HTC have been on a winning formula in 2013; the HTC One was — without doubt — one of the best smartphones of the year. When Ausdroid reviewed it earlier in the year, we sang its praises which were well deserved.
Unlike Samsung, which has (and probably will) release a good number of variants on its winning Galaxy formula each year, HTC is much more focused, and until recently, the HTC One was pretty much it for 2013. We now have the HTC One Mini, and more recently, the HTC One Max in that product mix.
For some, the HTC One was just a little too large, and for those people, the HTC One Mini is a great compromise. I don’t know that there’s too many people for whom the HTC One wasn’t large enough, but for these, there’s the One Max.
And it is “max” in every sense of the word. Let’s see how.
- Big, beautiful display
- battery life that lasts for days
- A very solid, premium feel
- Android 4.3 — not the latest, but close
- Same camera as the HTC One — it’s a good camera
- It’s really little more than a big HTC One
- Large size means its hard to use all functions with one hand
- A phablet-sized device, with no phablet features; it could be so much more than just a big phone.
First and foremost, the HTC One Max is formidable in the hand. At just shy of 16.5cm tall, and 8.3cm wide, there’s no mistaking that you’re holding a large device. In small hands, the One Max will look absolutely ridiculous, and even in my meaty appendages, the One Max is no shrinking violet.
For comparison, here’s the measurements of the One Max lined up against its siblings:
|HTC One Mini||HTC One||HTC One Max||Size comparison(over HTC One)|
|Screen size||4.3″, 720×1280, 342ppi||4.7″, 1080×1920, 469ppi||5.9″, 1080×1920, 373ppi||25%|
As you can see, the HTC One Mini and One are relatively similar in size (and certainly, in the hand, they’re quite similar), but the One Max is in a category of its own. It’s bigger in every measurement, and also an order of magnitude heavier; there’s no mistaking what you’re holding on to.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, either. All too often we’ve seen a premium smartphone that just doesn’t feel premium because it’s too plastic-feeling and too light — there’s no danger of that here.
Hardware-wise, the HTC One Max button layout is much the same as the HTC One before it, with one or two exceptions. Atop the phone, the power button is absent, replaced with an IR blaster to the left, and a headphone jack to the right.
On the right side, a volume rocker and power button, and on the left, a release for the back cover of the handset. On the bottom is the micro-USB port, and that’s that. The rear of the device has the same camera / flash arrangement as the HTC One, with the addition of a small fingerprint scanning area below the camera lens.
You might have missed a point in there — yes, the HTC One Max has a removable rear cover (unlike its two namesake siblings), and upon removing the back, you can find the spaces for the micro SIM and micro SD slots. Sadly, though, the battery is not removable, but with a mammoth 3300mAh battery, you’ll be hard pressed to wear it out.
The only other changes of note hardware-wise are an increased chamber for the front-facing BoomSound speakers, meaning that the volume and presence of the sound produced is more punchy, more real, and more enjoyable. There really is the risk of BoomSounding yourself in the face and melting some skin off.
The HTC One Max has a beautiful screen — in fact, HTC claim that size aside, it’s the same screen used in the HTC One, and it is beautiful; it probably is one of the best, if not the best, phablet / large phone displays there is. However, with the same resolution as the HTC One and stretched out over an additional 1.2 inches, some of that quality is a bit lost.
The bigger size means that not only is it harder to use the device with one hand — stretching to drag down the notification drawer with one hand is a real challenge — but HTC doesn’t really give you anything remarkable to do with that extra space.
Samsung’s Galaxy Note line of phablets have an equally larger screen, but they give you unique ways to use a mobile device.
The HTC One Max, however, is just a bigger phone.
The only other disappointment with the hardware, and it could be seen as a bit of nit-picking, is that the back cover can be a bit fiddly to replace on the handset. Being made of aluminium, it doesn’t have the tolerance of a plastic cover which allows you to bend and manipulate it back into place; rather, it’s a very precise fit, and unless you’ve got it just right, the cover can be quite difficult to replace.
