Review: Snapdragon 652, 6.44-inch panel, 4850mAh battery
In case you’ve spent the last year or two in a coma, here’s what you missed: Fudzilla fell in love with inexpensive Chinese phones, a lot of celebrities and pop culture icons died, and the loud bloke from Celebrity Apprentice is now US President-elect.
What did you miss on the mobile front though? As it turns out, not much actually. Smartphone evolution has stalled and vendors are having a hard time coming up with truly groundbreaking products that deserve loads of attention. Xiaomi is one notable exception though, as it recently unveiled its Mi Mix concept – a truly impressive smartphone with next to no bezels and a massive 6.4-inch panel.
The mid-range Mi Max also has a 6.44-inch 1080p panel, but it’s a traditional design. While the Mi Mix packs a 6.4-inch display in a 5.7-inch form factor, the Mi Max does not. It still has a chin and brow, and average size bezels. This means it’s huge, or “yuge” in US English. How “yuge”? It measures 173 x 88 x 7.5 mm and weighs 203 grams. In other words, it’s 15 to 20 mm taller than an average 5.5-inch phone, and it’s more than 10mm wider, which is a much bigger deal, but we’ll get to that later. It should be noted that Xiaomi is hardly the only vendor to launch such an oversized device, as Sony, Huawei and Asus already have massive phablets (some substantially bigger than the Mi Max).
Unlike the fancy Mix, the Mi Max is not a flagship device, not even close. Prices start at about $180 for the entry-level version powered by a Snapdragon 650 processor, backed with 2GB RAM and 16GB storage. This is quite paltry for such a huge device, but don’t worry – Xiaomi has a number of different SKUs for more demanding users, and we will be reviewing one such unit. Our sample packs a Snapdragon 652 processor, 3GB RAM and 64GB storage.
Design and Build Quality
The design is a mixed bag. It’s a bit like a cross between a Redmi Note 4 and a Note 3, sprinkled with a generous dose of human growth hormone. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, since the Redmi line looks rather good considering the price point.
The Max is just more of the same – a metal body with two plastic caps at each end, to house the antennae and keep costs down.
The main camera is located in the upper left corner, flanked by a dual-tone LED flash. The fingerprint scanner is also located at the back, which is understandable since mounting it on the front of the device would make the whole thing even taller.
The frame is CNC-machined metal and feels quite good. The Max isn’t an ultrathin note, but it’s easily mistaken for one. Due to its big footprint, the 7.5mm thick device actually looks a lot thinner than it is.
The volume rocker and power button are on the right-hand side, but they’re a bit “lower” than you’d expect on a regular phone. If they weren’t, you’d probably have a very hard time reaching them with your thumb.
At the bottom, you’ll find a standard Micro USB port (no Type-C yet), and two speaker grilles. Well, only one of them actually houses a speaker, while the other one is there for symmetry. Again, nothing out of the ordinary, although we would have liked to see a dual speaker setup on such a huge device.
The IR blaster, noise-cancelling microphone and 3.5mm audio port are on top.
What about the front? It’s immense, so it had better look bloody good, and, luckily, it’s quite nice. Xiaomi uses slightly curved 2.5D glass, which is a nice touch on such an oversized device with thin, sharp edges.
The brow houses the front-facing camera, proximity sensor and earpiece.
The chin is Xiaomi standard – just three nav buttons and that’s it.
As far as aesthetics go, we did not like every single detail. For example, let’s take Xiaomi’s decision to offer the Max in Silver, Light Gray and Golden colour options. Granted, they all look rather nice, but they also share the same facia. It’s white, no matter which colour you choose.
This wouldn’t be much of a deal if Xiaomi and most other Chinese smartphone brands didn't incorporate that tiny black frame around the panel. It looks good on black devices, since it can create the illusion of a bigger screen or smaller bezels, but on a white phone, especially a phone this size, it just doesn’t make sense.
The sheer size of the Mi Max is the elephant in the room. It’s not the looks, it’s the size. See that tiny phone on the right? It's the 5.5-inch Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 Pro. Not so tiny then.
What about build quality? The Mi Max isn’t exactly a proper Mi-series phone, as it has loads of Redmi DNA. The Max is an entry- to mid-range device, depending on which SKU you pick. This also means that build quality is not on a par with Mi flagships, and it’s much closer to Redmi devices like the Note 4.
Luckily, Xiaomi has given the Redmi line a nice makeover over the past year or so, adding a number of all-metal designs with a good finish that’s not far behind flagship devices. The Mi Max looks and feels like a pricier device, which is good. The downside? Due to its size, the Max flexes under pressure and probably wouldn’t take nearly as much punishment as a 5-inch device. We think it would easily bend under a lot of pressure, so even if you can fit it in your front pocket, this probably isn’t a good idea.
