Two months ago, Chinese smartphone trailblazer and pioneer Meizu introduced another member of its budget smartphone line, the Blue Charm 2.

This 599 yuan Blue Charm 1 successor is claimed to be the “Nokia 1110 of the smartphone generation“, which is an alternative way of saying: cheap, sturdy, functional, and loyal to its master.

I really doubt this Blue Charm 2 could crack nuts or stop a bullet like those almighty old Nokia warriors, but the moment I picked it out of the box and felt it in my hand, it has exceeded my expectations. The unibody polycarbonate shell is sturdy and well crafted; the size of the phone is just right for single hand use.

Everyone in the office guessed it was worth at least a thousand yuan, and the price was really a surprise. So, what can a $100 USD Chinese smartphone do? Can it beat its direct competitor RedMi 2?

Basic

  • Weighs: 131 g
  • 140.1 x 68.9 x 8.7 mm
  • MTK MT6735 1.3 GHz quad-core processor
  • 2GB RAM
  • Dual 4G SIM
  • 16GB Storage (support external MiniSD card)
  • 2500mAh battery
  • 5 inch 1280×720 display
  • 13MP rear, 5MP front camera
  • MSRP: 16GB ¥599
  • Product info page (in Chinese)

Pros

  • Cheap
  • Comfortable unibody rear cover
  • mBack home button is handy
  • Flyme OS is awesome
  • It has a China Telecom version

Cons

  • If we have to pick cons for a cheap phone, the display is the weak point

Design

This Blue Charm 2 comes with an impressive unibody polycarbonate back and a minimalist front which reminds us of iPhone (but what doesn’t these days). The rounded back as well as the texture makes the handset comfortable to hold. But the grey one in my hand (it comes in white, pink, blue and grey) touches “dry” compare to the “sticky” feel that iPhone 5c gives, which I think is because Meizu designers want to add some alloy to it.

The edge of this phone is rather narrow and the size of the display, 5 inch, is better to hold than any phablet in the market. The power and volume button are all located on the right-hand side of the phone, leaving only the sim tray on the left, and the position of the power button has lowered a little compare to Blue Charm 1 in order to give users a neat approach to light the screen up and off. Everything else is of no surprise, with a headphone jack at the top and a charging port on the bottom.

One thing worth noticing is that the SIM tray only allows two SIM cards, or a SIM card and a microSD card up to 128GB, which means to extend storage users have to sacrifice the second SIM card space.

Overall, the looks of Blue Charm 2 could easily draw comparisons with Apple devices for its minimalist style, although the former sells 10 times cheaper than the latter. In my opinion, to be compared with Apple is already a compliment.

mBack Button: An Revolution to the Old and Dull Navigation Bar?

The home button, mBack they named it, looks like it has fingerprint sensor, in fact it does not. If you are used to Andriod systems, there’s barely a phone running this mobile operating system that could get rid of its bottom bar. In some recent incarnations, it is even on the screen itself.

However Meizu has done it, removed the bar and integrated the home and back function in one button. And this is by far the most aggressive experiment on Android’s navigation bar by all the phone companies in the world.

In practical use, pressing the button takes you to the home screen, while tapping works as the back button. It took me a while to get used to the button at first, but once I did, I found it worked really well, and it definitely fulfilled its brief for making the phone feel comfortable to use with one hand.

Features

The Meizu Blue Charm 2 ships with Meizu’s own modification of Android 5.1 Lollipop, Flyme 4.5. This 3 years old Android mod also follows the minimalist aesthetic, and its function is quite mature, it basically has everything you need for a smartphone, like smart voice assistant, cloud service, streaming music, customizable themes and so on. Also it has a wide range of other customizable settings, from changing the wallpaper to activating a “driving mode” for drivers or “elder mode” for the old.

There are 8 bloatware apps and mercifully they can be removed manually.

The home screen has an iOS-like interface which doesn’t have the Apps Drawer of stock Android, and all the apps you’ve installed are displayed on the home screen. So there’s no such thing as shortcut, and to hide an app on the screen you have to delete it – and there’s no other way to deal with this appeal (Smartisan OS has the same home screen structure, and it has a “hide” feature).

In all, Flyme OS is functional, practical and delicate looking. After 3 years of trial and error, this mobile operating system is getting better and easier to get started. It is no exaggeration to say that Flyme makes Blue Charm 2 more worthy than its cost.

Performance/Battery

The Blue Charm 2 is very generous in specifications considering the price – while most budget phones make do with 512MB or 1GB of RAM, this Meizu phone comes with 2GB, which helps make multitasking smooth and fluid. Also the optimization of the OS along with the Mediatek quad-core 1.3GHz CPU helps keep everything running smoothly.

As for battery, 2500mAh is not big nowadays but it has balanced performance and battery well. It means this Blue Charm 2 can easily go for a day without a charge even in its Performance mode. If you use the phone carefully in Balanced mode or even Battery Saver mode, the battery life should repay you a obvious longer standby time.

However, one thing irks me is the charging time. It is by no means quick or fast, or has any quick charge technology. I often give up charging it in full in my working hours, it’s like the battery is in the bullet time. It takes 2 and half hours to feed up from 0 to 100%, would that be too long? Definitely.

Display/Camera

Normally, screen takes a big share of the total phone making costs, and for this budget phone, the display is a huge setback.

The screen lacks of an AF coating therefore you have to use a screen protector, and also the resolution is limited to 720p. If you take a close look at it, you can see pixel by pixel which I had never experienced since 2010. On the bright side, the rather low resolution saves battery. Ff course you can’t compare it to iPhones, but it is no bad at all for its range.

The camera, is also not excellent but average. They are 5MP front-facing, and 13MP in the back, and they focus faster than the Charm 1. The camera app in the system is really doing the job well, it has all the features you want from a stock camera app: timing shutter, filters, horizontal flip for selfies and editing. In a word, the camera is good for casual shooting in the day light.

Bottom Line

There’s not much to dislike about this phone, as the low price and the astonishing first impression, with the solid design, the mature OS and the well balanced performance, it truly doesn’t look or feel cheap. The experience of using it is overwhelming and full of pleasure. In fact I think Meizu Blue Charm 2 is the best smartphone on the $100 level. If you want to use a good smartphone while saving some money, then I highly recommend it.

Ain’t no nutcracker, nor a bullet stopper but yes, Meizu did it.