This is something that’s becoming a little more common in smartphones, and the HTC’s implementation on the HTC One Max works fairly well. Placed in a relatively natural-feeling location, the fingerprint scanner is easy to reach when removing the One Max from a pocket, with one’s index finger naturally falling near the sensor instinctively when picking up the handset.
It senses very quickly, and unlocks the phone for you with relative ease. Up to three different prints can be stored, and each print can directly launch a specified application. For example, you could use your right index finger to unlock the device to the home screen, your right middle finger to launch the camera, and a child’s finger to unlock direct to Kid Mode. It is worth noting, however, that you have to tap the power button first to wake the device up, then swipe your fingerprint — you can’t unlock the device from sleep with just your fingerprint. HTC tells us this is a power-saving requirement.
It’s quite clever and well implemented, but for someone like me who hasn’t really used biometrics in this way before, I don’t really see the benefits for it. It’s a feature that some will love, but for me, it just feels like a gimmick. Maybe I’m not the target audience here.
That said, I can see the benefit for others — just as the iPhone 5S features a fingerprint scanner built in to the home button, which easily unlocks the device, I can see that people will probably find a use for the scanner on the HTC One Max. It just isn’t for me, and placing the scanner in the slightly unusual placement on the rear of the device… it just doesn’t seem as useful and accessible as perhaps it might be on the iPhone 5S.
The iPhone 5S also offers some additional useful features for its fingerprint scanner. For example, in place of typing a password into the App Store to confirm a purchase, you can swipe your fingerprint. Far easier. On the One Max, you can use it to unlock the handset, and tell it to launch an app by default depending on the fingerprint used. That’s it.
How the hardware and software works together
Physical considerations aside, the HTC One Max is pretty much the same handset inside as the HTC One. It’s the same quad-core 1.7GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 chip, and the same 2GB of RAM. There’s a lot of power under the hood; it’s no slouch. However, there’s more powerful processors around at the moment, such as the Snapdragon 800 in the Galaxy Note 3, and it seems a bit curious to underpower the HTC One Max against a logical competitor.
Software-wise, we’re not seeing a lot of differences here. One major difference is the HTC One launched with Android 4.1.2 and Sense 5, whereas the One Max leaves the box with Android 4.3 and Sense 5.5.
To my mind, there aren’t really major differences here. The newer version of Sense does give you some improvements to BlinkFeed, including a swipe-in navigation drawer to access different feed options, a bigger number of social networks can be accessed, and interesting stories can be saved for offline reading. Additionally, stories can be filtered by topics and keywords.
If you’re a BlinkFeed user, these changes will be welcome, and we know that a good number of HTC One users (and those with other handsets that include BlinkFeed) seem to like it — HTC claims up to 75% of people who’ve used BlinkFeed continue to use it on a regular basis.
Beyond Blinkfeed, if you’ve used the HTC One, you’ve otherwise used the HTC One Max; the software is virtually identical in every other respect.
On the downside, the HTC One Max uses virtually the same camera as the HTC One. There are minor changes, for example the omission of optical image stabilisation and inclusion of software-based electronic image stabilisation instead, but fundamentally, it’s the same thing.
There are new features in the camera software, including changes to the HTC Zoe feature which allows you to capture short bursts of shots as a ‘moving image’, with the new ability to scrub between the images in a Zoe to capture the perfect still-shot as well. Also included is a two-way camera function (of the kind we’ve seen previously in the Samsung Galaxy S 4) which allows you to take a photo with both the front and rear camera at the same time.
Advertised as a way to allow the photographer to be a part of the photo, it just doesn’t feel natural. I’m sure some people will use this feature and use it often and well. Call me a traditionalist, but I prefer my photos not to have me in them, unless someone else is taking the photo. The inclusion of the photographer’s face (and really, you can’t capture anything else) on top of the scene you’re trying to capture just looks forced.
