Phablets have become pretty common these days but due to their sheer size, not a lot of people will prefer them over regular smartphones that already have ample screen real estate.

Then, there are the likes of the Xiaomi Mi Max that combines the best features of a flagship phone with a generous display size. For the purpose of this review, we bought the entry-level variant that came with 3GB of RAM and a Snapdragon 650 chip.

Design and Construction

The Xiaomi Mi Max is the largest smartphone that the Chinese company has ever released. At 6.44-inch, it’s actually one of the biggest around in its category.

The Mi Max carries the same design signature as the Mi Note series. It’s got a solid metallic body in a slim, flat and unibody design. The silver model has a white front panel covered with Gorilla Glass 4. In some instances, you’d mistake the Mi Max as a slightly bigger iPhone 6S Plus.

The front panel is fully covered with 2.5D Corning Gorilla Glass that slightly curves toward the edges with capacitive buttons at the bottom corner. There’s a thin strip of metal frame that surrounds the glass panel and closes the gap with the chassis.

The power button and volume controls are on the right side while the SIM card slot is on the left. The SIM tray supports one nano SIM and one micro SIM cards at the same time or you can also insert a microSD card into the first tray to expand file storage.

Up top is the 3.5mm audio port, a noise canceling mic and an IR blaster that serves as a universal remote for your home appliances.

At the bottom is the microUSB port for charging with a row of pin holes on each side — the right side works as the loudspeaker while the left side hides the primary mic. As with many smartphones we’ve reviewed before, this is mostly done for symmetry and aesthetics.

The back panel is flat and smooth in matte silver finish that tapers toward the edges. The top and bottom corners are cut in a different shade of silver, perhaps to provide better wireless signal reception.

Smack in the middle is a recessed circular fingerprint scanner. Due to the size of the phablet, it’s quite hard to reach the sensor with the index finger. Despite that, the scanner is fast and accurate with a maximum of 5 unique prints.

The unit also supports a hybrid dual-SIM cradle that can carry two SIM cards or the other card may be swapped with a microSD card up to 128GB. The 32GB internal storage has a usable 24.3GB space.

The Mi Max is definitely huge and really meant to be operated with both hands. Nevertheless, it’s still comfortable to use and fits just snugly into the back pocket of your jeans.

Display

The screen is 6.44 inches across with a resolution of 1920×1080 pixels, giving it a 342ppi pixel density. The glass slightly curves around the edges, reminiscent of the iPhone 6S Plus but with chamfered edges. There are three capacitive buttons at the bottom end — Home , Back and Recent Apps.

Despite the extra-large size, the full HD display looked very nice and crisp at 342ppi. The screen is bright and the IPS panel offered neutral color saturation. The brightness is not as good as the one on the Xiaomi Mi 5, though.

With the screen to body ratio on 74.8%, the Mi Max is still comfortable to hold with one hand although typing on the screen would certainly require both hands.

The side bezels are relatively thin, with about a millimeter from the edge where the glass terminates with the frame of the chassis but there’s an additional millimeter more inside the display itself that’s inactive.

OS, Apps and UI

The Xiaomi Mi Max runs on a custom OS called MIUI 7 which is based on Android 6.0 Marshmallow.

Xiaomi also announced MIUI 8.0 but the unit we had still has MIUI 7.0 pre-installed so we’ll just have to wait for the update. Since it’s also a China model, there is no Google Play Store pre-installed so we had to do some tinkering around to get this to run (it’s easy if you know where to get it).

The MIUI interface is flat and linear and the absence of an app drawer means you just have to create more home screens or group your apps into folders. This is the similar approach to iOS on the iPhone and the Emotion UI of Huawei devices.

Xiaomi has had a good reputation of providing fast and regular updates to their devices and this is something very few other brands can match. In the time we got this unit, we’ve already done a few updates once in a while.

Another huge advantage of the Mi Max is the developer community around it. There are hundreds and thousands of customization options in the Theme Store, most of them can be downloaded for free.

If there’s one thing that annoys us is the amount of bloatware that comes with it. Aside from native Mi apps, there are a lot of 3rd-party Chinese apps that came with the device (since our unit is the Chinese version). Out of the 32GB advertised internal storage, only around 24.3GB is left as usable space.

