Chinese tech giant Alibaba made a big move into the smartphone market on Monday. The company announced it will buy a minority stake in Meizu Technology Co. for $US590 million, a little-known smartphone manufacturer that seeks to compete with the likes of Xiaomi and OnePlus.
You’ve probably never heard of Meizu — it only owns about 1 to 2% of China’s overall smartphone market, leaving it far behind Xiaomi, which owns 16% of the country’s market according to Forbes.
Meizu currently sells four phones: its M1 Note, Mx4, Mx4 Pro, and MX3.
The M1 Note has been described as an iPhone 5C “on steroids” by Engadget. The resemblance is uncanny: the phone comes in the exact same pink, blue, green, yellow, and white colour options as Apple’s cheapest smartphone. It’s also made of plastic just like the iPhone 5C.
But here’s where the similarities end — Meizu’s phone is much cheaper and more powerful than the iPhone 5C. The phone starts at $US160 unsubsidized, which is incredibly cheap, and comes with a large 5.5-inch 1080p screen, a 64-bit processor, and a 13-megapixel camera.
The iPhone 5C, comparatively, comes with a smaller 4-inch screen with a lower resolution, an 8-megapixel camera, and one of Apple’s older processors. That phone costs $US450 without a carrier contract.
Meizu’s flagship MX4 is an excellent-looking phone with a large screen that looks a bit like the iPhone 6 Plus, but CNET said its software was buggy. Android Authority and Engadget also praised the phone’s design, writing that it’s comfortable to hold, but Android Authority noted the same complaints as CNET with regards to software bugs.
The camera quality also isn’t that great, according to both reviews.
Although Meizu may not get the same attention and praise as some of its rivals, the investment benefits both Alibaba and Meizu. It gives Alibaba another means to distribute its own mobile platform, Yun OS, while giving Meizu access to its e-commerce sales channels.
With funding from Alibaba, Meizu might also have a chance to catch up to fast-growing rivals like Xiaomi.