HTC One Max Review

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IMG_0042 copyHTC’s 2013 One family was finished off with the announcement of the highly rumoured “phablet” (urgggh) in October last year – The HTC One Max.  Rocking a humongous 5.9″ display, this gadget really earns it’s name. It might not be equipped with a Stylus, and it’s not quite the Aluminium unibody of the original One, but if you’re Goliath-handed or are looking for a device to meet halfway between a phone and a tablet, then read on.

 

External

Let’s get straight down to it. It’s big, really big.  I don’t claim to have the world’s largest paws but I couldn’t use the Max one-handed without it feeling rather unwieldy. It measures in at 164.5 x 82.5 x 10.3mm and a relatively weighty 217g, heavier than the similarly sized Huawei Ascend Mate I looked at back in September.  The Max really is a stretched version of the mini rather than the original One, as it sports the same smooth white polycarbonate trim, with a removable back plate but sets itself apart from both with a rear-mounted finger-print sensor (which I’ll come back to later).

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On the right hand edge you’ll find a mid-mounted power button, with a volume rocker just above.  The left edge has what I initially thought might be a silencing switch like you’d find on an iPhone, but in fact it’s a locking switch to hold the back cover in place securely. Behind this plate you’ll find a Micro-SD and Micro-SIM slots, though the battery is still classed as non-removable. Similarly to the original, there’s an IR blaster on the top left whilst the headphone socket is located on the top right, and micro-USB connector on the bottom right.

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Up front there’s the same ‘BoomSound’ stereo speakers either side of the 5.9″ screen that are found across the range, with a hidden notification LED behind the grille, auto-brightness and presence sensors above the top-left corner screen, and the same 2.1MP front-facing wide-angle camera found in the original. Also, note the absence of Beats branding, despite the same stereo speakers.

Round the back, the Ultra-Pixel camera and finger-print sensor are centred up top, with an LED flash offset to the left of the camera. The finger-sensing area could have been a little more aesthetically pleasing, and unfortunately looks somewhat like a stuck-on afterthought compared to the iPhone 5s’ hidden sensor.

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I was confused at first as to what the three dots on the bottom right of the back of the Max do, and after a little digging found that these “pogo” pins are used to attach to the official flip case, which is a flip-style case who’s front also conceals an additional 1200mAh battery.

 

Internal

Despite its larger frame, the specifications are very similar to the original One. There’s the same Snapdragon 600 quad-core processor clocked at 1.7gHz, coupled with an Adreno 320 GPU and 2GB of RAM to keep Sense running super-smooth. For storage there’s either 16GB, 32GB or 64GB variants of the Max, with the removable back plate giving access to a micro-SD slot for increasing storage by another 64GB.

Despite the larger 5.9″ screen than its 4.7″ brother, the resolution is kept the same at 1920*1080, making for a 373ppi pixel density that is still far beyond acceptable.  The screen quality keeps up with the One, with colours looking very well balanced and viewing angles still holding up.

Power is provided by a large 3300mAh battery.  It kept up with everything I threw at it and not once felt like it was going to struggle to make it through a full day’s usage.  Charging is of course provided via micro-USB, whilst the socket can also handle MHL video output via HDMI.

Other obvious but necessary inclusions are Bluetooth version 4.0, Wi-Fi modes all the way up to the latest AC standard, as well as N and dual-band capability, an FM radio and all the bands you’d need for LTE 4G.

HTClineup

At this point I’d usually head on to benchmarking the smartphone in question, but as its internals are almost identical to the HTC One, I’ve skipped it on this occasion.  To see how the One did, head over to the review HERE.

 

Screenshot_2013-11-12-16-00-41Software

The Max comes pre-loaded with Android 4.3 and Sense 5.5, meaning you’re quite far away from stock Android, but in my opinion and that of many other people, the current generation of Sense is almost entirely an improvement over the stock OS.  There’s still the blink-feed home-screen as default, but now you can either move it to another screen, or turn it off entirely if you don’t think you’ll use it.  Because of my small hands, I had to organise the icons in the bottom right of the screen to make the majority of the features at least accessible with just one hand.  If you happen to be blessed with more manly paws then this will be unlikely to present so much of an issue, either that or resign to using the Max two-handed.

