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Meizu MX (unlocked) review:

Meizu MX (unlocked)

I had high hopes for the Meizu MX's 8-megapixel camera and LED flash, but the test images I snapped were average, not inspiring. Colors were slightly washed out and details not as sharp and clear as I've seen on other phones with advanced cameras, namely the Samsung Galaxy S II and HTC Amaze 4G. This was especially true under low-light conditions where I observed distracting color noise. Still, the Meizu MX does offer a few advanced camera settings such as face detection, plus Smile and Panorama modes. Shot-to-shot time was also quick, snapping pictures in about a second.

Sample pictures

Details were clear, if not especially sharp, in this afternoon shot of a New York street.

In our standard still-life shot, the Meizu MX's camera delivered clarity but washed-out colors.

Image quality was better indoors when the MX's sensor could auto-adjust its white balance for different lighting conditions.

The MX's camcorder can capture HD video in full 1080p resolution, a boon to shooting movies at a moment's notice. Quality fared better here, and the HD video clips I recorded with the MX were smooth and relatively clear. The phone also did a good job of automatically adjusting white balance for different lighting conditions, whether outdoors, in a dark club, or under fluorescent light. That said, I did see some background pixelation when watching my videos on a large desktop monitor.

Though it's only officially on sale in mainland China and Hong Kong, the Meizu MX is an unlocked smartphone. Even better, this bad boy is a penta-band GSM device, which means it theoretically is compatible with a wide swath of global cellular frequencies (2G/850/900/1800/1900MHz, 3G/850/900/1700/1900/2100MHz). What does that mean to you? Basically you can pop in an AT&T or T-Mobile SIM card into the Meizu MX and enjoy solid 3G/3.5G data access along with voice service. Be advised, though, that the MX only accepts Micro-SIM cards, so if you're coming from an older handset and not an iPhone 4, you'll have to get a new SIM from your carrier.

In my case, I placed a T-Mobile Micro-SIM into the Meizu MX and was up and running on T-Mobile's HSPA+ network in minutes. Out in the hinterlands of Queens, N.Y., with Ookla's Speed Test app, I clocked an average downloads of 4.8Mbps. In the same location, downloads came in at 1.7Mbps. These were the swiftest results I measured with throughput slower even at ideal T-Mobile spots in Manhattan. Overall, though, not too shabby but a far cry from Verizon's true 4G LTE network, which typically offer speeds more than twice as fast.

I found the Meizu MX's call quality to be a mixed bag. Calls I placed on T-Mobile's network in New York sounded clear to me but I had to crank the volume up to its maximum setting since the Meizu MX's earpiece is not particularly loud. Callers on the other end also reported that they could definitely tell I was calling from a cell phone and heard odd digital static surrounding my voice. In addition, they said volume wavered up and down noticeably, perhaps because of the MX's built-in noise canceling being too heavy-handed.

Call quality improved greatly over the MX's speakerphone, and while the handset's speaker isn't booming, voices were clear and easy to hear. People on the other side of the call also noticed the difference and that the previously noted distortions dropped away.

One really great feature is the MX's capability to begin recording phone calls in midstream. I'm not sure if this function is legal here in the U.S., but to journalists who often conduct impromptu interviews, it's catnip.

Equipped with a 1.4GHz dual-core Cortex A9 CPU, the Meizu MX exhibited almost iPhone levels of buttery smooth performance. Menus and apps launched quickly even with Android's graphically demanding animations activated. Of course I did run into occasional hiccups. For example, once while snapping shots with the camera, the phone froze for a good 5 seconds before recovering. I'm also not in love with the MX's Web browser, which didn't render text or zoom in and out of pages as fast as I would like.

For such a thin device, the Meizu MX's battery life was solid as well. In my anecdotal use, which consisted of conducting speed tests, running apps, and making numerous calls, the phone ran a full day (15 hours, from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m.). Even after that the MX's 1,600mAh lithium polymer battery displayed a charge level of 38 percent before I finally plugged it in for overnight replenishment.

Meizu MX call quality sample Listen now:

Many readers will wonder why they should care about an iPhone clone sold only in China, with good reason. It's extremely doubtful the Meizu MX will ever make it to the U.S., let alone Europe, or heck even outside of the Middle Kingdom's controlled territory. What makes the MX an interesting device and worth your time is that it's a fairly nifty Android smartphone with some truly compelling software and user interface enhancements. Samsung's TouchWiz and Motorola's MotoBlur skins could learn a thing or two from Meizu. As a penta-band GSM phone, the Meizu MX is actually compatible with U.S. cellular networks, a skill that many officially marketed global smartphones can't match. So if you're the type who frequently jet sets to Shenzhen, find yourself on layover in Hong Kong, or has contacts in gray markets, the MX is worth a look.

What you'll pay

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