Meizu is a company that has found a lot of success in its native China – the previous M1 Note has sold more than 5 million units since its launch – and the company now has its sights firmly on making it big in the West, pinning its hopes on the Meizu M2 Note.
Breaking out of China and gaining worldwide recognition like its compatriots Huawei and OnePlus is an understandable aim, and Meizu is relying on a potent mix of impressive specs and low price to catch the eye of Western consumers.
Could the Meizu M2 Note be the handset to change the company's fortunes outside of its homeland? It's not quite as exciting as its flagship MX4 and MX4 Pro, but it offers some very compelling features for the price – and some pretty interesting innovations.
At the launch event it was announced that the M2 Note will be priced at an incredibly reasonable 799RMB (about $129, £85, AU$168) for the 16GB version, and 999RMB (about $161, £106, AU$210) for the 32GB version.
When I spoke to Meizu before the announcement of the international prices, I was assured that the past discrepancy between Chinese prices and the rest of the world hadn't been ideal, and that the company was looking into reducing the gap.
I'm happy to report that since then, Meizu has made good on its promise, and you can buy the international version of the M2 Note for as low as £144 (about $227, AU$294), which means the M2 Note could end up being the best value handset Meizu has ever launched outside of China.
The Meizu M2 Note is an attractively designed handset, and at first glance reminds me of the iPhone 3G, with the rounded back and edges, and rather minimalist front.
Complaints with the M1 Note focused on the back and edges not being particularly comfortable to hold, which has been addressed with the M2 Note having a more subtle curve to it.
I certainly didn't feel any immediate discomfort when holding the M2 Note, and despite its large 5.5-inch screen, it felt more comfortable than some of the other large screen 'phablets' I've held.
This is thanks to the impressively slim bezel that surrounds the left and right hand sides of the screen, which hold just a sliver of black between the screen's edge and the body. The bezel along the top and bottom of the handset are thicker, but that's understandable due to the necessity of holding the speaker, a notification LED light and front-facing camera, along with the home button.
Meizu previously claimed that holding an M2 Note would be like "sticking out your hand in a 60mph car", and while it certainly doesn't achieve that (and I'm not sure I'd want a phone which replicated that experience), the polycarbonate unibody felt light yet robust at a weight of 149g.
The M2 Note comes in white, blue, pink and grey. From my time with each colour, the grey hue is definitely the most attractive, though the others are by no means ugly.
One aspect that does take a little getting used to is locating the power and volume buttons on the left-hand side of the body – a common design choice in China that could baffle our Western hands for the first few days of using the M2 Note.
Everything else is roughly where you'd expect them to be, with a headphone port at the top and a micro USB port on the bottom.
On the right-hand side is a singular tray which allows you to add two SIM cards, or a SIM card and a microSD card up to 128GB. It's a nice system that keeps the body of the device looking uncluttered, though some people might not be too happy about sacrificing a SIM card to expand the memory.
The oval home button is located at the bottom bezel underneath the screen and comes with some interesting innovations. Meizu described the home button as 'revolutionary' – more on that later.
Revolutionary or not, the placement of the home screen, and the lack of any other buttons on the M2 Note's face, again draws comparisons with Apple devices. While this would usually be folly for devices in this price bracket, the M2 Note comes off pretty well, and it certainly doesn't look like a cheap phone.
If you're a regular Android user, you probably haven't thought of a physical home button since Google started including onscreen buttons with recent versions of its mobile operating system.
However, it's clear that Meizu has been thinking long and hard about it, as the inclusion of a home button on the M2 Note doesn't feel like a retrograde step, and instead offers some rather interesting and innovative features.
Although the flagship Meizu MX4 comes with a fingerprint scanner under the home screen, there's none here. While this is disappointing – yet expected due to the M2 Note's budget leanings – there's enough interesting tech to make you forget about the lack of biometrics.
Dubbed the Mback, the oblong home button's main aim is to make the Meizu M2 Note easier to use with one hand, despite its large screen size. This means the back, home and app drawer icons of stock Android are gone from the M2 Note's custom version of Android 5.1 Lollipop. Instead you can use the home button to replicate the tasks those onscreen buttons used to cover.
Tapping the button takes you to the home screen, while swiping from left to right works as the 'back' button. The Mback has its own haptic feedback, which lets you know what you're doing via discrete vibrations.
The addition of separate vibrations for the home button does a good job of encompassing Meizu's approach to the Mback button. At first it might seem like a small (maybe even pointless) addition, but the feedback the vibrations give helps make the M2 Note feel responsive to your commands.
