HTC One Max review: Bigger isn’t always better

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Although not as successful as they had hoped, the HTC One was highly regarded by the tech community, including myself. HTC had a clear winner in terms of design so they figured they would build upon that by “enlarging” the phone into a phablet since the demand continues to grow for phones that are large and in charge. The HTC One Max looks just like the One, only much bigger. HTC wasn’t able to compete with the likes of the Galaxy S 4 in the 5-inch category so will they be able to compete with the Galaxy Note 3 in the phablet category? HTC is hoping a few extras like a fingerprint scanner and a microSD slot will entice you, but is it enough and does the greatness of the HTC One translate to a much larger version? Hit the break to find out.

Design

Even though the One Max looks very similar to the One, it’s not. The Max doesn’t sport the same unibody design and it doesn’t sport the same amount of metal. HTC chose to make the back removable so you get a polycarbonate band around the sides holding everything together. Once you get past the idea of feeling “cheated,” you realize it’s still attractive, just different. At the same time, I’m not sure why HTC went this route since they should have been able to include a microSD slot and microSIM slot on the outside and keep the cover non-removable. I will say the design of the back cover does fit neatly into place, and one might not even know it’s removable unless someone told them. Instead of having a lip for your finger to release the back cover, they opted for a mini switch on the left side towards the top.

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The fact that it’s not a unibody design probably isn’t the One Max’s biggest downfall though. I would say it’s the size. This thing is just huge. In comparing it to the Galaxy Note 3, it looks and feels so much bigger even though the display is only 0.2-inches bigger. The reason for this is the BoomSound speakers take up a lot of space. It’s more of an issue at the bottom of the device where space is needed for the speaker and the capacitive buttons (and HTC logo) above it. In comparing it to the Note 3, the Max is 13.3mm longer, 3.3mm wider, and 2mm thicker (at it’s highest point). The Max comes in at 164.5 x 82.5 x 10.29mm (highest point) and the Note 3 is 151.2 x 79.2 x 8.3mm. The One Max sports the same pyramid or Hershey bar style as the One, so it doesn’t feel as thick in the hand as 10.29mm would indicate. The One Max is also much heavier when comparing it to the Note 3, 217 grams vs. 168 grams.

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Because of its size, HTC moved the power button from the top to the right side towards the middle. The volume rocker is now above it, which is usually not the case for most phones. Normally the volume rocker is either below the power button or on the opposite side. For someone like me, that deals with a lot of phones, it’s a little frustrating getting used to, but most people won’t have an issue. I only point this out because it’s just another example of the lack of consistency with HTC when it comes to their devices. On the flipside, Samsung devices are all uniform, with the power button on the right and the volume rocker on the left. Now it’s not just this lack of consistency that is keeping HTC from succeeding, but these are the details that successful companies think of.

Continuing with the theme of buttons and ports, the top has the IR blaster to the left along with the microphone jack to the right. The left side has the switch to open the back plate and the bottom has the microUSB port.

The front has BoomSound speakers at the top and bottom, and are of course, larger than the One since there is more room. You will also find the notification light inside the top speaker to the left and the front-facing camera is at the top right. The bottom has the HTC logo along with a capacitive Home button to the right and a capacitive back button to the left.

The back has the main 4MP UltraPixel camera lens towards the top middle and the LED flash is just to the left. New to HTC is a fingerprint scanner, and you will find it  just below the camera lens. Last but not least, you will find pogo pins at the bottom right of the back, which is for a power case accessory.

You will also notice that there are no carrier logos on the device, which is a nice touch. My review unit is the Sprint version, but the Verizon version will sport their logo.

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The One Max feels solid and looks good, but unfortunately, it’s going to be too big for most people. The phablet category is already a niche, and I would say that HTC somehow carved out another niche within the niche, which is going to limit sales. That isn’t something a struggling company should do.

Hardware

The One Max has a 5.9-inch 1080p (1920 x 1080) Super LCD 3 display (373 ppi), a 1.7GHz quad-core Snapdragon 600 processor, Adreno 320 GPU, 2GB of RAM, 16/32GB of storage, microSD slot for up to an additional 64GB of storage, 4MP UltraPixel rear camera, 2.1MP front-facing camera, Gorilla Glass 3, 3,300mAh battery, Bluetooth 4.0 with A2DP, Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, Wi-Fi Direct, DLNA, and NFC.

