Xiaomi Mi Max XDA Review: Big, Powerful And Big Again

Xiaomi Mi Max XDA Review: Big, Powerful And Big Again

Only a Review this Big can do it Justice

Xiaomi has been riding waves of success in the Indian market, with very successful products like the Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 and other disruptors like the Mi 5.

We reviewed the Redmi Note 3 Snapdragon 650 variant recently, and the phone left us mightily impressed in a product segment that sees some of the heaviest, most competitive price wars in the market today. With the Mi Max, Xiaomi is pitching the innards of the Redmi Note 3 in a product segment that sees virtually no competition from all the major OEMs.

Can the Mi Max fill in a rare bracket with a value that none can top, if they dared to try at all?

In this review, we’ll take an in-depth dive into the Xiaomi Mi Max. Rather than listing specs and talking about how the experience felt, this feature attempts to provide a thorough look with contents relevant to our reader base. At XDA, our reviews are not meant to tell a user whether a phone is worth buying or not — instead, we try to lend you the phone through our words and help you come to the decision by yourself. Before getting started, let’s get the specification sheet out of the way:

Device Name: Xiaomi Mi Max Release Date/Price Available Now, INR 14,999 ($225) | INR 19,999 ($300)
Android Version 6.0.1, MIUI 7 ROM Display 6.44 inch 1080p LCD (342 ppi)
Chipset Snapdragon 650: 4x 1.4GHz Cortex-A53 + 2x 1.8GHz Cortex-A72, Adreno 510 GPU |
Snapdragon 652: 4x 1.4GHz Cortex-A53 + 4x 1.8GHz Cortex-A72, Adreno 510 GPU
Battery 4,850mAh, Quick Charge 2.0
RAM 3GB | 4GB Sensors Fingerprint, Accelerometer, Gyroscope, Proximity, Ambient Light, Electronic Compass
Storage 32GB | 128GB; expandable upto 128GB via SIM1 slot Connectivity USB 2.0 Type C, Dual SIM (nano+micro) slot, 3.5mm audio jack
Dimensions 173.1 x 88.3 x 7.5 cm (~74.8% screen-to-body) Rear Camera 16MP, PDAF, f/2.0, 4K / 720p slow-mo @ 120FPS video
Weight 203g Front Camera 5MP, f/2.0

Our review unit is the base Snapdragon 650 variant with 3GB of RAM.

 Index

Design

IMG_20160711_191403The Mi Max is a device whose first impressions primarily revolve around one core aspect of the device: it’s physical dimensions. The device is huge, if you take the average smartphone size in the market as the point of comparison. Most of this hulking body is comprised by a 6.44″ display, as the device boasts of a very impressive 74.8% screen-to-body ratio. For comparison, the OnePlus 3 has a screen-to-body ratio of 73.1%, while the Nexus 6P goes down further to 71.4% and the Redmi Note 3 is up at 72.4%. The bezels on the device are quite reserved, and we’ll touch on this in a bit.

Once you do look past the size of the device, you’ll notice that the design language on the Mi Max is similar to the one found on Xiaomi’s Redmi Note 3, but there is a separate sense of personal identity to the Mi Max.

The Redmi Note 3 sported a single-piece metallic back and side frames, with plastic caps on the top and bottom, and the Mi Max is identical in that regard. But the Max has much more of a brick-like appearance to it, as there are more flat edges than rounded ones. The side frame of the device is flat with thin chamfers on both sides. Where the chamfer ends on the back, the device curves gently to meet the mostly-flat back. The end result is a device that honestly feels like a sheet of metal. The slight curves on the side edges do help a bit in holding, but you’d still be using up most of your hand in making sure you have a decent grip on the device, so the gains are marginal.

The curves do give the device an illusion of being thinner that it actually is. At 7.5mm in thickness, the Mi Max is just 0.1 mm thicker than the OnePlus 3. The numeric figure and the perceived thinness of the phone is astounding when you consider that there is a healthy 4,850 mAh battery inside. The weight of the device, at a good 203 g courtesy of the aforementioned battery, felt a bit disconcerting at first because of how thin the device looks. I am used to holding heavy devices, with the Elephone P8000 that I reviewed coming in at the same 203 g for a 5.5″ display device. But the weight distribution on this one threw me off and took a bit of time to grow acclimatized to. The device does not feel unevenly chunky, but evenly-weighted across the entire physical dimension which in turn is pretty expansive. So if you have the device rested on your palm, you may get the sensation that the phone would topple over (but it didn’t thankfully).

IMG_20160724_135333

The Mi Max has curved sides and is quite thin. Notice the 3.5mm jack for an estimate on thickness

Moving on to the individual elements of design on the phone, the front of the phone is rightfully dominated by the display. The earpiece is up at the top, flanked by the identical holes on either side — one houses the proximity sensor and the ambient sensor, the other the front camera. On my white color variant, there’s a good sense of symmetry on the front of the device that Xiaomi obviously intended, which becomes apparent when the notification LED lights up from below the colored pane, instead of having its own uncolored circle. The bottom of the device sports the capacitive buttons (with backlight support) for UI navigation. Curiously, the buttons on the sides are closer to the central axis instead of being towards their respective corners. This is presumably to help in reachability in case you could use the device one-handed.

The back of the Mi Max is largely barren. There’s the Xiaomi logo towards the bottom. The fingerprint sensor is towards the top, while the rear camera and the dual-tone flash occupy the upper-left corner. The placement of the fingerprint sensor is a minus point for the device — the sensor itself works wonderfully, but it is placed poorly for a device that wasn’t ever going to be easy to use with one hand. It would have worked much, much more painlessly had it been placed a tad bit lower at points where it would be easier to access for people with medium sized hands. Better, a front fingerprint sensor like on the Xiaomi Mi 5 would have worked a lot better than a rear fingerprint sensor. If on the front, you wouldn’t need to pick up this behemoth and wiggle it around on your palm in order to unlock it. The placement spoils the convenience aspect of the fingerprint sensor, and I was left wondering if I really needed a fingerprint sensor with such hassles. This particular experience is in stark contrast to the Redmi Note 3 and other phones that I have reviewed, where the sensor was placed perfectly for their use cases.

