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All Maxed Out

The larger-than-life 6.44-inch Mi Max is just short of a tablet. But that's exactly what it means to be

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Better sit down for this one. It’s big. The massive new Mi Max from Chinese company Xiaomi hangs in that no man’s land between smartphone and tablet, sure to be shunned by the majority, certain to be snapped up by some.

Hugo Barra, the company’s charismatic Vice President International describes it as being the sweet spot between the two and says that since people go about actively looking for tablets with a calling facility, obviously they want screen space to do more than one would on a phone while yet being able to make calls.

The Mi Max isn’t just 6.44 inches of screen, it’s also broad and not that easy to hold for long periods of time. Over the past few weeks though, I began to find my equation with it and my larger tablet began to be ignored. They’re right — you can read books on it (activate reading mode for a safely tinted screen), see more of a web page or Excel sheet, enjoy videos better, and play with apps better, as long as they aren’t among the handful that don’t install on the phone because it’s too big to be a phone. Apple Music is one of those apps, so if you’re overly fond of it, get an iPhone.

The display, with its 2D curved glass and Gorilla Glass 3 protection which Xiaomi proudly says is "bag scratch" resistant, is comfortable enough to use, good in sunlight if you turn the brightness up full, and is roomy because of the thin side bezels. But on my unit, I found the screen a little non-sensitive. I often had to tap several times or harder than usual and in a specific way to navigate around the phone and open apps. This may well be just my unit.

The Mi Max, and anything else that updates, will become a better device sometime in August when Xiaomi updates its operating system to MIUI 8 with lots of rather clever usability features coming in that really should add to intuitiveness and convenience. But even now, the software on the phone is pretty good and shows the company takes the ’listening to customers’ bit seriously.

Barra demonstrates that the large Mi Max does fit in a front pocket on trousers and definitely in a jacket. But watch out if you don’t have large pockets or pockets at all and tend to carry a phone minus a bag, in a little pouch, or even whip it out of a handbag quickly.

The price of the Mi Max’s two variants is really compelling and it’s smart of Xiaomi not to have messed it up by aiming too high. The phone performs very well with no hiccups and has a good side firing speaker that’s loud enough to go with all the multimedia it’s meant to be used for. The enormous, but light, battery truly lasts. I’ve put on a 13-episode BBC series on at night and woken up to find it still going strong. No offence to BBC whose drama I watched again anyway. The battery both charges fast and lasts anything from one and a half to two days of proper use — which probably won’t include all night video, though there’s still battery left over after that for several hours of use.

If there’s one thing that’s disappointing is the camera. In anything but optimum light, I found lots of fuzziness and noise to contend with. I wouldn’t say the camera is a reason to buy this device. I’d say it’s the fact of it being a more handy tablet like device that has the power and battery to take it through long hours of usage that make for its most compelling aspects.

If you want a smaller version of this device, look at the most excellent Redmi Note 3 which Xiaomi says is its best selling device in India to date.