Testing the new Meizu MX4 Ubuntu Edition

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Meizu has now brought the fastest Ubuntu cellphone to market with the MX4 Ubuntu Edition. The phone offers an octacore CPU and a 20.7 megapixel camera; however, the MX4 also has some weaknesses.

Google and Apple dominate the smartphone market with Android and iOS. According to a May 2015 report [1] by the global market intelligence firm IDC, just under 80 percent of all smartphones sold are Android. Apple has 16 percent market share but, even so, the company takes in 90 percent of the profits, thanks to enormous margins. Microsoft is limping very far behind with just over 3 percent of the market share. The remaining manufacturers, including the one-time market leader Blackberry, share a very slim one percent.

Mozilla, Nokia, and Tizen rank among the also rans. Mozilla has its own Firefox OS [2], ex-Nokia people have developed Sailfish OS [3], and Tizen [4] is supported by the Linux Foundation. Thanks to a series of cooperative efforts and low-priced devices, Mozilla has already enjoyed some success. Currently, it has more than 10 percent market share in emerging economies like Brazil and Venezuela [5]. Canonical is in fourth place in open source offerings with Ubuntu Touch and Ubuntu Phone [6].

Ubuntu Touch

Unlike competing products, Ubuntu Touch comes without any additional buttons on the cellphone. Instead of buttons, a series of gestures must be committed to memory and they are a little different from what users might be familiar with from Android or iOS. Depending on which side of the screen is used to initiate the gesture, you will open the user menu, messages, and fast settings, or you will switch from one active app to another. The phone reacts differently to gestures initiated from the left or the right depending on whether you swipe quickly or whether you drag across the center of the display screen.

Canonical is seeking to pull ahead of its competition with functionality they have christened convergence. Once connected to a large monitor, the cellphone can be operated via the Ubuntu desktop environment. On a tablet, you can seamlessly switch between the mobile interface and the Ubuntu desktop. This means Canonical would have succeeded where no other manufacturer has, namely complete porting of an operating system across devices with interchangeable user interfaces. A cellphone or a tablet can be turned into a highly portable PC which, with all of the data stored on it, can be put into your pocket. To date, Ubuntu cellphones have been too weak to achieve convergence, so the function has only been available as demoware [7].

Meizu MX4 Ubuntu Edition

With BQ being the first, Meizu is the second company to bring a smartphone to market with Ubuntu as the operating system. Unlike the previous two Ubuntu smartphones, the MX4 Ubuntu Edition [8] is ahead of the times with eight cores, 2GB of working memory, a high-resolution display screen, and a high-performance camera (Table 1).

Table 1

Comparing Ubuntu Phones

Phone Meizu MX4 Ubuntu Edition BQ E4.5 Aquaris Ubuntu Edition BQ Aquaris E5 HD Ubuntu Edition
Technical Data
CPU Type MediaTek Cortex A7 and A17, Octa-Core MediaTek Cortex A7, Quad-Core MediaTek Cortex A7, Quad-Core
CPU Frequency (max.) 4x2.2 GHz, 4x1.7 GHz 1.3 GHz 1.3 GHz
GPU PowerVR G6200, Quad-Core, 600 MHz Mali 400, 500 MHz Mali 400, 500 MHz
Memory 16GB internal, 2GB RAM 8GB internal, 1GB RAM 16 GB internal, 1GB RAM
Display 5.36 inches, IPS, Gorilla Glass 3 4.5 inches, IPS, Dragontail Glass 5.0 inches, Dragontail Glass
Resolution 1920x1152, 417 ppi 960x540, qHD, 240 ppi 1280x720, HD720, 294 ppi
Battery 3100 mAh, built in 2150 mAh, built in 2500 mAh, built in
Data (max.) 4G LTE 3G HSPA+ 3G HSPA+
WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac 802.11 b/g/n 802.11 b/g/n
Bluetooth 4.0 (BLE supported) 4.0 4.0
Rear 20.7 Mpx, f/2.2, Sony IMX220 Exmor 5 Mpx, f/2.4 13 Mpx, f/2.2
Front 2 Mpx, f/2.2, Sony IMX208 5 Mpx 8 Mpx, f/2.4
Size and Weight
Dimensions 144x75.2x8.9 mm 137x67x9 mm 142x71x8.65 mm
Weight 147g 123g 134g
Special Features
SIM Slot Micro-SIM Dual-Micro-SIM Dual-Micro-SIM
SD Slot Not available SDHC, Micro-SD SDHC, Micro-SD
Other Micro-USB-OTG Micro-USB-OTG Micro-USB-OTG
Price 299 Euro 169.90 Euro 199.90 Euro

To get one of these sought-after devices, potential customers initially had to play a game on the manufacturer's website. The game consisted of a so-called origami wall with tiny hotspots that the aspiring customer had to hit with a mouse click. A random number algorithm was used to determine whether the aspirant merely received information about the smartphone or whether he or she was lucky enough to enter an email address on the site. The manufacturer's online shop then became accessible for these email addresses.

Customer reaction to the inconvenience of this ordering process was already observed with the flash sales conducted for the Aquaris E4.5. Limited numbers of this product were made available for purchase during tightly prescribed periods of time. Some customers perceived the flash sales as a good way to slow the initial stampede to purchase a new product. Others thought that a simple waiting list would have made much more sense. According to comments left on Facebook, the online game required to purchasing an MX4 appears to have made some people angry. In any case, once an invitation was extended, the aspiring purchaser had 72 hours to buy the phone provided it had not already sold out before the time was up.

In the meantime, the MX4 has become regularly available in the manufacturer's online shop, and it can be purchased in the normal fashion for 299 Euro [9]. There are no added delivery costs. The Android version of the Meizu MX4 comes in black, white/silver, and white/gold. The Ubuntu version only comes with a white front and a silver or gold rear panel (Figure 1). There is likewise no choice with respect to memory for the phone. The user must be satisfied with 16GB. In contrast to the BQ Ubuntu cell phone, the MX4 does not have an SD card slot for memory upgrades.

Figure 1: The Meizu MX4 Ubuntu Edition only comes in white with a silver or gold rear panel.

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