An honest user review: Starmobile Play Max

I have been waiting for a phone under 5k with the following specs: at least 2500 mAh removable battery, 4.7-5 inch screen, Android Marshmallow and at least an 8MP rear camera. Since its launch last July 25, I have been waiting to get my hands on Starmobile’s Play Max. I was tempted to get their Up Max a year ago but due to the Android 5.0 issues, I didn’t get one. They were also selling it above Php 6,000 then. I was considering a couple of other phones, which had smaller battery capacities.

starmobile play max, user review, rear panel, android marshmallow

Space Gray Rear Panel

Now on to the actual review. So I bought the Play Max. I was already impressed on how the Up Max was made. It’s no different with the Play Max. Very clean lines, nothing fancy yet feels and looks premium. Since I got the Space Gray, the 5 inch screen’s border blends in well with the black bezel. Champagne and Rose Gold models have white bezels I think. The screen’s not so thick black border stands out on those. On top of the screen are the 5MP front camera with flash, earpiece and sensor. It has navigation buttons so, more screen space. They don’t light up though. No notification light either.

starmobile play max, user review, home screen, android marshmallow

Home screen

To the right are the power button and volume rocker. Nothing on the left side.

starmobile play max, user review, front camera, flash, , android marshmallow

Volume rocker and power buttons, 5MP front facing camera f2.8 aperture, flash, earpiece

At the top are the 3.5mm headphone jack and the micro-USB port for charging and connectivity. The port is still not the latest USB-C. First impression on the headsets…they are cheaply made but otherwise usable.

starmobile play max, user review, USB port, earphones, radio, android marshmallow

Earphones with mic, micro USB port for charging and connectivity

At the bottom are 2 speaker grills and in between is the pinhole mic. The loudspeaker sounds “thin”, has little or no bass output. It lacks depth. It is loud enough for indoor use. Yes, singular, because there is only 1 speaker, and that’s in the right grill. The other grill is there for design purposes. Which, I personally think, works. Volume will also depend on media players and formats.

starmobile play max, user review, speaker, mic, android marshmallow

Speaker grills and pinhole microphone

The rear back cover is plastic with a brushed metal look. Behind it is the impressive 4000mAh user replaceable battery (YES!). You have to remove the battery to get to the micro sim and sd card slots. With that battery, it’s not as heavy as I thought it would be.

starmobile play max, user review, battery, dual sim, micro sd, 3G, android marshmallow

4000 mAh battery, 2 micro SIM card + micro SD card slots

The display’s temperature is slightly “cool”. It has a very good viewing angle. I have test played 1080p mp4, 720p mkv videos, played smoothly. Played the full 24 minute mkv video with low brightness and wifi off, battery went down from 95% to 92%. Not bad. Not bad at all.

starmobile play max, user review, hd movie, android marshmallow

Playing 1080p hd sample movie file

In the box, it came with headphones, USB cable, 1000mAh charger, clear case and a Smart LTE sim card which was already in sim slot 1. That cable is thick. Best to use that cable to connect the phone to a computer. I drained the battery empty and charged it while it was off. It took just about 4 hours 30 minutes to charge that large battery. Before that, it took me a day and a half of moderate use with wifi on all the time.

starmobile play max, user review, usb cable, travel charger, android marshmallow

Travel charger and micro USB cable

Now for the camera. I will let pictures do most of the talking.

starmobile play max, user review, rear camera, android marshmallow

8MP Auto Focus rear camera with flash, f2.8 aperture

starmobile play max rear cam hdr adequate indoor lighting

Rear cam HDR adequate indoor lighting

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Rear cam no flash adequate indoor lighting

starmobile play max rear cam flash indoor lighting

Rear cam flash indoor lighting

starmobile play max rear cam indoor

Rear cam indoor

starmobile play max front cam indoor

Front cam indoor

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Front cam indoor dim lighting with flash

starmobile play max rear cam close up shot 3.5 cm

Rear cam’s minimum focusing distance is just under 1.5 inches

starmobile play max rear cam video HD 1080p

Rear cam video HD 1080p

starmobile play max front cam indoor light SD 480p

Front cam video SD 480p

Both cameras have an aperture of f2.8 but it seems that the front has a brighter output than the rear cam. Auto focus of rear camera has trouble locking if subject is near. It can focus to as close as 3.5cm for (macro) close up shots. Front cam has its focus set to about 1.5 feet away. As expected, both cameras perform poorly in dim to dark scenes. Given these samples, both cameras perform better when it’s bright.

