The Mi Max is Xiaomi’s first attempt at building a phablet-sized smartphone and boy, did they end up with a monster of a phone! While the initial teasers claimed that the company somehow miraculously managed to build a phablet with 6.4-inch display and fit it into a jeans pocket. Well… it does fit, after a fashion.
Indeed, the Mi Max would be Android’s answer to Nokia’s Windows Phone-powered Lumia 1520, which was considered unwieldy and ‘Hulkish’ back in 2013. Still, with the smartphone launched in India at a price tag of Rs 14,999 for the Snapdragon 650 powered variant and Rs 19,999 for the Snapdragon 652 variant, there is little competition that gets in its way. This would include devices from Asus and Gionee, that fall in the same category of ‘Max’ smartphones. These would also be smartphones, that came with some compromises. So does Xiaomi’s offering beat them? Or does it fall in the same boat? Let’s find out.
Build and Design: 7/10
This is a section that will see the Xiaomi Mi Max gain and lose some points. We really liked the build quality on the Gionee Marathon M5 Plus, it felt solid despite its size and left a lasting impression in our minds. This was evident when we reviewed the affordable and half-baked Asus Zenfone Max.
Xiaomi smartphones are known for their build quality and this was evident from the very beginning when the company set foot in India and took the market by storm. Thankfully, the Mi Max is no different. The smartphone showcases no design defects and feels a bit lighter in the hand when compared to the Gionee Marathon M5 Plus, despite its large footprint. Being an over-sized smartphone with a thin waistline, we tried flexing it a bit as well, but there were no creaking, leading us to believe that the build quality is pretty solid. Notable, especially at this price.
It's not an all-metal build (you have colour-matched) plastic caps for the antennas at the top and bottom ends on the back, but they don’t feel out of place or unfinished by any means.
What we did not like was the sheer size of thing. The size was evident from the time we opened the box (shown above) to find a smartphone that took up the entire packaging, corner-to-corner, which is not common, especially with a box that already looks a bit too large.
To give you an estimation of its size, we compared it to the OnePlus 3 and the LG G5 and the images below clearly show off that difference.
The smartphone is big enough to fit into your regular straight fit jeans pocket. But that’s pretty much it. Once it’s in there, you can forget about sitting comfortably or even bending over to tie your shoelaces or even sitting on low stool for that matter. It is just too big. Oh yes, and somewhere somehow we wished Xiaomi had bundled a pair of wireless headphones with this one as even with one corner jutting out, we could not muster the courage to plug in headphones as it feels like you'll snap the plug with minimal effort.
The Xiaomi Mi Max will feel at home in your hand bag or in your hand but not in your pocket. Talking about hands, it is impossible to navigate, browse or type on the device using just one hand (unless you have really big ones).
The Xiaomi Mi Max packs in everything one would expect from a ‘Max’ smartphone and more. By more we mean its humongous size and that large 6.4-inch Full HD IPS LCD display. Inside, we get a Qualcomm Snapdragon 650 clocked at 1.4GHz coupled with 3GB RAM and 32GB of internal storage. The storage is expandable and can accept cards of up to 256GB in capacity; although you will have to sacrifice one SIM slot to take advantage of this.
Coming to the cameras, Xiaomi has included a 16MP f/2.0 aperture camera with PDAF and a dual tone LED flash. The front facing camera is a 5MP unit with an f/2.0 aperture.
As for connectivity, users will get 4G bands, dual-band Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth v4.2, GPS, an infrared port up top and a microUSB port at the bottom.
The handset was expected to run MIUI 8, but our review unit is powered by MIUI 7 with Android 6.0 Marshmallow on board. Powering it all is a 4850mAh battery that kind of completes the package for this road warrior.
While we were prepared to be disappointed with the Full HD display on the Mi Max, Xiaomi indeed had a surprise in store for us. Keeping in mind the screen-to-body ratio (which is pretty good) Xiaomi engineers managed to pack in a 6.4-inch display with Full HD resolution that manages to impress. Images and text look sharp no matter what text size you set, and the colours reproduced seemed pretty accurate. MIUI 7 helps out as well as offering a reading mode, along with adjustments for colours and contrast in the Display Settings. You can tweak the display to show warmer or cooler colours and even adjust the contrast to your liking.
Sunlight legibility is great and the display is pretty sensitive as well, which is important for a device of such proportions.
Watching videos, reading ebooks and browsing the web was a great experience on such a massive display and the big battery certainly helped sustain that experience.
Even though the Mi Max was announced alongside MIUI 8, the smartphone arrived with MIUI 7 onboard. MIUI 7 features Android 6.0 Marshmallow as its base and somehow that does not disappoint…until you use another smartphone with Android 6.0.
