If there’s one consistent rule in the history of consumer electronics, it’s that devices always get smaller and more compact from generation to generation.
In the smartphone world, however, there has been an anomaly between roughly 2014 to early this year. Pushed by consumer desire for larger mobile screens, smartphones increasingly grew in size.
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This break from tradition is coming to an end thanks to South Korean tech giants LG and Samsung, both of which released flagship handsets this year that used small bezels and a new display aspect ratio to slim down in overall size without sacrificing much screen real estate.
Other phone makers including Apple and Huawei have all but confirmed its next devices will follow suit. That makes Xiaomi’s new giant phablet the Mi Max 2 the last of a dying breed.
Design and hardware
At 174.1mm tall, the Mi Max 2 towers over the iPhone 7 Plus and Samsung Galaxy S8+, but it’s the 88.7mm width that makes the device truly unwieldy. Unless you’re an NBA player, you’re not going to be able to grip the phone securely nor reach icons on the opposite side of the display with one hand (I even had trouble reaching the rear fingerprint reader at times).
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The Mi Max 2 is the first device I’ve accidentally dropped due to its sheer size. It survived the fall without a scratch though, thanks to the very well-built metal frame.
Those who still doubt the usefulness of bezel-less phones should look at the photo of the Mi Max 2 side by side with the Mi Mix (also made by Xiaomi).
Considering the phone’s budget price point, we can’t fault the dated hardware too much.
Software and features
Other than being very big, the Mi Max 2 doesn’t have any stand-out feature. It’s only got one rear camera, so it can’t do fancy trick photography tricks like the OnePlus 5; it’s not waterproof or extra rugged like the Blackview BV8000 Pro; its display is neither curvy nor ridiculously hi-res.
But don’t mistake a lack of gimmicks for mediocrity: this is a very solid performer that works. Xiaomi’s custom software (MIUI 8.5) is highly customisable and enjoyable to use, though it does away with some useful Android’s built-in features such as quick jumping between apps by double tapping the “recent apps” button. Overall MIUI brings enough positives to the table, which is something you can’t say with most Chinese Android skins.
Performance and battery life
With a screen this big, the Mi Max 2 is excellent for gaming and watching videos. The 1080p LCD display panel produces vivid colours and sharpness, with a maximum brightness of 496 nits (which is sufficient for outdoor use under the sun).
More impressively, the display has a minimum brightness of just 1 nit, which is dim enough that you can use the device in a dark setting (such as inside a cinema or bedroom at night) and not annoy the person next to you.
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The phone also has stereo speakers (with sound coming from a bottom-firing speaker grille and the earpiece) which adds to the immersion when watching NetFlix or YouTube.
The chipset inside the Mi Max 2 is only a Snapdragon 625, so don’t expect it to be as powerful as Xiaomi’s flagship Mi 6. But in real life use the 625 still held up pretty well. I did find that large apps (such as graphic-heavy games like Mortal Kombat X) took longer to load than on other devices, but overall performance was stable without apps crashing or dropped frames.
In line with previous Xiaomi devices, the Mi Max 2 has superb battery life but just a decent camera. The 5,300 mAh battery inside powered my device for nearly two full days. I’m a heavy user, so for many others, this phone can go 48 hours on a single charge.
The 12-megapixel camera produces detailed images with accurate colours in the day, but low-light shots suffer from noise and lack of light (even when compared to fellow budget devices like the now one-year-old OnePlus 3T).
Xiaomi’s camera software is a joy to use, however, with plenty of pre-installed filters. The optical image stabilisation when shooting videos is good, as videos come out mostly steady even when walking at a fast pace.
The Mi Max 2 is a niche device that’s not for everybody. Its size means you must use it with two hands for most tasks and it will have trouble fitting into some trouser pockets. But if you are okay with that, HK$1,900 (for the 64GB) is a good price for an excellent media consumption device.
Dimensions: 174.1mm x 88.7mm x 7.6 mm
Weight: 211 grams
Display: 6.4 inch, 1080 X 1920
Battery: 5,300 mAh
OS version reviewed: Android 7.1
Processor: Snapdragon 625
Cameras: 12-megapixel f/2.2 rear, 5-megapixel f/2.0 front
Memory: 64GB/128GB ROM, 4GB RAM
Price: HK$1,900 (64GB), HK$2,400 (128GB)