Inching closer to 'flagship killer' territory.
Redmi Note 10 Pro Max review | At a time when smartphone shelf life is becoming a blink-and-you-miss affair with each passing launch, product differentiation is a huge challenge for brands. The challenge is even bigger when it comes to budget phones because of the sheer frequency of launches in this segment. The Redmi Note, the quintessential budget phone for a lot of buyers, isn’t immune to this growing trend either.
Over the last couple of years, Xiaomi–the brand behind these phones–has tried to address this challenge by launching multiple models to diversify and cater to more buyers. Last year’s Redmi Note 9 ‘series’ had a regular Note 9, and more powerful Note 9 Pro and Note 9 Pro Max, with prices ranging from Rs 11,999 to Rs 19,999. Like clockwork, Xiaomi has replaced them with the Note 10, Note 10 Pro and Note 10 Pro Max this year.
A bigger task for Xiaomi, in 2021, was to not only ensure the Note 10 series happened on schedule, but that it made sense as an upgrade. The Redmi Note 10 Pro Max is–unsurprisingly–the highest-end model in the lineup and here are my thoughts about it after almost a week of testing.
Design and build quality
To say that the Note 10 Pro Max looks beautiful will be an understatement. But more than anything, I like the consistency in design here. There are no loose ends, no gaudy gradient shifts, no crazy over-the-top branding. Everything is well thought out, the attention to detail is just spot-on.
In fact, put this phone through a blind test and you’d be hard-pressed to tell that it costs so low–even some high-end phones don’t look or feel this good. Next to the Note 9 Pro Max, the difference is like night and day. What a difference a year can make.
The phone has a glass back–this is Corning Gorilla Glass 5–and a plastic frame of a matching colour. The black version of the phone–which I have for review–is glossy and, unsurprisingly, a fingerprint and smudge magnet. It is also very, very slippery. To be clear, it is slippery on a surface only. In the hands, it is not, because of the grippy frame and almost flat screen.
It also comes in bronze and blue colourways with a ‘frosted’ matte finish which is slightly better at hiding fingerprints and is also a lot less slippery.
The camera housing in the Note 10 Pro Max is a raised two-stage setup which means that there is a ‘prominent’ camera bump in this phone. Mostly, this is to accommodate its large 108MP sensor (more on this later) so you can say, it is understandable. Xiaomi has cleverly made every inch of this camera bump seem intentional, say for instance, even though the Note 10 Pro Max does not have any fancy focusing tricks (at least none that is advertised), there is what appears to be a laser-autofocus-like assembly on the bottom platform.
Another mind-boggling thing about the Note 10 Pro Max–aside from the updated design–is how sleek it is relative to the Note 9 Pro Max. At 8.1mm and 192g, the Note 10 Pro Max is 0.7mm thinner and 16g lighter than its predecessor despite all the extra hardware. The difference is, again, very noticeable if you have held the Note 9 Pro Max even briefly. The new phone is very well made and very ergonomic. It is a pleasure to hold, and even though the screen size remains unchanged, the whole thing feels more user-friendly, and by extension, more premium than anything else in its price range. The same is true about the buttons–and their placement–which are nice and tactile, and, easy to reach.
Xiaomi has opted for a side-mounted fingerprint reader (up and above the power button) which is fast and accurate. You can configure it to unlock the phone by a touch or press. It also doubles as a quick ‘double tap’ shortcut button, so you can for instance, take a quick screenshot or open the camera directly.
Rounding off the package are IP53-certfication for dust and splash resistance, 360-degree ambient light sensor, dual stereo speakers with Hi-Res audio support, IR blaster, Z-axis vibration motor, and 3.5mm audio jack.
Xiaomi has brought some big changes on the front as well. The Note 10 Pro Max comes with a segment-first ‘120Hz Super AMOLED display’ while keeping screen size–6.67-inch–and resolution–FHD+–same as last year. This was probably one of the biggest surprises that caught nearly everybody off-guard on launch day. For the first time in history, a Redmi phone, let alone a Redmi Note, had entered Mi category–clearly, this was a mic-drop moment for Xiaomi.
Coming back to that screen, it brings other ‘real-world improvements’ too. On paper, the Note 10 Pro Max’s display can theoretically peak 1200nits which (also) makes it HDR10-ready. More importantly, it is significantly brighter over any other Xiaomi phone South of Rs 20,000 to date, in day-to-day use (remember, the panel can peak 1200nits only with supported HDR10 content). It also supports 100 percent DCI-P3 colour gamut. Those colours can get nice and punchy without going overboard, again, a big upgrade from anything we’ve seen from Xiaomi in this price range. And the difference is noticeable instantly. The Note 10 Pro Max easily has the best display on any smartphone under 20K.
