Meizu’s flagship smartphone looks boring (but it might be enough to keep the company going)
You can’t overstate how important this phone is to Meizu. But it’s hard to tell just how much is riding on the Meizu 16 by looking at it.
The company’s grip on the Chinese market is sliding. Reception to its last few flagship handsets wasn’t anything to brag about. And as the cutthroat smartphone market contracts, there are worries about Meizu’s future.
But if you thought Meizu would go all-out to capture attention with something like Oppo’s pop-out camera or Huawei’s shimmering and colorful P20, well, that’s not what they did.
Sporting a 6-inch 18:9 screen, the handset adopts thin bezels on both ends instead of the now-ubiquitous notch. The color options are just black and white. It doesn’t feel very 2018.
But it seems that it’s exactly what many Chinese consumers were looking for.
The Meizu 16 went on sale on Monday, after racking up more than a million pre-orders on JD.com. It’s now sold out on the site -- and although it’s still available for purchase on Meizu’s own online store, the estimated delivery time is now up to 8 weeks.
Forget the looks: Perhaps the best thing about the Meizu 16 is what’s on the inside. At 2698 yuan (US$393), it offers a high-end Snapdragon 845 processor, as well as a fingerprint sensor inside the screen. It comes with 6GB RAM and 64GB storage, with the option to upgrade to 8GB/128GB for US$87 more.
Founded in 2013, Meizu is a (relatively) old player in China’s smartphone market -- and one of the first to have gained recognition in the West. But fierce competition in recent years has kept it out of the top five dominated by Huawei, Oppo, Vivo, Xiaomi and Apple.
The last year or so has been especially tough for second-tier phone makers. As demand for smartphones dropped, Meizu saw its market share in China fall with it -- despite soaring global sales. Gionee, another second-tier company, fired half its factory employees back in April.
With its latest phone, Meizu is looking for a comeback following disappointing responses to the Meizu 15 that came out four months ago, as well as last year’s Pro 7.
“Meizu 16 is a win-or-die product for Meizu. If it fails again, then it would be hard for Meizu to fight back,” IDC analyst Wang Xi told us.
He added that the Meizu 16’s numbers may not be as impressive as they look. According to Wang, the Vivo Nex also accumulated over a million pre-orders despite being pricier than the Meizu 16.
Timing might have also played a role.
“Meizu 16 launched in a period when no other large companies are launching flagship models, which gives Meizu some space,” Wang said.
It doesn’t mean the bigger companies aren’t watching. Like rival Xiaomi, Meizu attracts loyal users who call themselves Meiyou, or Kerosene -- which sounds like “Mei’s friends” in Chinese. As Wang pointed out, Xiaomi’s Mi 8 was the same price as the Meizu 16… until Xiaomi slashed the price of their flagship by 100 yuan (US$14.5) for just one day on Monday to make it cheaper than Meizu.
Still, many users are keen to get their hands on the latest Meizu handset. Under Meizu’s Weibo post announcing that its phone has been sold out, many said they were unhappy there weren’t more.
One commented, “Asked a few friends to stay up to help. It sold out the moment it went on sale.”
“Dare announcing how much stock there were? I’m very curious,” a suspicious user asked.
Meizu wrote, “Hugs. We’re working hard to stock up. Please give us some time.”
(Abacus is a unit of the South China Morning Post, which is owned by Alibaba -- an investor in Meizu.)