IMG_20160730_173309

The left side of the device is devoid of any buttons, but houses the hybrid SIM tray. The top of the device sports the 3.5mm earphone jack on the left, the IR blaster and the secondary microphone hole. The right of the device is home to the volume rocker and the power button. The power button was within thumb’s reach for me, but the same could not be said about the entire volume rocker. The response on the buttons was excellent however, and there is no room for any wiggle. The bottom of the device has symmetrical holes for the speaker grille, but only the right side houses the speaker. The primary microphone is likely hidden on the left hand side holes. The micro-USB port occupies the middle position between the two ends.

IMG_20160730_173029

There isn’t too much to complain about the design aspect of the Mi Max which isn’t directly a consequence of the phone being large (including my complain on the fingerprint sensor within this). While the device feels like it could bend and snap, it did not when I gave it slight tugs. The thinness of the device and its height and width may give the impression that the phone might be malleable, but it retained its shape throughout my usage. Even when placed in my front thigh pockets in my jeans, the phone survived with no deformities to its shape or any sort of bends. Due to the sheer size of the phone, it does stick out from jeans and may cause you discomfort if you tried to bend at the waist. But the device itself was as strong as phones could be, and there was no bend-gate issues with me so far.

It’s not all flowers though, because I did have one complaint with the phone that wasn’t about its size: black bezel borders make an appearance on this phone too. There’s a thin back strip running all around the display, giving the screen a framed appearance when the screen is on; and an illusion of absolute minimal bezel when it isn’t. What’s most annoying about this is that the actual bezels (or more appropriately, the lack thereof) on this device are really damn impressive — we even praised the awesome 74.8% screen-to-body ratio of the device in the starting paragraphs! Considering that people who would buy this device would be heavy media consumers to appreciate such a large screen, the presence of the black bezel border is befuddling since it does nothing but distract. I even wished there was more bezel on the device to aid in gripping, but I sorely wished that it wasn’t a different color than the rest of the front. The Xiaomi Redmi Pro has bezels on its marketing materials so far, so this trend might be on its way out.

When OEMs insist on two different colors on the front, giving us the Black Bezel Border

When OEMs insist on two different colors on the front, giving us the Black Bezel Border

Overall, the theme of the design on the Mi Max is that you need to know firsthand that a large screen is your first priority. Users who buy this device based on the internal specs and assume that they can get used to the 6.44″ screen will have a steep learning curve as they figure out how to handle the phone without dropping it. The phone is big, unapologetically and unabashedly. It’s the main selling point, and there’s no way to get around it. To appreciate the phone properly, you need to have big hands and physically big pockets (or a purse) because the phone is certainly not for everybody. I am 6′ in height, and can consider my hands to be medium sized and I certainly had issues while handling this Hulk of a phone. Using it one handed was an impossibility, and having it in my pocket and running was a difficulty. But, if you like it big, then the Mi Max is the way to go with no regrets. It’s a top notch Xiaomi device with excellent build quality and a premium feel that scores above its price level.

Software

Screenshot_2016-08-14-21-51-01_com.android.settingsThe Xiaomi Mi Max runs on Xiaomi’s proprietary and closed-source skin, MIUI. On its Chinese launch, the device was promised to be running on MIUI 8 based on Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow. But considering that MIUI 8 continued to remain in Beta for a long time after the release of the device, we can’t 100% stand by this claim. The Indian variant of the device was released with MIUI 7, but based on Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow. Our device did go into a random bootloop for reasons still unknown, but we were able to fix it with the necessary files from Xiaomi. As a result, our review unit runs on MIUI 7.5.6.0 (MBCMIDE) on Android 6.0.1.

Wait, both MIUI 7 and MIUI 8 run on Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow?

Yes and no. It’s complicated. You see, the version of Android remains unaffected by the version of MIUI. So you can have any number of combinations with Android versions and MIUI versions, since updates for MIUI run independent of the Android version.

So there are Xiaomi devices that received the MIUI 7 update, but still continue to remain stuck on Android 4.4 Kitkat (Redmi 2 Prime), while some like this Mi Max are on Android 6.0.1 on the same MIUI 7. And then, MIUI 8 will arrive on Android 6.0.1 for the Mi Max. [A “trick” to recognize the Android version in the Stable MIUI ROMs with a simple glance is to see the starting alphabet for the builds — Kxxxxxx is Kitkat, Lxxxxxx is Lollipop, Mxxxxxx is Marshmallow].

So how disparate are features then? One would assume that the same MIUI version (MIUI 7) on Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow (Mi Max) would have a lot of difference than on Android 5.1 Lollipop (Redmi Note 3). But that is not the case. So similar is the experience of MIUI 7 on the Mi Max with the Redmi Note 3, that my previous indepth review of MIUI 7 stands applicable to the experience on the Mi Max as well. I will note down any differences or additional features in this review, along with some of my qualms with MIUI not covered in the previous review. But for the most part, it’s the same experience.

One of the biggest negatives that I found with my MIUI 7 experience was how Permission Management is made unnecessarily complex to access. Permission management was not a very accessible feature in Android 5.1, so Xiaomi’s implementation could be excused in that instance since they practically made available to every user a feature that wasn’t intended to exist in that Android version. But with Android 6.0.1 embracing Permission Management with open arms, Xiaomi’s stagnation with the same way of accessing these permissions make things confusing, difficult and unnecessary.