But just to be clear, the panel is not ‘adaptive’ so to say like the Poco X3, another phone with a 120Hz display (though it uses IPS LCD) in this segment. So far, I haven’t had any ‘ghosting’ issues (like I did in that phone), aside from a few hiccups here and there, nothing that a software update can’t fix. Scrolling through pages or navigating through the UI in general is largely a pleasant experience. There is also Corning Gorilla Glass 5 for protection.
There is a tiny, unobtrusive, 2.96mm punch hole in the Note 10 Pro Max–like the Note 9 Pro Max–though the ‘silver lining’ around it could have been avoided. And while we’re nitpicking, the pre-installed screen guard also leaves a lot to be desired.
The Note 10 Pro Max is Xiaomi’s fourth phone in India to come with a 108MP main camera after the Mi 10, Mi 10T Pro and Mi 10i–of course, it is the most affordable in that list. It uses a Samsung ISOCELL HM2 1/1.52-inch sensor with 0.7µm pixels sitting behind an f/1.9 lens and shoots 12MP (9-in-1) pixel-binned photos by default. You can choose to shoot at full resolution but ideally you should not (because quality is not that good) unless you’re looking for a specific crop.
There are three other cameras, which are essentially same as the ones on the Note 9 Pro Max with some tweaks. There is an 8MP ultra-wide-angle camera with 118-degree field-of-view and fixed-focus f/2.2 lens, 5MP super-macro with autofocus f/2.4 telemacro lens and another 2MP depth camera for portrait photography. Those granular details are necessary to point out because they impact the all-round output, making it a sizable upgrade over the Note 9 Pro Max–despite there being a lot of similarities.
Let’s start with the main camera, which is unsurprisingly the phone’s big highlight. Even though on a pure technical level, it is tad inferior to the 108MP camera in the Mi 10i (which has a slightly wider f/1.75 aperture lens plus a more powerful chipset), I have come out more impressed with its overall quality and detail. It is not perfect. Xiaomi still needs to fine tune its colour science–it is a little too contrasty for my liking–for instance. There is also a fair bit of over-sharpening here and there. But the level of detail is just excellent, especially at its price. Dynamic range is quite good too. [All this is with respect to default 12MP photos.] Good performance is also carried on to low light scenarios where Xiaomi’s new Night Mode 2.0 helps capture brighter, consistently more usable photos–possibly the best in this segment. Sadly, this isn’t available for the phone’s other cameras.
The super macro camera is another big highlight of the Note 10 Pro Max. Simply with the addition of autofocus–still a rarity in this segment–the phone’s 5MP super macro camera can shoot crisp and pretty well detailed close-up shots, but remember, this is only when lots of light is available.
The 8MP ultra-wide-angle camera is barely serviceable though and easily the phone’s weakest link. It’s missing out on colour parity (with the main camera, and even the super macro) for one, and the results are nothing to write home about. The only silver lining is that the phone’s algorithm does a fairly good job keeping fish-eye effect in check.
The 2MP depth camera, even though it may seem paltry, does a fine job at subject isolation mostly, but at the same time, results can be a hit or miss depending on the subject (even its background).
As for video recording, the phone particularly excels at 1080p@30fps (all the cameras support this). At this setting, you get EIS for more stable, well detailed footage with largely good audio as well. The main camera can peak 4K@30fps as well as 1080p@60fps though there is no stabilization and the results are just about usable.
Xiaomi has brought some high-end ‘Mi features’ like Vlog Mode, Dual Video and Magic Clone Videos to the Note 10 Pro Max–a first for any Redmi phone. These are nice value additions adding to the whole premium appeal of what is essentially a budget mid-ranger.
The phone’s 16MP (f/2.45) front camera takes good selfies in good light, with warm punchy colours (if a little over-sharpened) and good amount of detail. Night mode is supported on this camera, making low light selfies somewhat usable without ending up being a blurry mess.
Performance and battery life
Under the hood, the Note 10 Pro Max has a Qualcomm Snapdragon 732G processor–that made its global debut with the Poco X3 last year. This seems to be a contentious issue on social media. Many have pointed out the lack of 5G in this phone. Xiaomi India head Manu Kumar Jain has countered this by saying the brand does not want buyers to invest more–5G chipset could have made the Note 10 Pro Max pricier–for technology that they are probably not likely to use for another two-three years.
