Chinese smartphone manufacturer Meizu may not have the same level of global brand recognition as Huawei or Xiaomi, but that hasn’t stopped them from releasing great affordable smartphones like the M3 Note. While most new smartphones tend to have screen sizes around 5.5″, Meizu’s recently released M3 Max takes it up a notch to 6.0″ for a theoretically better media consumption experience.
Recent Meizu coverage
- Meizu Band hands on
- Meizu M5 Note announcement
- Meizu M5 announcement
So, is the M3 Max the new king of the large-smartphone market? Or does it fall short in key areas? Let’s take a deep dive with our comprehensive Meizu M3 Max review!
The M3 Max’s design doesn’t pack any big surprises, but that shouldn’t be taken as a negative. Just as is the case with most Meizu device we’ve used, build quality is excellent. The phone’s body is constructed entirely of a metal unibody, which offers a solid and tank-like feel.
The cold feel of aluminum and well polished looks of the M3 Max are also difficult to ignore. The chamfered edges and subtle antenna lines are nice touches, and although the overall design can seem generic and iPhone-like, there’s no doubt that it showcases a level of “premium-ness” that has been steadily creeping into this price category.
There are a few drawbacks to this design, however. The side-to-back chamfers are simply not enough to disguise the M3 Max’s boxy uncurved body, and the side buttons are not tactilely differentiated, making it somewhat difficult to find the correct button.
The phone’s larger size is also an important factor to consider, as it can make one-handed use quite challenging. With that said, this could also be considered a positive, as the M3 Max’s 6.0″ display is very nice for watching videos or playing games. It’s an inevitable trade-off, but one that will surely please some while disappointing others.
Instead of utilizing the three-key layout found on many other Android smartphones, the M3 Max incorporates a single physical home button that functions as both home and back. Meizu calls it mTouch, and, although it does take a day or two to get used to, it’s an ingenious way of handling navigation: press down for home, tap for back.
mTouch is an ingenious way of handling navigation
The physical home button also functions as a fast and accurate fingerprint reader. This is an increasingly indispensable feature, and Meizu’s implementation is excellent.
You may be wondering, “but what do I do for multitasking?” Well, for multitasking, you simply swipe up from the bezel on either side of the home button. The menu scales into place as you swipe up, revealing the open apps. It feels like a much more intuitive way of interacting with the phone compared to a traditional layout.
The M3 Max redeems its name with its very large 6.0″ 1080P IPS display. This display isn’t overly impressive, but certainly does the job. It’s reasonably bright for indoor use, offers fairly accurate color reproduction, and is great for what the phone is designed for: media.
It’s important to keep in mind the phone’s price
On a somewhat different note, the phone’s front glass seemed to collect fingerprints more readily than other phones that I’ve recently tested. This is very much a minor issue, but it may be something you want to keep in mind.
Unfortunately, the M3 Max’s Mediatek Helio P10 delivers disappointing performance. Although the processor is octa-core, it’s one of Mediatek’s lowest-end chips, offering performance similar to what was available in 2012.
This is not only reflected in benchmark scores, but also in real world performance; the phone lags and is general sluggish quite frequently. For example, in our testing, the phone would sometimes refuse to wake from sleep for anywhere from ten to thirty seconds; this happened about once per day. While we can forgive just a bit of slow performance at this price point, the M3 Max exceeds what we would consider acceptable.
Also, while 3 GB of RAM is nice to see, FlyMe’s memory management can feel a bit aggressive at times. This is quite minor though in comparison.
For the GPU, we’re looking at a Mali-T860, which offers mediocre gaming performance. It won’t outdo phones like the Xiaomi Mi Max, but it does perform well enough for most high-end games. Just don’t be surprised to find slightly slower load times and a few more general hiccups than some comparably priced offerings.
Similar to most Chinese smartphones, the M3 Max offers dual SIM support for up to two individual cell phone lines. Although the phone supports up to 4G LTE in official markets, it may not work properly in others. In the United States, for example, the M3 Max is only partially compatible with 3G on both AT&T and T-Mobile. This may be a major drawback if you plan on importing the device or traveling internationally.
For storage, the M3 Max provides 64 GB on board, which we were very happy to see. If that isn’t enough, you can also substitute one SIM card for a microSD card, up to 128 GB. This is always a great option to have, especially in a phone designed for media consumption.
For wireless connectivity, the M3 Max supports Bluetooth 4.1 and 802.11n Wi-Fi. The Wi-Fi range is weaker than comparable devices, which may be because of the phone’s lack of 802.11ac support. This may be an issue if you already have Wi-Fi range issues in your household.
The Wi-Fi range is weaker than comparable devices
The phone’s external speaker can be found on the bottom of the phone, to the right of the charging port. The overall quality is about what we expected; although it gets loud enough for most environments, it sounds a bit distorted, especially at higher volumes. You’ll want to consider this especially if you plan on watching videos without headphones or some other external sound setup.
