Unlike more established Chinese brands such as Xiaomi or OnePlus, you've probably never heard of Meizu. The Beijing-based company has been building smartphones for a while now, and the MX4 is the company's fourth device -- and quite a stand-out it it too, with a unique 5.4-inch display with a 5:3 aspect ratio, much squarer than most phones.
Inside, however, the story is more troubling. Battery life and camera quality are disappointing and operating system is riddled with bugs. Also, while the MX4 comes with 4G LTE connectivity, it isn't compatible with networks in the US. It should, however, be compatible with high-speed networks of both EE and Three in the UK and Optus in Australia.
Available at online retailers such as Gearbest in the US, the MX4 costs $449 for the 16GB model and $489 for the 32GB version. It's available via Amazon in the UK for £300 for 16GB or £304 for 32GB (why would you buy the 16GB one?). Australians will have to import the phone, with the US prices converting to AU$510 and AU$555, respectively. At this point, however, there are too many niggling problems to recommend it at that price.
Sporting an Apple-inspired design, the MX4 looks just like a smaller iPad. Meizu has even added a circular home button on the front that hints at Apple's Touch ID buttons. The button isn't a fingerprint sensor, but it does light up like an arc reactor to alert you to notifications.
Turn the MX4 on its side to see even more evidence of the Apple influence. The edges are chamfered like the iPad Air, but the rounded edges have a plastic lining like the iPhone. On its backside, a curved plate makes the MX4 comfortable to hols. Unlike the glossy design of the MX3, the MX4 goes for a matte grey color, darker than Apple's devices. Underneath the removable cover, there's a non-removable 3,100mAh battery, and a slot for the SIM card.
Instead of your usual smartphone display with a 16:9 aspect ratio, the MX4 has a strange 5:3 ratio and a resolution of 1,920x1,152 pixels crammed into its 5.4 inches -- slightly more than a full HD screen. It's certainly unexpected, but the execution is poor. It doesn't work well on the MX4 -- but more on that in a minute.
On the upside, viewing angles were great and colors were vibrant. The screen is bright enough to use outdoors under sunlight. The only thing I had an issue with was that the phone sometimes didn't quite seem to adjust correctly to the amount of light in the area, and ends up being a shade too dim. You'll have to manually tweak it instead.
I don't really see the 5:3 screen as something that really sells the phone -- at least not for me. There doesn't seem to be any extra usefulness compared with your standard full-HD display. My colleague Lynn La had similarly mixed feelings about the LG Vu's similar 4:3 aspect ratio.
While most flagship phones run on Qualcomm's high-end Snapdragon chips, the MX4 takes a different route with MediaTek's MT6595, an octa-core processor that features four Cortex-A17 cores clocked at 2.2GHz and four Cortex-A7 cores clocked at a slower 1.7GHz. For gaming, the MX4 sports a PowerVR G6200 GPU.
For imaging, the MX4 has a rear 20.7-megapixel camera and a 2-megapixel front camera for taking selfies.
Powered by Android 4.4.4 KitKat and running a custom UI called Flyme 4.0, at first glance the MX4 seems capable of offering a unique experience not found on other Android phones.
For one, instead of having only software or hardware keys, the MX4 has a mix of both, the aforementioned circular button for home, and a soft key for back. To access the multi-app window, you just need to swipe up from the bottom of the display.
In theory, this sounds interesting, but in practice it's terribly flawed. Most apps aren't scaled for the display's 5:3 aspect ratio, and the menu button is often missing unless you rotate the phone to landscape mode, which then gives it a little more space at the sides for it to show up.
One example is the hugely popular messaging app WhatsApp. Upon hitting the camera button to take a picture from within the app, you then get trapped in a loop if you don't actually want to take an image. The back button is missing, and hitting X after you press the shutter button returns you to the camera screen. This leaves you with no choice but to either take and send a picture to get out, or to completely shutdown and restart the app.
Another thing I dislike is the custom Flyme keyboard. I've been using the phone for a week now, and I still can't get used to the lack of auto-correct (though it has suggestions) and the odd way of keeping the numbers and signs in two different screens. So if you need to type in something such as "Word5!!!" you'll have to go from the keyboard to the numpad to the symbol section. This makes typing quite frustrating. On that note, it is Android, so you can easily install a better keyboard to replace it.
One major bug that needs to be fixed is that the volume controls don't actually change the phone's ringing volume. Instead they only affect the music volume.
What's more, other apps such as Twitter and Facebook and even the built-in browser constantly crash, necessitating a restart before I could use them again. I once had the Twitter app constantly displaying an error window, leaving me unable to do anything except to restart the phone. The phone has already has an update to fix bugs, mind you, but there's still plenty left.