Xiaomi Mi Max Specs and Performance
Don’t be fooled by the huge size and marketing. The Mi Max is no flagship, but then again, it’s no slouch either. The phone is based on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 650 platform. The entry level models ship with the SD650 processor, with two Cortex-A72 and four Cortex-A53 CPU cores. The Mi Max Prime which we are playing with packs a more powerful SD652 chip, with two extra Cortex-A72, for a total of four A72 and four A53 cores. Either way, both parts share the same Adreno 510 GPU, which doesn’t come close to flagship GPU performance.
So which one should you get? This is a tricky question since the Snapdragon 650 variant is available with 2GB RAM and 16GB ROM, or 3GB RAM and 32GB storage. The Prime variant, based on the SD652 processor, comes in two flavours: 3GB/64GB and 4GB/128GB.
Prices start at about $175 for the 2GB/16GB model, followed by the 3GB/32GB model at $230+. The latter seems to be in high demand, as it’s probably the most attractive version, but value for money is questionable. Due to stretched demand, the 32GB variant isn’t much cheaper than the $250 Prime 64GB SKU we are testing today. The top of the line 4GB/128GB variant is priced well over $300 and doesn’t make much sense.
We’d focus on the plain 3/32GB model and the 3/64GB Prime. Unfortunately, the 32GB variant is overpriced due to high demand, but this could change in a matter of weeks. Once it dips to $200 or so, it will definitely be the one to go for.
Xiaomi Mi Max specs:
- SoC: Snapdragon 650/652, 28nm
- CPU: 2xA72 + 4xA53 in SD650, 4xA72 + 4xA53 in SD650, up to 1.8GHz
- GPU: Qualcomm Adreno 510
- RAM: 2/3/4GB RAM
- Storage: 16/32/64/128GB eMMC 5.0 internal storage, microSD slot
- Display: 6.44-inch 1080p IPS panel
- OS: Android 6.0.1 / MIUI 8.x
- Rear camera: 16-megapixel Samsung sensor, f/2.0 aperture, PDAF,
- Front facing camera: 5-megapixel sensor, f/2.0 aperture, 85 degree FOV.
- Battery: 4850mAh lithium polymer, non-removable
- Dimensions: 173 x 88 x 7.5 mm
- Weight: 203g
- Connectivity: 802.11b/g/n/ac WiFi, Bluetooth 4.2
- Sensors: ambient light, direction, accelerometer, compass, proximity, GPS, A-GPS
- Other noteworthy features: IR blaster, FM radio
- SIM card: dual SIM (micro SIM), dual standby
- Network support:
- 2G: GSM 850/900/1800/1900MHz
- 3G: WCDMA 850/900/1900/2100MHz
- 4G: FDD-LTE: 1800/2100/2600MHz (Make sure you check regional compatibility prior to making a purchase!)
So, it’s a well-rounded device with a lot of options to choose from - perhaps too many? The Snapdragon 650 versions (16GB and 32GB) should offer the best value for money, but limited availability is a problem and renders the 32GB model uncompetitive. It’s just priced too close to the 64GB variant, with a faster processor.
On the other hand, the two other SKUs, 2/16GB and 4/128GB don’t make too much sense. This is a device for content consumption, so 16GB simply isn’t going to cut it for most people, despite the microSD slot. Yes, it’s very affordable, but value comes at a price. At the other side of the spectrum, the 4/128GB version looks like overkill, and it’s quite pricey. If you really need that much storage and RAM, you should get a flagship device instead. No matter which one you choose, you'll get two SIM slots, one of which doubles as the microSD card slot.
Here’s our problem – the entry-level version costs about half as much as the 4/128GB model, which has a marginally better processor and a lot more storage. The display, camera, and appearance are the same, so we just don’t think it’s worth it.
About the Snapdragon 650 series… It’s a weird chip, and if you were to look at some parts of the spec, you could assume it’s a MediaTek processor. In many respects, it resembles the MediaTek Helio X20/X25, which also have two A72 cores, as well as four additional Cortex-A53 cores and an ARM Mali GPU. Performance is quite similar too, and both MTK and Qualcomm parts are 28nm, which means they’re dirt cheap to manufacture. Actually, it feels like a processor specifically designed to mess with MediaTek, because it’s a departure from Qualcomm’s traditional mid-range layout.
The Snapdragon 652 is more of the same, but it adds two more Cortex-A72 cores. As we all know, A72s are blazing fast, so you’d expect a massive performance boost, and you get one – but not in the GPU department. Here’s the thing – both versions share the same GPU, which will bottleneck graphics performance on both parts. Yes, your apps will launch and update slightly faster, but you won’t see a noticeable uplift in GPU performance.
