We’re not fans of Flyme OS, nor this strange Android-iOS mashup Meizu seems to favour. But the M3 Max is a decent-value smartphone with a nice large screen, a good build and capable day-to-day performance.
Price When Reviewed
Meizu makes decent but affordable Android phones, and its Meizu M3 Max will appeal to those looking for a large-screen phone on a budget. The M3 Max is currently available on Amazon in
white from £244 and in
black from £298. Also see: Best Chinese phone and
Best dual-SIM phone
Meizu advises that you to buy via Amazon UK rather than a Chinese importer such as
Geekbuying (current price £177.90), partly because the Amazon products are shipped from within Europe so you won’t have to pay import duty, and partly because these sites are not official partners of Meizu so won’t necessarily offer the same level of customer service.
We’ve certainly had no problems with the likes of Geekbuying and GearBest, however, and the prices are cheaper – even with the addition of import duty for products shipped from China. How this is calculated depends on the value written on the paperwork, and when we received our package containing the M3 Max and MX6 (review coming soon) we were hit with a bill for £95.51 from DHL. Although that is for two phones, it’s still a fair bit more than the usual £20- to £30 we’re charged, so should certainly be factored into the overall cost of the phone before you buy. We’ve rounded up some of the pros and cons of buying Chinese tech in our
grey-market tech buying advice.
Meizu M3 Max review: Design and build
Meizu phones are well-made, good-looking phones, but they don’t stand out for having a distinctive design of their own. The M3 Max looks a bit like an iPhone 6s Plus, but with an elongated rather than circular home button. For many users that won’t be a bad thing.Also see: Best phones 2016
It’s very difficult to fault this phone’s design. Although it’s large at 163.4×81.6mm with a 6in panel it has reasonably slim bezels on the left- and right edges and is thin at 7.9mm, which makes it easier to hold. We still found it impossible to reach the far corner of the screen with a thumb, and the phone is pretty weighty at 189g, so two-handed use is a must. A huge plus point of this extra size and weight is a high-capacity battery, which is rated at 4100mAh.
We really missed the One-handed mode of Xiaomi phones here, able to shrink down the displayed screen to a more manageable size, but we did find a SmartTouch option in the Settings that allows you to place onscreen a button that works with various gestures. By default a tap takes you back a step, sliding up takes you to the Home screen and sliding down pulls down the notification bar at the top of the screen. Sliding left and right lets you switch between tasks.
When you become familiar with SmartTouch it can be useful, although at the same time you’ll also need to become familiar with the Home button. And we have to say it’s not for us. With no back or multitasking buttons on either side of the physical home button you must tap it gently to go back, and a little harder to go to the Home screen – but not too hard as it’ll send the screen into standby mode. To access the multitasking menu you slide up from the bottom of the screen, but not directly above the home button. We found this out entirely by mistake.
The other thing to say about this Home button is that it is also an mTouch fingerprint scanner. In our experience it works well, so no complaints there.
In other respects the design is fairly standard, although that’s not to say bad. It feels as though it will withstand the perils of daily use with no issue, with a reasonably clean metal rear (including a completely flush camera) and chiselled edges that flow smoothly into the 2.5D glass covering the white plastic front. There are no sharp edges, no rough bits, no creaks, cracks or gaping holes – absolutely nothing here that would cause concern.
Unusually the headphone jack is found on the bottom of the handset rather than at the top, but to be fair at least it has one. Also here is Micro-USB for charging, a mic and five small holes that allow audio to pass through from the phone’s mono speaker. A slot-loading SIM tray sits on the upper left edge, and here you can opt to insert two SIMs or one SIM and a microSD card. With 64GB of storage built-in the need to choose between a second SIM or expandable storage shouldn’t be too frustrating an issue.
The screen is decent. We’ve already touched on its size, which is well suited to multimedia – watching videos in any case, if not gaming (see performance below). It’s a full-HD IPS panel, which is reasonably bright (Meizu claims 450cd/m2) and with realistic colours and great viewing angles.
The Meizu M3 Max is available in four colour options: rose gold, silver, grey and gold. We’ve reviewed the silver model here. Also see: Best Android phones 2016
Meizu M3 Max review: Core performance and hardware
Running the show here is a MediaTek MT6755M (aka the Helio P10) processor, Mali-T860 GPU and 3GB of LPDDR3 RAM. This is an octa-core processor, comprising eight Cortex-A53 cores with four at 1GHz for efficiency and four at 1.8GHz for power.
It’s certainly capable enough for day to day use, but the Meizu M3 Max’s performance in our gaming benchmarks leaves something to be desired. We found navigation of the smartphone fluid, with apps launching quickly and little signs of lag. In truth, our only real hesitation came from our inexperience of Flyme OS.
We’ve seen this Helio P10 chip before in the
Sony Xperia XA and Meizu’s own
M3 Note. The Elephone, Ulefone and Vernee each come with 4GB of RAM, which puts the M3 Max at a slight disadvantage, although its 3GB is an improvement on the 2GB inside the M3 Note and Sony Xperia XA.