Those who do wish to board the hype-train now, have phones like the Mi 10i, but I don’t think lack of 5G is a deal-breaker for a phone under Rs 20,000 today. There are phones like the Realme X7 and Realme Narzo 30 Pro with MediaTek Dimensity 800U that you can look into, just in case, but that is just a personal choice and entirely subjective.
What isn’t subjective though is how powerful and feature-packed a phone is. While it is feature packed to the T, the Note 10 Pro Max isn’t the most powerful phone in its segment, at least, as far as synthetic benchmarks are concerned. The Dimensity 800U tops these scores. There is also the Samsung Galaxy F62 with Exynos 9825 processor, which though dated, is even faster (the phone starts at Rs 23,999 but seems relevant for context).
The Note 10 Pro Max might just be one of those rare case studies where benchmark scores don’t tell the whole story. Even more so because, it feels snappier than the Poco X3.
Let’s first talk about the internals. The Note 10 Pro Max comes with up to 8GB fast LPDDR4X RAM and up to 128GB UFS2.2 storage. This is expandable via a dedicated micro-SD card slot. Software inside the phone is Android 11-based MIUI 12. All of this when paired with the Snapdragon 732G–which is a very capable and efficient 8nm chipset–leads to excellent day-to-day performance and more than satisfactory graphics intensive gaming. Aside from a few UI stutters (that I mentioned in the display section of this review) I have had no visible complaints with the Note 10 Pro Max. It is generally a very fast phone and it does this without getting hot or toasty when put to stress–which is to say, it does not throttle,
All this also reflects in the phone’s outstanding battery life. The Note 10 Pro Max has a 5,020mAh with 33W fast charging–same as the Note 9 Pro Max. Even with the phone’s display cranked up to 120Hz (always-on also enabled), it would easily last a full day without breaking a sweat consistently during my review period. Our battery loop test gave us almost 12 hours–which is impressive.
The phone’s 33W fast charging credentials don’t do complete justice to it though as the phone takes almost an hour and twenty minutes to go from 0-100 percent. There is also no reverse wireless charging feature.
A few quick pointers:
- Redmi phones are notorious for pushing out pesky ads, often without necessary curation. I am happy to report that is not the case with the Note 10 Pro Max. The ad-situation is under control (but remember, there are some ads) and I am yet to encounter any sort of cringe. The experience is very similar to the Redmi K20/K20 Pro where Xiaomi chose not to bombard users with ads, though the brand has not explicitly confirmed or denied this aspect for the new Note. There are also fewer duplicate apps in the Note 10 Pro Max and there is granular control for turning off notifications, opting out of tracking. The phone is also eligible for MIUI 12.5, the next version of MIUI (arriving in the coming months) which will let you uninstall many more system apps.
- As a standalone, the Note 10 Pro Max offers good quality calls. It is a 4G dual-SIM phone and there is support for carrier aggregation.
- Its dual speakers get nice and loud and audio jack delivers clean sound for an overall immersive multimedia experience. The Note 10 Pro also has a strong haptic motor.
- Xiaomi bundles a 33W fast charger and a clear case in the box.
Phones like the Redmi Note 10 Pro Max are rare, where reviewers like your truly have to go searching for a catch. And while I have managed to nitpick some, let me tell you that it wasn’t easy. That’s saying a lot about what Xiaomi has pulled off here.
The Note 10 Pro Max is the best phone that you can get under Rs 20,000 today. Period. It is also the best value, regardless of the fact that there is also a Redmi Note 10 Pro which is essentially the same phone with a watered-down 64MP main camera starting at an even more aggressive Rs 15,999. If you think it serves your purpose and you’re low on cash, you should get it and the experience should be mostly similar.
But if you can spare some more cash, go get yourself the Note 10 Pro Max. Why? Well, simply because that 108MP camera isn’t all hogwash. It is genuinely good. Xiaomi has somehow managed to tame it and bring it–and a lot of other things–at a price that is, as they say, too good to be true (so more people can experience it). Something like this wasn’t possible before.
The Redmi Note 10 Pro Max sets a new benchmark for value for money but even as the Redmi Note inches closer to ‘flagship killer’ territory, it also raises expectations. Where will Xiaomi go from here, that is the question.
- Premium look and feel
- Class-leading 120Hz Super AMOLED display
- Fast performance, good thermals
- Excellent 108MP and ‘super macro’ cameras
- Fantastic battery life
- Loud stereo speakers
- Ultra-wide-angle camera is barely serviceable