the recorded video often repeats itself. This is a known problem and is currently being fixed by Meizu.
The Meizu M9 has stereo speakers (one on each side), that really sets it apart from competitors. The sound coming out of it is loud and clear, and beats even most laptop speakers. This might be to satisfy their core customers in China, where sharing music via ones cellphone loudspeakers is a common practice. However, do not expect a full stereo replacement. Like with all small-sized speakers, the bass is lacking.
Android OS and Meizu Software
The M9 currently runs smoothly on Android 2.2, with an upgrade to 2.3 allegedly around the corner. Although the experience is smooth, when used side-by-side with an iPhone 4, one can notice some lag on the M9. However, it is said that Android 2.3 improve the M9’s performance further.
The Meizu M9 user interface is marvelously designed by eico, a Chinese design firm that has worked with clients such as Google, ASUS and Creative. It is very well thought out, unique, and a pleasure to use. There are even people porting Meizu M9’s UI over to their HTC phones, which undoubtedly is a testimony to its success.
Meizu offers their own applications, ranging from Clock, to Recorder to Calendar. Designed by eico, they all look very good and complement the overall UI and look of the phone. Meizu’s bundled apps are very simple and minimalistic, which can be both good and bad. Some of the negative aspects include limited calendar view options, and a Clock app with no timer functionality.
Those familiar with stock Android firmware will have a bit to get used to with the Meizu M9 launcher, as it doesn’t have any separate place for all apps. All apps must be placed on the homescreen, just like in iOS. There is also support for folders to help you manage your apps. For those who don’t like this, we can report that third-party launchers work fine with the M9.
Something the Meizu M9 handles better than stock Android is multitasking. By double pressing the home button (just like in iOS), you’ll get a full-screen app overlay which let’s you easily switch from one active app to another or drag them towards the bottom of the screen to be terminated.
Meizu M9 also marks Meizu’s transition towards software and services, coming bundled with an app called Music Online. Through Music Online, you can freely stream music from a vast online library with both Chinese and International songs, and if you wish to download songs, you can do so cheaply by buying a “download package” costing 10 RMB (less than 2 dollars/euros) which lets you legally download 60 songs within 30 days. The music library is operated by Chinese internet company Sina. Watch out iTunes and Spotify!
Support for third-party software is one of the Meizu M9’s weaker spots.
Google sync is one of the areas where Meizu M9 doesn’t perform very well. Calendar doesn’t sync at all, and Contacts Sync only syncs a part of your contact list, which in our case gave us 10-80 of our contact list with 200+ entries. This probably has something to do with Meizu’s own Contacts Sync, which can be found in the Settings menu. One can however work around this by downloading a third-party app to enable Calendar syncing, and export Google contacts to the M9 for import.
Apps designed for other Android phones work well on the M9, with one aesthetic exception; most Android phones have dark colored menus with white text, while Meizu M9 has light colored menus with dark text. Most apps will therefore have dark menu backgrounds, which doesn’t look great on the M9. Compatibility with apps that need to access the phone’s contact list or SMS functionality was pretty bad, and although Meizu have pushed out a fix, this still isn’t perfect. For instace with WhatsApp, the app can’t access the SMS confirmation code, forcing you to wait 15 minutes and call them for a voice activation instead.
Meizu M9’s battery life is pretty standard and similar to that of any modern smartphone. It will last you one day with normal usage, or 2 days with minimal use. It uses a 1370mAh removable battery, which can be conserved by turning off unused apps and services. Compared to the iPhone 4, the battery on the iPhone 4 lasts a little longer than that of the M9.
There has however been speculation that the upcoming Android 2.3 update will improve the battery life on the Meizu M9.
Meizu M9 is probably the best phone you can get for its price. In China, the phone is selling like hotcakes, with the company allegedly hitting their 2011 sales target in just one quarter. The M9 gives you everything you need in a modern smartphone, packed in a nice design and awesome UI.
The negative sides to this phone include a camera bug, and issues with third party software and Google Sync. These are software problems, and with Meizu releasing new firmware almost every week for the Meizu M9, and with Android 2.3 coming soon, we are confident that these issues will be fixed. It is also worth to note that there is a 45 thousand members strong international fan community for Meizu called Meizu Me, where you will be able to get help with the M9 in English.
For international users, getting a Meizu M9 is tricky, since the phone has not been officially released outside of China. Outside of China, the only way to get a M9 is through online sellers, which apart from huge markups will also be problematic when your phone needs warranty. For people who are going to China, or have a friend or who is, we definitely recommend picking this phone up. For international users who are planning to order online, we recommend you to consider whether or not it is worth the $70 dollar markup sellers are currently charging, in comparison with local offerings from other brands in your home country.
- Good performance
- Well designed user interface
- High resolution screen
- Value for money
- Unique (no one else will have it)
- Hard to buy
- Not fully optimized for international users
- Firmware with bugs, but which are fixed regularly with new releases
Update (June 2011): Meizu has been continuously releasing firmware updates, and since they bumped up to Android 2.3, things have become much better. The user interface and performance have been improved greatly, with most bugs squashed. The one problem that I’m still having is that the phone isn’t recognizing my country code, and since it sorts SMS with the country code, the SMS contacts aren’t recognized. A work-around for this is to add two mobile numbers to your contacts, one with the country code and one without.