Play Max comes with useful apps and a couple of Starmobile apps. I’m new to Marshmallow, as my 3 year old phone that was replaced by this has ICS. Definitely noticing the changes. I set my sd card as portable storage as I don’t want to format my 16GB micro SDHC card. It’s literally plug and play. Browsing through the image gallery is a breeze using Quickpic.  I’ve read about 6.0’s major features. I’m still adjusting to switching audio profiles. Play Max is using NELauncher. It’s OK. I searched for top rated launchers, found and installed Nova. I’m really liking it. I also replaced the stock keyboard with Go Keyboard (previously Ginger).

starmobile play max, user review, smart wake, gestures, android marshmallow

Smart wake feature, functions even when setting is turned off

I came across the tap to wake/gesture feature. I tested it. Found out that turning it off doesn’t do anything! With the setting turned off, I can swipe gestures or tap the screen, and it would still respond. I will have to turn the lock screen on before I put it in my pocket or bag to avoid pocket dial. (Fixed in an update Starmobile released a couple of months later).

starmobile play max, user review, viber, android marshmallow

VoIP calls like Viber, built in mic will barely pick up any sound. Good when earphones are used.

It has also come to my attention that when using VoIP, the built in mic barely picks up sound. There’s a workaround. That’s where the headphones come in. I’ve talked to the salespeople from the Starmobile store where I got the phone from. They have acknowledged those issues. I’m told they will be reporting it to their tech department, I think. Also informed the Happy Man by Starmobile facebook page and they said they have submitted a report for it to their product development team. I will not be expecting an update. As far as I know, they don’t release software updates.

One minor software issue encountered. I’ve used Facebook Lite before. But on this phone, it’s smooth the first time it opens. After that, it just lags. Not sure why. So I had to remove that, then installed the bloated, resource hogging, battery draining Facebook and Messenger apps. (UPDATE: After 2 FB Lite updates, it’s already working as it should)

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Marshmallow App Drawer set to vertical scrolling. *follow me on IG @mdeguzmanphoto

I had my old regular sim cards cut into micro size as soon as I got the phone. I might be swapping my Sun with the free sim as I got an easy to memorize number. At home, I had to switch to Globe 2G just to get a better signal. Registered my Sun into Smart’s network, great reception on that one. The default SMS app requires selecting sim first before hitting send when replying to messages. It doesn’t have the setting to “Ask every time”. I had to replace that with Textra (previously Google Messenger as it tried to show L instead when I hit backspace, a problem also reported in the stock messaging app). GPS works well in open spaces.

starmobile play max, user review, workstation, android marshmallow, minimal

Starmobile Play Max in its natural habitat

So, is the phone worth the Php 3,290 price? I think so. Will I be bothered by the issues with the phone? Maybe, but not all the time. The design is just what I’m looking for and it’s got everything I need in a phone. Overall, I like it. The only thing that will make me like it more is if it came in an all white model.

P.S. I’m not a power user or a gamer. No benchmarks, hacks, or game tests here. Link to full specs and official website here.  All photos are owned by me. My first ever blog and product review.

Update as of April 27, 2017. So. Here we are. 9 months in using the Play Max. Same issue with loudspeaker during a call, and shorter battery time (especially when I replaced my Sun with the Smart sim that came with the phone). It can barely last 24 hours with the same usage/habit. I am writing this update because a couple of days ago, Starmobile care notification popped up and said there is a new android version. So today, I cleared up space by backing up and removing apps to have more than the recommended 1Gb of free internal storage. Actual update lasted for only a few minutes. It took around the same time optimizing the apps. I will be restoring stuff. We’ll see how it goes.
Next day: No noticeable change in speed or battery life. In some apps, network signal icons disappear in the white notification bar. Turning off transparency does not help. Takes a lot longer to connect to wifi and data. Typing errors especially in the backspace, enter and “L, M” area are minimized, if not, resolved. Ghost touch while charging seems to be fixed too. Camera is somewhat performing better although IQ still crappy. And it turns out they actually fixed the loudspeaker problem! After 9 months and they finally got to addressing a major problem with this unit. So that ends this review. Thanks for reading.