The mobile phone is more than just a means for making telephone calls. The modern smartphone is a personal music player, movie theatre that fits in your hand, and it does most of what your laptop/desktop PC does and that too on the go. The smartphone, therefore, has changed the way we fundamentally interact with the mobile phone. The average person, for example, spent more time with the Nokia 3310 pressed firmly against his head, as opposed to staring at the 84×48 pixel monochrome LCD display. The modern smartphone user, on the other hand, spends an average of anywhere between three to five hours staring at the screen.
In case you haven’t guessed it already, the display is easily the most important aspect of a smartphone and often makes or (literally) breaks the device. This is all the more true for the Xiaomi Mi Max 2. Sporting a massive 6.44-inch screen, the Mi Max 2 clings so tenuously to the definition of smartphone that one needs an alternate term to explain it properly. Known colloquially as a phablet, which is a portmanteau comprising of the words phone and the tablet. Pushing the envelope of a phone and almost reaching into the tablet territory, there’s no doubt that the Xiaomi Mi Max 2 is designed for one prime purpose – content consumption, where the sort of person buying the phablet is in the market for a device that can be used to watch movies, read ebooks and comics, play mobile games, run tablet-friendly apps, and comfortably browse the internet.
Big Display, Small Price
Thankfully, Xiaomi hasn’t cut any corners in the phone’s display. The device’s enormous 6.44-inch screen incorporates an IPS LCD panel packing a pixel dimensions of 1080×1920 pixels. That makes for a pixel density of approximately 342ppi. Although that might not be at par with flagship smartphones, let’s not forget that Xiaomi sells the Mi Max 2 for a princely sum of ₹17,000. And for that money you’re not only getting acres of display real estate in Full HD glory, but also high-quality all-aluminium construction, Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 625 SOC, 4GB of RAM, 64GB of internal storage, and 5300mAh goliath of a battery. Mind you, these are features that you won’t find in phones costing twice as much, so it beggars belief how Xiaomi managed to magic all these nice things into such a modest budget.
One of the most fundamental aspects deciding picture quality is the display’s ability to get the white point correct. Ensuring that the white point is calibrated to 6500K not only affects the whites, but it is also a fundamental requirement to ensure accurate colour reproduction. The Xiaomi Mi Max 2 unit that I received for review had been calibrated to near perfect 6500K, with a bit of bias towards the warmer side. However, setting the correct white point isn’t straightforward with the Mi Max 2 and requires some tinkering in the Colours and Contrast section within display settings. In fact, the process is quite counter-intuitive. Allow me to explain.
Caveat Emptor: Pay Attention to Display Settings
When calibrating displays, the Standard display setting serves as the universal baseline across most displays. All other picture modes, on the other hand, sex up the display parameters such brightness, contrast, and colour saturation to varying degrees. The standard picture mode, therefore, is universally accepted as the baseline mode where the aforementioned display parameters are largely unmolested. However, the Standard preset in the Mi Max 2 is a different beast altogether.
Choosing this preset reduces the contrast ratio and colour saturation to the lowest setting, which makes the picture look washed out and devoid of any life. What’s more, not only does it prevent you from changing the colour temperature, but the Standard mode forces the Warm (lowest) colour temperature setting. In effect, the Standard picture mode is the worst and should be avoided at all costs because it renders the colours flat and devoid of contrast, with an ugly reddish tinge to boot.
At the other end of the spectrum lies the Increased Contrast picture mode, which cranks up the contrast setting to the max and makes the colours appear more saturated. Thankfully, the colour temperature is set closer to the ideal 6500K value, so that isn’t an issue even if you can’t change it to either the Warm or Cool preset. The Automatic Contrast mode, on the other hand, is the only preset that allows you to manually select the colour temperature between Warm, Standard, and Cool presets. This mode also automatically adjusts contrast depending on ambient light conditions. The Automatic Contrast mode lies in an ideal place between the absolutely flat and horrendous Standard and sexed up Increased Contrast modes.
I personally preferred the Automatic Contrast mode, with the colour temperature set at the Standard preset, and I would recommend sticking to the same display settings as well. Xiaomi should ideally have provided a more granular control over contrast and colour saturation, along with a more intuitive display settings menu. Having said that, this is still a stellar IPS LCD panel for the money once you stick to the display settings recommended here. And this was amply evident from the host of objective picture quality tests that my Mi Max review unit had to go through.
Putting the Panel Through the Paces
The panel has a small degree of black crush, as it was evident from the Black Level test. The Mi Max 2 couldn’t distinguish between the first four tints, which isn’t a deal-breaker but it still could translate into a slight bit of lost details in the darkest parts of screen. On the bright side, the IPS LCD panel’s excellent uniformity and gradient performance meant that the remaining tints had no signs of colour impurities or noise. Overall, the Mi Max 2 performed decently considering its price, the small degree of black crush notwithstanding. At the other end of the spectrum, the Mi Max 2 delivered a near-perfect performance in the White Saturation test, by resolving all but the last tint. In layman’s terms, the display is capable of rendering white details with great accuracy.
The Contrast test proved that the level of black crush isn’t all that bad considering how the Mi Max 2 managed to display all but the darkest colour swatches. What’s more impressive was the display’s capability to distinguish between the brightest colour swatches, even for the blue and red ones, which usually tend to be the most difficult. The display uniformity was also flawless across the colour spectrum. The Mi Max 2 performed well beyond expectation in this test. The same holds true for the gradient banding test as well, which benefits from the flawless uniformity of the display.
The viewing angles are are terrific, with next to no colour shift evident even when the display is viewed from extremely wide angles. The gamma, however, is off by a fair bit. On the practical side of things, the colours show a pleasing degree of saturation and tend to pop. The Mi Max 2’s IPS panel is one of the more livelier displays money can buy in this price segment and even well beyond it. The result is a rather fulfilling experience whether you are watching movies or playing video games. A rather decent pixel density of 342ppi allows the Mi Max 2 to render text smoothly and deliver a great deal of detail through the 1080p screen.
However, my biggest gripe with the Mi Max 2’s display is its outdoor legibility. While the display is bright enough to be used under gaudy office lighting conditions, it doesn’t muster up enough brightness to work outdoors under bright daylight. At the end of the day, the Mi Max 2’s Full HD IPS LCD display performs well beyond what can be expected from a phone costing ₹17,000. It’s a vibrant panel, capable of delivering great degree of details at wide viewing angles. Despite minor levels of black crush and slightly skewed gamma, the display goes well and above its duty of serving as the ideal media consumption device.
The only major chink in its armour is its poor outdoor legibility, which is a significant consideration in a mobile phone, which is supposed to be used outdoors. But like they say, beggars can’t be choosers, and let’s not forget that you’re getting a lot of value from a well-specced 6.44-inch phone that’s priced as modestly.