There was a time, not so long ago, when all you could get for £100 was a feature phone or one based on an antiquated operating system.
Nowadays, the increasing competition in the far-east and in mainland China has caused prices to tumble down, so much so that there has never been so much choice if you’re after a so-called mid-market smartphone.
Which brings us to a newcomer, Maze and its new mid-level device, the Blade, which it describes as being “sharper than ever.” Now the term mid-level is used quite loosely here given that this smartphone costs under $110/£90 (at the time of writing) from Chinese online retailer, Gearbest.
That’s less than half the price of the EE Harrier which has a worse hardware specification and a fraction of what you’d expect to pay from the competition and brand names. Frankly, we would be surprised if Maze made any profits out of the Blade given the quality of the components.
“Cognitive dissonance” is what comes to mind when handling the Blade. How can such a posh-looking smartphone costs so cheap, what’s the trick? Well, don’t look at the finish for corners cut as we couldn’t find any. The glass back is essentially a mirror with the Maze logo printed at the bottom and a dual-flash camera sensor located near the top left corner.
A headphone jack, a dual SIM tray (you have to sacrifice one if you want to have a microSD card), a pair of speakers, a microUSB port, a dedicated camera button, a volume rocker and the power button have been scattered over the four metal, champagne gold colored edges.
The front facia houses the front facing camera and a rectangular physical home button that doubles as a fingerprint sensor. The screen (or the back) is not oleo-phobic which translates into far more greasy fingerprints than we’d like to see. But then again, at this price, it’s hard to ask for more.
The Blade uses components that are usually found in £200+ smartphones like an 8-core system-on-a-chip. The one on Maze’s smartphone is a Mediatek MTK6753 clocked at up to 1.5GHz with two Cortex-A53 core cluster, an ARM Mali-T720 GPU, Bluetooth 4.0, Cat-4 LTE (covering most bands), GPS, GLONASS and 802.11n Wi-Fi.
The rest is not too shabby as well: 3GB DDR3 memory, 32GB onboard storage, a 13-megapixel rear camera with a Sony IMX124 sensor and an 8-megapixel front-facing one, a 5.5-inch full HD IPS touchscreen display, an array of sensors plus a 3,000mAh battery. At 178g and measuring 159 x 77 x 8mm, it feels solid, is well built and holds comfortably in one’s hand.
The Maze Blade runs stock Android 6.0 with little chance of Nougat ever landing on the platform; that is sadly a common thing with many smaller Chinese smartphone vendors for whom after sales and firmware support eat into profit margins.
There was nothing particularly noteworthy about the performance of the Blade. Subjectively, it performed admirably well and we loved the smart features that came with it.
The Gesture Wake, for example, allows the user to access specific apps from the locked screen or the Smart Motion uses the smartphone’s proximity sensors to perform some common tasks. There’s also the smart button which can be configured to access apps that you use frequently.
The most useful of them though has to be the Guest mode which allows users to offer a different home screen to a guest complete with granular control on what apps you want them to access. Note that this is not as powerful as, say, Samsung’s Knox, but is a decent, if limited, mobile device management (MDM) service.
Maze has confirmed that this feature will be available in June via a firmware update so we didn’t have the opportunity to test it yet.
The Maze scores a rare, almost no fault, score (4.25 out of 5); the guest mode will be useful for those looking to separate their work life from their business set-up and looks promising even in its limited format.
A couple of thoughts though: the glass back is a bad idea; yes, it does add to the style of the device, but is far too fragile and prone to scratches, especially as the smooth surface of the glass makes it very slippery on any surface that’s not totally flat.
And if you are looking for accessories for your Maze Blade, you won’t find many sadly. We couldn’t get hold of a case on eBay or Amazon which, in the hindsight, makes the decision to have a glass back even more ludicrous.