We almost feel as if Qualcomm intentionally “nerfed” the Snapdragon 652 by retaining the Adreno 510 GPU.
Let’s take a look at some synthetic and real-world performance.
At about 72,000 in Antutu, the Snapdragon 652 shows it can deliver a lot of performance on a budget. Sure, it's still substantially slower than flagship parts like the SD821, but it's still a pretty good result. However, it's on par with the hexa-core Snapdragon 650.
Let's take a look at single-core performance in Geekbench. Core-per-core, the SD652 matches the SD650.
But the multi-core test demonstrates the difference. It places the SD650 closer to the Snapdragon 820-powered HTC 10 and outpaces the MediaTek Helio X10 in the Meizu MX5. Not bad at all.
Basemark results are quite good too. In this benchmark, the SD650 series wipes the floor with the old Helio X10.
But here's the problem. The Adreno 510 GPU bottlenecks the Snapdragon 652, so 3D scores on the hexa-core Snapdragon 650 are nearly identical.
So what’s our verdict on the Snapdragon 650 series? Well, to be honest, we tried it out back in June and were impressed by the overall performance. However, don’t forget this is still a budget processor. While you get good CPU performance, the GPU is unimpressive and the processor is built on the old 28nm node, which helps reduce manufacturing costs but at the same time compromises power efficiency.
Bottom line? The Snapdragon 652 makes a bit less sense than the 650.
Adding two powerful CPU cores to a SoC with an underpowered GPU doesn’t make much of a difference in real-life applications. On the other hand, it’s a good marketing tool, as getting four Cortex-A72 cores in a budget chip sounds awesome. In reality, the CPU is not going to bottleneck the system, but the underpowered GPU will.
Either way, the Snapdragon 650 series remains a good choice for mid-range devices, and easily holds its own against MediaTek’s latest Helio X20/25 series, while at the same time outpacing older MTK chipsets like the Helio X10. But that’s just the performance – let’s not forget Qualcomm’s platforms usually get more support on the software front, so if you’re a ROM addict, they’re a better choice than MediaTek parts.
Also, Xiaomi is in some hot water with Ericsson, so it can’t market MediaTek-based phones in India, which is sort of a big deal considering the sheer size of the Indian market and Xiaomi’s rather aggressive and successful entry into the emerging Indian subcontinent. For now though, Qualcomm is the only choice for Indian users, at least when it comes to Xiaomi devices (contrary to some media reports, this issue is limited to Xiaomi and does not affect other vendors - so you can't still pick up a MediaTek-based phone in India, just not one made by Xiaomi).
Audio, Display and Camera Quality
Let’s start with the selling point of the Mi Max, and indeed all other oversized phablets – the massive LCD IPS panel. At a time when entry-level 5-inch phones feature 1080p displays as standard, having the same resolution on a gargantuan 6.44-inch panel doesn’t sound adequate.
However, 1080p on a 6.44-inch diagonal translates to about 342ppi, which is still quite good and would qualify as a Retina-class resolution in the Apple universe. So no, you’re not going to see individual pixels unless you really, really try hard. But here’s the thing – you won’t be using a 6.44-inch phone like a 5-inch one. It’s just not necessary. With such a huge display, you can see everything at arm’s length and you won’t have to glue your nose to the display to see stuff.
Display quality is rather good, although it’s not on par with the latest flagships. Contrast is not bad, especially for this price bracket, and it’s rather bright, with 500+ nits brightness, which comes close to flagship levels. You may expect the Max to be a great performer outdoors, but it’s a mixed bag. The display is massive and you end up with a lot of glare, so it doesn’t feel like such a bright display outdoors. It’s not bad, but we expected more, given the contrast and brightness figures.
Viewing angles are excellent, but colour reproduction could be better. The display has a rather cold tint to it, but luckily MIUI allows you to tweak the display colour temperature. Blacks are awesome, quite impressive for an LCD, and this means a lot when you’re dealing with such a huge display. Of course, having an OLED display on such a big device would make even more sense, as it would help reduce consumption even further, but OLED displays tend to be pricier.
Overall, the display is good, but imperfect. At the end of the day, this is still a relatively cheap device and when you factor in the price, it’s above average, despite its bluish tint.
What’s the use of having a huge display if you don’t have good audio to back it up? The Max is a smartphone for content consumption, and in many respects, it’s more of a tablet than a phone. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have a dual-speaker setup and relies on Xiaomi’s traditional side-firing speaker design. The solitary speaker is quite good, but we were hoping for something better. Here’s the thing – the Max is not an ordinary phone, and it’s not like Xiaomi designers didn’t have room to squeeze it in because this is a massive device anyway.
