Xiaomi Mi Max 3 full review
Even if you're not a lover of big-screen phones, it's difficult not to see the appeal of the Mi Max 3, which is best-described as a super-sized version of the insanely popular Redmi Note 5. It's an affordable smartphone with a great screen on which to play (casual) games, watch movies and get stuff done, and it has capable performance for daily use.
You should be under no pretence that this is anything other than a gigantic phone, despite marketing materials suggesting it is usable in one hand. If you have the hands of the BFG then perhaps, or if you are prepared to use One-handed mode (which shrinks the screen to 3.5-, 4- or 4.5in) at all times then okay.
But, newsflash: some people actually like huge phones, and don't care that they need to cling on to them with both hands for dear life. And it's not just the big-handed brigade that wants a large screen for their smartphones. They can also appeal to those with eyesight problems (and at the largest setting the text size on this thing is insane), or those who like a larger panel for enjoying multimedia and games.
Our point, though, is that the Mi Max 3 will not be for everyone. If it is for you, read on.
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Mi Max 3 Price & Availability
The Mi Max 3 was announced in China in July. It is not officially available in the UK (yet), but in the meantime you can import the Mi Max 3 from China.
Our review sample (which is the 4GB RAM entry model, while a 6GB RAM option is also available) was supplied by GearBest. At the time of writing it is charging £231.90/$299.99/262.50€ for this model - click here to buy.
Remember that because you are importing from China you are legally responsible for paying import duty, which is charged at 20% of whatever value is written on the shipping paperwork. Even so, the Mi Max 3 offers very good value.
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What's new in Mi Max 3?
The third model in the Mi Max line (following the Mi Max and Mi Max 2), the Mi Max 3 is immediately distinguished from those before it by its new screen. Previously at 6.44in in the second-gen model, Xiaomi has increased the size to 6.9in - larger than ever before.
What's partly astonishing here is that it has achieved this feat and added only a couple of millimetres on to the height of the device, one on the width and just a fraction of a millimetre on the waistline - the latter is thanks to a higher-capacity battery, here up from 5,300mAh to 5,500mAh, and able to get to 71% charge in an hour over QC3.
This has been possible due to the adoption of the new 18:9 aspect ratio, which in common with the majority of new smartphones coming on to the scene these days allows it to have a taller display without becoming significantly wider.
It's also made some improvements under the hood, swapping out the Snapdragon 625 chip for the Snapdragon 636, and in the process boosting the graphics chip from the Adreno 506 to the Adreno 509. Xiaomi claims this results in a 40% improvement in performance and efficiency, and as you'll learn from the results of our benchmarks later on in this review the Mi Max 3 is certainly faster than its predecessor.
The single-lens camera at the rear has been swapped out for a dual-lens model. This is a new AI camera that can intelligently auto-select preset scenes to help you take the best shot, a feature that is also found at the front where the upgraded 8Mp selfie camera can also be used to unlock the phone through face recognition.
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Mi Max 3 Design & Build
As we noted earlier, the Mi Max 3 is enormous. I don't have the smallest hands, but I can feel the strain on my thumb just trying to reach to the other side of the screen - and the top corner, no chance.
That's not a bad thing for many people, of course. And while needing to use two hands to manage a smartphone is seen as an inconvenience for some, that is not the case for all.
On the down side, however, a bigger phone is easier to drop, and while Xiaomi used Gorilla Glass 3 on the Mi Max 2 it makes no such claims here - we're not sure there is any form of screen protection at all. So, you know, don't drop it.
The company has made some allowances for the beastly body, keeping the frame super-light and thin at just 8mm thick and 221g. It's also curved the edges at the rear of the device, making it feel less awkward in the hand, but now with a notable step up to the ridged edge of the screen.
Despite the confusion over the screen protection, Mi Max 3 feels very well made. It has a unibody metal design with a matt surface (again preventing it being overly slippery), with the dual-lens camera jutting out only a fraction at the rear (the single-lens camera lay flush on the Mi Max 2).
Having made the screen larger, the new 18:9 aspect ratio (with no notch) is not only necessary but welcome. In fact Xiaomi could have taken this a little higher, with some phones now seeing 19.5:9 displays. It makes the Mi Max 3 easier to hold, but also freshens up the design, keeping it in line with recent phone launches.
The screen itself is an IPS panel, which bodes well for realistic colours and viewing angles. It's also incredibly bright, which makes it easier to see in sunlight - we measured 440cd/m2 using a Spyder tool.
It's a full-HD+ panel, which is no surprise: no Xiaomi phone has ever gone higher in resolution, which we suspect is largely to keep down costs. But to be fair it doesn't need to be any higher in resolution - with 2160x1080 pixels it has a density of 345ppi, which is more than adequate.
Mi Max 3 Hardware & Performance
The Mi Max 3 swaps the Snapdragon 625 for the 636, here clocked at 1.8GHz and now with integrated Adreno 509 graphics. As such performance gets a boost from the new 14nm octa-core chip - and perhaps we would have seen even better results had we tested the 6GB RAM model.
In Geekbench 4, for example, the multi-core score shot up from 4300 points to 4716. It's not going to make a huge difference to everyday use, but it is at least going in the right direction (which couldn't be said for the Mi Max 2 in comparison to the original).
Graphics performance has also improved, but this is still no powerhouse in this regard. Previously able to achieve 22fps in GFXBench T-Rex, the new-generation Mi Max can handle 34fps. This is a playable framerate, but you won't want to tax it with anything too intensive.
You can read the full results of our benchmarks in the chart below.
