The Meizu M2 Note — Flyme To The Moon
Part 2 of the Review: The Software
The Meizu m2 note is a solidly-built, beautiful phone with a gorgeous screen at an attractive price point. In the first part of this review, we took a look at the hardware package that Meizu gives us for the price. Here in part two, we’ll be taking a look at the the heart of what makes up the Meizu experience for us users — the software.
A different flavor of Android: The m2 note comes with Flyme OS 4 which is built on top of Android 5.1; It’s essentially Meizu’s take on what an Android phone should be. It’s designed to look clean and aesthetically pleasing, be simple to navigate and understandable, and include user interface tweaks and performance enhancements that aren’t normally found on Android.
That being said, this also means that Meizu users won’t be able to get the latest versions of Android when they come out, since Meizu still needs to build Flyme on top of these before they roll out any updates to their users. More importantly, Meizu handset owners won’t be able to take advantage of the latest and greatest features as soon as they would like, which might prove irksome to the Android faithful who are used to quicker updates that other manufacturers provide.
But for the average user (and those who don’t really mind too much either way), how big of a deal is it, really?
To answer that question, let’s take a look at what you get from Meizu in terms of the software experience and how it can affect you and your phone in everyday use.
Look and feel: Flyme sports a clean and polished look, thanks to its set of colorful, flat icons and design language, again, inspired in no small part by Apple’s iOS. For the most part, the phone is fluid and animations are smooth, and it can handle just about anything you throw at it well enough.
With Flyme, all of your applications are placed directly on your home screen. Unlike most versions of Android, you don’t have an app drawer — all you get get are additional screens you can swipe to left or right from the home screen where your programs can be launched from or organized into folders. You can sort icons and add widgets by pinching inwards anywhere on the screen with your fingers.
It’s vastly different, nigh-unrecognizable if you’ve used stock Android or lightly-skinned versions such as what’s found on Sony, Motorola, or HTC handsets, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Personally, I quickly adapted to it and found these changes to be completely benign.
Getting around Flyme — buttons, navigation, and gestures: The mBack button is the only button on the front of the phone, and it’ll take some getting used to if you’re coming from other Android handsets with the standard three-button combinations. Here’s what you need to know about it:
- Tapping it will take you up one level or back one screen.
- Pressing it will take you straight back to the home screen; the button makes a tactile, audible click.
One hardware button instead of the Android-standard three: Meizu offers no “back” or “multitasking” buttons on either side of the mBack button or even on-screen. On some apps, Flyme OS will render a row on the bottom of the screen with the vertical “…” icon, which gives you a menu with additional options and functions, dependent on the app you’re currently using.
This can be a bit of an issue on some apps, as when you reach the bottom-most part of the page on screen, part of the content will be obscured by that row with no way of being able to pull up and peek at that last bit of content. In other apps, such as OneNote (the right screen on the image above), the bottom row is all white, along with the “…” icon, so at first I thought it was just some sort of UI bug that served no purpose, until I tapped it out of curiosity and it popped up a menu with additional functions.
I’m not entirely sure if this specific thing is more of an issue with the apps themselves or with Flyme OS itself.
I will say that I thought it would take me longer than I did to get used to Meizu’s button setup, but I took to it quite quickly; in fact, when I got used to it, I found that I actually liked it more than the standard Android button setup, but that’s just me (and maybe the novelty of something new) —your mileage may vary.
Notifications and shortcut toggles: Swiping down from the top edge of the screen (or swiping down from anywhere on the screen when you’re on any of your home screens) will bring down your notifications shade, which also has several toggles that let you quickly enable or disable certain features and functions of your phone. By default, only the first row of toggles are visible; but a second swipe down will reveal all available toggles.
Within the shade, swiping up once will collapse the visible toggles back to one row, and another swipe up will hide the notifications shade and will take you back to either the home screen or whatever app you were previously using. You can also rearrange the toggles to your liking by tapping and holding on one toggle, then dragging it to where you want to place it — this will swap it out with the toggle it replaces.
Multi-tasking and Global Search: Swiping up from the bottom edge of your screen will always bring up a row of icons of the apps that you have running, beginning with the most recent. Swiping right will reveal more apps, swiping an icon upward will dismiss an app, and tapping on any icon will, of course, take you into that application. Meanwhile, swiping up on the center of your home screen will launch a the global search function, which lets you search for apps on your phone by name or quickly execute an internet search.
Gestures: Flyme also lets you selectively enable/disable and configure several gestures on your phone, including double-tap to wake or launch a specific app using a particular gesture. You’ll find this in the phone’s settings section, under Accessibility > Gesture Wakeup.
Messaging and Telephony: Flyme’s phone dialer and contacts are combined in one application, succintly labeled “Phone”. Finding, adding, and editing contacts are all fairly straightforward, as are composing, sending, and receiving text messages in the standalone “Messages” app.
You can synchronize your Google contacts as well, but I haven’t figured out a way to do the same with my Microsoft account yet —as of this version of Flyme, Meizu is apparently still under the impression that Windows Live is still a thing.
There is one oddity when it comes to adding Social accounts to your contacts, though: the only option available is China-based Sina Weibo, which is akin to a hybrid of Twitter and Facebook; you can’t really add the latter two (which are banned in China) or any other social network for that matter, even though the phone and its firmware version is specifically adjusted for the International market.
I sent an email to Meizu asking about this, getting a short-but-polite reply that that suggestion “will be taken into serious consideration”, and that they will be making “some improvements in the future.” In other words, when it comes to wider social network integration out of the box, Meizu’s international users and fans will just have to wait and see.