Let me explain. In AOSP Android 6.0.1, a user needs to navigate to Settings > Apps and then click on any app to see the permissions it has. A click on the permissions options will then reveal a switch to deny permissions if the user deems necessary. This is management on individual app basis. AOSP also had you covered in case you wanted to control permissions on individual permission basis. All you need to do is to go to Settings > Apps, and then tap the gear icon on the right corner. This opens up a page where you select App Permissions, and then be treated to a list of different categories of permissions along with number of apps installed that have access to that permission. Both these approaches have a common origin in Settings > Apps, and feel familiar to anyone used to AOSP.

Example behavior in AOSP ROMs:

But on MIUI 7 (irrespective of Android 5.1 or 6.0), going through Settings > Installed Apps brings up an app list. Once you select an app, you can scroll down to the Permission Manager and click on it… and a blank page opens. This is where App specific permission management should exist, but for some reason, it doesn’t. Similarly, the gear icon in Settings > Installed Apps does nothing in relation to Permission Management.

So if you do need to access the Permission Manager, you need to find the Security app and click on the Permissions option and then again on Permissions to see the different categories of Permissions. It’s the same menu you’d find on AOSP, and it works about the same way. But it isn’t present where you’d expect it to ordinarily be. The total permissions needed by an app can be found nowhere in the menu — so if you wanted to check if any app was trying to reach up too high unnecessarily, you can’t.

Example of the behavior on MIUI 7:

Outside of this, I did not find anything that felt off to me and that wasn’t noted previously. The MIUI 7 build on the Mi Max improved and added a few features too. For example, the multitasking screen now defaults to open previews instead of just simple screens. There’s also Double-Tap-to-Wake functionality on the Max, and I really appreciated this addition as it meant that I could go without trying to reach the power button when waking up the device.

There’s also some features that although may have had good intentions, did not really work out for me in terms of convenience but your personal mileage may vary. First up is the Quick Ball functionality, which is very similar to the Assistive Touch functionality found in iOS devices and achieves similar purpose as PIE Launcher found in custom ROMs. You can move the “ball” around to any part of the screen as a floating button, and you can reconfigure the options within for commonly used actions, settings and even apps.

Another feature to re-iterate here owing to the large screen is the One-Handed functionality. You can resize the contents of the display to fit within smaller display diagonals anchored at either corner. If you have marginal difficulties in reaching parts of the screen, this feature can help you out in those pinchy moments. But if the phone felt too large for you and you have difficulty handling the physical dimensions eitherways (as was my case), this would do nothing for you.


To wrap things up, MIUI 7 on the Xiaomi Mi Max runs wonderfully overall. MIUI always has been a very different experience when compared to AOSP, and it continues to be so. There definitely is a learning curve to it, and combined with the learning curve that is the Mi Max itself (in terms of handling), the experience might be overwhelming to the average Android user if they did not know what they signed up for. But there’s nothing in MIUI that would denote a sluggish or a sub-par Android experience. A lot of the credit for this goes to the Snapdragon 650 SoC and the 3GB of RAM, but MIUI does keep things in check for an Android skin that does deep modifications.

Performance

If the Redmi Note 3 (Snapdragon variant) set any precedent for performance, it’s that you don’t need to be a flagship to deliver some stellar results. The phone went on to beat several known names in the low end right up to the mid end, and was even deemed to be better in performance than a few yesteryear flagships. The Snapdragon 650 SoC is no joke, and the combination of the Quad-core Cortex-A53 cluster clocked at 1.4GHz with the Dual-core Cortex-A72 cluster at 1.8GHz accommodates a wide variety of use cases with no compromises. The Snapdragon 652 ups the ante by adding in another two Cortex-A72 cores in the performance cluster. The Mi Max starts off the basic variant with the Snapdragon 650 SoC and moves on to the reportedly-better Snapdragon 652 in the higher variants, so the device should be on course to follow along in the footsteps of the Redmi Note 3 and even kick things up a notch.

CPU & System

The Mi Max is a niche product in the >6″ space, so there’s virtually no competition to the device around its own screen size. We can find other phones if we expand our search to include 6″ devices, but all of these devices belong to the upper end of the market, such as the Huawei Mate 8, ASUS ZenFone 3 Ultra (6.8″), Sony Xperia XA Ultra and the Samsung Galaxy A9 Pro. The closest in pricing is the 6″ ZTE Max Pro which was just released a while ago. Because of all of these, it is difficult to compare the Mi Max with similar devices, and so, most of its comparison would have to be SoC-centric rather than competition-centric.

As demonstrated on the Redmi Note 3, daily average tasks are just a breeze for the Snapdragon 650 and its Quad Core Cortex-A53 setups, and the same holds true for the Mi Max as well. Heavier tasks, such as intense gaming, also get done well with the Dual Core Cortex-A72’s . Most consumers would find no difference between the performance on the Mi Max and a flagship, because the Snapdragon 650 leaves very little room for doubt to creep in. On the value front, due to the higher cost of the device, it isn’t as performace-per-buck as the Redmi Note 3, but Xiaomi’s pricing ensures that the phone still trumps ahead in the competition on that end as well. My complaints with multitasking on MIUI were largely offset in this case by the additional 1GB of RAM over the Redmi Note 3 unit I reviewed, and I find that I have virtually nothing to complain about in the performance department. It works and it works well, what can I say.

Is it flagship grade performance based on the benchmark numbers? No. The benchmarks can only be destroyed by true flagships, like the OnePlus 3. The Mi Max is not a flagship, and it never pretends to be one. Scoring and comparison on the basis of pure numbers will put the device behind several Snapdragon 820-totting devices of 2016 which is no surprise. But Qualcomm has seriously upped the game for itself in 2016 after a disappointing 2015, so the Snapdragon 650 is still one of the best bets in the mid-end, upped only by the Snapdragon 652. It performs higher theoretically than most yesteryear’s flagships and comes up above current competition from mid-ends from Mediatek.

