Meizu is a rather unfamiliar name to many living in the UK, US and Australia. However, over the past few years the Chinese smartphone company has been subtlety expanding into the global market, building significant fan bases in France, Russia, Italy, Ukraine and Israel.
This gradual expansion into the Middle East and Europe is no fluke. In China, Meizu products both MP3 players and smartphones, have always been renowned for being well built and affordable.
Prices for the Meizu MX4 Pro are higher than the Chinese RRP but the MX4 Pro still offers great value for money, with the 16GB model currently available for $579 (around £380, AU$750). This price also includes shipping from Hong Kong and an international 12 month warranty.
With the use of the global Meizumart online store and localised sites for certain countries, Meizu has managed to get its products into the hands of consumers all over the world and enhance its reputation further afield.
The MX4 Pro is a supercharged version of Meizu's 2014 flagship, the MX4, and sports flagship level specs including a 5.5-inch Quad HD screen, a Samsung Exynos 5 Octa 5430 processor (the same as the one found in the Galaxy Alpha) with 3GB RAM, 4G LTE, a 20.7MP rear camera and either 16, 32 or 64GB of internal storage.
It remains to be seen how the specs of the MX4 Pro hold up against upcoming 2015 flagships, however at present these internals are some of the best available.
Despite the numerous benefits, there are often a number of drawbacks associated with purchasing Chinese smartphones. Due to restrictions within China, Google apps and services such as the Play Store are not pre-installed on devices intended for the domestic market.
Thus it's often a difficult task to get them installed and running correctly. Many of these smartphones are also not officially available in the UK, US or Australia and this results in import suppliers selling them with no international warranty, for considerably more than the Chinese retail price.
Fortunately, for anyone who wishes to purchase a Meizu MX4 Pro, the company's official 'Meizumart' store stocks devices that come preloaded with the Google Play Store and provides global shipping.
The MX4 Pro is sleek and minimal, possibly too minimal for some. Around the front things are kept simple with a 5MP front snapper, LED notification light, earpiece and physical home button. This is surrounded by a premium-feeling metallic frame, which seamlessly blends into the smooth plastic rear.
I personally like the uncluttered design, with the physical home key, but some may just see it as some sort of iPhone 6/Galaxy Note 4 hybrid.
Meizu has slightly moved away from its common design language with the MX4 Pro, opting for the large physical home button, in order to pack in the mTouch fingerprint scanner. The result is a key that feels solid and gives a satisfying click when pressed.
The microUSB port takes up a central position on the bottom edge of the MX4 Pro, flanked by a solitary speaker and microphone. I would have liked to have seen dual front-firing speakers, similar to HTC One M8's, on such a media-centric device.
However, thanks to the curvature of the MX4 Pro's bottom edge, the speaker is not directly covered by your hand when consuming media in landscape mode.
The sides of the MX4 Pro are rather barren to say the least, with only the volume rocker on the left. A combination of the smooth sides and plastic rear mean the MX4 Pro can be a little slippery in the hand, but not unmanageable.
Where things do start to get awkward is when trying to reach the power key on the top edge of the MX4 Pro. Given that the MX4 Pro is a rather tall device, the power button can be difficult to reach. The button itself, like the volume rocker and home key, has a great tactile and clicky feel.
Although the MX4 Pro is a solidly built smartphone, with an aluminium frame, the plastic rear still makes it feel a little less premium than metal unibody devices such as the iPhone 6 and HTC One M9.
The MX4 Pro's rear panel is removable, yet the battery is non-replaceable and there's no expandable storage slot. Taking the back off just to access the microSIM card slot seems a little excessive but this option was probably chosen to reduce production costs.
White and gold versions of the MX4 Pro are also available, which are slightly less understated than the grey model shown here.
Key features and interface
There are few smartphones currently available that have a screen as sharp as the one found on the Meizu MX4 Pro. With a 2560 x 1536 resolution the 5.5-inch QHD display boasts a whopping pixel density of 546ppi.
On paper, the panel on the MX4 Pro should be sharper than QHD displays found on other high-end smartphones such as the LG G3 (538ppi) and the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 (515ppi). However in every day use, the increase in resolution isn't glaringly obvious.
Nevertheless, thanks to super thin bezels and a vibrant QHD display, with an extensive brightness range and decent viewing angles, the MX4 Pro still produces one of the best visual experiences on a smartphone to date.
Below the MX4 Pro's crisp display sits the physical home key, which houses Meizu's 'mTouch' fingerprint scanner. Unlike the rather finicky swipe gesture required to unlock the Samsung Galaxy S5 and Note 4 via your fingerprint, simply pressing and holding the MX4 Pro's home button allows you to access the device.
Overall I found the digit reader to be reliable. Although for ease of use, I recommend scanning more than one finger.
As well as being able to unlock the phone via the scanner, Meizu has integrated mTouch into its Flyme security settings allowing you to lock individual or multiple apps with your fingerprint.
mTouch can also be used to purchase apps and themes for the MX4 Pro. At present this is only available for Chinese users, but it doesn't prevent you from downloading free items.
