In September 2017 we reviewed the Maze Alpha. It’s a solidly built ‘bezel-less’ phone that’s surprisingly inexpensive at under £150.
Now, Maze has launched a follow-up which is just as on-trend: the Alpha X with an 18:9 screen.
Maze Alpha X: Price
Again, the price is less than you would guess from the on-paper specs: you can buy it from GearBest for only £158.
This makes it one of the cheapest 18:9 phones we’ve seen yet. Don’t forget you’ll likely have to pay import duty (at 20 percent) and a handling fee, so the total price is closer to £200.
You can get it in blue as well, but GearBest sells only the black model.
Maze Alpha X: Features and Design
Side by side it’s obvious which phone is which: the taller, narrower screen immediately identifying the newcomer. It’s an LG display with 2160×1080 pixels which equates to 401ppi.
Being an IPS screen, viewing angles are fine and it’s relatively bright. Colours are also decent, if lacking the punch you get from (admittedly more expensive) AMOLED screens.
Maze hasn’t simply shoe-horned the taller screen into the same chassis for the ‘X’, even though both phones have 6in displays.
In order to retain a front-mounted fingerprint sensor the Alpha X is a few millimetres taller, but it’s marginally lighter at a still-hefty 210g.
The bezels are slim, but not the smallest around: the top bezel still has to house the earpiece speaker and a notification light.
This weight gives a reassuring feel to the build quality and with an alloy frame and glass both front and rear, is easy to mistake for a phone that costs a lot more.
Unfortunately the frame is easily scratched and, on the black model we received, a simple scrape against a metal keyboard left obvious marks on the Alpha X with the black coating removed to reveal the silver metal underneath.
No case is provided in the box but, oddly, you do get a glass screen protector. Why this isn’t installed by the factory is a mystery.
The overall design is almost indistinguishable from the original Alpha with a headphone socket on top, USB-C at the bottom (along with mono speaker) buttons on the right and SIM tray on the left.
As the screen is pushed as close to the top as possible, the front camera is located at the bottom and you’re instructed to flip the phone upside down to take a selfie: an essential chore if you don’t want photos offering a view up your nostrils.
Internals are basically the same as the Alpha with a Helio P25 octa-core processor, Mali-T880 GPU and either 64 or 128GB of storage.
However, there 6GB of RAM as standard rather than 4GB.
Strangely, you get a different main camera on the 128GB version, and neither version has the dual-camera setup of the original Alpha.
With the smaller 64GB capacity you get a Sony IMX258 13Mp sensor, but an Omnivision OV16880 16Mp sensor on the 128GB.
There’s still the option to use a microSD card up to 256GB to expand storage, and dual-standby nano SIM slots.
Despite the low price, you get 802.11ac Wi-Fi. There’s no NFC (absent from a lot of Chinese phones) but there is Bluetooth 4.1 and an FM radio.
Battery capacity is marginally less than the Alpha at 3900mAh, but in practice it makes no noticeable difference. You’ll still be charging the Alpha X each night.
Performance in our benchmarks was also pretty much identical, which is unsurprising. It’s also in line with what you’d expect from a phone at this price: benchmark results are lot lower than more expensive phones.
In general, performance is fine if you’re relatively undemanding of your phone. It’ll handle casual games, email, web browsing and similar tasks.
But don’t expect the kind of instant app-loading times you get with a top-end phone.
We were sent the 64GB / 13Mp version to test, but although it’s a Sony sensor, cameras are not the Alpha X’s strong point.
It’s strange Maze decided to go back to a single camera after dual cameras on the first Alpha, but the quality of those cameras was poor in any case.
The Alpha X is better, but it’s still no better than you’d expect from a budget phone. Colours are great, unlike the green-tinted photos from its predecessor.
If you just want to share photos on social media, they’re perfectly adequate. Closer inspection on a big PC monitor reveals soft focus, noise and a general lack of sharp detail though.
The camera performs best in bright conditions, and poorly in low light. HDR isn’t automatic, but selecting the mode does make a big difference:
Video is recorded at a maximum of 1080p at 30fps. Audio is decent but the video suffers from the dreaded wobble or ‘jello’ effect unless you keep the phone perfectly still.
There appears to be software stabilisation (which could be introducing this wobble effect) that’s applied after you shoot the video as the image jerks around if you walk while videoing.
The stock camera app has few features, even in the ‘Pro’ mode. But it does at least allow you to alter the white balance.
One feature we hate is that when you swipe up or down, it flips to the front camera. That’s a real pain if you’re trying to use exposure compensation: if you miss the slider even slightly, it swaps to the other camera.
At the front it an 8Mp selfie camera (again suing a Sony sensor). It does a decent job and there’s the expected beauty mode you can play with.
We criticised the Alpha for lacking an app tray, but that’s present on the Alpha X. And, for the most part, Maze hasn’t mucked around with Android so you get a near-stock version with all Google apps present.
The fingerprint scanner doubles as a home button, so you can hide the on-screen navigation controls most of the time and get the most from the big screen (you can also pinch to zoom in on videos so they occupy the whole screen). A short tap is the same as the back button, and a long press takes you to the home screen.
Should I buy the Maze Alpha X?
If you’re after an affordable phone which doesn’t look like a budget phone, the Alpha X is a fine choice. It’s a little heavy, but you’ll struggle to find another phone with a 6in, 18:9 screen at this kind of price.
You could play it safe and go for a Motorola Moto G5 or another phone widely available in the UK from our best cheap phones roundup, but the Alpha X is a bit quicker, has a bigger, wider screen and its cameras are roughly on a par with the Moto.
It’s still a budget phone though, so if you demand slick performance you’ll have to spend more. But for anyone after a ‘bezel-less’ phone under £200, it’s decent value.