- Good, big screen
- Android 7.0
- Great amount of storage
- No NFC
- Poor app support
- Battery life could be better
- Review Price: £150
- 6-inch 1080p screen
- 4000mAh battery
- USB Type-C
- 64GB Storage
- 4GB RAM
- Dual camera (13 megapixels + 5 megapixels)
- MTK Helio P25 2.5GHz Octa-Core processor
- Dual nano-SIM support, microSD support
What is the Maze Alpha?
Shenzhen-based Maze is one of a legion of Chinese tech companies that have sprung up out of nowhere over the past few years, and like so many of its brethren, it’s primarily concerned with taking successful smartphone designs and creating cheaper alternatives.
In the case of the Maze Alpha, the source of inspiration is clear – the company has taken a shine to Xiaomi’s groundbreaking Mi Mix handset and has produced its own version, complete with a ‘bezel-less’ display, glossy back panel and two-camera setup.
The difference here is that while the Mi Mix is expensive – especially for a phone intended for the Chinese market – the Alpha costs around £150/$190. For that very reasonable price you get a 6-inch 1080p screen, 4GB of RAM, 64GB of storage and a MTK Helio P25, 2.5GHz Octa-Core processor, as well as USB Type-C and fast charging.
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Maze Alpha – Design
The first thing that you’ll notice on removing the Alpha from its packaging is its weight: at over 200g, it’s incredibly heavy. The frame is made of metal, while the back panel is tempered glass. On the front there’s the 6-inch HD screen that fills around 83% of the phone’s face; while the boast of being totally ‘bezel-less’ isn’t totally true (the Mi Mix has thinner bezels, for example), the screen still looks huge.
At the bottom there’s a large area that houses the Home button and front-facing camera, and somehow, Maze has managed to cram in an earpiece at the very top of the phone – something even Xiaomi didn’t attempt on the Mi Mix, which instead uses a piezoelectric ceramic speaker that vibrates the whole phone to create audio.
The volume and power buttons are located on the right-hand side of the phone, while the SIM card tray is on the left. The device accepts two nano-SIMs, or you can choose to use the second slot for a microSD card. The mono speaker is found on the bottom edge, next to the USB Type-C charging socket.
Despite the presence of two speaker grilles, only one actually produces any audio. All in all, the phone feels solid in the hand; it certainly doesn’t feel like a budget smartphone.
Maze Alpha – Display
The screen is also pretty remarkable for such a low-cost handset. With an overall resolution of 1080 x 1920, it isn’t the sharpest display available. However, even when stretched over 6 inches, it’s practically impossible to pick out individual pixels. The screen’s adaptive brightness is a little aggressive, which can make things appear overly dim when indoors, and when you’re viewing it in direct sunlight it’s often tricky to make out text and images.
Overall, though, the Alpha’s 6-inch panel is bright, offers good colour replication and impressive contrast. Viewed next to the iPhone 7, it’s a pretty close match in terms of image quality, which is remarkable given the gulf in price.
The Home button also houses the fingerprint scanner, which is surprisingly fast for a phone in this price bracket. I noticed very few failed unlock attempts, and the button can also be used for other commands; a single tap will take you back one step through the UI, while a long-hold returns you to the main homescreen.
Maze Alpha – Software
Like so many of its Chinese rivals, the Alpha ships with a largely stock version of Android 7.0. A few new features have been added, such as ‘gesture motions’ (turning over the phone to silence its ringer, for example) and a one-handed mode, but it’s the inclusion of Hot Knot that signals one of the biggest disappointments with the Alpha: there’s no NFC.
Hot Knot is popular in China and uses the phone’s screen to share data with compatible handsets, but it can’t be used to make payments – one of the key reasons for NFC’s growth in popularity. Without it, the Alpha can’t use apps such as Android Pay, and even if it could, the custom nature of the phone’s software means Google won’t even allow it to run on the device. This also applies to some banking apps; these require strict security settings for obvious reasons.
There are other software incompatibilities on the Google Play Store, too. Some popular apps and games – such as Netflix, Assassin’s Creed Pirates and BBC iPlayer – simply can’t be installed on the phone. This could prove to be a deal-breaker for some users, as many of these applications are smartphone essentials.
In terms of pre-loaded apps, the Alpha comes fairly light. There’s an FM radio, sound recorder, backup app and file manager. The full suite of Google apps is included – such as Gmail, YouTube, Chrome, Google Maps and Play Music – although the phone does have the native Android browser, music player and gallery app installed, too.