It took me a while to get used to the button at first, but once I did, I found it worked really well, and it definitely fulfilled its brief for making the large phone feel comfortable to use with one hand.
It's not quite as revolutionary as Meizu states, but it's great to see a company thinking about new ways to make its device easy and comfortable to use. I know that when I move on from the M2 Note I will certainly miss the Mback home button.
One of the most notable features of the Meizu M2 Note is its large 5.5-inch display. Budget smartphones with phablet-sized screens are nothing new, with the Nokia Lumia 1320 and the Huawei Ascend Mate 2 4G demonstrating that you can combine big screens with small price tags.
What's rare, however, is the M2 Note's 1080p high definition screen – in contrast to other budget phablets that stick to a 720p resolution to keep prices down.
A 720p screen isn't too shabby – especially on a budget device – but the larger the screen, the more unforgiving it is for lower resolutions. Having a higher resolution means it can pack more pixels in per inch – and a high pixel density is essential to having a clear and sharp image.
With a 5.5-inch screen and 1080 x 1920 resolution, the M2 Note has a pixel density of 403ppi – pretty much the same as the iPhone 6 Plus' 401ppi (they share the same resolution and size, but Apple has a funny way with aspect ratios). Although the M2 Note doesn't quite match the screen quality of the iPhone 6 Plus, it doesn't do a bad job either.
This is particularly impressive considering that the Meizu M2 Note sells for almost a fifth of the price of an iPhone 6 Plus.
So, if you're looking for a large screen device for under £200 ($300, AU$400), the Meizu M2 Note is without doubt a worthy choice, with the bright, vibrant and full HD screen putting other budget phablets to shame – and even giving more expensive devices a run for their money.
Cheap and cheerful
The Meizu M2 Note's biggest selling point is its impressively low price. When the Chinese price of 799RMB ($129, £85, AU$168) for the 16GB version was given at the launch event, we were sceptical that Meizu would translate this price to the rest of the world.
Although it doesn't quite reach that low price, you can pick up the Meizu M2 Note for as little as £144 (about $227, AU$294) and sometimes even cheaper if you shop around.
All three of these budget smartphones are formidable opponents, proving that companies don't have to make too many compromises when creating a desirable budget device. The fact that the relatively unknown Meizu can go up against such well-established names like Microsoft, Sony and Motorola, and in many ways come out on top, is a testament to the quality of the M2 Note.
Let's quickly compare some of the specs of the Meizu M2 Note to the Moto G (2014), which currently sits at the top of our best budget smartphones list.
The M2 Note's 5.5-inch screen, with 1080 x 1920 resolution, dwarfs the Moto G's 5-inch 720 x 1280 display in both size and quality. A Mediatek octa-core 1.3GHz CPU and 2GB of RAM also help the M2 Note feel more sprightly than the Moto G, with its quad-core 1.2GHz CPU and 1GB of RAM.
The Moto G comes with just 8GB of storage, which is pretty common in handsets at this price range, but can get filled up quickly. Meanwhile, the M2 Note comes has 16GB and 32GB capacities.
It's already clear the Meizu doesn't mess around when it comes to putting some decent hardware in a budget device.
Performance and interface
Considering the price of the Meizu M2 Note, the specifications are pretty impressive – and generally much more powerful than other handsets in the same price bracket. While most budget phones make do with 512MB or 1GB of RAM, the M2 Note comes with 2GB, which helps multitasking with numerous apps open feel smooth and fluid.
The Mediatek octa-core 1.3GHz CPU also helps keep everything running smoothly, and running the GeekBench 3 benchmark, which puts the CPU through its paces, yielded a multi-core score of 2693.
For comparison's sake, the Moto G (2014), perhaps the Meizu M2 Note's closest competitor, scored just 1142 points. The Sony Xperia M2 Aqua meanwhile scored 1133, so it's clear that the M2 Note is punching well above its weight in the performance stakes.
It's not quite up to the level of flagship smartphones like the HTC M9, which scores 3803, but it's important to remember that the M9 is a lot more expensive.
Benchmark numbers are fine when getting a general idea of how well a smartphone performs, but how does it fare in real world use? The good news is that the Meizu M2 Note once again exceeds expectations, with smooth response times when navigating the user interface.
When you first load up apps there's a slight delay, but once up and running every app I tried, such as Spotify and Facebook, the phone ran quickly and without any crashes or complaints.