For the price tag of the phone, this is the best SoC you can get, hands-down. If you want to do heavy lifting with your device, it might be a better idea in the long run to opt for the Snapdragon 652 with its two additional Cortex-A72 cores in the performance cluster, providing that extra oomph when you need to stretch the limits. For most practical purposes though, the Snapdragon 650 works as good as the Snapdragon 652 and might be a better deal based on its lower price value (since the GPU is also the same on both).

GPU & Gaming

With regard to thermals, the Mi Max does come out behind the Redmi Note 3 (which was a thermal pleasure). Running the extensive GFXBench benchmark made the device get a bit warm, and that is the extent till which the device heats up. The device never gets beyond slightly warm even with other gaming scenarios such as NFS No Limits or FIFA 16 or Pokemon GO for that matter. Repeated benchmarking under these slightly above-ordinary temperatures reveals no signs whatsoever for aggressive thermal throttling, so this slight increase in temperatures is likely just accelerated heat dissipation. I even tried to “heat” the device by running these tests under heavy insulation, but the scores showed only a marginal variance with the device returning to its normal temperatures fairly quickly.

For the GPU, the Mi Max bears the Adreno 510 on both the Snapdragon 650 and the Snapdragon 652 variants. For the mid end where most screens still opt in for 1080p resolutions or lower, the GPU works very well. Since GPU performance is tied closely with the resolution of the display rather than its size, the 6.44″ Mi Max works just as well with the Adreno 510 as the 5.5″ Redmi Note 3 did; both being FHD displays.

Once again, the Snapdragon 650 continues its winning streak with the Mi Max, as it demonstrates that gaming is certainly not even near its weak point. Games work remarkably well, whether they are casual titles like Clash Royale or whether they involve heavy-lifting like Modern Combat 5. Again, it’s deja-vu, as the Max remains well within comfortable heat limits even under intense and prolonged sessions and poses no threat of interrupting your gaming fun with high temperatures of any sort. Once (or more probably, “if”) you get used to handling the dimensions and weight of the device, you will easily get lost within the gaming experience for hours at end — it’s smooth, cool to touch, jank-free and generally impressive.

On titles with softer graphics like NFS: No Limits and FIFA 16, the Mi Max maintained a steady 30fps during gameplay. With Asphalt 8 as well, the game stuck around on the 30fps cap despite being run on highest settings. With heavy graphics game like Dead Trigger 2, the Mi Max did fall behind as it failed to maintain a steady 60fps. While our benchmark app could not properly get an average, the fps hovered within the 50-60 range during gameplay.

RAM Management and Storage

The biggest complaint I had with the Redmi Note 3 that stopped from making it my daily driver was the paltry amount of RAM on the device. The 2GB of RAM on the base variant made multi-tasking a nightmare — apps closed if you exited them and opened anything else. One simply could not have any scope of decent multi tasking — games and the music player did not go together well, nor did YouTube and IM apps. After a while, you thank your stars that Notes and Calculator can at least co-exist. MIUI being a heavy and intensive OS also was as much to blame as the lack of physical capacity.

With the Mi Max, things are off to a much better start. The base variant of the Mi Max starts off with a 3GB LPDDR3 RAM variant while the top guy goes for 4GB RAM. The difference that an additional GB of RAM makes on MIUI can be felt as soon as you start playing around with the device. It now becomes practical to lock popular apps like IM into memory, and you can leave apps and return back to the last position a day later. It’s a whole different experience, which makes the Mi Max work towards providing a superior multitasking functionality than its closest brother. With the 4GB variant, I reckon things would be much more future proof seeing that our needs are evolving, not to mention the eventual multi-window updates to Android and MIUI.

But, the 3GB of RAM inside the Mi Max is still not neck-to-neck with the 3GB of RAM in my other AOSP-based devices. Granted, it is a very noticeable improvement from the 2GB of the Redmi Note 3 base variant, but pure numbers paint a rosy picture of the ground reality. If one goes by the number of apps that can be held in memory, the Mi Max lags out behind the pack mostly because of MIUI and its stock functionality. Most consumers will not notice it, but if you are someone who pushes your phone to its limits often, you will find that the device is not future-proof. For everyday tasks, the Mi Max works just as well as other phones. Also, there are settings inside MIUI that alter multitasking behavior, but we have stuck to the defaults assuming that most normal consumers would not know about these.

Screenshot_2016-08-15-00-30-13_com.andromeda.androbench2When it comes to storage, the Mi Max is back on track to doing things right. The internal storage is good in terms of speed and for its price range, with the Mi Max improving on the scores of the Redmi Note 3. It does not compete with the quick storage solutions seen in flagships that employ UFS 2.0, but I wouldn’t hold that against this device since it never meant to compete in that space. Storage space starts off at a healthy 32GB on the base variant, and kicks it out of the park with 128GB on the higher variant, so most of its target audience wouldn’t likely need an external card. But if they do, the Mi Max does come with microSD support, but you have to choose between using the card or the SIM card as the phone uses a hybrid slot for the same.

Also to note, the Xiaomi Mi Max does not support adoptable storage. With the base variant starting off at 32GB, this will be less of an issue. But we would rather have the option and not use it instead of having no choice at all.

Real World Performance

Real world performance of the Mi Max is top notch, despite the existence of MIUI which can be considered both, a feature and a limitation in the same vein. Yes, the skin is heavy, but its is heavily optimized for the hardware. Because of this, there are no lags or stutters within MIUI or while using the phone. Credit also goes to the hardware itself, as the Snapdragon 650 are some trusty shoulders to lean on for an experience that is indistinguishable from phones twice the price.

