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Meizu Zero Review: Too Radical For Its Own Good

Photo: Ben Sin

TL:DR Version

  • What’s good? The Meizu Zero has the best in-hand feel of any phone, ever
  • What’s bad? What good is a good looking phone if you can barely use it?

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“Chinese phones out here wildin’”

That was my first thought when I heard of the Meizu Zero, a phone with no buttons, no charging ports, no speaker grilles, not even a SIM card slot. The whole point of this phone is to be one seamless, smooth, solid device, with no interruptions in the form of bumps (buttons) or holes (charging ports, speaker grilles).

To that end, Meizu has resorted to some crazy ass futuristic tech, some of which simply aren’t ready for prime time. Let’s run these down point by point.

  • Physical clicky buttons have been replaced by touch/pressure sensitive “soft buttons” along the phone’s sides.
  • Speaker grilles have been removed in favor of piezoelectric speakers that pump sound through the phone’s screen.
  • With no USB-C port, the Zero can be only be charged wirelessly.
  • The lack of a SIM card slot means the phone only uses e-SIM.
The Zero has a 6-inch OLED display. Photo: Ben Sin

If all of those new tech work perfectly, then I can accept this radical design. But the problem is they don’t. The soft side buttons are impossible to find by touch, and require quite a bit of pressure to trigger. After using this phone heavily for two weeks, I did manage to learn to remember the location of the buttons, but even then, adjusting volume without looking at the phone while walking around town was still difficult to do. This is a phone that requires you to stop and look at it for a split second anytime you want to adjust volume.

The vibration speakers sound surprisingly good, but overall volume doens’t get that loud, and there’s mild distortion when listening to something with heavy bass — so you can rule out hip hop.

Wireless charging is fine — the Zero can top up relatively fast at 15w, which is close to 1% top-up per minute — but still a hassle if you’re out and about and need to recharge.

But the biggest problem for the Zero is that e-SIM is not a tech that’s ready and I’m not sure if it ever will. Hilariously, even in its native China, e-SIM is basically off-limits to use, so you can’t use this phone in China. I wasn’t able to use it in Hong Kong either — yes you read this right — so for two weeks I could only really use the Zero when I had wifi.

To be fair, Meizu is calling the Zero a concept device, so it was never meant to be widely used by the average joe. And this idea of going port-less and button-less isn’t new: Apple thought about removing the charging port from the iPhone X, and if we know anything about Apple’s design team, it’s that when the time is right, they will do just that.

So one can say Meizu is ahead of the game, I guess. It buit this button-less, port-less, SIM-tray phone now, when the iPhone 14 or whatever in 2022 will probably go this route too. I also want to applaud Meizu for thinking outside the box.

But ultimately, the phone is just about impossible to use in real life. Which is a damn shame, because other bits of the phone are great! As mentioned, the Zero has the best in-hand feel ever. Because it has no openings or moving parts, the Zero feels more dense and solid in the hand than any gadget I’ve ever held. It helps that the Zero has a ceramic body, which feels more premium and more dense than glass. The phone is almost entirely smooth to the touch save for the camera bump — even the display curves to the sides like a Samsung Galaxy flagship.

That OLED panel is excellent too, in my opinion, with really really saturated colors that may put off color accuracy purists but should impress most. Watch a good music video or go on a lively Instagram account, and image and colors feel like it’s popping off the screen.

The cameras include a 16-megapixem main lens with a 20-megapixel telephoto lens on the back and a 20-megapixel selfie camera up front. It’s the same set-up found in the Meizu 16th, whose camera is solid. Colors are punchy, the lens focus fast, and though the 3X zoom isn’t quite lossless like Meizu claims, it is a better zoom than most phones.

Meizu’s software experience is okay. It’s running on Android 8.1, which is outdated, and Meizu’s Flyme skin lacks an app tray. There are some nice shortcut gestures such as the ability to launch the camera by drawing an alphabet, however.