There are a few things that anyone should absolutely never ever do. Like mixing soda in a fine single malt whisky. Or reaching an Indian wedding on time. Or trusting Bangalore’s traffic. Or using a phone that’s bigger than your face. The Xiaomi Mi Max barely makes the cut for the last thing in my ‘never to do’ list.
Saying the Mi Max is big, is an understatement. Its massive 6.44-inch display will stretch every muscle and tendon in your palm. You will be the butt of all jokes when you slap the union of glass and metal against your cheek to take a call. Heck, you would be the butt of ‘TWSS‘ jokes even if you don’t mention the Mi Max.
Xiaomi Mi Max TL;DR review
The Mi Max is unapologetically big. Xiaomi says it saw a segment of users who wanted a smartphone with a VERY large display. For whom regular 5.5-inch to 6-inch phablets are not good enough. I can imagine those users who use voice calling tablets as a sad excuse for a smartphone with a big battery. Xiaomi acknowledges that this segment is very small but it hopes it can make it popular and carve a new niche for itself.
If you are someone who isn’t interested in a smartphone with an obscenely large display, here’s the TL;DR version of the review: The Mi Max is an oversized Redmi Note 3 with a battery that easily lasts for two days and nearly 11 hours of screen on time. That’s about it. If you are open minded about using a smartphone that might be almost as big your face, read on.
Let’s MAX the Mi Max
I have been using the Mi Max as my primary smartphone for two weeks now and it has been, well, quite an experience. I have shown it to everyone possible to understand how they feel about it and it is a clearly divided camp. There are some who get intimidated by its sheer footprint and won’t even consider to use it as a phone.
Then there are others who look at the possibilities — I gave it to my colleague, who couldn’t let go of it because playing games on it was so much more fun. He used ‘immersive’ to describe the experience but that phrase is now reserved for VR, I guess. Another colleague found the Mi Max’s obvious use case to be for binge watching videos. There could be other use cases too, like for viewing and editing spreadsheets, documents and presentations. Or for anything else where being able to see things bigger would help.
Normally, after using a smartphone (okay, we are stretching the definition here) for two weeks I would know whether I like it or not. That isn’t the case with the Mi Max. I am still not willing to let go of it and yet, there are multiple moments every day when I curse it for being, well, itself. It is just too big.
Let’s talk about the good stuff first. Yes, the Mi Max fits in my denim pockets effortlessly. However, sitting with this beast of a device in my pocket is not a pleasant experience. Xiaomi has made some design changes from the Redmi Note 3, like the dual chamfered edges and how the back metal panel tapers along the two sides, which make it relatively easy to hold. But beyond these changes, it all comes down to the flexibility of your palm muscles and tendons to hold the phone for extended usage, which I think my hands are used to thanks to the iPhone 6s Plus that I use with a bulky case.
The battery life on this monster smartphone is phenomenal. The Mi Max has the best battery I have encountered on anything that has fit in my pocket. Just to give you an idea, on a single charge, the Mi Max’s 4,850mAh battery has lasted me for over 30 hours that has included watching three hours of Netflix and nearly 11 hours of screen on time. Of course, I had 4G, Wi-Fi and GPS switched on all the time. And I was using it as my primary phone.
During this fortnight there have been times when I have left home with 100 percent battery in the morning, come back with about 55 percent left, slept, took the phone to office again without charging and come back home with still some battery left. It is insane.
I used the Snapdragon 650 version of the Mi Max, which comes with 3GB RAM and 32GB of internal storage. Like the Redmi Note 3 the performance is crisp – games run fine without any frame drops, there is no problem with multitasking and everything works fluidly. No complaints there either.
When Mi Max = meh max
But there are things that make using the Mi Max a frustrating experience too.
During my usage, I found it impossible to quickly whip the phone out of my pocket and click a photo. The sheer size makes the Mi Max quite unwieldy and doing anything with the phone while standing or in motion usually accompanies a lot of fumbling around.
Then there is the display itself. The outdoor visibility is underwhelming. Not only is the display reflective but it also is not able to adjust itself quickly. The display takes its sweet good time to come to terms with the increased brightness.
The thoughtful engineers at Xiaomi have created a one-handed mode where you can minimize the screen to mimic a 3.5-inch, 4-inch or a 4.5-inch display. But the trigger to invoke it involves quickly moving your thumb from the capacitive home button to the multitasking button. That’s neither intuitive nor works every time you do the action. I manage to get it right only two in five times and more often than not, I am starting at the multitasking window.
Like the Redmi Note 3, the camera on the Mi Max is a mixed bag. Most of the photos lack sharpness. They manage to give a nice depth of field bokeh effect but the photos themselves are just average.
Not maxxed yet
I am somewhat disappointed that Xiaomi has not done much to make use of the increased display size. One obvious thing would be to have some sort of a split screen multitasking mode, where you could run two apps side by side. Or how about a picture-in-picture mode where you could keep a video playing in a corner while you work on other stuff? As things stand right now, in most normal cases, you are only able to see stuff in a bigger size than you would have been able to see on a 5.5-inch 1080p display. Everything simply gets magnified owing to the bigger size of the display that still houses the same number of pixels.
Considering that watching videos on such a big display would be an obvious use case, did Xiaomi miss an opportunity by not adding front facing stereo speakers on the Mi Max? I think so. Or for that matter, any sketching or doodling app. Probably a stylus?
I am searching for that one reason which would make the Mi Max something more than, “Hey look, I am smartphone with a big display. Buy me now.” And even after a fortnight of using the Mi Max, I am unable to find that USP.
An acquired taste
The Xiaomi Mi Max has no real competition in the market right now and that’s possibly why it would be successful, provided it can find enough users who find the appeal in a smartphone with a 6.44-inch display. In a country like India, I don’t have any doubts there is a segment of users for a niche device like this. It has an exceptional battery, good design and a good hardware feature set as well. So if you are craving for a smartphone with a big display, the Mi Max is the only option. Where I find it underwhelming is even if this audience exists, Xiaomi hasn’t done much to make the big display useful.
The Mi Max will be available in two variants in India. The basic 32GB variant comes with 3GB of RAM and Snapdragon 650 processor, priced at Rs 14,999. Then there is the top-of-the-line variant that comes with 128GB of internal storage, 4GB of RAM and Snapdragon 652 processor priced at Rs 19,999. The Mi Max goes on flash sale on July 6 and will be available on open sale on July 13.