Camera and Multimedia

The 16-megapixel rear camera takes really good photos though the camera apps seem to be pretty plain and simple. There’s a limited Manual Mode that supports up to 1/4s exposure, White Balance and ISO settings from 100 to 3200. 4K video recording is also supported but there’s some very noticeable sharpening of the images.

The Mi Max takes good to great photos in outdoors with ample ambient light. The photos tend to get blurry with average to low-light environments and with the lack of any optical image stabilization, unfocused shots are more frequent than sharp ones.

Here are some sample photos we took using the rear camera:

While there’s 4K recording, the camera does not have any image stabilization so moving shots are definitely shaky (as shown in some sample clips below). Low-light performance is average and nothing significant to speak of.

The speakers at the bottom provide really good audio. Volume is pretty good, even reaching a maximum 85dB at its closest proximity, a bit better than the Xiaomi MI 5 that only got 79dB in Sound Meter.

Performance and Benchmarks

The Snapdragon 650 paired with 3GB of RAM are a nice tandem working together. Games and apps load quickly and perform very well thanks to the Adreno 510 graphics. Even synthetic benchmarks like Antutu gave it pretty good scores, hitting over 77,000 and beating SD810 performance. That’s just with the dual-core Cortex A72 processor running at 1.8GHz with the quad-core Cortex A53 1.4GHz for low-power consumption. We can only imagine how much it will perform better with the SD652 which has a quad-core Cortex A72 processor.

Benchmark scores:
Antutu benchmark: 77,909
Quadrant Standard: 32,115
PCMark Work Performance score: 6,081
3DMark: 770 (ES 3.1), 1,067 (ES 3.0)
PC Mark Storage score: 3,410
Vellamo: 2,349 (Multicore), 2,673 (Metal), 4,697 (Browser)

The Mi Max is great for gaming with its large full HD display and very capable hardware. We ran a number of games without any problems or dropped frames. The Adreno 510 graphics can handle all graphics-intensive games we threw at it.

Call Quality, Connectivity and Battery Life

Call quality is excellent on the Mi Max — voice calls are clear and crisp, SMS are sent/received fairly fast. Except for the absence of NFC, there’s WiFi, Bluetooth and dual LTE capabilities.

Battery life is most impressive, clocking in at 14 hours and 9 minutes in our PC Mark Battery Test at 50% screen brightness and 0% volume. In our video loop test, the Mi Max scored 18 hours in a single full charge playing a full HD movie.

The device also features Qualcomm Quick Charge 3.0 which allows it to fully charge the very large battery in just 2 hours, thanks to the 2A charger that came with it.

Conclusion

Having used the Mi Max along with the Xiaomi Mi5 for the past few weeks gave us a better understanding on where phablets (we prefer calling them oversized smartphones) stand in the scheme of things.

While its not too handy to carry around, we always end up picking the Mi Max in our leisure time, preferring to use it to surf the web, watch videos on YouTube and the usual set of games. More so that we know it can last the entire day on heavy use.

Aside from its sheer size, we could not find anything polarizing with the device — either you’ll love it or find it too uncomfortable/unwieldy as a daily driver.

That being said, we liked the Mi Max — nice design, great performance and battery life. We think it’s one of the best and most affordable phablets out in the market.

Xiaomi Mi Max specs:
6.44-inch IPS full HD display @ 1920×1080 pixels, 342 ppi
Gorilla Glass 4
Qualcomm Snapdragon 650/652 CPU
4 x 1.4GHz Cortex-A53 + 2 x 1.8GHz Cortex-A72
Adreno 510 GPU
3GB / 4GB RAM
32GB, 64GB, 128GB internal storage
microSD up to 128GB
16MP PDAF rear camera w/ LED flash
5MP front camera (85-degree wide-angle)
Dual-SIM hybrid
4G+, 3G HSPA+
WiFi 802.11ac
Bluetooth 4.2
Rear fingerprint sensor
Infrared port (Mi Remote app)
4,850mAh Li-Ion battery
MIUI 7
173.1 x 88.3 x 7.5mm (dimensions)
203 grams (weight)
Gold, Silver, Gray

What we liked about it:
* Simple yet beautiful design
* Large, crisp cdisplay
* Great performance
* Impressive battery life
* Very affordable

What we did not like:
* Size not for everyone

 

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