Flyme 4 is Meizu's custom user interface which runs on top of the Meizu MX4 Pro's Android 4.4.4 OS. Much like the hardware design language of the MX4 Pro, Flyme 4 is simple and minimal. Apps are front and centre on the homescreen, with Flyme ditching the app drawer all together.
There are a significant number of useful additions to the software, which make navigating around the OS on the large MX4 Pro that little bit easier. As part of the clean look, the persistent navbar has been replaced with contextual softkeys that change according to app requirements.
The recent apps panel has been relocated to the bottom of the screen, in order to switch between and close apps without having to reach halfway up the display. Rather than stretching to the very top of the MX4 Pro's 5.5-inch screen, swiping downwards on any part of the homescreen gives you access to the notification bar.
Other gestures such as double-tap to wake and long pressing the home key to sleep also reduce the number of times you need to use the awkwardly positioned power button.
Meizu has a rich audio heritage and the MX4 Pro delivers impressive sound quality through both the speaker and 3.5mm headphone jack.
The 'Hi-Fi sound' settings in Flyme 4 are especially useful, allowing you to get the best out of whatever headphones you are using.
Meizu's passive filter and high resolution amplifier seem to be the real deal, providing a loud, detailed and enjoyable sound experience that is so often missing from smartphones.
Performance and battery life
The heart of the Meizu MX4 Pro, Samsung's Exynos 5430 octa-core processor, consists of four large powerful cores and four small energy efficient cores.
In order to extract the maximum power from all eight cores of the MX4 Pro, 'perfomance' mode needs to be selected within the Flyme settings menu. As the 'balanced' and 'power-saving' modes reduce the number of cores used to save juice.
In 'performance' mode the MX4 Pro certainly delivers on the benchmarking front, scoring an average of 3339 on the Geekbench 3 multi-core test. This trumps high-end flagships such as the Google Nexus 6 (3294) and HTC One M8 (2951), with it just losing out to the mighty Samsung Galaxy Note 4 (3351).
These numbers translate into stellar all-round performance during everyday use. Navigating through the Flyme 4 interface on the MX4 Pro is a smooth and enjoyable experience, with zero lag.
App opening times were a second or two faster than on the Nexus 5 and when playing graphically intensive games such as Real Racing 3, the MX4 Pro didn't even seem to break a sweat.
Things do begin to slow down marginally when 'power-saving' mode is enabled. However, that is to be expected when the MX4 Pro is only using four of its eight cores.
Meizu has packed a hefty 3350mAh capacity battery into the MX4 Pro and with light to moderate usage on the default 'balanced' power mode I was able to get over a days worth of battery life.
With 'power-saving' mode enabled, the same type of user can expect to eke out around two days worth of juice from the MX4 Pro.
Heavy users on the other hand will probably still need to charge the battery overnight.
Multitasking and demanding apps ideally require the MX4 Pro to be in either 'balanced' or 'performance' mode in order to run smoothly. In the former, the battery can last up to 24 hours.
For many users that would mean the inconvenience of charging during work time. After a day of heavy use in 'performance' mode, I'd still finish up with around 25% battery.
Despite packing a NEGA negative LCD display, which aims to reduce battery consumption, the MX4 Pro's battery took a huge hit when playing the TechRadar test video at full brightness and volume. Over the course of the 90 minute clip, the battery depleted rapidly from 100% to just 61%.
The MX4 Pro's screen has an incredibly high maximum brightness level of 560 nits and that, combined with a powerful speaker, seems to be the major cause of battery drain.
In everyday use it's very unlikely that the average user would need the screen on that higher brightness setting for such a prolonged period time. With the screen set on half brightness, or with auto brightness enabled, the MX4 Pro will easily make it through the day regardless of the power mode you are using.
The essentials and camera
While the Meizu MX4 Pro is a relatively large media-orientated device, it's still a phone and therefore should be able to do the basics well.
Despite the MX4 Pro being heavily integrated with Flyme services, contacts can be imported from a variety of other sources, including your Google account. Contacts however do not have a designated app, with Meizu opting to integrate the contacts list into the phone app.
The contextual softkeys within the phone app allow users to switch between recents, contacts and the dialler. Rather than having to delve through the contacts list every time you need to call someone, as with the iPhone 6, Meizu has included a contact search option in both the recents list and the dialler.
Call quality on the MX4 Pro is a particular high point with users on the other end of the line stating that they could hear me clearly, even when I was using the speakerphone.
Thanks to Meizu's great audio hardware, calls also sounded great through the MX4 Pro's top and bottom speakers. The option to record while in a call is a nice addition, if not totally essential for most users.
Flyme 4 contains a custom messenger that, despite not being flashy, gets the job done. Unlike Google Hangouts, the sole purpose of the app is to show SMS and MMS messages and these can be synchronised with your Flyme account for safe-keeping.
Under the hood there are some minor tweaks, such as the SMS quick reply function and notification bar preview, which those with busy lifestyles will appreciate.
Typing on the MX4 Pro's large screen using the default Flyme keyboard is, for the most part, fast and fluid. Keys are well spaced and a handy downwards swipe on any letter brings up its corresponding symbol.
