Mi Max XDA First Impressions: A Big Brick of a Phone
Seriously, I mean it
As phones have grown bigger, people have grown more comfortable handling phones with ever-larger displays. And OEMs have been glad to fuel this trend, with most phones these days coming out within the 5″ – 5.7″ range for display size, and a good majority being 5.5″.
But what if you want more? What happens when 6″ still feels small, and you wish to go bigger but not into tablet territory?
Enter the Mi Max, a device that will certainly make you raise the question “How big is too big?”. With a 6.44″ display, the first words that people utter after taking a look at the Mi Max is that that is one big phone. I’ve had the phone for about 3 days now, and I’ve heard the word “big” more in these 3 days than I could care to count. It is difficult for the average consumer to look past what they immediately see on the surface, but if you care to look at what powers the Mi Max or what the giant-smartphone experience is like, you would be pleasantly surprised. Tag along as we list out our first impressions of this BIG device!
The Mi Max is unlike anything you may have seen when it comes to size, but the device shares design elements with other Xiaomi devices. The metallic body and the disguised plastic caps on the rear top and bottom remind us a lot of the Redmi Note 3. With a big screen, one would half-expect a thick device to make for a bulky package, but the Mi Max is surprisingly thin at 7.5mm | 0.3 inches. The thinness of the phone is the second physical trait of the device that people notice when they hold it, and the Mi Max managed to impress many around me.
Part of this thin feel comes from the curved rear edges on the sides that end up with a thin chamfer strip. The chamfer is present on the front part of the main frame as well, and the end result is a phone that tries to redeem its size with its thinness. The resultant weight distribution on the device also sets off the relatively high weight of the device (203g), giving the illusion of holding a phone that feels much lighter (though I do predict that my wrists would likely disagree after some extended, continuous use).
Xiaomi also did put in a lot of thought on the overall dimensions of the device, as the bezels are surprisingly thin, giving the device an impressive ~75% body-to-screen ratio. This seemingly aids in handling, but I find it impossible to use the phone with one hand — it just wasn’t working out for me. I usually refrain from making absolute statements, but the Mi Max is one of those phones where you do compulsorily need two hands for normal usage. Unless you are Wun Wun or Hodor, the Mi Max will pose a challenge for you when it comes to pocketability and handling, and I am half-curious-half-terrified to see if I can make through my review period without accidentally dropping this giant.
The screen dominates the front of the phone, but the Mi Max does bear a black bezel border to accentuate the display when it’s off. I wish this was not present, as the bezels otherwise are adequately-sized anyways, and the current visual situation proves a distraction from when the screen is displaying media. Imagine watching a movie on an immersive screen, but having a black border around the frame (and a different color body outside the frame). It is distracting to me personally, and it kills off part of the reason why one would purchase such a phablet.
Another sore stand out was the fingerprint scanner, more with regards to its placement than its functionality. The scanner worked perfectly within my limited use. But the scanner is placed on the upper 1/3rd’s of the rear, meaning that you would likely need some finger gymnastics (or long fingers) to reach it comfortably and consistently. The phone would have benefited a lot more with a scanner positioned on the front of the device, like the Mi 5. It would have been much easier to reach with the thumb in that case, and would be an improvement from the current situation.
All of this said relates only to the hardware situation of the device. And that is because of a peculiar experience that we had on our review unit. The review unit was imported from China and then had the Global MIUI ROM flashed on it, to better represent the experience that the audience outside of China would experience. Since the phone was already switched on when I opened the package, and had a few other indicators to show that the phone was booted and used beforehand, I proceeded to wipe the device before beginning with my setup and review. This is just a personal practice that I undertake, just to be a wee bit careful before migrating all of my data over to any new device, and to get a clean slate to begin with.
The phone came with MIUI 7 installed, specifically MIUI Global 126.96.36.199 Stable (MBCMIDE) on Android 6.0.1 with security patches up to 1st June 2016. MIUI 8 was also announced with the Mi Max, but as the ROM is considered to be in beta stages, the review unit came with a stable ROM that is on MIUI 7.
After I was about done with the initial phone set up and checking out a few settings here and there, I proceeded to migrate my data over with Mi Mover. Once done, I set up all of my IM apps and decided to reboot the device. Ya know, just to start all apps with the new cloud restored data afresh. But as luck would have it, our review unit bootlooped at this stage.
The situation was as of Sunday, 3rd June in the evening. It is late 5th of July as of writing this (and probably much later till we get around to publishing it, as we hope for a fix), and the phone has died off the bootloop after depleting its battery. I almost felt sorry for the device, seeing it bootloop continuously on my desk for more than 8 hours.
But alas, I was helpless in trying to fix it, despite being in perhaps the best situation to. The review unit came with the bootloader officially unlocked (likely to flash the Global ROM over the China ROM), but this is an exceptional scenario limited to review units only, and in this particular device situation only. Consumer devices purchased officially via Xiaomi will come with their bootloaders locked (yet unlockable). What made me unable to fix the situation is that I could not find and download the aforementioned ROM from Xiaomi officially. Since the device has yet to officially start to go on sale anywhere outside of China, the Global Stable ROM has not been made available simply because there was no need to.
This is XDA, and it saddens me to end a first impression of a device, especially one with its bootloader unlocked, with a bootloop. At XDA-Developers, we eat bootloops for breakfast, and I can very easily fix this situation by flashing over TWRP and then sideloading a custom ROM based on MIUI. In fact, Xiaomi.eu (one of the most popular unofficial custom ROMs based on MIUI China ROM but with all the Chinese stripped out) is available for the Mi Max (device codename: Hydrogen). But the custom ROM is based on MIUI 8, and being a custom ROM, it will not be representative of the experience that a new customer would experience out of the box. I am bound by my guidelines to wait till the official ROM is made available in a flashable, to attempt the resurrection. We have reached out to our point-of-contact at Xiaomi, and now we play the waiting game.
high big hopes for the Mi Max, seeing how Xiaomi absolutely nailed it with the Redmi Note 3 Snapdragon variant. The Mi Max improves on the single-sore point of the RN3-SD variant with regards to performance, that of multitasking, by starting off with a 3GB RAM variant, so theoretically things should be better on the Mi Max. We await the second awakening of our review unit to see if the Max can max on the software and performance front as well.
Edit on 11th July: The Global Developer ROM for the Mi Max has been released. While this is still not the Stable version, nor is the version that most international consumers would get on the device, an “official” ROM with English support is perhaps our best course of action. Stay tuned for an update on the software front!
Do you have any questions you’d like answered now or in our full review? Let us know in the comments below!