App opening speeds on the Mi Max are impressive considering that this is a device that is barely a mid-ranger. Again, this is no flagship, but the difference between this and a flagship does no justice to the price gap between the two. For example, Discomark clocked in an impressive 2.368s for opening through Chrome, Gmail, Play Store and Hangouts from cold boot states. This is behind the super-impressive 1.89s of the OnePlus 3 and the 2.057s of the HTC 10, but isn’t too far away either. Most users would not be able to tell the difference in the speeds unless they try to accurately monitor the timings since we are talking differences in fractions of seconds for cold-booting four apps. The difference between the current top dog of Android with 6GB of RAM and Snapdragon 820 with a clean AOSP ROM and a mid ranged phone with 3GB of RAM, Snapdragon 650 and a relatively-heavy MIUI skin is 0.478 seconds for four apps combined. So my incessant harping on about the Snapdragon 650 being legit has some fair basis to it.

Thermal throttling is non-existent on the Mi Max as well. The device slightly gets warm during prolonged use, but is in no way unusable in terms of heat, nor are there any signs of slowdown.

All in all, there would be no real complaints on the performance aspect of the Mi Max. It’s another solid performer coming out of Xiaomi’s stable, and for its price, it offers very good value. Multitasking is just the area where it can still continue to improve on, and is one of those cases in Android where more physical memory might be beneficial for the future. The present is served very well, making it a second time in a row for a reviewed Xiaomi device here.

Camera

The Xiaomi Mi Max comes with a 16MP rear camera with f/2.0 aperture, along with phase detection autofocus and dual tone LED flash. Xiaomi wasn’t forthcoming with the exact details on the sensor, and the camera entries in apps like AIDA64 were blank as well. There are sporadic talks with the sensor being the same as the one on the Redmi Note 3, but outside of this, I was unable to find any concrete and verifiable information. If the sensor on the Mi Max is indeed the same Samsung ISOCELL S5K3P3, then I wouldn’t go into the camera section with high expectations. The rear camera can shoot video at 4K @ 30fps which is an upgrade over the Redmi Note 3 which could only go upto 1080p @ 30fps. Slow-mo is available at 720p @120fps. The front is a 5MP selfie cam with f/2.0 aperture.

One recurring theme with the Mi Max camera was with over-exposure. The shots that I took often tended to be over-exposed in the brighter areas and slightly under-saturated overall. This happened a lot, with the remedy in sight being HDR mode. There are also hints of over-sharpening, but these are more apparent when you start zooming in. If the lighting is good, the camera works out OK at best — point and shoot isn’t the forte of the device.

The camera app and response times are both very good. The UI remains the same as seen on the Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 as MIUI 7 retains it across devices (video of the UI from the Note 3 below). Opening the app and clicking photos can be done in a snap, but autofocus tended to take a second and half (and you can see the over-exposure in the resultant photos afterwards).

With videos, the tales of over-exposure continues. Videos are also visibly over-sharpened, moreso than the photos. Further, I did find a few quirky behaviors, one of which can be reproduced. First, during my first attempt at taking a video sample, the camera app started skipping frames very horribly after a few seconds. The uploaded video can be found here. The device was behaving normally outside of this — no heating, no thermal throttling, no rogue app eating into RAM or CPU cycles. I tried but I could not reproduce which left me scratching my head on what is happening.

The other quirky behavior with the video recording is that the camera resets the video quality every time the app is purged from memory. The default setting for videos is 720p, with steps up to 1080p and 4K. But if at all you close the camera app and the phone clears it out of memory, you have to consciously change the setting back to higher settings, lest you end up shooting videos in 720p and curse yourself later on. This is reproducible on my end.

A video sample in 4K is given below. The device does not have OIS and its dimensions and slim bezels make it difficult to maintain stability when you hold the phone at shoulder-level.

You can view additional video footage here: 1080p | 720p. Another video of over-sharpening (on 720p unfortunately, before I could realize that 4K was not enabled) can be found here.

Unfortunately, the camera review for this device has to be cut short. Weather conditions in my city (Mumbai, India) are adverse with torrential rains and water logging being a staple feature for the entirety of my review duration. The phone itself is difficult to handle physically with one hand under ordinary conditions (in landscape orientation, nonetheless), so you can imagine the difficulty when trying to balance an umbrella along with it. Coupled with water-logged streets, lack of IPX7 certification on the device and my fear of dropping the phone into water, and what you would have had would be poor excuses at me trying to judge the camera. Most of my images turned out to be poor representatives as the often overcast weather did not play well with lighting conditions, and I couldn’t decide if it was the cameras fault or of external factors (likely), thus affecting my judgement.

We’d like to revisit the camera section if external conditions become favorable in the future. My personal apology for the current situation, but alas, it could not be helped without delaying the review indefinitely.

Display

We’ve arrived at the main talking point of the Mi Max.

While most people feel comfortable within the 5″ – 5.7″ display categories, some phone manufacturers went the extra mile when they recognized that some demand existed for phones with even bigger displays. Thus with this thought, 6″ displays became a thing. Of course Xiaomi tries to trump this up, and this 6.44″ monstrosity is Xiaomi trying to capture a market that is too niche to be mainstream. So niche is this market that are a very few phones that breach the 6″ mark. Lenovo’s Phab lineup (6.4″ – 6.8″), the LeEco Le Max (6.33″), the Honor Note 8 (6.66″) are pretty much the only competing devices, and none of them are popular enough with the mainstream audience due to its niche nature. None of these ever get mentioned alongside popular devices, like say the Moto G3 or the OnePlus One or the Samsung Galaxy S7 and that is because the demand for such large displays is barely there.

