It wasn't too long ago that I took a look at the Xiaomi Mi 6, a diminutive, power-packed device that felt limited and restrained by its software. But now we are taking a firm step into tablet territory (or "phablet") with this monstrosity: the Xiaomi Mi Max 2. Following up on last year's Mi Max, the second version is huge, but it comes with an equally large battery that makes the phone almost impossible to kill, especially when compared to some of the top-tier 2017 flagships.

However, that size will be a deterrent to most. The Mi Max 2 barely fits in any of the pockets of my pants and shorts, and it's uncomfortable to hold one-handed (even for my big hands). Conversely, there are obviously some people out there will be drawn to it because its size, whether you consume a lot of media, need the screen real estate for professionally-related things, or live in a country where your native language is better served on a larger display than our Latin alphabet in the west needs.

And then there's MIUI, something that I am not a fan of. It's still the same old version 8 here with the same old problems (e.g., notifications are a disaster and Bluetooth is horribly unreliable in many case). But before I bore you, I think that it's best if we dive right in.

Specs

Display 6.44" FHD IPS LCD; 342 ppi
Software Android 7.1.1; MIUI 8.5
CPU Snapdragon 625
GPU Adreno 506
RAM 4GB
Storage 64GB/128GB; expandable via microSD
Camera 12MP rear, 5MP front
Battery 5,300mAh; Quick Charge 3
Misc USB Type-C, fingerprint sensor, IR, 3.5mm
Connectivity Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, dual-band; LTE bands 1/3/5/7/8/38/39/40/41, dual-SIM
Measurements 174.1 x 88.7 x 7.6 mm; 211 g
Colors Gold, Black
Buy Gearbest

The Good

Battery life This phone lasts an extremely long time. Xiaomi claims two days, but I got closer to three after it settled in after setup. Removing my SIM allowed the Mi Max 2 to go for a week or more.
Fingerprint sensor It's very quick and accurate.

The Not So Good

Software I feel like a broken record at this point. MIUI 8 is not fun to use, it's riddled with basic issues like notifications problems, and it's horribly boring.
Camera The photo quality is pretty lackluster from both cameras. The pictures come out looking... bland. It's below average, I'd say.
Size I hesitate to put this here, since it's one of the Mi Max 2's main draws, but this phone is way too damn big. It barely fits in the pockets of some of my slacks, let alone my shorts or jeans, and is almost impossible to use one-handed.
Build quality While the vast majority of the Mi Max 2 is well-built, there is some give in the metal near the fingerprint sensor. It also makes a sticking sound after releasing pressure.

Build quality and display

Let's get the obvious out of the way: the Mi Max 2 is huge. It's difficult to comprehend until you actually hold the phone — it was somewhat shocking when I pulled it out of the box. That size leads to plenty of problems, most notably being comfort and carrying it around. I struggled to find pants pockets in which could accommodate the Max, even the notoriously deep ones you find on men's slacks. It was a no-go with gym shorts; I had to remember to pull it out of my pocket before getting in my car, lest I deal with trying to dig it out from under the driver's seat. Using this phone hearkened back to when Ryan and I had Lenovo's Phab2 Pro in regard to the size thing.

Now that I've properly conveyed to you the footprint of this phone, I'll move on to more important things. The Mi Max 2 is a pretty device (even though I got the gold unit and hate that color scheme) and designed well with its premium-feeling metal body. From the back, it looks clean, with smooth lines, subtle curves, and partially incognito antennae. However, there was one area where the solid construction failed. Around the fingerprint sensor, I noticed that the metal would "cave" inward with pressure (such as when pressing on the sensor itself), something I haven't experienced with other metallic phones. Upon releasing pressure, I heard a sticking sound, like adhesive coming loose. Of course, once I heard this, I couldn't unhear it.

The slim profile, at 7.6mm, is really nice and helps to alleviate some of the strain of holding the phone. This slimness is rather remarkable, considering that there's a 5,300mAh battery shoved in this thing. At 211 grams, the Mi Max 2 can get burdensome to hold and use, especially when you're stretching to reach different parts of the screen — I don't recommend any phone of this size if you have carpal tunnel.

On the top of the Mi Max 2 is the 3.5mm headphone jack and the IR blaster. The power button and volume rocker on the right side are clicky and tactile, providing excellent response with a perfectly adequate amount of resistance. Sadly, the volume rocker sits above the power button, a configuration that I'm not a fan of. Down along the bottom of the phone are the USB-C port and the speaker (one of the grilles is just a microphone inlet). You will find the fingerprint sensor on the back of the phone in a place that might be difficult to reach if you have small hands. The top left corner is home to the 12MP camera with dual-LED flash. Flipping the phone over, you're met with the massive 6.44" LCD display, the 5MP front-facing camera, earpiece (with a second speaker beside it), and sensors up top. The capacitive navigation buttons (in the wrong order) sit on the bottom bezel.

