A Solid, Two-Hand Device

Using the Xiaomi Mi Max for a couple of weeks was an enlightening experience. The phone is enormous, but there’s no doubting the quality of the hardware Xiaomi has managed to include at an affordable price point.

Most of the issues I had with the Mi Max relate to its size. At 6.44-inches, there is simply no comfortable way to hold and operate this smartphone in one hand, at least without resorting to constantly using the one-handed software mode. Restricted to two-handed use in the majority of circumstances, the Mi Max quickly became cumbersome, particularly when I wanted to hold another object while operating this device.

Xiaomi hasn’t done much to optimize their MIUI software skin for large phones either. Aside from one or two exceptions, the majority of apps included on this handset are enlarged versions of those found on smaller devices, which doesn’t make great use of the massive display. Don’t expect good third-party app support either, as 6.4-inch phones are rare enough that developers simply don’t bother optimizing their apps for the extra screen real estate.

With that said, there are some great reasons to use such a massive phone. The media consumption experience is awesome, particularly for videos and games. Having dual front facing speakers would have complemented this experience well, however even without stereo audio I was able to really enjoy using the Mi Max for entertainment. In some respects, it’s better to think of this device as a small tablet with phone functionality attached.

From a hardware perspective, I was impressed with what Xiaomi has managed to pack into a device that costs just $250. The Qualcomm Snapdragon 650 SoC is very fast in this price bracket, comfortably beating the Snapdragon 801, and even outperforming the Snapdragon 808 that we’ve seen in flagships as recently as late last year (such as the Nexus 5X).

This is one of the few devices I’ve used in the $250-350 price bracket that isn’t demolished by older flagship handsets from a performance perspective, so that’s a big win for the Snapdragon 650 here.

The SoC isn’t the only good piece of hardware in the Mi Max. Storage performance is excellent, and there’s also LTE (suitable for European and Asian markets), Wi-Fi ac, and a great fingerprint scanner on the rear of the device. The main omissions here are NFC and USB-C, although this isn’t a flagship handset, despite what the rest of the hardware spec sheet would suggest.

Battery life is superb as well, thanks to an enormous 4,850 mAh lithium-ion cell; there’s no chance you’ll run out of charge on a daily basis.

In some respects, it’s better to think of this device as a small tablet with phone functionality attached.

The 16-megapixel camera is decent, meaning it's no better than other mid-range shooters I’ve used. Color quality and dynamic range is good, although some processing issues can lead to blurry images indoors. The included HDR mode is fantastic and should be used often, especially while outdoors, though a lack of OIS hurts low light performance. Surprisingly, the Mi Max includes support for 4K video capture, which is an excellent inclusion in a cheap handset.

The Mi Max’s build quality is fantastic. The phone is huge, but it is solidly built. This is another relatively inexpensive handset from a Chinese OEM that uses a design that rivals high-end devices, which is why basic plastic bodies no longer cut it, even in the budget segment.

If you don’t like the idea of a phone that’s impossible to use in one hand, you should steer well clear of the Mi Max. But if you are after a huge display and think you can manage the inconvenience that comes with it, there’s a lot to like about the Mi Max.

You can currently pick up a Mi Max for just $250 from Gearbest, which includes 32 GB of storage. The 64 GB models are slightly more expensive and also worth looking at, while the 128 GB model will set you back $100 more.

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Pros: Powerful Snapdragon 650 SoC. Very affordable for what you get. Great metal build, fingerprint sensor and enormous battery. Huge display is perfect for media consumption.

Cons: Impossible to use in one hand without the help of software. MIUI is a very heavy Android skin, and software updates are rare.