There are a couple of notable communications-related features that Meizu has available here: you can add numbers onto a blacklist, and you can record calls.
The Blacklist is useful in that you are able to have more control over who can or cannot contact you, and it’s certainly helpful in stopping any potential or current harassment or unsolicited contact; this is a very welcome feature, and one has to wonder why this isn’t a standard feature on every smartphone available today. You can add individual contacts and specific numbers to the blacklist through the “…” menu on each respective one, and you can access the settings for the blacklist in the Phone app > … > Harassment blocking, where you can check your logs and manage your blacklist.
Call recording is a bit more iffy, depending on the laws of the land where you use this function — do your due diligence; user discretion is advised. You can manage your call recording settings by tapping on the Phone app > … > Settings > Call recordings.
You can also view and listen to all your recorded calls by tapping on the Phone app > … > Call Recording (take care to note the differences between the two menu selections).
Applications: Meizu, like other Android handset makers, include their own home-brewed apps out of the box. These are generally capable, good-looking apps that can work well enough, but as is the case with most stock apps, these generally aren’t as good as what third-party developers — Google in particular — can provide.
The keyboard: the keyboard has to be the most important app on any touchscreen device. It’s your main input method, and a keyboard app that gets in your way more than it helps you will result in a sub-par mobile experience. So how does Flyme’s solution rate here?
Out of the box, Flyme comes with the TouchPal keyboard. It gets the job done, has support for multiple language dictionaries, along with mixed language input, which is useful for people who communicate through text and type in more than one language. It has a tendency to stutter and freeze, though, once you really get to tapping and typing out a message at a rapid pace. Its auto-correction also tends to be more on the aggressive side, which means I frequently found myself erasing words as much as I was typing them in.
So after giving it a test-drive, I just went ahead and downloaded Swiftkey, which is my go-to keyboard on Android, and is, in my opinion, the best.
The default apps like Browser, Calendar, Music, Gallery, and Videos all get the job done, and they do it well enough; but you’ll almost always find something better in both form and function elsewhere. There is honestly little incentive to use stock apps in general, and Meizu’s are no exception, for the most part.
The international version of the m2 note thankfully comes with the Google Play Store (along with Google Maps and Google Search) preinstalled, so there’s no fuss to be made in that regard.
There are a few apps from Meizu that you should take note of, though:
- Upgrade: use this to check for and install firmware updates. In the weeks that I’ve had the m2 note, there have been two firmware updates, but no notifications whatsoever that these were available; I just found out by manually launching the app and checking.
- Documents: the stock file manager can be used to manually update the phone’s firmware if using the Update app isn’t working out for you. Just download the latest firmware from the Flyme website, transfer it to the Download folder in the phone’s internal storage, access the folder using the Documents app, and tap on the file (usually a “.zip” file) to manually start the upgrade.
- Security: I was pleasantly surprised at having something like this as a stock app, and it’s definitely a nice touch by Meizu. The Security app is plenty useful: it can help you select which apps to allow or disallow from auto-launching or running in the background while the phone is on standby, which is helpful in improving battery life; there’s a data monitoring and management section which lets you set permissions on a connection-type and a per-app basis, which is really nice; there’s even an anti-virus function for the more adventurous users who like to install and side-load apps from sources beyond the Google Play Store. Make sure you explore and get up close and personal with the Security app — there’s a lot to like here.
Features and functionality: that Flyme borrows generously from iOS is quite obvious — but it works, and it works well. Going beyond just aesthetics, though, you’ll find that Meizu included some features and tweaks unique to their implementation vis-à-vis iOS and Android, many of which are genuinely useful to the user. I won’t go into exhaustive detail on each and every one, but here are some of the most noteworthy ones to me:
- DND Mode: Meizu’s Do Not Disturb mode blocks all incoming calls and disables sound, vibration, and notifications. This can be enabled manually at any time through the pull-down notification shade, and it can also be set to automatically turn on during a specific range of time and on a per-day basis. If you’ll notice, you also have the option to include specific numbers on a whitelist — say for close family members — so you essentially pick and choose who can contact you at any given time. Also accessible via Settings > Sound > DND mode.
- SmartTouch: when enabled, a semi-transparent, movable button is overlaid on your screen, which allows you to comfortably interact with the phone via quick gestures without having your fingers travel all over the screen too much. This can be useful for people who might find the m2 note’s size a bit unwieldy, or those who would just prefer an alternative method of navigating through the phone’s screens using just one hand. Accessible via Settings > Accessibility > SmartTouch.
- Lock Apps: lets you lock individual apps by requiring a pin before they can be used. This can be useful, say for example, if you want to prevent kids from installing random programs from the Google Play Store, or preventing access to a specific app with sensitive information. Accessible via Settings > Security > Lock Apps.
- Scheduled on and off: an interesting feature, if there ever was one. Flyme can automatically turn your phone on and off at a time of your choosing and on the days that you set. If you want to take your DND mode further (and maybe save a bit more power), this is one thing to consider. Accessible via Settings > Accessibility > Scheduled on and off.
Overall, Flyme OS is pleasant to use, though not without its quirks. Some might find it off-putting, but most should have no problem whatsoever with the user interface and the experience of using the m2 note overall. But the user interface — along with its unique features and functionality — is only one part of the equation.
One important question that needs to be answered is “what’s it like, how does it feel to use the Meizu m2 note on a day-to-day basis?” That’s what we’ll look at next in Part 3 of the Review: Performance and Battery Life — Read it now.
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