While huge, the 1080p screen is otherwise nothing special.  Its colors are pretty subdued, but the contrast is decent. I would have liked to see a higher resolution, but that might have required more horsepower under the hood, which in turn would affect pricing. I did notice some strangeness regarding the viewing angles of the display, which was disappointing. Just look at the photo above; my camera only slightly exaggerated there —that's basically what I started seeing at moderate angles.

While I found the backlight brightness to be reasonable, and even had a better experience with it outdoors than I did with the Mi 6 last month, the auto-brightness settings weren't great. I noticed this especially at night, where the phone took quite a while to dim to a dark room. Then again, it got overly aggressive about dimming in what it perceived to be a poorly lit area, even though it was just my office with a modicum of daylight coming through the window. All of that to say, I had better luck with manually adjusting the brightness slider to my environment as needed.

Performance and battery life

The Snapdragon 625 is a reasonably capable SoC in its own right, despite its age. The last phone that I used that had this chip was the BlackBerry KEYone. That phone was similar in underlying specifications, but with 1GB less RAM than the Mi Max 2 has. For comparison's sake, you can check out the BlackBerry's benchmark numbers here.

  

Overall, I have few complaints regarding the performance of this phone. Although, there were some infrequent hiccups when jumping between apps and I noticed that my launcher homescreen had to redraw more often than I'd like. 4GB of RAM, however, does pretty well for the Mi Max 2 — any less and I think that I would have seen it struggle more. Gaming was a pleasant experience, whether it was Myst, Riven, or Asphalt 8; even my GBA emulator running Metroid Fusion and Zero Mission worked just fine with no framerate stutters or lag.

Now let's talk about the other main draw of this phone: battery life. With a 5,300mAh cell, anyone would expect the Mi Max 2 to last a substantial amount of time. What I did not expect was how long that substantial amount of time ended up being. Xiaomi advertises two days of battery life, which I found to be either accurate or an underestimation depending on the day.

To put it to the test, I pulled the phone off of the charger, set the brightness to 100%, loaded up YouTube, and played videos on a constant loop of autoplay. Other than the weird stuff that ended up in my watch history, I came away impressed. Close to 12 hours later, I finally closed YouTube with about 9% of the battery remaining. That is pretty damn great. And for when you do manage to kill the battery, Quick Charge 3.0 is supported.

In short, the Mi Max 2 performs adequately and lasts a long freaking time. While the Snapdragon 625 isn't going to win any awards for speed or raw power, it works nicely in this phone. It and the display sip at the battery, making this the longest-lasting phone that I've ever tested.

Camera

To put it lightly, the Mi Max 2's camera performance is below average. With a 12MP sensor and an f/2.2 aperture, you can get daylight photos with decent color reproduction. When you closely examine the results, you will definitely notice the lack of finer details. Nighttime shots are worse, with poor image quality, a noticeable lack of light adaptability, and an auto white balance that strongly favors the warm side of the color spectrum. This is the case despite the "Enhance lowlight photos automatically" option in the settings. It's truly up to your skills as a photographer (there's a manual mode) and luck.

The lack of OIS is most apparent in video recording. While the quality is good, the natural shakiness in my hands caused any videos I took to come out... well, shaky. I'm not in the habit of recording, mostly because I almost never leave my house, but this is worth noting if you are not like me.

The camera UI is the same as it's been on any recent Xiaomi phone. It's rather unobtrusive with plenty of modes and filters to choose from in their own respective areas. The problem of accessing the settings still remains — you need to enter the modes menu and tap the gear icon up in the top right corner.

Beautify is still useless, though. It makes me look like a tomato, which is obviously not ideal.

Software

 

The biggest compromise with any Xiaomi phone is certainly MIUI. I have delved at length into the problems I have with what is often a mess of cherry-picked core Android features mixed with a case of iOS-wannabeism (yes, I made that word up). You can read my more in-depth thoughts in this section in my Mi 6 review.

It is no secret that I strongly dislike MIUI because of its problems and what amounts to poor UX at times. For the sake of brevity, I will address the two biggest issues with the software: notifications and Bluetooth.

 

Notifications are a key part of using a smartphone these days, especially if you're a professional who relies on your phone for business purposes. "Stock" Android, and several other OEM skins, handle notifications pretty well, especially in the Nougat age. So when I see a company fall as flat on its face as Xiaomi does when it comes to this essential piece of a mobile OS, I find that I am extremely disappointed in said company.