Radios:

2G – GSM 850 / 900 / 1800 / 1900 and CDMA 800 / 1900 – for Sprint and Verizon
3G – HSDPA 900 / 1900 / 2100 – EMEA version, HSDPA 850 / 900 / 1900 / 2100 – Asia version,  HSDPA 1900 / 2100 – for Sprint
4G – LTE 800 / 900 / 1800 / 2600 – EMEA version, LTE 900 / 1800 / 2100 / 2600 – Asia version, LTE 700 / 1700 / 2100 – for Verizon

Performance

You would think HTC would have gone with the Snapdragon 800 since it’s the latest and greatest, but they decided to stick with the Snapdragon 600. Hardcore Android fans that are spec-crazy will be disappointed, but this is far from a big deal for the average consumer. I would wholeheartedly recommend the HTC One today with the Snapdragon 600, so there is no reason why this phone needs the “upgrade”. It still runs pretty smooth. I always run the AnTuTu benchmark just because, and it came in at 26,108, which isn’t too shabby.

HTC continues to kick butt in the display department with the One Max. We have loved every display since the One X, and the One Max is no exception. The 1080p Super LCD 3 translates beautifully to the larger 5.9-inch screen and is probably the biggest highlight of this phone. Blacks are deep, colors are vibrant, and viewing angles are fantastic. You simply won’t find a better display.

Once you have a phone with BoomSound, you will have hard time using anything else. HTC’s use of stereo speakers makes for a great listening experience. I still question how many people listen to music through their phone speakers, but I won’t complain about them being there. It’s another area in which no other phone can match HTC.

Fingerprint Scanner

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This is one thing I was excited about, but after a few minutes of it, not so much. Unfortunately it’s a half baked implementation that doesn’t get the job done. It reminds me of Face Unlock in that it’s cool, but the success rate is not where it needs to be. I don’t have first hand experience with Touch ID on the iPhone 5S, but from what I can tell, Apple did it right. With the One Max, you have to first turn on your phone with a separate power button, then slide your finger across the scanner. Finding the scanner isn’t always easy since it’s on the back, and making sure your finger is at the right angle every time isn’t any easier. You get six or seven failures, and then you have to input your password. I did find that the harder I pressed, the better it was, but with a phone this large, it’s just plain awkward. One has to wonder why HTC would make their first implementation of this technology on a device this size.

Now one nice idea that HTC added was the ability to assign two other fingers for directly opening apps. It’s a nice touch (no pun intended), but again, if it doesn’t work well, then it’s not worth the trouble.

Of course, you don’t have to utilize the fingerprint scanner at all, but it is a letdown that it’s there and just not good enough.

Battery

As you would expect from a phone this size, the battery is rather big. It comes in at 3,300mAh, but it’s still not as big as what you will find in the DROID MAXX. I wasn’t able to properly conduct my video rundown test since Sprint doesn’t have LTE in my area. When connected to 3G, I was able to get about 13 hours out of it. This test is usually done while connected to LTE and WiFi (not connected), Bluetooth (not connected) and GPS turned on. When the phone is fully charged, I loop a video till it runs down to 0%. 13 hours on 3G isn’t bad so I suspect I would get about 11 to 12 hours on LTE.

How does all this translate to a regular day? You will have no problem getting through wakeup until bedtime without needing to charge in between. You will probably get about 24 hours of continuous use total. In fact, you should be able to get through two work days if you turn the phone off at night while you’re sleeping. If you get into heavy usage like taking a lot of pictures and uploading, you may find yourself limited to 16 or so hours, which is still damn good for heavy usage.

Software

The One Max sports Sense 5.5 along with Android 4.3. Right now, a lot of HTC One devices have 4.3, but they don’t have Sense 5.5 yet. Sense 5.5 isn’t a dramatic change from Sense 5, but it does offer some nice enhancements.

BlinkFeed is still your left most home screen, but you can now finally disable it. However you might want to keep it now since it’s more useful with the ability to add RSS and your Google+ feeds as well as a Read It Later option. HTC also added a new slide out menu for easy access to settings and content. Search has been upgraded big time showing you Twitter accounts and even YouTube Channels. For some reason, HTC didn’t include RSS feeds in search and instead left it to adding it via each individual website, which doesn’t always work. As far as your social feeds, you not only can read your timelines, but you can also post directly from BlinkFeed. We are thankful we can now turn it off, but since BlinkFeed is so much more useful than before, we are willing to give it another go.

Quick Settings gets a couple of new options, Do Not Disturb and Fingerprint Scanner. Do Not Disturb allows you to block incoming calls for a specified time or until you toggle it back to off. You can also set certain contacts to be part of the exceptions list. Fingerprint Scanner is just a simple toggle on or off. You can also edit the Quick Settings panel by changing the order of the options or adding/deleting them. There are 20 possible scenarios, but the maximum number you can have in the pane is 12.

Scribble is also new, but we are thinking this won’t make other devices since it’s more for phablets. It’s HTC’s take on S Note, but without a stylus of some sort, it really doesn’t make a lot of sense. It’s actually pretty well done with 15 different templates to choose from. You can type or draw with various colors and “pen tips.” Not only can you add images, but you can also add voice comments. You can save your notes as images and share them via the Android Sharing menu.

