Editors' note: We recently reviewed the Meizu MX handset. Because of the two devices' similar construction and features, applicable portions of that review will be used in this evaluation of the Meizu MX 4-core.
The Chinese company Meizu has turned copycatting Apple's iPhone style into an art, first with its iPod-like music players, and then by creating a whole Android smartphone line that mimicked the superpopular handset right down to masking the OS in an iOS-flavored skin. The manufacturer's most recent product evolution is the $530 (4,099 HKD) Meizu MX 4-core. This latest addition to the MX line now boasts speedy quad-core power, Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS), and a roomy 32GB of internal storage. That makes the Meizu MX 4-core a powerful little number, that is, if you can find it outside of mainland China or Hong Kong.
Don't be surprised if the Meizu MX 4-core looks familiar. That's because it's the spitting image of its predecessor, the Meizu MX. This trim and polished handset could also be a twin, or certainly close relative, of the iPhone 3G or an iPod music player.
The phone's front face is all black and is sculpted in the rounded curves that Apple loves. Similar to Apple's uberphone too is the MX 4-core's 960x640-pixel resolution screen that boasts the same pixel count as the iPhone's vaunted Retina Display. The Meizu's larger 4-inch real estate, though, compared with 3.5 inches, means its pixel density is lower.
That said, I found the MX 4-core's screen merely adequate for typical smartphone tasks like viewing text, pictures, and wallpaper. Compared with the recent crop of modern Android handsets such as the HTC One X and Samsung Galaxy S3, the Meizu's ASV LCD screen can't hold its own.
Side by side with those phones, its display looks dim, lacks contrast, and has a distracting yellow tinge. For instance the Meizu lacks the deep blacks and vibrant colors its competition offers. Plus, like typical LCDs, viewing angles deteriorate quickly when the display is tilted off-axis.
Despite its blatant mimicry of a late-model iPhone, the Meizu MX 4-core's design is subtle, even elegant. Above the screen is a minute VGA (0.3-megapixel) camera. Gone, though, is the faint Meizu nameplate written in old-style Chinese characters, which graced the previous Meizu MX.
Underneath the display, however, you'll still find two of the slickest capacitive buttons I've seen on a smartphone. Consisting of clusters of LEDs, or Light Keys as Meizu calls them, the buttons change configuration depending on what's happening on the phone's screen. For instance, within applications, the left key becomes a triangle of three dots, essentially a Back button.
The right key is usually arranged in three dots in a line indicating its Menu function, but when you flip the MX 4-core between landscape and portrait modes, the keys intelligently adjust their orientation accordingly. The keys also double as notification lights, pulsing gently when new e-mails or texts arrive. A more traditional raised circular Home button sits in between the MX 4-core's distinctive Light Keys.
The only other controls are a thin volume bar on the left side, Micro-USB port on the bottom, and a 3.5mm headphone jack plus tiny power button running across the top edge.
Breaking from the iPhone's design theme, the Meizu MX 4-core sports a thin metal bezel around the display along with white plastic edges and back, not the iconic chrome or glass construction. Even so, the 4.9-ounce handset has a solid heft to it and premium-feeling build quality. Measuring 4.8 inches tall by 2.5 inches deep and just 0.4 inch thick, the MX is easy to slip into pockets, too.
While the unit I tested was an engineering sample and not the final run of the product, I don't care for the MX 4-core's glossy back, which feels too slippery and fingerprint-prone for my tastes. I prefer phones with a textured back plate or even a soft-touch coating for a more secure grip.
Running Ice Cream Sandwich version 4.0.3, the Meizu MX 4-core comes carrying a fresh infusion of the Android operating system. Just like the previous Meizu MX, the MX 4-core's lock screen features a suspiciously OS X-like starry-night-sky wallpaper. A digital clock floats above cleanly drawn icons for phone and messages, and tapping the symbols launches these functions. Corresponding alerts, like missed calls or unread texts, will appear there, too, which is a nice touch. Dragging the padlock symbol up to the center of the screen whisks you straight to the home screen.