MIUI fails with notifications in two ways. The first being how it displays them in the shade, on the lockscreen, and in the status bar. The latter is superficially the most frustrating — the stupid clock sits on the left side, so app icons don't even appear. There is a setting to adjust this, but it's disabled by default. When a notification is displayed, you see the pertinent icon and a brief description, e.g. Gmail [email protected] - 1 new message. You don't get to see the contents of the item, nor are you able to expand it (à la the old days of Android). I guess that I've been too spoiled with Nougat's bundles in the past year.

 

The second way that MIUI sucks at notifications is with pushes. Sometimes, my Xiaomi phones are the first ones on my desk to alert me of a new email. More commonly, though, I open an app and then the notifications show up. This happens despite disabling MIUI optimizations and all power-saving options for the apps I want real-time pushes from. That shouldn't be the case.

Bluetooth still remains a problem. Smartwatches, earphones, speakers... very few of them remained connected consistently. I was able to get my LG Watch Urbane to pair (after several attempts). Permitting Android Wear to be ignored in both the OS' battery optimizations and the tomfoolery that Xiaomi does help to alleviate some of those problems. However, I frequently had to either reboot the watch and phone or go into the Android Wear app and manually reconnect the two. Most of my Bluetooth earphones that I use at the gym or I am currently reviewing experienced poor range (versus other phones, like the Meizu Pro 6 Plus or LG G6) and inconsistent connections. Some things worked better than others, though, like the Fugoo Go speakers I have in my office.

  

Yes, I know that I rant and rail on MIUI a lot (trust me, it's just as boring writing it as I'm sure it is reading it), but I think it's important to bring these things up since they haven't changed. With v9 on the horizon, maybe that narrative will shift. For now, though, v8 is still unfortunate to use and I give kudos to anyone who manages to deal with it daily.

And yes, MIUI is still boring. Diatribe over. Let's wrap this thing up.

Value

Where I find Xiaomi's greatest weakness to be in software, the Chinese company's biggest strength lies in its value proposition to customers. It is hard to find a better deal than what Xiaomi offers with its devices; you get far more robust specifications for far less than you would pay at other competitors. We often speculate here at AP that Xiaomi doesn't sell these things with per-device profit margins in mind, which might be why the MSRPs are always so low.


Mi 6 vs. Mi Max 2

Starting at roughly $250 USD for the 64GB model, or about $300 USD for the 128GB (depending on where you buy it), you're getting a lot of phone. The Snapdragon 625 chugs along nicely and the battery life is spectacular. However, for another $60, give or take, you can get yourself the 64GB/6GB Mi 6 with a Snapdragon 835 and a much better camera. That's worth keeping in mind, at least — again, that price difference might be larger depending on from where you buy it and where you live.

As always, you would be hard-pressed to find a better value from most any other manufacturer — Xiaomi and Motorola (check out the Moto G5 Plus) pretty much have that nailed down. There are caveats, for sure, but some people are more okay with those than I am (*ahem* MIUI). Hardware-wise, I don't have too many complaints with the Mi Max 2; it's just the camera and strange flexing metal near the fingerprint sensor that are below average, diminishing the phone in my view.

If you can handle the size of the phone and deal with those conditions I outlined, then you should certainly consider the Mi Max 2, especially from a value standpoint. If not, look into the Moto G5 Plus or E4 Plus.

Conclusion

As much as I hate saying this word, the Mi Max 2 is definitely a phablet. It pushes the boundary of what one might call a phone and has served me best as a miniature tablet/TV remote/Android TV control. And while I don't particularly like the size aspect personally, there's obviously a market for it.

In writing this review, I had to keep reminding myself who this phone is for. It's not meant for spec junkies and power users like me, it's aimed at people who enjoy carrying around a tablet or who need a big screen. I can't fault them for that. However, if you fall into either of those two camps that would consider the Mi Max 2, do bear in mind that the camera is pretty meh and that MIUI is still cumbersome. If neither of those things bother you, then go for it — if the LTE bands are compatible with your carrier, wherever in the world you may be.

Here's to hoping that Xiaomi's next round of phones address the software issues that have remained prevalent for some time now. MIUI 9 has a lot of promises behind it, so maybe it can change some of the problems that plague its forebear. I think that my cynicism is getting in the way of my open-mindedness here, but I strongly have my doubts about MIUI 9. We will just have to see.

I hope that you come through, Xiaomi.

Big thanks to Gearbest for providing us with a review unit!