That being said, the Mi Max gets the display right for the most part. A 6.44″ IPS LCD panel with a RGB matrix is what you get for the display and Xiaomi still stuck around with the FHD 1080 x 1920 resolution. For a display this big, Xiaomi had the opportunity to go for a QHD panel (4K would be absurd for pricing) while inflating their pricing a bit. Instead, they did not go down either the 4K or 2K route. 1080p still works very well for the Mi Max as the pixel density comes out to be 342ppi, still invisible individually to the naked eye (for most sets of eyes, at least). The result is that image is still clear and sharp, and the battery life and GPU impacts are not as high as compared to 2K. It’s also worth noting that LCD is the best option for big 1080p panels, as current full HD AMOLED alternatives with their pentile pixel matrix cut down the effective resolution dramatically.

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Color accuracy on the Mi Max is on point as well, with minimal saturation by default. MIUI gives you options to play around with contrast and the white balance on the Mi Max, so you can choose to increase your contrast (the default was a bit lacking as blacks felt brighter than expected) and go between warm and cool white balance.

Display brightness left us with the same experience as on the Redmi Note 3. The max brightness is bright for viewing under sunlight, and the low gets very low for your late night texting scenarios. Auto brightness was a bit slow to react however, as it took between 2-3 seconds to adapt. MIUI also annoyingly needs you to pinpoint your exact location on the brightness slider before you can slide it around, so the “adapting” part could use some work. Viewing angles on the Max are excellent and color accuracy is maintained until extreme angles. This is certainly noticeable on this phone, where the multimedia experience often becomes a semi-public affair.

Certainly, the display size is what sets the Xiaomi Mi Max worth its form factor. It’s a joy to consume media on this device, although my wrists disagree when the sessions start dragging on. A kickstand case would be recommended for people who look forward to media consumption as the large display means that you can keep it farther away and still make everything out on the screen. It’s essentially a pocket-TV for people with large pockets. The speaker is a bit lacking (we’ll get to this in the audio section), otherwise the device would be perfect for an impromptu, casual YouTube playthrough with your crew.

Would a 2K display help the Mi Max? If there was ever a case to use a 2K display on a smartphone, it would make the most sense on something of this size. It feels like a wasted opportunity, and my opinion is personally divided on it. On one hand, a 2K display on a 6.44″ would have gains that are more noticeable than a 2K display at 5.5″. On the other, there are various other factors to keep into consideration, such as the pricing (competitively priced for early mid-range), GPU load, battery impact. For these factors, a FHD panel makes sense. Should Xiaomi have gone for a QHD display? I find myself unable to answer the “should” part, because the Mi Max is still a joy in its current state. Don’t fix what is not broken, and Xiaomi does exactly that. A 2K display could have brought in issues that would push the phone out of reach of this already niche audience, so hopefully Xiaomi has its research done right.

Battery Life & Charging

The Redmi Note 3 blew our collective minds off with its pure physical capacity of 4,000 mAh and an insane battery life of two days of moderate use. With the Mi Max, things are going up in the capacity department, but with the increase in screen size give a net positive increase in battery life?

The Mi Max comes in with a beefier 4,850 mAh battery. This is no “slight” increase in capacity — it’s a whole different league of its own in the number game. Just for comparison’s sake, the Moto Z comes with a 2600 mAh battery, the OnePlus 3 comes in with a 3000 mAh battery and the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 comes in with a 3500 mAh battery. Combine this beefy battery into a body that is actually pretty thin (but in contrast, heavy because of density), a processor that is quite power efficient, and a custom OS skin that does not like rogue apps running in the background. What you get is a recipe for success.

With a standard PCMark test setup, the Mi Max received a mind-blowing 8h 25mins of uninterrupted benchmark performance at maximum brightness and WiFi (and Sync) enabled all through. This denotes somewhat-heavy and real-world usage scenario (using system resources, not discrete or abstract calculations), which makes it better (but not perfect) to determine how much you can expect the device to last through. Within our testing, the device can easily crank out an 8 hour shift at work if all you did was play games on the device (because that is what we do at work, right?). This figure is hands down impressive, besting even the Redmi Note 3 by a decent 20 min margin despite the bigger display. Xiaomi even bested itself in one department I thought the Redmi Note 3 was an absolute boss.

Once I turned down the brightness to minimum and switched off WiFi to see how long the phone can do in minimal use scenarios, the Mi Max cranked out 18 and half hours of looping benchmarks, with nay a drop in performance. This is a good 2 and a half hour improvement over the Redmi Note 3 in similar situations.

Combined, both of these tests give us a good range of battery life to expect from the device. Depending on your use case, you can vary from 8.5 hours of screen on time to up to 18.5 hours. Throw in some quality standby times and I wouldn’t not believe someone if they said they can get 3 days without a charge on the Mi Max. During my own use case where I charge my device on a daily basis, I can find myself not dropping below 60% irrespective of how much I use the device. Even heavy Pokemon GO sessions, while not very comfortable ergonomically, did not disappoint in the slightest in terms of battery dropout. You can go out for 4 hours and still come back with enough juice to last you through the rest of the day. What makes this even more impressive is that the SoC is not an entirely power-saving SoC, so this extended performance consisted of no-compromises from the phone — no lags, no abnormal stutters, just top notch performance.

If you are someone that looks for insane battery life and performance that can help you enjoy that much life, the Mi Max will spoil you to the point where everyone else is simply not good enough. I went in with high expectations, and still got blown away.

But then, there’s the charging,

With a battery of this size, charging all of it was expected to be a downside and it is. Official specs of the device remain quite mum on whether the device sports Quick Charging of any sorts. The official charger in the box is a simple Quick Charge 1.0 brick with 5V at 2A for 10W, but this is likely to keep the price of the device down and to increase sale of accessories (common market practice). I did have a Quick Charge 2.0 charger at hand, so most of my results are based off that. We would recommend users to stick to the official charging accessories only, for their own safety.