Screenshot_2013-11-12-16-00-57The app drawer is blessed with the same tweaks you’ll find on the other Sense 5 phones.  The time and weather is present at the top of the screen until you start scrolling, you can organise the apps in the draw by alphabet, recently used or a custom order of your own.  Use the custom option and you can also make folders within your app draw to really tidy things up.  You can also decide how many icons show on screen at one time, personally I changed it to the 4 x 5 grid size to fit more on screen.

With the IR blaster still onboard there’s the HTC TV app based on the Peel TV Guide app, whilst all the other major additions that Sense brings are still included – such as Zoe, HTC Watch, HTC’s very good music app, and all the social media integration you’ll likely need from Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

 

Finger Print Security

Screenshot_2013-11-12-16-00-17The first smartphone to see fingerprint security was the Motorola Atrix, which for its time was considered a superphone, with the fingerprint sensor being the icing on the cake.  Over the last couple of years, fingerprint security has been toyed with by manufacturers in Asia, but nothing else prominent made it to the EU or to the US, apart from the recent iPhone 5s.    The 5s out-did previous attempts at including digit-based security by making it an invisible part of the home button.

Thanks to the design of the One series, a sensor in the power button or capacity home buttons just doesn’t represent itself as a viable option, so HTC instead decided to make it a standalone sensor on the rear of the phone where HTC believes you’d naturally rest your fingers when holding the phone one-handed.

Unfortunately, the experience of using the finger-print sensor was far from the seamless integration Apple have managed.  First you have to press the power / wake button, then SLOWLY swipe your finger across the sensor at exactly the right speed and angle, and if you’re EXTREMELY lucky you’ll get in on first attempt.  For me, it was often the second or third attempt.

The ergonomics just seems bizarre to me, which may well be down to my small fingers, but quite honestly even the design of the sensor feels like a stuck-on afterthought that only detracts from the sleek design of the One series.

 

Camera

The camera of the Max is the same 1/3″ 4MP ‘UltraPixel’ sensor found in the HTC One on the back, and 2.1MP wide-angle camera on the front.  Both are capable of 1080p video, with options including HDR recording with stereo sound. There’s the exact same feature-set, single LED flash and a range of post-editing options as well as plenty of manual control over the camera.

Like the One, I found it generally a good camera, with impressive low-light results that have only recently been bettered by the Nokia Lumia 1020.  There’s occasional issues with light over-saturation, so make sure you tap to focus on the right area of the screen to ensure that the camera is metering the light balance from the right part of the scene.

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For someone out there (likely with gargantuan hands), the HTC One Max represents the perfect smartphone.  It’s big, powerful and nicely designed, but unfortunately on virtually every turn I found it to be compromised when compared to the original HTC One.

The screen is bigger – but almost too big.  The plastic surround similar to that on the One Mini just doesn’t feel as good at this larger size – the design of the original One is still much nicer overall.  The Fingerprint sensor is really poorly implemented and in a very odd position (considering the phone’s dimensions).  The Beats Audio has been left out, which on the whole doesn’t matter greatly, but means that the identical stereo speakers don’t sound quite as beefy as they could have done with a little more equaliser tuning.

I don’t want to detract too much from the Max – as ‘phablets’ go it’s one of the best, has the welcome addition of expandable storage and the large screen is fantastic for watching films, TV or YouTube, and will likely only be bested by 1440p screens due to arrive sometime this year.

 

Positives

+ Excellent design and build quality.

+ THE best screen on a smartphone just got bigger.

+ 4MP Camera performance still surprises.

+ IR Blaster &  stereo speakers good added extras.

+ Removable back plate and Micro-SD storage.

 

Negatives

– Plastic edge feels cheap compared to HTC One.

– Just too big for smaller hands.

– Fingerprint sensor feels like a wasted opportunity.

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Price: SIM-Free 16GB – £449, 32GB – £529 (64GB not available in UK).
Free on contracts from around £38 /month
More InfoHTC
Operating System: Android 4.3
Size: 164.5 x 82.5 x 10.3 mm at 217g.
Extras: Wi-Fi (802.11 A/B/G/N/AC + Dual Band), GPS, Bluetooth 4.0, NFC, 2.1MP front facing, 4MP ‘UltraPixel’ rear – both with 1080p Video. Fingerprint security sensor.
Battery Life: 3300mAh.
Memory: 16GB onboard storage, 2GB RAM, up to 64GB extra storage via micro-SD.
Processing: 1.7gHz Quad-Core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 with Adreno 320 graphics.
Screen: 5.9″ Super-LCD3 capacitive touch-screen, 1920*1080 resolution, 16M colours.

 

 

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