If you’ve been following gadget news for a while, Meizu may well have been the first Chinese smartphone maker you ever heard of. The company started out making audio players but pivoted to smartphones with the Windows CE-based M8, which both shamelessly aped the iPhone and beat it to market by a couple of months.
Since then, Meizu has put out several Android phones running the deeply customized FlymeOS, and they’ve tended to be competitive from a price/performance perspective. Larger companies like Oppo and Xiaomi, however, have eclipsed Meizu’s sales both in China and abroad.
As far as I can tell, Meizu’s current response is to go its own way and churn out solid, gimmick-free devices. The new 16S appears to have been made with the same design ethos as last year’s 15: “How can we reduce bezels as much as possible without doing anything completely wild?”
That means that whereas the 15 had a tiny capacitive fingerprint sensor in a relatively small bezel below the screen, the 16S has an in-display optical scanner, since that technology is now mature enough for basically every Chinese phone maker to have adopted it. And that means that the only thing that Meizu needs to accommodate is a selfie camera above the screen and the display controller below.
If you really hate notches, this is a great design. The “chin” is roughly the same size as an iPhone XR bezel and achieves horizontal near-symmetry with the phone’s top edge, which manages to house a tiny but perfectly competent 20-megapixel selfie camera. The optical fingerprint sensor works very well, too.
This isn’t a small phone, but the 6.2-inch OLED display is a little more manageable than most flagship Android devices you’ll see this year. The 16S is also pretty thin and light at 7.6mm and 165g, while its curved glass back is more reminiscent of Xiaomi than Apple at this point. It’s an attractive phone, but I could have done without the Kevlar-esque pattern on my black review unit.
Meizu’s Flyme OS is something that might take a little getting used to, but it’s broadly in line with many other Chinese phone makers’ software. It’s minimalist and yes, looks quite a lot like iOS, though it does have some neat tweaks. I like the alternative approach to an app drawer, for example (see above) — you swipe down the right edge of the screen to pull up an alphabetical scroll bar of apps that you can navigate with punchy haptic feedback.
It’s hard to argue with the Meizu 16S’ specs, especially for the price. It has Qualcomm’s top-end Snapdragon 855 processor, a camera with the same 48-megapixel Sony sensor you’ve seen in basically every other flagship Chinese phone this year, a secondary 20-megapixel telephoto camera, and up to 8GB of RAM. It has a 3,600mAh battery that charges over USB-C.
The Meizu 16S sells for around $500 based on vendor and exchange rate volatility, which puts it against competitors like the Xiaomi Mi 9 in markets where it’s sold, while obviously undercutting many rivals in markets where it isn’t. I don’t know that I’d recommend it over the Mi 9, necessarily but I do like to see a design that manages to be both straightforward and unusual at the same time.