English prediction is a little primitive compared to Google Keyboard, but that's to be expected of a device that's primarily aimed at the Chinese market.
The omission of gesture typing from the default keyboard is a little disappointing. Thankfully, TouchPal X is also baked into the software for those who wish to type via swipes.
Internet browsing on the MX4 Pro is a pretty nippy affair, whether using a Wi-Fi or data connection. Meizu's stock browser renders text and images quickly and just like Safari on iOS 8, allows you to swipe through your recently viewed webpages.
The stock browser has another trick up its sleeve. Rather than having to stretch to the top of the MX4 Pro's large 5.5-inch display to view open tabs, Meizu has handily positioned the icon in the contextual softkeys at the bottom.
The browser's home page contains a few categories containing links to popular international websites. Some may find this useful, while others may find it too cluttered.
Chinese elements are visible in the 'light apps' panel to the right of the default home page, though they're not particularly obtrusive. Chrome also runs smoothly on the MX4 Pro for those who are heavily tied into the Google ecosystem or prefer a more familiar browsing experience.
A 20.7MP snapper with dual-tone LED flash lives on the back of the Meizu MX4 Pro and it's an all-round strong performer. Around the front there's a 5MP sensor, ideal for the occasional selfie or video chat.
Meizu's stock camera app, like the rest of the MX4 Pro's software, has a very clean and minimal look. The contextual softkeys come in handy once again, offering easy access to the flash, front camera, filters and camera settings.
The MX4 Pro may not have a seemingly endless number of camera options like the Sony Xperia Z3 and Samsung Galaxy Note 4, but the ones that are available generally work well. Being able to overlay filters before taking a shot is a feature that social media fans will certainly appreciate.
Nine shooting modes, including full auto, manual, macro and night, are easily accessible by swiping in either direction at the top of the screen while in portrait orientation.
Even when shooting in full auto mode, without dipping into the manual settings, images taken with the MX4 Pro in well-lit environments look sharp and well exposed, with a natural-looking saturation level.
If advanced users still aren't satisfied with the results, switching to manual mode allows shutter speed, ISO, exposure and focal length to be tweaked.
Macro or 'microspur' mode also works extremely well, allowing you to take highly detailed close-up shots. I thoroughly enjoyed shooting in this mode, with a shallow depth of field creating nicely blurred backgrounds.
Thanks to the MX4 Pro's sensor having a large aperture of f/2.2 and a high ISO of 1600, low light performance is good. 'Night' and 'HDR' modes within the camera software also help to extract the most amount of light from dark scenes.
On the whole, taking photos with the Meizu MX4 Pro's rear camera is enjoyable and rewarding. The camera interface offers the average user more than enough shooting modes and settings to produce good looking results.
Auto-focus could be a little quicker but it's not slow enough to severely hinder overall performance.
As far as front-facing cameras on smartphones go, the 5MP snapper on the MX4 Pro is quite impressive. Selfies are clear, mainly due to the inclusion of auto focus and 1080p video recording is another welcome addition.
4K video recording at 30 frames per second is available via the MX4 Pro's rear shooter and works perfectly well, providing a good level of detail. However, in order to save precious space on the MX4 Pro's non-expandable storage I'd recommend setting the quality to 1080p.
The Meizu MX4 Pro showcases how far Chinese smartphones have come over the last few years, delivering top of the line specs and excellent overall performance for a price that undercuts most current flagships.
The MX4 Pro represents extremely good value for money, offering a multitude of premium features.
While the bump in display resolution compared to other QHD panels isn't striking, the 5.5-inch screen with super thin bezels offers a sharp, vibrant and immersive viewing experience. Audio quality is also impressive through both the on-board speaker and headphone jack thanks to great hardware and software enhancements.
Speaking of software, the Flyme 4 interface really raises the bar in terms of accessibility. Navigating through the UI is a breeze, even on such a large device, due to the inclusion of contextual softkeys and intuitive gestures.
Combine these features with a reliable fingerprint scanner, a brilliant camera and a large battery that can be pushed all day long and you have an all-round great performer.
The lack of expandable storage is a little disappointing. 4K video recordings and images taken with the MX4 Pro's 20.7MP camera will fill up the built-in memory quickly if left unmanaged, especially on the 16GB model.
Chinese language elements can still be found in the Flyme app and theme stores on the international version of Flyme OS. However, with the Google Play Store pre-installed and an elegant looking stock theme, the chances are you won't need to use either of the two apps.
Despite the MX4 Pro offering good build quality with a metallic frame, some may find the minimal aesthetics of the exterior a little bland or uninspiring.
Meizu has done a wonderful job with the MX4 Pro, combining impressive build quality and raw power with intuitive software, to produce a great user experience.
Unlike many Chinese smartphones, it doesn't come with the normal risks associated with importing and though more expensive than in China, the international price still represents great value for money.
While many will be waiting to see what the first crop of 2015 flagships bring to the table, the Meizu MX4 Pro certainly is an interesting proposition for those currently looking for a high-end smartphone with a difference.