With my QC 2.0 charger which can do a maximum of 12V at 1.25A for 15W, the Mi Max took around 3 hours and 40 mins on an average to go from a dead state to 100% charge:

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The slow charging times are not really “slow” per se, even though the percentage values make it appear so. That is because the huge 4,800 mAh battery will often be sufficient even at 50% of the charge. An hour of charging from 0% will give you around 33% battery, which can last you through the day if you do light usage. 50% battery is reached around the 1hr 30min mark, and the device really starts tapering off after 85% since you can reach that much in 2 hours 40 mins but still take another hour to reach the remaining 15%. Do you really need to reach 100% battery? The answer is no, a firm one at that. The heaviest of human use cases would do just fine with 85% battery on this behemoth to last them through a day.

Does the Mi Max support Quick Charge 3.0? This remains a talked after topic, but there is little information officially from Xiaomi in that regards. Qualcomm’s official list of devices that support QC 3.0 does include the Mi Max, and other users on the Mi Forums have reported varying success on trying out QC 3.0 certified chargers to bring down the charging time to 1 and a half hours, but we would not recommend users to use unofficial charging accessories. Even though close to 4 hours in charging time is a lot, you really do not need 2-3 days of battery life if you charge your phone daily (but it is a nice backup option to have and not carry around a powerbank for).

Battery life was one of my favorite plus points on the device, but battery testing made me waste so much time. Not only is the phone unkillable, it takes as much time to charge up, so any error meant that I had to endure this extraneous exercise all over again. The device does draw mixed feelings, as an official certification and approval from Xiaomi for Quick Charge 3.0 would have given the phone some very good specifications for battery.

Audio

The big display on the Mi Max could be have been combined with a great audio experience to make the Mi Max a truly multimedia-oriented experience. But, after a series of great runs with other parts of its hardware, the audio is that area where the Mi Max could have been better. The speaker setup on the Mi Max is comprised of a series of identically-drilled holes on the bottom mid-frame, but only the set of holes on the right hand side house the speaker.

The speakers get just about get adequately loud for a personal experience, but anything beyond that is a sub-optimal. Since the speakers are bottom-firing, it’s not up to par when compared to phones (or even tablets for that matter) with front facing speaker setups, but it is at least better than those on the rear. If you are in a noisy environment, you’d definitely want to find a different source for audio. Distortion is present at the highest volume levels. So at its best, the Mi Max is a device that is just there in terms of the speaker experience.

The earphone jack is a much better companion to the multimedia experience as the quality is what we come to expect in the price range. It is noticeably better than starter-range devices and is competitive to experiences in the mid-range. Pairing the Mi Max with a good earphone is the way to go if you plan to binge watch a few movies (but get a kickstand for the sake of your wrists). There are no earphones included in the box, as is standard in the mid ranges in the market.

For the earpiece and the microphones, the Mi Max is good and at par with every other smartphone. It works as a phone and there’s no room to complain on the quality. The phone is difficult to hold and talk for long durations, but this is a consequence of the size of the phone rather than something that is affected by the earpiece or the microphone.

Future Proofing & Development

The Mi Max (Snapdragon 650) is internally quite similar to the Redmi Note 3. The RN3 had decent levels of custom development, including a few recoveries, kernels and most popular custom ROMs making their way over. Due to the popularity of the device, and its size and every other factor kept in mind, the RN3 SD650 variant fared quite well honestly. The MediaTek variant of the RN3 was not as fortunate though. The bootloader unlock procedure is also something that people do not look forward to, as you need forum activity for speedy consideration. On the whole, the RN3 is no OnePlus or Nexus, but it still does offer a good platform to tinker around in the very early price brackets of the market.

With the Mi Max, however, things do not appear as rosy. The first part that would likely impact the development scenario on the device is the niche nature of the product itself. The Mi Max cannot be considered a mainstream product, and the size of the device is definitely not for everyone. This works against the device and creates a negative feedback loop of sorts for those looking for an active dev device: the device is not popular -> fewer development projects -> fewer enthusiasts look forward to it and all over back again. Popularity of the device remains questionable with the general public, so you can expect a similar drop in the number of knowledgeable Android enthusiasts who will pick up the device (especially keeping in mind that the device does not really utilize the big screen outside of media just yet).

That does not mean that the means to develop on the Mi Max are closed off. The device fares well when compared to other Chinese devices. With the internals of one variant of the Mi Max (hydrogen) being so similar to the RN3 (kenzo), it is easy to port over resources for this variant from the ready stuff on the RN3. The other Snapdragon 652 variant (helium) will have some initial difficulties comparatively.

The bootloader on the Mi Max is locked from what I can derive from past experiences. My device was a review device and hence had an unlocked bootloader out of the box, but this is an exception scenario and not the norm. Regular consumer devices would be having a locked bootloader. The bootloader unlock procedure, as is detailed in several areas on the MIUI forums since it is universally applied to newer Xiaomi devices, tends to take time. This is an intentional step to dissuade loading of malware by resellers, and while we hope that it was quicker, we can understand and sympathize with the needs of the average consumer trumping over those of the Android enthusiast.

Further, TWRP builds are available for both the device variants over in our Mi Max subforums (hydrogen | helium). There are a few threads that claim to allow installation of a recovery on a locked bootloader too.

With regards custom ROM development, there is an unofficial CyanogenMod 13 build floating around, but since the source is something I can not verify, this will not be linked nor advised to flash. Official CyanogenMod 13 (or an unofficial build from a trustworthy source) may come to the Mi Max eventually as I do know of one device maintainer who has the device, but there is no ETA or promises on this end.