Here’s a quick hands on video showing you how BlinkFeed, Quick Settings, Scribble, and the Fingerprint scanner work in Sense 5.5.

Sense 5.5 also gets a huge Gallery and Video Highlights upgrade that we will get into in the Camera section.

You can get an idea of what else Sense 5.5 offers by checking out our HTC One guides. These include a walkthough of many features from Sense 5 / Android 4.1.2 and Sense 5 / Android 4.2.2, including the camera interface along with HTC TV for controlling your home theater with the IR blaster, and so on.

Camera

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HTC has done a fine job with cameras, but for whatever reason they are skimping with the One variants by eliminating optical image stabilization. It’s what made the HTC camera such a standout, and I am disappointed it didn’t make the cut here. However it’s not as noticeable as I would have expected as low light performance on the One Max isn’t too bad. Other than OIS, you get the same 4MP UltraPixel lens found on the One. As far as capturing photos, the menus haven’t changed all that much when comparing it to the One. Here are some example photos…

Outdoors

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Low Light – No Flash

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Extreme Low Light – No Flash

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The Gallery and Video Highlights got a major boost with Sense 5.5. Starting with the Gallery, it has a different look. It loses the drop down menus in favor of swiping to what you want. Events are to the left, followed by Albums (Camera Shots, Highlight, Drive, Facebook, etc), followed by HTC Share. If you tap on any event, you get all the images, Zoes, and videos associated with it, while the Video Highlights section is to the left.

Video Highlights is completely revamped and for the better. When you first go to the Video Highlights tab, your 30 second pre-made video highlight will start playing and all the content associated with the event will be below it. The Zoes, images, and videos that are used in the Highlight reel will be highlighted, but you can easily select or deselect any of them with simple taps. Over to the right is the theme, of which there are 12, and just like in the past, each has their own song. However, if you swipe to the right again, you will have the opportunity to select any song that is on your device instead of the default song. You can even select what part of the song that you want. You can also include captured audio from videos and Zoes as well as select or deselect chronological playback. These new features are exactly what I was asking for in my post here. I know Google has Auto Awesome Movies, but Zoe is brilliant in that it takes 20 images and 3 seconds of video at the same time. That makes it easy to capture full resolution photos and video at the same time. Video Highlights is also much faster, but Auto Awesome Movie has more control. Even if you prefer Auto Awesome Movies, utilizing Zoe makes it that much better. It’s a wonderful thing to have both at your disposal.

One other notable addition is the ability to make a GIF from your Zoes. This is actually nice since HTC changed the file system in Sense 5/Android 4.2.2 in that only one image from each Zoe is actually saved. If you want to use Google’s Auto Awesome feature, you would have to manually save the 19 remaining images from the Zoe in question, then upload them. That is a royal pain, so HTC allowed you to just go ahead and make your own GIF, of which you can upload to Google+ or share anywhere. You can even decide on what portion of the Zoe you want as well as add effects to it.

Here’s a video showing you the new Gallery, the new Video Highlights and the GIF Creator.

Closing

The HTC One Max doesn’t seem to offer anything new other than its size and a temperamental fingerprint scanner. I could live with both, but it’s just too too bulky and heavy. Sense 5.5 along with Android 4.3 is nice, but that will eventually land on all HTC One variants. With HTC getting close to announcing their followup to the One, I would stay clear away from this one and either wait or grab the One for less money now. If it’s really size that you want, grab the Galaxy Note 3.

 

 

 

 

 

 


About the Author: Robert Nazarian

Robert lives in upstate New York where he was born and raised. Technology was always his passion. His first computer was a Radio Shack TRS80 Color that used a cassette tape to save programs, and his first laptop was a Toshiba T1200FB that sported a CGA greyscale screen and two 720kb floppy drives (no hardrive). From the early 90’s through late 2011, he only owned Motorola phones starting with the MircroTAC all the way through to the Droid X. He broke that streak when he bought the Galaxy Nexus. Now he's sporting a Galaxy Note 4, and absolutely loves it. He has a wonderful wife and a 6 year old son. In his free time he enjoys sports, movies, TV, working out, and trying to keep up with the rapid fast world of technology.


  • Antony

    Yup. We saw it miles away… you’ve created something that big and used S600?!… come on, now. That’s a no brainer – dead on arrival…. Note 3 was the best choice with fairly right specs and everything… but HTC may go busted before it would learn from Samsung.

  • Marcus

    I got the HTC One Max about a week ago and have been 100% satisfied. The function of the phone has worked excellent, the finger print scanner has been working fine. I honestly have had no problems at all with this phone.

  • Richard Yarrell

    Plain and simple nothing beats Samsung or the Galaxy Note products period. Htc didn’t make the Htc One Max to be in competition with the Galaxy Note 3 we all know nothing compares to the Note 3 period. I applaud Htc for the effort