I also put the M2 Note through its paces by playing a few games, including Crossy Road and the graphically intensive Racing Rivals. Although there were a few minor pauses – certainly nothing game breaking – the M2 Note did a pretty good job of keeping up with the games, and each one I tried looked great on the large 1080p screen.
The Meizu M2 Note ships with Android 5.1 Lollipop straight out of the box, so you're getting Google's latest and greatest mobile operating system without having to wait.
It also comes with Meizu's excellent custom overlay, known as FlymeOS, with elements of Android Lollipop's material design working well with the overall minimalist aesthetic of the interface.
A number of attractive wallpapers can be used with FlymeOS, though the theme is currently restricted to Chinese content.
It has some nice touches as well; you can swipe down from anywhere on the screen to bring down the notifications and options screen (not just from the top like standard Android), and if you flick up from the bottom of the screen, a quick launch menu lets you quickly open your recently used apps.
Again these little touches help make the M2 Note more comfortable to use with one hand, and prove that Meizu has put more thought into its custom Android interface than other manufacturers, who often use it to tie their customers into various services (I'm looking at you, Sony) or fill the handset with bloatware.
Bloatware is mercifully absent from the M2 Note in fact, with the preinstalled apps offering decent functionality. The Gallery app does a fair job of displaying your photos, Memos unsurprisingly lets you take down notes, and music and movie apps handle media-playing duties in a straightforward way.
That means there's little in the way of frills, but the basic interface has a minimalistic charm that is present throughout the Flyme interface, and gives you a no-nonsense way of playing music and films.
Although the Chinese versions of the M2 Note don't come with Google's Play Store, the international version does, so you can install all your favourite apps on the M2 Note as well.
One design choice that might irk people is that all apps you install are shown on the Home screen of the device, as the Flyme OS interface doesn't have the Apps Drawer of stock Android.
The Apps Drawer is represented on other Android devices with a round icon and six dots, and this holds all the apps you've installed. You can then move the apps you use the most to your home screen, while keeping the others out of sight. This can be a handy way of keeping your phone's home screen organised and not looking too cluttered.
With the Meizu M2 Note, all apps are displayed on the home screen, which can ruin the simplistic nature of the interface. It also means that you could end up having to scroll through numerous screens to get to the app you want.
The only way to remove app shortcuts from the home screen is to uninstall the app – which isn't ideal. It's a rare misstep for an otherwise well thought-out interface.
Battery and the essentials
Let's get the bad news out of the way first: the Meizu M2 Note's battery is non-removable, so if you're after a phone that you can buy a back-up battery for – or you like having the option of swapping out a battery when it begins showing its age – then you're going to be disappointed.
The better news is that the 3100mAh battery does a great job overpowering the M2 Note, with the larger screen allowing Meizu to fit in a larger capacity battery.
It means the M2 Note can easily go for more than a day without needing a charge, and with medium to high usage (which included calling, texting, surfing the internet and taking photos) I was reaching for the charger after a day and a half. With light use, the M2 Note easily breezed past the two day mark, so with careful use, this is a handset that you can get a few days' battery life out of.
To help eke out more battery life, there are some power-saving options, though the choices are limited compared to other handsets. You can choose between Battery Saver, Balanced or Performance, with the first choice cutting down the speed and power of the handset in a bid to prolong battery.
I'd have rather seen a more in-depth battery saving mode, which allowed me to personally choose the apps, features and hardware to scale back on.
With TechRadar's battery benchmark, where we run a looped high-definition video for 90 minutes, the battery of the Meizu M2 Note dropped from 100% to 73% (a loss of 27%), which could be considered a severe drop – though not the worst we've seen – which indicates that watching videos could be the Achilles heel of the M2 Note's battery.
The Meizu M2 Note handled all of the essentials very well, with call quality being consistently good. The phone app, like other apps included with FlymeOS interface, is simple to use and stylish to look at.
It supports GSM, HSPA and LTE (Cat 4) networks, and I had no trouble using the international version in the UK.
The 4G connectivity and dual band wireless N features also mean that browsing the internet on Wi-Fi or via cellular is pretty speedy as well. The default web browser is OK, though feels jarring when you start using it, as Chinese websites are suggested and the Baidu search engine is selected by default.
This can be changed to Google (in the international versions at least), or you could install another browser of your choice. However, you would miss out on a few unique features, such as the integration with the rest of the FlymeOS interface.
Text messaging is handled well by the default messenger app, and the large screen makes typing on the onscreen keyboard comfortable. The keyboard offers a range of input methods, such as swiping or tapping, and comes with more emojis than you can shake a cartoon stick at.