We’ve charted our various benchmark results below, but to suffice to say none of these phones particularly stand out in the group for performance. If anything the two Meizus stand out for their lower gaming framerates in GFXBench. Also see:
What’s the fastest phone?
There’s actually very little difference in the specifications of the Note and the Max, with the phone reviewed here offering a slightly larger (6in versus 5.5in) IPS display and an extra gig of RAM. It’s a ittle slimmer but heavier, and performance is only a little improved.
As in the M3 Note there’s a generous 4100mAh battery. It’s not removable and neither does it support wireless charging, but Meizu does offer its own fast-charging tech, mCharge. It says this is able to charge the battery by 45 percent in just 30 minutes, which could get you through the best part of a day’s use. Exactly how long it will last you depends entirely on you usage – some will get two days, but if that large screen is left switched on for much of the time you’ll be reaching for a
power bank before the end of day two. Also see: Best phone under £300
Meizu M3 Max review: Connectivity
The Meizu M3 Max is a dual-SIM phone that works in dual-standby mode. Or at least it can be, provided you don’t want to add a microSD card. UK users should note that it supports 4G LTE only via the 1800- and 2600MHz bands (aka bands 3 and 7). This means there is no support for 800MHz/Band 20, which is the only frequency used by O2, Giffgaff and a handful of other mobile operators in the UK. If you are a customer of one of these networks you will not be able to get anything faster than 3G connectivity in the UK. Also see:
How to tell whether a phone is supported by your network.
The Max can also cater to dual-band 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.1, GPS and GLONASS, but there’s no IR blaster or NFC – the latter is necessary for making mobile payments.
Meizu M3 Max review: Cameras
In common with many Chinese phones around this price point the M3 Max is fitted with a 13Mp Sony IMX258 camera with a five-element lens, f/2.2 aperture, PDAF and a dual-LED flash. For the money it’s a decent enough camera, although we are not talking flagship quality.
The camera app is basic, but sometimes uncomplicated can be a good thing. If you want to point and shoot, you just point and shoot – or point, tap to focus, and then shoot. If you want access to more settings you’ll find HDR in the Settings menu, and shooting modes such as beauty and manual via the icon to the left of the shutter. Running across the top of the interface are icons for accessing real-time filters, a countdown timer, the flash and switching the camera view.
Press the latter icon and you can access the 5Mp f/2.0 camera at the front of the M3 Max, which is as good as any other selfie or video chat camera. Also see: Best camera phone
Given good lighting the M3 Max can take a decent enough shot. Below you can see our standard test images of the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel, first with Auto settings and second with HDR. In the first we’ve entirely lost the sky, but the level of detail is reasonable and colours very true. The HDR shot is a clear improvement (with clouds and everything), although the traffic running down Euston Road caused problems given the time it took to capture the image.
Meizu M3 Max review: Software
The Meizu M3 Max runs Flyme OS, which is a custom version of Android 6.0 Marshmallow. By default there are no Google Play services preinstalled, but as soon as we connected to Wi-Fi we were prompted to install Google services via a notification. The phone downloaded the file, rebooted itself and we were good to go. We simply clicked on the new Play store icon to log into our Google account and start downloading the apps we required.
This is an improvement over the last Meizu phone we reviewed, the M3 Note, which didn’t allow us to run Google Play services at all, and for which we argued that it was potentially not a good buy for UK Android users. Although you are provided with Meizu’s own apps for music, videos, security, weather, email and more, plus themes and apps stores, it’s just not the Google Maps and YouTube setup we’re familiar with. Fortunately, with Google Play support you can add these things; unfortunately, you still can’t uninstall the apps preinstalled within Flyme OS. Our advice is to stick them all in a folder out the way (just drag the home screen icons on top of each other).
A key difference between this and a standard Android phone is the removal of the app tray, which means absolutely everything can be found on one of multiple home screens or within the Settings menu (which is itself fairly standard). Pull down the notification bar and you also get some customisable quick-access toggles for Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and so on, plus a screen brightness slider.
We can handle the lack of an app tray – if nothing else you will know exactly where to find everything, and particularly if you’re an ex-iPhone user, but we thoroughly dislike the removal of the back and multi-tasking buttons either side of the home button. This multifunctional home button is truly Apple-esque, and it’s not a feature we want Android to borrow. Why have one confusing button plus a SmartTouch workaround when you can have three simple buttons for which operation just makes sense? They don’t need to be labelled or even visible as long as they are there.
The M3 Max supports a handful of gestures, such as double-tap to wake and slide up to unlock. You can also draw characters onscreen in standby mode to wake the screen and instantly launch an app of your choice, which is a timesaver only so long as you remember which letter represents which app.
Marie is Editorial Director at Foundry. A Journalism graduate from the London College of Printing, she's worked in tech media for more than 17 years, managing our EMEA and LatAm editorial teams and leading on content strategy through Foundry's transition from print, to digital, to online - and beyond.