With a 4,100 mAh battery, it’s no surprise that the M3 Max offers great battery life. Although it may not be the best available for this size, it’s still considerably above average, meaning that you should have no trouble getting the phone to last a full day.
Please do keep in mind that our tests were conducted while the phone was connected to 3G, since the phone is not compatible with LTE in the United States. Still, these results indicate that you should expect at least 4.5 hours of screen on time with a full day of use, even with moderate to heavy usage.
The M3 Max supports Meizu’s proprietary mCharge technology, for a 45% charge in 30 minutes. This is quite fast considering the battery size, but we wish extra and car chargers were more accessible and ubiquitous.
The microUSB charging port is also outdated at this point, and we wish Meizu would have adopted the new reversible USB Type-C standard. To be fair, however, this may have been done intentionally so buyers wouldn’t have to replace their existing charging cables.
For the rear camera, the Meizu M3 Max is equipped with a 13 MP Sony IMX258 sensor. Picture quality is about average for this price category: it’s decent, but far from great.
M3 Max camera samples:
In scenes with bright lighting, images are produced with generally good color reproduction and decent dynamic range. Images are punchy enough without feeling oversaturated, too. However, many images appear grainy, despite good lighting. The post processing also seemed to struggle with bright colors, most notably pink and red.
Images are also generally soft, and autofocus can be surprisingly hit or miss. Even when tapping the screen to focus, the camera sometimes refused to focus correctly. It’s unlikely that this negatively affected photo sharpness in all images, however, as every shot appeared at least a bit soft.
We also noticed that the camera was relatively slow to capture images. This might not be an issue for many scenarios, but if you want to capture a very specific moment, this can become a very annoying limitation.
M3 Max low-light camera samples:
As expected, the camera struggles even more in lower lighting. Many images are distractingly grainy and colors often appear more muted than in better lit conditions. Autofocus also seems to struggle even more in these conditions, resulting in some awfully soft photos.
Sadly, the M3 Max is limited to 1080p video capture, so you won’t be able to record sharper 4K footage like you can with some other competing options. This probably won’t be a deal breaker, but it is definitely something to keep in mind if you’d like to capture high quality video.
On a positive note, Meizu’s camera app is an absolute pleasure to use. It offers a good amount of control without feeling overly complicated, and we didn’t have any issues with the shooting experience.
The M3 Max is shipping with Meizu’s FlyMe OS on top of Android 6.0 Marshmallow. It is important to understand that Meizu follows a somewhat different update model than some other manufacturers. Instead of relying on third parties for support for newer versions of Android, Meizu frequently updates its FlyMe skin with new features and refinements, oftentimes for up to two years after a phone release.
This might sound frustrating to a Western user, but we have to give Meizu credit for adding new features often and sometimes even before Google. With the M3 Max, for example, you’ll still be getting split screen multitasking as well as a myriad of other cool features.
We have to give Meizu credit for adding new features often and sometimes even before Google
The actual software experience may also seem jarring to an outsider. The iOS-inspired UI and lack of an app drawer are admittedly uncommon in Western skins. With that said, FlyMe is one of the best Android skins we’ve used. It’s certainly a different take on Android, but that doesn’t make it a bad experience.
The amount of polish that can be found in FlyMe is truly remarkable. Meizu has worked hard on this skin for the past several years, and it really shows in the day-to-day experience. If you’re looking to try something different, you should really consider this experience.
A word of warning though: it can be a bit quirky for Western users. Meizu has made it easier with a “Hot Apps” screen featuring a single button to install Google services, but some issues persist. In our experience, Hangouts would occasionally refuse to open. Clearing app data didn’t help, and the quickest solution we found was to completely re-install the app.
There’s also issues where the battery optimization just isn’t tailored to Western apps. For example, out of the box, the phone will kill Spotify after the phone is locked for thirty seconds, stopping any music playback. To fix this, you have to go into the app settings and disable optimizations. This is minor, but you should be aware that there will be bumps in the road if you choose to use this phone outside of China.
The Meizu M3 Max is available in China in black, silver, and gold for 1699 yuan or about $245. Pricing varies in other official markets. If you’re looking to import, you should expect the device to cost around $270.
Although the M3 Max is shipping with polished software, great battery life, and excellent build quality, we cannot recommend it over similarly sized alternative options like the Xiaomi Mi Max and ZTE Grand X Max 2. The M3 Max may do well in some categories, but offers nothing exciting in performance, camera quality, or availability.
If you can officially acquire the Xiaomi Mi Max, we recommend that for its better performance, superior camera, and similar software. If not, you’ll want to consider the ZTE Grand X Max 2 for its also better performance, greater availability, and nicer display.
As of the time of writing, the Mi Max can be purchased for around $30 less than the M3 Max at around $220 and the Grand X Max 2 can be found for as low as $150 less at $100. Do keep in mind, however, that these phones also have drawbacks of their own. For example, the Mi Max’s build quality is quite poor, and the Grand X Max 2’s camera is very bad.