In real-world usage the Mi Max 3 feels fluid, with apps - even the camera - launching quickly, and the phone rarely pausing to breathe. The fingerprint sensor, found at the rear of the device, also works well.
It seems a little unfair that in the Xiaomi world you have to choose between size and power, but if you want big and bad then look to the Mi Mix 3 that should arrive on 25 October. Confusingly there is just one letter different in its name, but we assure you it's a very different beast.
Storage is generous with 64GB or 128GB available internally, and more available through microSD. However, if you opt to add removable storage you will not be able to take advantage of the Mi Max 3's dual-SIM functionality, since it uses a hybrid slot.
In terms of connectivity we're impressed to see the Mi Max 3 still features an IR blaster, which is incredibly rare in smartphones these days. There's no NFC, but most other bases are covered with 4G LTE, dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi, GPS and GLONASS, and Bluetooth 5.0.
Despite adopting USB-C in the Mi Max 2, the Mi Max 3 still has a separate headphone jack, which will delight many users. There's also a usefully loud mono speaker, but one which creates a stereo audio effect by also pulling into action the phone's earpiece.
Battery life is very good from the 5,500mAh cell - double the capacity of that found in some Android phones. Obviously how long it will last depends on how you use the Mi Max, but we can see two days being easily obtainable here. Xiaomi says it is good for 17 hours of video playback.
There is no wireless charging, but the Mi Max 3 does support Quick Charge 3.0. Despite having such a huge battery to refill you can obtain as much as 71% charge in just one hour.
Mi Max 3 Cameras & Photography
The Mi Max 2 featured a single-lens 12Mp primary camera and a 5Mp selfie camera, and things have moved on a bit here for Mi Max 3. Now you'll find two lenses at the rear - one 12Mp and one 5Mp - which together are capable of creating bokeh-effect photos with blurred backgrounds.
The primary camera has an f/1.9 aperture, with 1.4um pixels, dual-pixel autofocus and can shoot in 4K. From the camera app you can alter a few manual settings, but largely we suspect you'll find yourself allowing this AI camera to preselect the scene for you. As always real-time filters can also be applied, and you can leave HDR on auto or switch it on or off.
We were generally impressed with the quality of our test shots from the Mi Max 3, even in low light where text was readable and it did a great job lighting up the scene and distinguishing between shades of black.
There is some loss of detail when you zoom right in, and HDR mode (second shot) didn't make a huge amount of difference to overall results, but colours are incredibly true to life.
Around the front is an 8Mp selfie camera with 1.12um pixels, which has all the same settings as the primary camera. You can also use this to unlock the phone via face recognition.
Mi Max 3 Software
Out of the box the Mi Max 3 runs MIUI 9, but we wee immediately greeted with a notification inviting us to download MIUI 10.
This is the first time we've properly tried the new UI, which is based on Android Oreo. It's quite a departure if you've never seen it before, mind, with no app tray and a complete re-ordering of the Settings menu. You'll also find several Xiaomi apps preinstalled, some of which you may find useful.
We reviewed a version of the Mi Max 3 with the Global ROM, which we highly recommend if you're purchasing in the UK, US or Europe. In China they don't use Google services, so none are preinstalled on the Chinese ROM. It is possible to configure them yourself through the Mi App Store (here's how), but it's a lot easier to just buy a Global version with all this stuff already set up.
Features built into MIUI that are particularly worthy of note here are the One-handed mode, which we touched on earlier. It's available in all Xiaomi phones, but more needed in some than others. In essence it shrinks the entire screen into the bottom left or right corner, making it easier to navigate in one hand. It sort of negates the point of buying a large-screen phone, but from time to time it comes in handy.
There's also a split-screen mode available from the multi-tasking menu, which is again more useful here than on many phones with sufficient room to actually see what you're doing in both apps. It's particularly handy when you find yourself keep switching from one app to the other to find certain information such as an address.
And there's all the Xiaomi favourites such as Dual Apps, Second Space, Quick Ball and Mi Mover.
Features introduced with MIUI 10 include full-screen gestures (you may have tried these in MIUI 9 but now they're fully integrated), which allow you to remove the onscreen navigation buttons and simply swipe to go back or home, plus a redesigned multitasking menu that shows app cards in a grid and makes it easier to see more at once.
There's also a volume slider just like that in Android Pie, and the quick access panel that drops down from the top of the screen has been redesigned. Plus there's Picture In Picture mode and Autofill. The overall experience is closer to standard Android than ever, but still very much Xiaomi in design.
Mi Max 3 Verdict
When you spend less than £250 on a phone you don't expect great things, but the Mi Max 3 might surprise you. This is not the fastest phone you'll find today, but it does have a very big, beautiful screen, capable cameras and some useful extra features.
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Xiaomi Mi Max 3: Specs
- 6.9in (2160x1080, 345ppi) 18:9 IPS display
- MIUI 10 (Android 8 Oreo)
- 1.8GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 636 octa-core processor
- Adreno 509 GPU
- 4GB/6GB RAM
- 64GB/128GB storage
- 4G LTE
- hybrid SIM slot (2x nano or 1x nano + microSD)
- dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi
- Bluetooth 5.0
- GPS, A-GPS, GLONASS
- rear fingerprint sensor
- IR blaster
- stereo audio
- 3.5mm headphone jack
- 12Mp + 5Mp AI dual-camera, f/1.9, dual-pixel autofocus, 1.4um pixels, 4K video
- 8Mp front camera, 1.12um pixels, AI Face Unlock
- 5500mAh battery