Meizu isn't a company that's very well known in Western markets, but over the past couple of years it has pushed beyond its Chinese market roots.
Like most smartphone makers, Meizu is battling against a race towards uniformity. In other words: making a phone that's different to other phones is tough these days, especially with consumers having a set idea about what a good smartphone should be.
Meizu's latest flagship, the Pro 7, introduces a feature we've not seen in a smartphone before: a secondary colour touchscreen on the back (we've seen mono e-Ink on the back and two screens on the front of other devices, though).
While the Pro 7's second screen is eye-catching, the true test is just how well this feature transforms the phone. Is it a case of gimmick or greatness?
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Meizu Pro 7 review: Design
- Brushed metal chassis
- Available in black, gold and red
- 147.6 x 70.2 x 7.3mm; 163g
Meizu worked together with Frog Design to create the look of the Pro 7, which resulted in an attractive, if not unconventional, end result.
From the front the phone looks like pretty much every other Chinese smartphone out there. It's a glass rectangle with slightly rounded corners; there's a pill-shaped home button below the screen, which also features the fingerprint sensor. This button is clickable though, which provides a nice tactile response, although it does feel a little spongey.
Around the edges you'll find the usual smattering of buttons and ports. The power button and volume keys sit together, slightly recessed, in the right edge. A SIM tray fits neatly into the left edge, right near the top. The bottom edge plays home to the USB Type-C port, speaker grille and the 3.5mm headphone jack.
It's the back of the phone that makes for more interesting viewing though. There's a large-ish black glass rectangle on the left side of the phone, which - as well as housing the dual camera and dual LED flash system - also incorporates a small secondary display. More on what that means in a moment.
Like a lot of modern phones, the Pro 7's antenna bands run along the insides of the top and bottom edges, and are colour matched to blend in with the anodised metal. They're subtle, but you can tell they're there.
The Meizu is easy to hold in one hand, thanks to a screen with very little bezel on the sides and an overall narrow chassis. It feels like of phone of substance, too, not like some phones that feel like they have a hollow metal body.
Meizu Pro 7 review: Secondary screen
- 1.9-inch AMOLED panel on rear
- 240 x 536 resolution (307ppi)
While Meizu bills this as the first secondary colour touchscreen on a phone, it's not the first time we've seen a company add an extra display onto a device.
YotaPhone made two phones with a full size e-Ink screen on the back, while devices like the HTC U Ultra and LG V20 had secondary ticker screens running part way across the top of the main screen. None of those necessarily made compelling arguments for their existence.
With the Meizu it's the first time we've seen a screen like this on the rear, though. Again, however, it falls into the same trap: it's certainly interesting, but it's simply not necessary.
But that doesn't mean it's not useful.
In its default mode, the Pro 7's second screen acts as a clock and weather forecast widget. You can set it to activate when you double tap it, just in case you're one of those people who constantly puts their phone face down on the desk. Swiping left takes you to the step counter, swipe again for weather.
If you don't need the clock widget, you can swipe up on the secondary screen to change the default to be just a small, animated wallpaper. Of course, it also shows notifications (which could be useful, or could be a bit too public).
The most useful feature is that you can use it as the camera viewfinder. That means you no longer need to use the front camera to take a selfie. You can use the better sensors on the dual camera and take a selfie with the rear snappers instead. Which is rather clever.
The second display was never meant to be one of those features you need, but it is a unique addition that sets the Meizu Pro 7 apart from other smartphones. We can imagine with development, and added features, that the second screen could actually be a lot more useful. Say, upcoming calendar events, Google Now integration, flight boarding passes and so on.
Meizu Pro 7 review: Main display
- 5.2-inch Super AMOLED panel
- Full HD 1920 x 1080 resolution (423ppi)
While the secondary display draws more attention, the Pro 7 does have a typical screen on the front. It's a Full HD Super AMOLED panel, which isn't the sharpest on the market, but it's perfectly good enough for the 5.2-inches the resolution is stretched across.
What's great about this screen is that you can adjust its vibrancy and temperature to match your personal tastes. In the Display Mode options, you can choose whether you want a dynamic, saturated and high contrast picture, or a more natural and balanced picture. In a separate setting, there's a slider that allows you to choose how warm or cool you want the screen to be.
Once you have a profile that you like, the Meizu makes a great panel for consuming media. It's not Mobile HDR, as it's not the brightest screen we've ever tested, but it's eye-catching and vibrant. Colours in games like Super Mario Run really pop, and the blacks are really deep. Viewing angles are good too.
Meizu Pro 7 review: Software
- Flyme version 6.1.3
- Based on Android 7.0 Nougat
Here's where things change up a fair bit. While the Pro 7's software is technically based on Android, Meizu has Flyme software - which doesn't feel that close to Google's stock operating system.
Basic things like the app drawer and - far more noticeably - the back, home and recent apps soft keys are missing. They're not on-screen, and they don't have physical counterparts. Instead you use the home button: a single tap (note: not a click) takes you back within an app; a press gets you home; swiping up from the bottom of the screen takes you to the multitasking/recent apps screen. And, yep, it's messy.
In our review unit, Google Play Services weren't installed. That means no Google Play Store, which means - just as we encountered with the Pro 6 Plus - we had to install the Google Installer APK manually. This installs all the elements required to get the Play Store and all of Google's services running correctly.
While this was the case with our particular unit, it's worth noting that Meizu does sell international versions of its phones which come with the Google Play Services all up and running, so chances are that if you do manage to snag one from an official source, it should be ready to go. So you don't necessarily have to be phone nerd master to get on board with the Meizu Pro 7.
