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Tech: Meizu M3 Max Review: Insanely Good Value At $250

One thing I’ve learned since I began covering consumer tech this year is that marketing + clever packaging bring hype. And once you have all three together, you can get away with selling the product at jacked up prices, as long as the product isn’t terrible.
When I first got my hands on the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 almost two months ago — back before the fires began and when every U.S. media was throwing every superlative praise at the phone — I made a YouTube video ranting about how, while the Note 7 was very nicely built, it wasn’t that much better built than Chinese phones that sold for half the price, like the OnePlus 3 or the Meizu MX6. I made asimilar video with the iPhone 7 Plus.
My point is that, western tech media often act like Apple and Samsung (can add Google to the mix now, with the latest batch of Pixel reviews) craft the best “premium” hardware that are heads and shoulders above everyone else, when in reality, every 2016 flagship phone, regardless if it was designed in Cupertino or Dongguan in China, are superbly well built. Maybe back in 2012, one could hold an iPhone and then hold, say, a Xiaomi phone and notice the difference in build quality. Not anymore in 2016. Chinese phone makers have completely caught up. Anyone who try to say differently are either biased or they’ve never held a new Chinese handset.
Take Meizu’s latest release, the 6-inch mid-range phablet M3 Max, for example. When holding this all-metal unibody phone, I tried hard to find an aspect of the hardware to nitpick and I couldn’t. There is no camera hump — it’s completely flushed with the back of the phone. The bezels are smaller than the iPhones and Pixels. The buttons are clicky and responsive. The screen is bright and vibrant. The speaker grill and headphone holes have been smoothed down and doesn’t feel sharp when I run my finger over them. Its holes are symmetrically aligned. The chamfered edges are smooth to the touch, and light bounces off its angled sides. The fingerprint sensor is fast and responsive, more so than on Samsung’s devices.
 
 
Mainstream media’s reviews of the iPhone 7 Plus, Note 7, and Pixel XL — all priced at over $800 — all raved about the hardware, almost justifying the price tag because of it. I challenge any of those reviewers to hold a M3 Max, which sells for $255, and tell me with a straight face that it feels “cheaper.”
Here, I made a video showing off the phone’s looks:

Of course, this wouldn’t matter if the M3 Max can’t perform, and while it’s not the most powerful/fastest phone on the market, it more than gets the job done for the average consumer. The M3 Max’s Mediatek MT6755 Helio P10 chip, running on 3GB RAM keeps the phone smooth a snappy. At 6.43 x 3.21 x 0.31 inches, this is a niche phone that sits firmly in the phablet territory — for people who might use just one device as their everyday phone and media consumption device at home. And the M3 Max’s 6-inch 1080p is great for that. It’s not as lively and “whoa” as a Samsung AMOLED panel — the M3 Max’s blacks aren’t as dark for sure — but it’s a solid display that produces vibrant and accurate colors. The mono speaker grill is nothing to write home about, but it’s no worse than the same mono speaker on the Pixel, Galaxy S7 and bunch of other phones.
The M3 Max runs Android 6.0 with its own Flyme 5.2 software on top, and as I’ve written about before, I like Flyme. It’s much better looking than other Chinese OS like the Gionee’s Amigo OS or Huawei’s EMUI.
In fact, Flyme is so clean it sort of feels like stock Android, except Flyme offers a myriad of gestures to launch apps while the phone’s screen is off. For example, draw a circle on the phone’s dark screen and the camera snaps open. Draw a V, it launches the web browser. Draw an M to launch Google Maps, etc. These are all customizable, by the way, like if you want, you can set draw an M to open Instagram, or M to open Calculator. Everything opens almost fast, in under one second.
Below is an old video I made (from when I reviewed Meizu’s previous phone) showing off the gestures.
It’s little things like this that makes the phone so useful, and make me bemoan why Apple and Samsung are so vanilla with its software. For example, why won’t Samsung let us customize its phones’ hardware buttons? Why must the back button be stuck on the right side of the phone, with no way of changing this?
Moving on to the camera, the M3 Max’s 12-Megapixel Sony lens with a f/2.0 aperture captures shots in daytime that are vibrant and hold its own against the big names.
A shot taken in Bangkok, with the M3 Max.
Shot with the Meizu M3 Max.
Shot with the Samsung Galaxy Note 7.
Shot with the LG V20.
At night, however, the phone struggles a bit, producing images that have more noise and less detail than, say, the Galaxy S7′s shot. 
Meizu M3 Max’s shot (left) compared to the Samsung Galaxy S7′s shot (right). Samsung’s shooter was capable of taking in more light and detail.
The M3 Max (left), S7 Edge (middle) and V20 (right). These shots look mostly the same on the phone and when scaled down. But if you blow them up to 100% and look on a proper monitor, then the V20 and S7 Edge’s images are more detailed. But this is nitpicky… plus, Samsung and LG’s phones cost two to three times as much as Meizu’s.
The camera comes with all the features you’d expect from a flagship in 2016 — manual controls, panorama. But it doesn’t shoot videos in 4K — 1080p is tops — and the quality of videos is just ok. Videos tend to come out a bit shakier than on other phones.
So, conclusion about the camera: is it better than the cameras on $800 phones? No. But that Meizu’s camera doesn’t get blown away is already a lowkey win, considering the phone costs less than half. 
Another major difference between the M3 Max (and all Meizu phones) with other phones is that Meizu has its own unique navigation system in that it does away with Android’s traditional three button set-up. I’ve written about this plenty before, so please go read this piece if you want more detail, but to make a long story short here: the single hardware button acts as both home and back button. There are no other buttons used to navigate (you bring up recently opened apps — aka the square button in Android — by swiping up from the bottom of the screen). I will say this here again: I like this set-up a lot, and I think it makes the iPhone’s home button look so dated in comparison by only being able to do one thing.
The M3 Max is packed with a 4100 mAH battery, which is huge and yes, it lasts through the day easy. In my week of use, I averaged about six hours of screen on time throughout the day and still finished with about 15 to 20% left. And if you do need to top up, Meizu has its own fast charge that pumps about 25% of juice in 15 minutes. The device comes in only one storage option: 64GB, and has a slot for SD card expansion.
There are minor annoyances here and there: I’m using the Chinese version of the phone and there are these apps that keep sending me spammy notifications in Chinese. Like most Chinese apps (especially WeChat. I understand that WeChat is a game-changing app and so, so successful, but everytime I try to use it I’m immediately annoyed by the spam an hour in), these cannot be turned off. I have been assured, however, by Meizu reps that the international versions of the M3 Max (the ones that are sold in, for example, Europe) won’t have these stupid spam Chinese apps. And the top-of-the-screen placement of the “clear all apps” button when I bring up the overview makes it hard to reach.
The M3 Max is a big phone. Here’s a size comparison next to the two flagship Samsung and Apple phones, courtesy of Phone Arena.
But other than that, I see no real faults with the phone. Personally, 6-inch phablets are a bit too big/unwieldy for me to use as a daily driver (the sweet spot for me is 5.5-inch). But if you like your phone this big, then the Meizu M3 Max, priced at $250, presents an amazing value.
Ben Sin ,  

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