The Mi Max 2 is the latest incarnation of Chinese manufacturer Xiaomi's large-format 'phablet.' It combines a very large 6.44" Full-HD screen that allows for split-screen applications with Qualcomm's upper mid-range chipset Snapdragon 625, 4GB of RAM and storage options up to 128GB. At 174 x 89mm the Mi Max 2 is definitely not small but, apart from the large display, the dimensions also allow for the use of a gigantic 5300 mAh battery that, according to Xiaomi, gives you 57 hours of call-time and also supports quick-charging via a USB Type-C port.

In the camera department the Mi Max 2 offers a 1/2.9" Sony IMX 386 12MP image sensor that is coupled with a F2.2 aperture and on-sensor phase detection AF. In video mode you can shoot footage in 4K resolution or 120 fps slow-motion clips in 720p. All components are wrapped up in a sleek-looking full-metal unibody with a fingerprint reader on the back.

Thanks to Gearbest.com, a retailer shipping Xiaomi devices worldwide, we've had the chance to try the Mi Max 2 and its camera, shoot a wide range of samples and see how it generally performs as a device for mobile photography.

Key specifications:

  • 1/2.9" Sony IMX 386 12MP image sensor, 1.25 µm pixel size
  • F2.2 aperture
  • PDAF
  • Dual-LED flash
  • 5MP / F2.0 front camera
  • 4K video, 720p/120 fps slow-motion
  • 6.44" 1080p IPS LCD display
  • Android 7.1.1
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 chipset
  • 4GB RAM
  • 64/128 GB storage, microSD support
  • 5300 mAh battery
  • Fingerprint sensor

Camera app

The camera app features a manual mode but no DNG Raw file format.

The camera app has been kept simple, with point-and-shoot operation in mind. Focus point and exposure can be set by tapping on the preview image and a mode screen offers a number of special options, including panorama, beautify and manual mode. The latter offers manual shutter speeds of up to 32 seconds but unfortunately capture in DNG Raw format is not part of the package.

The mode screen also gives you access to the settings menu where you can activate tap-to-capture, change contrast, saturation and sharpness or display grid lines in the preview image. A few effect filters are on board as well, and overall the app is simple to use and intuitive.

Image Quality

In bright light the Mi Max 2 camera captures contrasty images with punchy colors and does a good job at keeping highlight clipping at bay. During our testing we had a few exposures that were a touch brighter than we'd like, but overall the exposure system does a decent job and white balance is fairly neutral as well.

Detail is decent for this class of device but at a 100% view some oversharpening artifacts are visible and low-contrast areas can show some compression. The sharpness of the lens of our test unit is good, with just some minor softness towards the edges. Overall, in terms of image detail and noise, the Xiaomi cannot keep up with high-end smartphones but does a good job in bright light for a mid-ranger.

ISO 124, 1/806 sec

Skin tones tend to be pleasantly neutral and face detection ensures good subject exposure in most situations.

ISO 125, 1/121 sec

By default HDR is set to auto and in many bright scenes the camera makes use of the function. As a result, highlights are well preserved in bright elements of the scene.

ISO 125, 1/502 sec, HDR

Using the tap-to-focus function allows you to set focus and exposure point manually. This can help a lot when taking close-up images like the sample below where the flower was more extremely overexposed when shooting in standard mode.

ISO 125, 1/1328 sec

While detail is good, luminance noise is clearly visible in areas of plain color, such as the blue sky below. On some high-contrast edges you can also see a halo-effect, which is a sign of oversharpening.

ISO 100, 1/1881 sec

In lower light the Mi Max uses ISO settings up to 6400 and at very low light levels applies a multi-frame night mode. The ISO 320 shot below was taken indoors. Compared to the bright light shots above fine detail is noticeably reduced and luminance noise becomes quite intrusive. In the shadow areas some blurred chroma noise is creeping in as well.

ISO 320, 1/50 sec

The ISO 640 shot below was captured in a fairly dimly lit interior. When viewing at a 100% magnification blurred noise is very noticeable but the Xiaomi camera maintains decent edge definition and color in these conditions.

ISO 640, 1/33 sec

For the indoor portrait below the camera activated its low light mode which results in very soft detail. The white balance system also struggles with the mixed light temperatures inside this restaurant. The image is usable at typical social-media size but arguably not suitable for printing or viewing on larger displays.

In these conditions face detection also has trouble locking on and the difference between the Xiaomi and top-end smartphone cameras, such as the Google Pixel or HTC U11 is much more obvious than in bright light.

ISO 2000, 1/17 sec

The image below was taken in very low light and is quite soft and noisy. However, it's a positive that the Mi Max is capable of capturing a decent exposure at such low light levels.

ISO 6400, 1/17 sec

HDR mode

As mentioned above, HDR mode is set to auto by default. As you can see in the samples below it is definitely not a bad a idea to leave this setting as it is. In high-contrast scenes HDR mode is capable of capturing noticeably better highlight detail then standard mode. Still, the HDR looks quite natural and not overprocessed.

ISO 125, 1/602 sec, HDR off
ISO 125, 1/602 sec, HDR on

Panorama mode

On the Mi Max 2 camera panoramic images are captured while holding the phone in portrait orientation. You can record an angle of up to 180 degrees but stop any time by hitting the shutter button.

Exposure is biased towards the first frame which can result in some underexposure like in the first sample below. Under closer inspection you'll also find some stitching errors but the panorama mode deals very well with moving subjects in the scene and overall does a decent job.

Panorama, 7552 x 3712 pixels
Panorama, 13148 x 3648 pixels

Video

The 1080p video below shows a similar color and tonal response to the still images. Detail is only average, but the video mode's main problem is a tendency to continuously refocus when panning, making most clips virtually unusable. This is something that needs fixing via a firmware update ASAP, otherwise the Mi Max 2 is simply not suitable for video recording.

At 120 frames per second the slow-motion mode can slow motion down nicely and the 720p resolution still offers enough detail for the occasional slow-motion scene. Unfortunately the mode suffers from the same refocusing issues as the standard video mode, but AF is more stable when holding the camera still.

Conclusion

The Mi Max 2 camera can produce good images in bright light and is capable of capturing good exposures and color even in very dim conditions. However, pixel-level image quality deteriorates quickly as light levels go down and video mode is next to unusable as the camera tends to refocus very frequently while panning.

Still, there is a lot to like about the Xiaomi. Its battery life allows for at least two days of shooting and general use without any recharging and the large 6.44" display is great for viewing and editing images. The microSD slot makes image transfer from other devices easy if you are not a fan of the cloud and for a mid-ranger the Mi Max 2 also comes with a nice metal unibody and good build quality. The Mi Max 2 with 64GB of storage is now available at Gearbest for $270. The coupon code "MAX2C" gives you a $10 discount.

What we like:

  • Decent detail in bright light and good sharpness across the frame
  • Intuitive camera camera app
  • Efficient HDR mode
  • Decent panorama output
  • Premium build quality
  • Excellent battery life
  • Screen size is great for image display and editing
  • Responsive general operation
  • Value

What we don't like:

  • Noticeable luminance noise at base ISO
  • Smeared noise and strong softness in low light
  • Constant refocusing when panning in video mode
  • No Raw file format
  • Too large for most pockets

Sample Gallery

There are 20 images in our Xiaomi Mi Max 2 samples gallery. Please do not reproduce any of these images on a website or any newsletter / magazine without prior permission (see our copyright page). We make the originals available for private users to download to their own machines for personal examination or printing (in conjunction with this review), we do so in good faith, please don't abuse it.

Unless otherwise noted images taken with no particular settings at full resolution.