The situation for kernel sources for the Mi Max are not yet released. But some conversations with a few developers pointed that these will come soon. Xiaomi did release the kernel sources for the RN3 kenzo, and the Mi Max will also get it since it is a Snapdragon device. The only question relates to the “when” aspect of it. Again, we hope for a speedy release.

Also to note, it is difficult to completely hard brick and kill (in the absolute sense) a recent Xiaomi device with a Snapdragon processor. I ended up bricking my RN3 several times after my review when I was just casually messing around. But every time I “bricked”, I did end up resurrecting the device. The RN3 has a final test point method for recovering from “hard bricks” (it is not a hard brick if it does not mean absolute death of the device, in my opinion). You do need to open up the device down to the motherboard, so it is not exactly a beginner-friendly step. But it exists on the Redmi Note 3 (kenzo) and a similar method also exists on the Mi Max as well.

All in all, the situation is a bit worse off when compared to the Redmi Note 3 Snapdragon 650 variant, but the mainstream popularity of the RN3 is likely to be blamed for the headstart in the custom development scene. The paths to improvements do exist for the Mi Max — the device does have development potential and is not completely locked out or doomed in any way. It is just a matter of time and the device attracting some more developers and users for the development activity to really pick up the pace.

Final Thoughts & Conclusion

The Xiaomi Mi Max is an interesting device. It attempts to fit a gigantic screen in your hands, and then backs it up with some spectacular horsepower and battery life. The device then comes to you at a pocket friendly price, which is against its own pocket-unfriendly nature. The big screen is the reason why you should buy the device, and the big screen (and resultant big body) is the reason why you also shouldn’t buy the device.

Calling the Mi Max a phone would be a disservice honestly. It is not one. It is a phablet, and a proud one at that. This is a device meant for people with large hands, or for those who use their devices with both their hands majority of the time. I do not fall in either of those categories, so it was difficult for me to truly love and accept the Mi Max for what it was. Every time I picked up the device, I wished it was smaller despite its incredible screen-to-body ratio and thin bezels, which very clearly means that I am not the target audience of this device.

Let’s take aside the physical dimensions of the device and judge the Mi Max for everything else:

You get a fantastic SoC under the hood, backed up with a decent amount of storage and RAM. The GPU is a capable beast for its price, so games and other activities related to displaying content on the screen will give you no chance to complain on its performance. Thanks to the hybrid SIM slot, you can either go Dual SIM or choose a microSD card. There’s an IR Blaster on the phone, so you can also use the device as a universal remote in case you ever needed to. The device is also at a good starting point for third party development activities since the bootloader can be unlocked officially, albeit with a bit of effort. And lastly, the very large battery makes it so that charging the phablet becomes a very passive thought process instead of a habit or a daily ritual, just like from the days of feature-phones. Having a phone that can last through a whole day of usage or two, irrespective of the definition of the words “whole day of usage” across users, is something I give bonus points towards.

But the Mi Max also has a few weak pointsCamera of the device seems to be the area where improvements can originate, as there are some flaws that become apparent early on. The display could have gone the whole QHD route, though I understand that there were reasons to not do so (and I agree with the minimal gains and their marginal nature, but that does not mean that everyone will be content with the FHD resolution display). Audio performance through the speakers could also have been better, as the current situation does not make the phablet fit for semi-public media consumption. MIUI 7 and Android 6.0 do not really utilize the screen size as much as I would have liked, but things may change for the better with MIUI 8 (or MIUI 9) on Android 7.0 Nougat whenever it lands on the device, making this slight negative to turn into a healthy positive. Charging speeds on the device are poor, but users have had varying results so I hope Xiaomi can at least point to an officially recommended charging speed, and if possible through software, improve on it.

Image 009Keeping the screen size aside, you do have to decide if you can live with all of the above pros and cons for a price tag of ₹14,999 ($225) for the base variant which was reviewed here. In my opinion, if it is just the internals that you are going for, the Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 3GB RAM variant is the no-brainer better value at ₹11,999 ($180). X

iaomi’s insane value proposition in the Redmi Note 3 leaves little room for its other devices to compete, and the near identical nature of the insides of the RN3 3GB RAM variant and the Mi Max SD650 variant obviously tips the scale in favor of the Redmi Note 3.

The Mi Max Snapdragon 652 variant with the 128GB storage and 4GB RAM will cost you ₹19,999 ($300). The additional GB of RAM will help keep things future proof. But the gains from the Snapdragon 652 (versus the Snapdragon 650) are not very large and are noticeable in tasking scenarios only, and since you can use a microSD card, you do need to ask the question if you really need the internal storage and the performance bump.

Now, with the above said, factor in the screen size and you get a recipe for unmatched success. The Xiaomi Mi Max is a league of its own, and there is no available competitor in the (Indian) market as of right now that can try and dethrone it from claiming the pole position in this niche market. For its price point, not only do you get a phablet, you get a pretty good deal at that. You get similar value proposition as from the Redmi Note 3, but with a bigger screen. Media consumption is generally a delight, and I loved using my device for impromptu binge watching YouTube or showing off family pics in get-togethers. This is where the phone shines, where it makes the most sense, and this is its real selling point — the large screen.

Should you buy the Xiaomi Mi Max?

The answer depends on if you are looking for a big phablet. If 6″ feels small to you, the Mi Max will please you. I would recommend physically holding the device once at least before making your decision since the Mi Max is a niche product and there’s a good chance you wouldn’t have experienced many >6″ devices around. If the screen size is not your priority criteria, I would recommend going for the Xiaomi Redmi Note 3.

You can purchase the Xiaomi Mi Max in India from Xiaomi’s Mi Store.

The Xiaomi Mi Max was a mixed experience for me. I enjoyed it on the inside, but the device was just not meant for me. The device did open my eyes that my sweet spot for phones is 5.5″.

 

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