The touchscreen also does a good job of keeping up with your typing, and accurately registers your frantic taps.
As I mentioned earlier, the music and video apps do a straightforward job of playing your media, and the large 1080p screen makes videos look fantastic. I didn't receive headphones with our review sample, so I can't comment on the quality of the pair that Meizu includes with the M2 Note, but through a standard pair of headphones and streaming from Spotify's highest quality setting, the sound quality was good, but not spectacular.
If sound quality is important, you're better off looking at the Xperia Z3 Compact, though expect to pay a fair bit more for Sony's compact smartphone.
The Meizu M2 Note comes with a 13 megapixel rear camera with autofocus and dual LED flash, and a five megapixel front-facing snapper. The photo quality of both cameras was good, with excellent colour accuracy during outdoor shoots, though details were sometimes lost.
Meizu claims to include zero-delay shooting technology and although I'd hesitate to say it was completely without delay, the M2 Note did take photos at an impressive speed.
If you find that with your current smartphone you've lined up to take the perfect shot, but in the time it takes for the phone to actually take the photo the moment has passed, you'll be very happy with the speed of the M2 Note.
It does result in some blurred shots, but on the whole I was pretty impressed with the quality. The camera app is straightforward to use, and comes with a host of settings and features that can be easily toggled on and off to configure your images.
These include a manual mode that offers an impressive amount of control over the camera. Instagram-like filters are also present, along with a Panarama mode and other pre-set options.
Another nice touch is that when using the camera app, the volume rocker can be used as the camera button.
The front-facing camera is also rather good and manages to capture colours well. You can apply the various filters to the front-facing camera as well, and there's a 'Beauty' setting that lets you give a virtual makeover to your selfies, with the effects you select (and sliders you use to determine the strength of the effect) appearing in real time over the image from the camera.
This feature is not much more than a mild diversion, though it shows how well the software and hardware of the M2 Note can identify parts of an image. For example, a slider lets you slim down your face, and the app does a good job of finding the edge of the face and bringing it inwards.
There's also an option to smooth the face, which aims to remove blemishes, but can give photos a bit of an eerie look. The other options remind you that this was originally a phone with a primarily Asian audience in mind. There's a slider for you to increase the size of the eyes, while a more troubling slider lets you increase the whiteness of your skin.
Equating whiteness of skin with beauty won't fly in most of the world, and Meizu could have been a bit more tactful about including this setting in the international version (if at all), but it feels like a case of lost in translation rather than malicious intent.
You can also shoot videos, and the footage captured was very impressive, with a good level of detail and smooth framerates for the 1080p shots.
Again, colour accuracy was represented well in the videos, and the M2 Note did an adequateI job of adjusting to changes in the light as I moved from inside to outside.
The two cameras included with the M2 Note are very capable snappers, and offer brilliant quality considering the price of the handset, with the images they produce putting other budget smartphones, such as the Moto G (2014), to shame.
Although I was impressed when I first got my hands on the Meizu M2 Note, I commented that the final price of the handset would really determine how successful the device would be.
Since then we've found that the M2 Note will cost as little as £144 (about $227, AU$294) – a phenomenal price that casts the handset in a very flattering light.
Meizu might not be a brand name you'd recognise, but if you're looking for a budget smartphone with decent specs and a large screen, you'd do well to become antiquated.
When Meizu announced the Chinese price of the M2 Note, I was impressed, but realistically thought the international handset wouldn't be anywhere near that price. So, I was very happy to hear that the M2 Note, although not as cheap as it is in China, offers brilliant value for money.
The design and build quality of the handset is another high point – this certainly doesn't look or feel like a budget device.
The fact that it comes with Android 5.1 Lollipop is another big plus – you're getting Google's latest operating system straight out of the box.
There's not much to dislike about the M2 Note. The Flyme interface, as attractive as it is, has an insistence of placing shortcuts for your apps on your homescreen. This can't be changed, and makes your device look cluttered and disorganised when you start installing lots of apps.
Sound could also be better, and music addicts probably won't be satisfied, even with good headphones and high-quality streaming.
Overall, the Meizu M2 Note is a solid phablet that offers plenty of bang for your buck. The international price isn't as cheap as the Chinese version, but it's still highly competitive. The fact that it's near £100 makes it an easy recommendation for anyone who wants budget smartphone, but doesn't want to make too many compromises on power and features.
With a design, specs and features that wouldn't look out of place on a handset twice its price, I was more than happy with this handset. If you don't mind a few quirks, or a brand name hardly anyone has heard of, then it's one of the best cheap smartphones you can buy.