Maze Alpha – Performance
The Helio P25 chipset is a mid-range option that doesn’t deliver blistering results in benchmark tests, but for casual users it will be more than adequate. AnTuTu returns a score of 64,376, while Geekbench rates the Alpha’s single-core performance at 823 and multi-core at 3945. Those figures are hardly mind-blowing, but the 1080p screen and 4GB of RAM help to keep things surprisingly brisk, although there are rare moments of stutter when there’s a lot going on.
Gaming on the Alpha is reasonably smooth, with detailed 3D titles such as Real Racing 3 and Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas running almost perfectly. The only slowdown witnessed in the former occurs when there are several cars on-screen at once during the introduction sequence. The decision to stick with a 1080p screen instead of needlessly pushing up the resolution has paid off in this regard. Had the phone been tasked with moving more pixels, the results would have undoubtedly been less pleasing.
The phone’s single speaker is pretty punchy and loud, but it lacks bass and audio is blighted with slight distortion when the volume is at maximum. Run a pair of headphones through the 3.5mm headphone socket and things improve dramatically. In terms of call quality, we didn’t notice any issues; the earpiece is loud and incoming calls come in nice and clear. Interestingly, the Alpha includes support for UK 4G bands despite being intended for use in China, so you’ll have no problems using it in this country.
With 64GB included as standard, there’s no danger of running out of storage space in the first few weeks of ownership. Incredibly, you can add even more space using a MicroSD card in the second SIM card slot.
Maze Alpha – Camera
The Alpha follows the current trend for dual-camera setups, with 13-megapixel and 5-megapixel snappers sitting side-by-side on the top-left corner of the phone’s rear. While companies such as LG and Apple have used twin-camera configurations to deliver unique photographic options – the enhanced bokeh effects or a wide-angle perspective, for example – it would seem that the secondary 5-megapixel snapper on the Alpha is used primarily to assist with focusing the main camera.
Maze doesn’t give a convincing explanation of what else it could be used for, and cycling through the various shooting modes with a finger covering the 5-megapixel camera doesn’t seem to have any adverse effect.
The Alpha is quick to focus and take a shot, but I found that many snaps came out blurry unless I remained totally motionless for a short period after the image was captured. Low-light photography is rather hit-and-miss, while the front-facing 5-megapixel selfie camera produces disappointedly poor shots. Since this camera is located towards the bottom of the phone, you need to hold the handset upside down to use it – a kind reminder of this appears on-screen whenever you switch to the front-facing camera.
There are some interesting shooting options, such a ‘Pro’ mode where you have control over aspects such as white balance and ISO, but overall the camera app feels light on functionality. The ‘blur’ mode attempts to mimic the performance of the iPhone 7 Plus portrait mode, but it cheats by simply blurring the area around the subject, and the effect looks tacky as a result.
Overall, image quality can be quite impressive in the right conditions, but the Alpha isn’t going to challenge the top Android snappers any time soon. Video recording tops out at 1080p, and is decent for a phone in this price range.
Maze Alpha – Battery life
The Alpha’s huge 4000mAh battery will give you around a day and a half of usage, if you’re careful not to tax it with heavy tasks. For example, watching an hour of YouTube with the adaptive brightness turned on consumed around 20% of the juice.
Quick charging is included as standard, so topping up it relatively painless. However, 4000mAh doesn’t go as far as you might imagine – especially when you’re having to power a 6-inch screen.
Should I buy the Maze Alpha?
Copycat clone it may be, but the Maze Alpha is an impressive smartphone for such a low price. There are some negatives to consider: there’s no NFC; the battery life isn’t great despite the huge size of the cell; the camera often produces blurry shots; and many popular apps refuse to install from the Google Play Store. However, these are balanced out by an attractive design, fast-charging, stock Android 7.0 and generally nippy performance.
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It’s the stunning 6-inch screen – with its near absence of bezels – that truly steals the show, though. Whether you’re browsing emails, surfing the web, watching movies or playing games, this huge display enhances every experience.
Taking the plunge with a phone intended for the Chinese market can often be a risky business, but the Alpha is worth making an exception for, especially if you crave a big-screen handset that won’t break the bank.
The Alpha is missing some important features but that gorgeous screen just about atones for its sins.
Score in detail
Battery Life 6
Calls & Sound 7
Screen Quality 8