In lieu of the Google Play Store, Meizu has an app store imaginitively called App Store. Here you can find a few of the most popular apps. Uber, Lyft, Netflix, Facebook, Messenger, Snapchat, Instagram and Super Mario Run are all there, as is Spotify and WhatsApp Messenger.
In regards to preinstalled apps, the usual suspects are all there too. There's Notes, Weather, Email, Clock, Calculator, Voice Recorder and File Manager.
Flyme also comes with a Toolbox app with a Flashlight, Compass, Ruler, Level, Random (dice roll or coin toss) plus the unusual additions of Magnifier and Mirror.
Magnifier essentially functions the same as using the main camera to zoom in. Mirror is the selfie live view, which uses the front-facing camera. You never know when they might be useful.
There's also a Security app that lets you scan for viruses, block numbers, control app permissions, and clean the memory to keep things running smoothly.
Similar to most Android phones available in 2017, you get a theme store to download and install custom themes and wallpapers, just in case you're bored with, or dislike, the standard theme. Frustratingly, however, this feature never worked - we'd access the wallpaper settings the usual way, choose an image from our gallery, and it pops up with a message saying the wallpaper couldn't be changed. Which meant we were stuck with a plain dark grey background the entire time we reviewed it. That really shouldn't be the case.
Meizu Pro 7 review: Performance
- Octa-core Helio P25 processor
- 4GB RAM; 64GB storage
Inside the Pro 7 you won't find a Snapdragon processor. Instead, Meizu has opted for the MediaTek Helio P25, which has coped well with pretty much everything we've thrown at it during testing. Using it as we would any phone to skip between apps, load games and browse the web there have been no hiccups, no lag and very little stutter.
That said, the Pro 7 has never felt whiz-poppingly fast, like a high-end Snapdragon 835 equipped Android phone might, but there has been nothing we've attempted that didn't feel smooth and prompt. This is down to the phone's ability to learn your habits as you use it. Like some other phones we've reviewed - think Huawei P10 Plus, for example - it prioritises your most commonly used apps and games, for prompter loading.
Meizu Pro 7 review: Battery
- 3,000mAh battery
- mCharge fast-charging
As specifications go, seeing a 3,000mAh battery in a modern day smartphone is hardly surprising, which is exactly what you'll find inside the Meizu Pro 7. With it being a typical battery, it gives typical performance. That's to say: even heavy users should get through a full day without needing to plug it in.
During our own moderate use, we made it to bed time with around 30-35 per cent of the battery remaining. This is with the typical emailing, checking in on Instagram and Facebook a few times, plus a couple of hours of gaming here and there.
When the battery is empty, the mCharge power adapter can top it up again pretty speedily. It delivers up to 24W of power, delivering fast-charging that's up there with the best of them. With 10 minutes plugged in, the Pro 7 will have enough juice to comfortably keep going for a couple of hours. In our testing, it was capable of filling up the last 50 per cent of the battery in little over 30 minutes, and going from 0-100 in roughly an hour, which is perfectly fast enough for anyone.
Meizu Pro 7 review: Camera
- Dual rear cameras, both 12MP
- One is monochrome, the other RGB
- 16MP front-facing camera
The dual camera trend is well and truly here. Like most other makers, Meizu combines its two 12MP sensors to create depth effect portrait photos, and also offers a black and white mode. How very on trend.
In the default automatic mode, you can get well balanced shots with natural colours and good detail. Even when light drops, the amount of image noise isn't excessive - it's pretty much standard for a good camera.
Sadly, using the camera is the shortfall. Often when tapping the screen to focus on a specific area, the phone did nothing. And when it did, it had a hard time focusing on objects that were close up to the lens (not an uncommon finding in camera phones, we admit, but still irksome).
Depth effect is another element that needs more work. A lot of the time, the Pro 7's camera blurs the edges of the subject in the foreground, confusing them with the background to create an image that just isn't all that good to look at. Again, we'd say the same of all other manufacturers using this software-applied effect.
Where you will get good photos is in good light, and when using the manual "Pro" mode. Here you can manually adjust the focus, so there's no frustration with autofocus. Setting it to macro mode, we managed to get so great, sharp shots of close-up and small objects with a really nice balance of sharpness, colour and light/contrast. Which goes to show that the camera should be capable of doing this automatically.
In the end, the Meizu Pro 7's camera arrangement is a strange one. You can get really nice shots, but you have to work a bit too hard for them. The phone won't do any of the work for you, and that may be off-putting for most consumers who want to point and shoot and nothing more.
On the whole the Pro 7 feels like an almost-there phone. It has so much promise and so much potential, yet silly little things like tap-to-focus in the camera being rarely effective to autofocus, or our inability to change wallpapers, all goes against the grain of what a good phone should encompass.
The fact we had to figure out how to install Google Play Services was another bit of frustration added into the mix - although this shouldn't be an issue for all users, as fully Play-ready devices should be available to buy.
In the end, the Meizu Pro 7 is a nice-looking phone that's well made, feels great in the hand and has a good combination of hardware. There are obviously a few bits that needing fixing or improving, but these could by-and-large be addressed with a small software update.
Lastly, notice how we've not been able to say too much about that second screen? Well, it's a cool piece of decoration and something that sets the Pro 7 apart from the competition - we applaud it for that effort - but it's not exactly necessary or particularly useful. But then neither is candy... and people love candy.
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