Had Xiaomi decided to add another speaker on top, the Max would have made a lot more sense, as it would have allowed you to enjoy video in sufficiently loud stereo. Unfortunately, Xiaomi thinks one speaker is enough. We beg to differ. Adding an extra speaker wouldn’t cost much, but it would make the Max feel like a well-rounded design and would give it a small but nonetheless important market differentiator.
If you’re going to go over the top on the display, you may as well go all-in on the audio front!
If the display is ok, and the hardware is blazing fast, and if the build quality is ok… then Xiaomi had to cut corners and pinch pennies on the camera, and it did.
The phone has a 16-megapixel f2.0 camera, which sounds impressive and definitely helps marketing. However, this isn’t a high-end camera, not even close. As far as we could work it out, the Max uses the same Samsung sensor employed on the Redmi Note 3 Pro. Yes, it’s a 16-megapixel sensor with PDAF, but it’s a rather small sensor.
In other words, you get a lot of pixels, but small ones. This is bad news for low light photography, but daylight snaps can turn out pretty good.
Let’s take a look at some samples, starting with our office breakfast nook.
Given enough light, the camera can do a nice job, but the results are far from stunning. There's not a lot of detail, and the 100 percent crop shows a fair amount of grain, even in good light.
Low-light photography is definitely not something the Max excels at. The small sensor struggles in our incandescent indoor lighting test. Expects loads of grain and noise reduction artifacts.
What about outdoor snaps? Well, they're pretty good, and HDR helps, too. Here is a non-HDR snap in terrible lighting conditions.
And here's what HDR does for it. Not bad, although the colours feel a bit off - we got a greenish tint on some HDR shots, but nothing too serious.
HDR can be a boon for smartphones with small camera sensors, but it usually comes at a price, especially on underpowered phones. Luckily, the camera is fast enough, although HDR slows things down quite a bit. Also, the resulting images tend to be quite good, even when you zoom in.
Poorly implemented HDR can make a mess of shots like this, when there's just loads of contrast, e.g. tree branches against the blue November sky.
As you can see, there aren't a lot of downsides to using HDR on the Mi Max. There's not a lot of fringing, HDR doesn't make the scene look unnatural, and still preserves a lot of detail even at 100 percent.
Overall, the main camera is unimpressive, but in line with what you’d expect from a ~$200 device. Sorry, but if you want a top notch camera, you’ll have to get a flagship instead. You can still take good photos, provided you know what you’re doing, but you should expect a lot of noise and little in the way of detail in low-light images.
One redeeming feature of the Max camera is its sheer speed. It takes less than two seconds to snap an image and that's almost as fast as an iPhone 6s. Not bad, but if you try to snap an HDR image, it will take a bit longer (remember the underpowered Adreno 510 and non-UFS storage?). Either way, this is quite good, but on the whole, the camera doesn’t stand out compared to other devices in the same price range, although it's faster than most.
Image quality is average at best, but at least it’s damn fast. That sums up the Mi Max camera in a nutshell.
Video quality is average as well, and the Max can capture 4K video too. In reality, this is overkill, because the sensor is not great. We suggest you stick to 1080p instead. It will save a lot of storage space, and you won’t lose much quality.
The front-facing is - guess what - average too. It’s a wide-angle 5MP unit with an f/2.0 aperture. It’s not the best selfie camera in the world but should suffice for the occasional video call or Zoom meeting.
OS, UI and Everyday Use
Until now, we were focusing on the hardware, which is more or less standard for 2016 mid-range phones. The big question is how does this 6.44-inch behemoth perform in real life?
MIUI is a rather flexible Android skin and allows for a lot of customization. Unfortunately, this doesn’t extend to certain UI elements that could have made the Max a bit more special compared to the Redmi series. While you get a huge display, you still end up with four rows of icons, just as you would on a 5-inch Redmi. Android apps “see” the Max as a phone, when in reality it behaves like a tablet in many situations, and apps could use tablet layout instead. This is hardly a big deal, and it’s not something we can blame Xiaomi for because it’s mostly an Android thing.
The good news? You can tweak the font size, or change the font altogether. You can use desktop mode in Chrome to enjoy full websites, and still be able to navigate most of them. Hell, you can even head into console and type like a boss. Speaking of which, typing emails is a breeze. Don’t get us wrong. This is still a massive device and it’s definitely not for everyone, but once you really start using it the way it’s meant to be used, you quickly realize that having such a huge display on your phone can be very useful in many situations.
