Since smartphones were relaunched with the first iPhone the spent years where the accepted wisdom was that they’d get a little larger every model. Samsung launched their hugely popular Note line in 2011 at 5.3 and created the first Phablet – half way between a phone and a tablet but the main market seems to have stabilized at around 5 to 5.5 inches.

Like many of us I spend and amazing amount of time looking at, reading, watching and interacting with my phone and I’ve always wanted the biggest screen I can get. There have always been some *large* phones like the 7 inch Samsung Galaxy Mega but they’ve never had a decent set of specs or battery life. Enter the Xiaomi Mi Max – a large 6.3 inch screen phone with good – if not spectacular specifications.

The Mi Max is clearly a phone built around the screen and while the screen quality can’t quite match the top of the range phones it’s decent with good illumination and a ppi of 342 that leaves is great for watching media and reading. That big screen also needs a big battery – the Mi Max has a non-removeable 4850mAh unit which while it’s not the largest I’ve ever seen (that goes to the Archos 50 Saphir) is more than most competitors. In context the Galaxy S7 has 3000mAh battery, the iPhone 7 1960mAh and the iPhone 7 Plus has  2900 mAh battery.  In my testing even with heavy use I was getting a day and a half or so of battery life and if I’d been more careful and stretched slightly it would have got through two days.

The size of the phone makes it a two hander for most people and a little large for most people’s pocket. While reasonably heavy at just over 200 grams it’s not over heavy for the size and the rounded back is comfortable to hold.

Other specs are generally good – a Snapdragon 650 CPU, a 16MP camera that works well in good light and acceptably in dimmer conditions, the choice of dual sim or sim and microSD, a fingerprint reader in the middle of the back that works well and an IR blaster that lets it also be a TV remote. The single downward facing speaker is a little bit of a disappointment but with a set of headphones isn’t a big problem.

The Mi Max runs Xiaomi’s own very heavily skinned version of Android – Mi – based on Marshmallow 6.0. The phone I was shipped came with Mi7 but immediately upgraded to Mi8. Mi could best be described as Android trying to look a lot like iOS. It’s very Appley from the habit of keeping all the apps on the home screen to the default color scheme and settings. The overall effect works surprisingly well especially when you get used to the novel ways of finding everything and because it’s Android under the covers you can just put on your own launcher and get a much closer to stock experience. Xiaomi bundles a lot of it’s own apps with the phone but kindly makes them all removable.

Product Information

Retailer: Gearbest +                   

Price: ± £147 – £190

The Mi Max isn’t officially available in most of the world – with it’s core markets being focused on China and India. It is however available worldwide via a number of grey market resellers. Two points to consider – make sure you get an international version or you’ll not have access to the Google Play store pre-installed. This is possible to work around but if you can avoid it you should.  Secondly from a UK perspective you need to be aware that the phone does not contain all the radios needed for all of the mobile phone networks – in short if you’re on EE you’ll be ok, on O2 and you’ll never get fast LTE and on Vodaphone you’ll end up somewhere inbetween.

The phone is Fastcharge compatible but the charger in the box is not. This means if you want to charge at a decent speed you’ll need a replacement for about £10 like this one.

About Xiaomi

Xiaomi is a privately owned Chinese electronics company headquartered in Beijing. It is the world’s 5th largest smartphone maker in 2015 Xiaomi sold 70.8 million units and was accountable for almost 5 percent of the smartphone global market share. Xiaomi designs, develops, and sells smartphones, mobile apps, and related consumer electronics. They have the bulk of their sales in China but are actively looking to expand globally and have been concentrating on the Indian market

They have been involved in several controversies with questions being asked about the servers in what their servers record, flash sales having far less stock than they report and similar.

Design

There are two versions of the Mi Max – the ‘standard’ and the Prime. The differences between them are storage (32 or 64GB vs 128GB) RAM (3GB vs 4GB) and CPU (Qualcomm Snapdragon 650 vs 652). My review is based on the standard version but everything I’ve read indicates there isn’t much of a difference on a day to day basis and they look visually identical.

Cost-Effective

THe Mi Max can be had for around £150 with sales sometimes taking it a little lower and import duty a little higher. It’s difficult to find directly comparable phones that have the same rough screen size and similar specs. The closest is the Samsung Galaxy A9. This has a very similar specs and is available for £409 from Argos.

The Mi Max does have one significant disadvantage – being from the grey market any problems will be much, much harder to get resolved. If you’re a experienced user this is far less likely to be an issue but it is a slight risk.

Specification

Product dimensions: 17.3 x 8.8 x .7 cm
Capacity: 32 or 64GB storage
RAM: 3GB
Item Weight: 203 grams
Colour: Grey or gold with white accents
Release date: May 2016
Made in China

Technical Specification
Operating System: Android 6.0 with Mi8
Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 650
Network: 2g, 3g, GSM, CDMA, HSPA and LTE. Note that it does not cover every 4g band used in the UK but just LTE bands 1(2100), 3(1800), 7(2600), 38(2600), 39(1900), 40(2300), 41(2500).
Display: 6.44″ 1080×1920 IPS Gorilla Glass 4
Camera: 16MP f/2.0 main camera and 5MP selfie camera
Connectivity: microUSB 2.0
Wi-Fi: 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac (2.4 & 5 GHz) capable and hotspot
Bluetooth: v4.2, A2DP LE
NFC (Near Field Communication): No
Battery: Non-removable li-ion 4850 mAh

Warranty: Only available on the grey market. Theoretically 1 year free from defects but you may have issues enforcing this.

mimaxVerdict

Phablets have always been a divisive form factor. Phones that have aspirations to be tablets or shrunken tablets they push the limit of on the go use and are often to big for your pocket. That’s all a given. Anyone who isn’t interested in phablets stop reading now.

For the rest of us who are willing to bear the extra weight and size for the extra viewing size and productivity the options on the market have become surprisingly thin. The Mi Max enters at a relatively low price point and hit’s most of the things that a phablet needs. It stumbles a bit with the camera and of you’re an O2 customer you shouldn’t consider it but for the right user it’s a decent blend of screen, spec and cost.

For me I’m a fan of the Mi Max. It’s a decent device that for it’s price is a standout. It’s not winning me away from my S7 solely because of the camera but treating it like a min-tablet with a data sim seems to work well for me and it’s earned a place in my bag, if not my pocket. Recommended for EE customers who want a decent phablet at a reasonable price.

Ergohacks Essential

The review is based on the Xiaomi Mi Max kindly provided by GearBest. This article was first published on 29th November 2016.