Redmi Note 10 Pro Max review: Is this the killer smartphone that ‘flagship killers’ should now be afraid of?
The Xiaomi Redmi Note series needs no introduction, having literally put the brand on the map and kept it ahead of the competition over the past several years. Now, even though Xiaomi max-ed out the Redmi Note 9 Pro Max got last year, the Redmi Note 10 Pro Max does one better, delivering a significant generational jump while still staying firmly planted in ‘jaw-dropping value for money’ territory. Consider this – the Note 10 Pro Max offers a Super AMOLED 120Hz display, a 108MP primary camera, a 5020mAh battery, all packed into a petite glass-paneled design…at a starting price of Rs. 18,999! Is this the killer smartphone that ‘flagship killers’ should now be afraid of?
There’s a confident sense of maturity in the Note 10 Pro Max’s design. The new EVOL design language, with glass on both the front and back, feels premium, both visually and in the hand. The black Dark Night variants and the Vintage Bronze colorways have glossy and matte finish rear panels respectively, and as much as I default to subtle designs, the black colorway is a bit too staid for my taste, and I much preferred the bolder matte finish on the Vintage Bronze variant. It’s large, as all Notes have been, yet ergonomic to hold. For something that sports the same 5020mAh battery as its predecessor, it’s not only lighter but also slimmer (8.1mm), and the even weight distribution makes it way more manageable to hold than the size would have you believe.
All of this without sacrificing the Xiaomi hallmarks – a side mounted fingerprint scanner, a 3.5mm headphone jack, the infrared blaster port, a dual-SIM card tray with a dedicated microSD card slot and a dual stereo setup. Big props to Xiaomi for including Hi Res Adui certification on the headphone jack. The quad camera arrangement on the rear has stepped design with a bit of the Vivo X50 Pro vibe to it, which sits unevenly on a flat surface but you can slap on the included silicon case to counter that.
The big upgrade this year is around the front, with the Note 10 Pro Max sporting a full HD+ 6.67-inch Super AMOLED panel with 120Hz refresh rate, HDR10+ support and a claimed 1200 nits of peak brightness (during HDR playback). The mind boggles at how Xiaomi managed to ship a good AMOLED panel at this price, but it has – color accuracy is good, the panel is bright even outdoors and viewing HDR content (and content in general) is super impressive. It helps that the center-aligned selfie camera has the smallest punch hole I’ve seen across segments. Add to that the adaptive refresh rate that switches between 60Hz and 120Hz and the 240Hz touch response rate, and it’s so easy to often lose sight of the fact that this is a sub-20,000-rupee phone. This is a phone display that holds up well against phones in the 30,000-40,000-rupee segment, and never once does it feel Xiaomi cut (display) corners to achieve the price point.
If the AMOLED panel didn’t bait you, Xiaomi’s betting that the 108MP primary camera (the first I’ve seen under Rs. 20,000) will. Using a Samsung HM2 sensor that combines nine smaller 0.7μm pixels into one larger 2.1μm pixel allows for greater clarity, detail and light sensitivity pays off, with crisp, detailed shots, pleasing (somewhat oversaturated) colors and balanced exposure in daytime shots and an equally strong showing in low-light shots. Of course, there’s a dedicated Night mode for amping up the details without introducing a ton of extra digital noise, but even without it, the Note 10 Pro Max pushes out some of the best photos in a phone under 25,000.
Straying away from the marquee primary sensor, one has to talk about the 5MP macro sensor with the built-in 2X optical zoom telephoto capabilities, which, in my opinion, is among the best implementations of a macro shooter across segments.
It allows for macro shots as close as 2cm from the lens, and I wished more brands would make macros this useful. Less impressive is the ultrawide angle camera, which brings in a wider 118-degree field of view but differs widely (warmer) from the primary camera in terms of color consistency. The depth sensor delivers good edge detection for portrait shots, and the 16MP selfie shooting is above average.
When it comes to video, the primary sensor can shoot up to 4K@30fps and 1080@60fps videos, but the lack of EIS at these quality/framerate settings is an issue. Dial it down to 1080@30fps and you’ll be rewarded with clean video with consistent colors and good dynamic range.
Under the hood, the jumps aren’t quite as dramatic as on the outside, and the Snapdragon 732G chipset, while improving upon the 720G on the previous generation, isn’t as much of a generational leap. It handles tasks on the heavier side of things, like playing Call of Duty Mobile at highest Graphics and Very High frame rates or multitasking with heavy image editing apps and more browser windows than are usually recommended. It’s no slouch, the Snapdragon 732G, but it does very occasionally tend to get the odd stutter and… if you’re the sort for whom absolute performance matters at this price point, the competition has improved by leaps and bounds in recent times.
While reviewing this device, one question I got repeatedly was how much the lack of 5G affected my opinion of the Note 10 Pro Max. Sure, the competition by way of the Narzo 30 Pro and the Realme X7 are 5G-enabled, but the actual rollouts and widespread implementation of 5G are a whole different matter altogether. Would I have preferred 5G in this device over the very real and tangible benefits of the 120Hz Super AMOLED panel and 108MP camera? Nope, that’s a hard pass for me.
MIUI 12 on Android 11 is a step in the right direction, with a bunch of great features and a lot fewer duplicate apps and third-party apps. Sure, there are still annoyances like the GetApps app store, but most third-party apps can be uninstalled, and bloatware has been reduced considerably. An upcoming MIUI 12.5 update promises further clean-up in terms of pre-installed apps, so I’ll keep an eye out for that. Of course, there’s the sizeable 5020mAh battery which regularly lasted me the better part of 7-8 hours of screen on time with the 120Hz refresh rate, and more if you dial the settings down. A 33W charger is to be found inside the box, which juices the phone up to full in under 80 minutes.
Redmi Note phones are typically very easy to recommend, and the Note 10 Pro Max furthers its cause with big wins on the display, design, battery and camera departments. Could the performance have been a bit better? Sure, but only if you’re nitpicking. Could 5G and its presence on the competition be its undoing? Again, only if you’re nitpicking. If you’re in the market for a sub-20,000 phone, the Redmi Note 10 Pro Max delivers, and then some.
Highlights: Redmi Note 10 Pro Max
Pros: Great display, best-in-class design, great cameras, solid battery life, good performance, stereo speakers
Cons: MIUI greatly improved but still has some way to go, lacks 5G
Price: Rs. 18,999 (6GB/64GB) onwards
Tushar Kanwar is a tech columnist and commentator, and tweets @2shar