As for the OS, well, it’s Android 6.x with MIUI on top, and we’ve already discussed MIUI on numerous occasions, so we won’t bore you with the details. While we love MIUI for its flexibility and unrivaled customization potential, it can be a source of frustration as well. For starters, MIUI employs very aggressive power management, which is a double-edged sword. It kills off too many apps and services by default, so while you could extend your battery life with such Draconian restrictions, you’ll also lose a lot of functionality. That’s why every new Xiaomi user should check the power options, app settings, notification settings and a few items in the system Security app. You need to make sure power management isn’t messing with your notifications, sync, and autostart settings.
MIUI can be awesome for power users, but if you want to buy a Xiaomi phone for someone who’s unfamiliar with MIUI, they’ll need a bit of hand-holding until they get everything right. This is frustrating, as the default power/security settings are just too drastic. We think Xiaomi would be better off if these restrictions were not implemented by default, but left to each user to sort out as they go.
Time for the elephant in the room – how does the oversized Mi Max behave in the real world?
Quite well, actually, but you have to get it to the real world first, and this can be troublesome. Put simply, this thing isn’t exactly “pocketable” and it can hardly be operated with one hand. At 173 x 88 x 7.5 mm, the Max is the biggest phone we had a chance to test, although we played around with similar oversized phones from Samsung and other vendors. There’s simply no way of hiding its size, but it’s relatively thin, which is a redeeming feature. Despite this, it’s too tall and too wide to be placed in most trouser pockets.
It’s quite heavy too, but 203g is hardly a deal-breaker considering many 5.5-inch devices weigh well over 160g, yet they usually ship with substantially smaller batteries (30 to 40 percent less capacity on average).
In other words, it’s not nearly as bad as it could have been, but the Max is still a huge device. Aside from “pocketability” and portability, the size is also an issue when you start using the phone. While Xiaomi has a great one-hand mode that makes most of its oversized phones a breeze to use with a single hand, this is not exactly true of the Max. Yes, you can still use one-hand mode for some things, but the Max is simply too big to be used with one hand. It’s 88mm wide, about 20mm more than your run of the mill Galaxy S or iPhone.
If you’re always on the move and constantly need to use your phone on the street, the Max is not a good choice. However, if your routine involves long, boring commutes, it can be quite good. Not only does it have a massive screen, but it also has a battery that won’t die if you use your commute to stream video or play games, let alone read books and browse news.
Battery life is excellent, as you'd expect from a 4850mAh unit. The 6.44-inch panel needs a lot of juice, but if you don't have a lot of screen-on time in your daily routine, the battery will easily get you up to three days of conservative use. Even if you're a relatively heavy user, you should be able to go two days without a recharge. The included travel chager does not appear to feature Quick Charge support, so it takes a while to fully charge the phone using the stock charger.
We had no issues with GPS functionality, either.
The Max is a weird device. It sits halfway between Redmi and Mi series products, but in most respects, it’s closer to Redmi devices in terms of overall performance and build quality. This is reflected in the price as well, so you can pick up an entry-level Mi Max for about $170, which is quite nice.
Unfortunately, variants endowed with more RAM and storage don’t exactly offer the same value. As we pointed out earlier, the 3GB/32GB model should hit the sweet spot, but it doesn’t due to limited supply. That’s the situation at press time, but if you’re reading this a few weeks after it was originally published, you may want to check the prices, because the 32 gig model is currently overpriced.
Does anyone actually need a 6.44-inch phone? It depends on your daily routine and habits. Oversized phones are niche products, but that niche isn’t small and a lot of users demand phones with massive displays.
Plain and simple: Oversized phones are not for everyone.
As a content consumption device, the Max is pretty good, although it would have been much better had Xiaomi installed an additional speaker. The Snapdragon 650/652 is a good choice for mid-range devices, as it delivers good performance on a budget, but it has an underpowered GPU, so gamers may want to grab a flagship instead. What about productivity? Well, the Max will certainly let you read and write stuff faster than your average phone, and you also get a huge battery. However, there’s no stylus support, but then again this is an inexpensive device and we can’t expect too much.
If it cost twice as much, we would probably get a stylus, and stereo speakers, and a better camera… Luckily, it does not. Despite its looks and non-Redmi branding, the Max is what it is – a low- to mid-range device, depending on which SKU you choose.
Xiaomi Mi Max Pros and Cons
- 4850mAh battery
- Good price/performance ratio
- Reliable fingerprint scanner
- Display quality (for this price range)
- Expandable storage
- 16-megapixel camera delivers unimpressive results
- No stereo speakers
- It’s huge!
- Device flexes under pressure