We must confess that we liked the silky smooth transitions and animations on MIUI 7. The software seemed optimised to take advantage of the powerful hardware underneath and apps opened and closed without lag delivering a pleasing stutter-free experience. But MIUI 7 at its best still feels like a beta.
The album art in the built-in Music Player could not be displayed. Notifications from certain apps do not show up even though the LED notification light keeps hinting that they exist (and they are, when you open the app). Next up, some apps refused to download because of compatibility issues. Amazon, one of Xiaomi’s online resellers is one of them. Other apps like Telegram did not scale well and displayed large fonts. We did wish that the phablet had a special mode where we could use Play Store apps in tablet mode. This is more so because there was plenty of wasted real estate on the screen, which could have been used to display more lines of text.
Then comes the larger problem where Xiaomi has customised the MIUI 7 experience so much that they have forgotten to include the best bits of Android 6.0, like Google’s Now on Tap. Some may prefer the Google-less experience with MIUI, but at the end of the day this is Android without is best bits.
We were really impressed by the performance of the Xiaomi Mi Max. But this in a way was expected as the smartphone basically comes with the innards of a Redmi Note 3. The Qualcomm Snapdragon 650 chipset along with the well optimised software allowed apps to be opened and run lag free on this behemoth. There is no hint of stutter and in a way, we were glad that Xiaomi went in for a Full HD display. Because apart from saving battery life (fewer pixels to push), games also look a lot sharper and less pixelated as compared to that on a Quad HD display.
Talking about games, every one of them ran without stuttering. From Real Racing to Dead Trigger 3 down to some casual games like Mekorama, the smartphone chomped through anything one could throw at it. More so, it accomplished the same without heating up too much, which is something that added to the high scores you see at the beginning of this section.
Call quality was spot on and audio quality while listening to music via the headphone was a good experience. The speaker (hidden under the right side grille) was loud enough but did sound a bit hollow when cranked up.
As with every ‘Max’ smartphone we have seen so far, the cameras on board did not impress and managed to produce some below average quality images. This however was not the case of the Xiaomi Mi Max. The Mi Max’s 16MP rear camera produced some really shareworthy images. The images packed in the right level of saturation and even reproduced colours pretty accurately when compared to the competition in the same range.
While daylight shooting was a great experience, low light shooting was a bit of a mess. We missed OIS as the camera would blur images with the slightest shake. This blur was even present in images shot in dim lighting. We also noticed some purple fringing in some of the HDR images.
The phase detection system for the autofocus did not perform as expected and would refuse to lock focus at times. But when the situations were right, the camera performed pretty well.
All-in-all we did manage to get some sharp and vibrant images even in the cloudy and overcast monsoon weather, which is impressive for a smartphone that’s focussed on battery life. Video recording quality was pretty good as well. The smartphone was capable of capturing smooth Full HD video with a steady framerate and even 4K video that looked sharp when viewed on a desktop display.
Battery life: 9/10
The Xiaomi Mi Max lasted quite a bit on a single charge. To make things sweeter Xiaomi added a Quick Charger in the package that charged up the large 4850 mAh battery pretty quickly. This is clearly not the fastest charging smartphone around, but it does happen to sport a rather large battery.
The smartphone easily survived more than a day of usage. This would include snapping about 20 photographs, shooting some 4K video, WhatsApp and Telegram buzzing through the day along with Slack and two email accounts syncing constantly. This also included streaming YouTube videos on the large display and listening to some music.
The Mi Max indeed proved itself as a great PMP and were a bit surprised as we did expect the battery to take a hit, considering that it was powering a massive 6.4-inch display unlike the other handsets we have reviewed so far.
Verdict and Price in India:
The Xiaomi Mi Max has few competitors in the ‘Max’ category. As we have mentioned in past reviews, it’s not just the battery life that matters but the overall package and Xiaomi seems to have built a solid smartphone with a solid battery life. We were not fans of the software but the camera won us over and the same goes for the overall package.
Priced at Rs 15,999 and Rs 19,999 for the Mi Max phablet (for the SD 650 and 652 variant) is more of a phablet than a smartphone. The device makes up for its large, cumbersome size by offering an all-round experience, something that its current crop of competitors simply cannot offer.
The Gionee Marathon M5 Plus at Rs 26,999 delivers a big battery but falls short in terms of the camera and an outdated version of Android. The recently launched Asus Zenfone Max packs in stellar battery performance, but the lack of a Quick Charger means that it will take several hours to charge up. Moreover, it offers nothing great in terms of software even though it has Android 6.0 running inside. What will attract buyers to the Zenfone Max is its price which is pegged at Rs 9,999 for the 2GB RAM and 32GB storage model.
Those looking out for a large-screen device with a bit of polish, performance, great battery life and don't mind the bulk, the Xiaomi Mi Max makes for the best all-rounder in the “big smartphone, big battery” category.
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