Despite having been busted at the CeBIT show for alleged copyright infringement, Meizu makes some stylish media players that compete with a host of 2, 4 and 8GB Flash players with 2-3in screens.
The Mini SL is not a brand new design, but it has recently been given an improved screen, some new firmware and has shed a few millimetres around the waist due to the installation of a smaller, but more efficient battery.
Beyond the fact that the Mini is small and light – it measures a compact 78 x 46 x 7mm and weighs only 48g despite a sturdy aluminium chassis – two features immediately separate it from much of the herd. The first is file support: this boy handles Ogg and Flac audio alongside the more common MP3, WAV and WMA. It also supports AVI and Xvid video files.The second feature is the control interface. The Chinese gadget maker clearly felt the need to sit down and re-invent the wheel on this one. You navigate around the player’s UI using an oddly-shaped pad to the left of the screen that’s both pressure- and touch-sensitive.
The majority of functions are managed by finger drags either vertically or horizontally across the pad, and since there is no ‘action’ key as such, settings are confirmed by swiping out of the menu or screen in question once they have been selected. It’s not exactly what we’d call intuitive. Using the small touchpad with the right degree of delicacy does take some practice and is not for those with unsteady hands or the DTs.
On the plus side there are some nice touches like always being able to tap the ‘M’ logo at top to take you back to the ‘now playing’ and main menu screens, which then alternate with each further tap. The system also scrolls through lists at a fair old pace, making navigating long ones quite easy.
When it comes to sound quality the Mini isn’t going to keep the engineers at Samsung or Sony awake at night, but by fiddling with the plethora of EQ and effects settings we always managed to come up with something agreeable. The “Spatializer” and associated 3D sound settings do a spectacular, if rather artificial job of opening up the soundscape.
We did a quick back-to-back test with a 30GB iPod Classic and our usual Sennheiser earphones and found that the iPod always sounded the more composed and focused of the two, though not by a particularly large margin. The Meizu could pump out a fair bit more volume than the iPod, but things tended to get a bit raucous when it did.
The Mini’s screen is a 2.41in, 260,000-colour affair with a resolution of 320 x 240. Meizu describes it as being “large and vibrant”, and while we will agree with the vibrant bit, we’re not sure who else would call 2.41 inches large. The Mini’s screen is nevertheless a fair bit bigger and brighter than that on the iPod Nano and even a wee bit bigger than the Sony Walkman A82’s screen, but that’s an altogether larger and more costly bit of kit.
To see if the Mini’s claimed AVI file support is actually worth the paper its printed on, we tried to reformat an Xvid copy of The Incredibles with the supplied VirtualDub software. Half way through the job, the software crashed our PC. After this happened three more times we called it a day, and reformatted the video down to 15f/s – the Mini will support up to 20f/s – using the freeware MediaCoder, which we downloaded separately.
The results proved to be surprisingly watchable, with playback being both reasonably crisp and fluid. While we’re not for one moment suggesting that the Mini will supplant the Cowon A3 in our affections, but you could happily stick a handful of feature films on it and save them for a rainy day. Being landscape in design you can hold the Mini the right way round while watching your videos.
Loading content onto the Mini is a straightforward case of drag and drop, but you’ll need to make sure all your files have the version 2.3 ID3 tags. Anything using version 2.2 tags or earlier will end up in the Land of the Unknown. Luckily, the Mini has a “Browser” view that shows each album folder, so it isn’t the end of the world if things don’t end in the right place, just a bit annoying.
The Mini also comes with the ability to set up playlists on the go, which is just as well as you can’t sync them via Windows Media Player. However, it does sport a voice recorder; calender; stopwatch; calculator; support for JPEG, GIF and BMP image files; and two rather strange games. In Asia, it also comes with an FM radio, but this is disabled for the UK market in order to avoid an eight per cent import duty. You can get around this via a firmware update from the Meizu website, but that sends your store warranty straight out the window.
The only way to power the Mini is to use the supplied USB cable. Time to a full charge is little over four hours, which will give you about 32 hours of music – four hours shy of the manufacturer’s claim. Video playback will of course shorten that. We played The Incredibles video through twice and still had juice left, so you should get at least four hours of video out of it.
Eighty quid for an 8GB player with Flac and AVI file support is a decent combination in anyone’s language. The sound could be better and the control interface takes some getting used to, but other than that its not a bad little player. The bundled reformatting software is best avoided, though, and we would have liked the ID tag recognition to have been more thorough.