These points aside, it would be easy to think that I don’t like the HTC One Max camera. On the contrary, it takes the same great photos as the HTC One. Dark scene performance is quite good, and it certainly takes a good quality photo in better light as well. Rather than re-write history, I think Graham described the HTC One camera best in his review:
To put it simply, the camera on the HTC One is pretty darn good. Shots are crisp and colourful, and unless you use a lot of digital zoom or print out wall-sized posters from your smartphone photos, you won’t miss the megapixels most of the time. The automatic settings will produce a good image pretty much every time, though you might want to adjust the Scene setting in some situations.
There is however, a bit of a trade-off with the Ultrapixel camera. Although low light performance is probably better than any other smartphone on the market, in daylight conditions the low resolution shows its weaknesses in terms of detail, where phones such as the Xperia Z, Lumia 920 and iPhone 5 perform better.Graham Bae, HTC One review (May 2013)
That remains true with the HTC One Max. It’s pretty good, but I wouldn’t describe it as excellent. For a smartphone camera, though, it’s right up there.
The HTC One Max really just isn’t significant different from the HTC One and HTC One Mini before it. We’ve covered the real differentiating features in this review, but there are some things that are just the same as we’ve already seen.
There are one or two other differentiators, however, that are worthy of mention.
For a mammoth handset, you want a mammoth battery, and the One Max delivers — 3300mAh is a lot of juice, and it produces some fairly incredible battery lifetimes. Claiming up to 25 hours of talk time, 3.5 days of music playback and 24 days standby time, HTC believe that this big battery can do big things.
Sadly, we’ve not been able to verify all of these claims, however we can confirm that the standby time on this handset is incredible, and in ordinary use (making calls, using social media, replying to emails and the like) the phone easily lasts out a 12 hour day.
A case included in the box?
That’s right, the HTC One Max — in its retail configuration — is supplied with a slim protective case in the box, meaning that unless you want to purchase a fancier case with some unusual design, you’ve truly got everything you need in the retail packaging. The included case is a semi-translucent polycarbonate number which fits over the rear of the One Max, protecting the exposed aluminium cover and corners from scratches and other knocks.
It’s not that resilient — I wouldn’t want to drop the One Max in the case or without, but it will certainly add a bit of protection against day to day knocks and bumps.
Battery flip case
Want even more power? Well, you can have it. HTC is producing a battery flip-case for the HTC One Max (pricing is yet to be confirmed) which adds a further 1200mAh power to the One Max, taking it up to 4500mAh in total. It does so without significantly increasing the bulk of the the handset, though it does add a little bit of weight. Combined, the battery life on the One Max really can be measured in days rather than hours, and this is an impressive feat.
Better yet, the battery flip case attaches to the device by clipping over the back, and the power is supplied via pogo-pins meaning there’s no fiddly connections required. Even better still, the phone can be charged while the case is fitted, and it will charge the handset AND the battery cover off the one charge, meaning that you can fit and forget, and benefit from the increased battery life as well as a good protective case.
Recognising that there was a bit of a flaw with the previous flip cover for the HTC One, the One Max cover features two thin strips of a silicone-type rubber grip on the inside of the flip case, meaning that you can easily use the case as a stand for extended consumption of media e.g. on a long flight. Our review unit didn’t come with this case, but we saw it demonstrated at the One Max launch event, and it works really well.
What’s not included?
A leading question, perhaps, but there is one accessory for the HTC One Max which isn’t included, and probably should be.
At six and a half inches long, the HTC One Max is kind of large to be holding up to your head. There’s no two ways about it, there’s something about holding a big phone up to your head that just looks a bit silly.
Cognisant of this, HTC has developed the Mini+. Simply put, it’s a slim Bluetooth phone for use with the One Max. Once paired with the device, it enables access to calls, messages and even the camera without having to touch the handset itself. You could, then, carry the One Max in your pocket and use the HTC Mini+ alone to make calls and flick through messages, but it doesn’t come with the One Max — it’s a separate purchase.
Undoubtedly it’s a good idea, but I would’ve thought the best way to push this concept would be to include it with the One Max, instead of offering it as a separate purchase which many probably won’t make.
HTC One Max
|Size||164.5 x 82.5 x 10.29mm|
|Display||5.9-inch Full HD 1080p|
|CPU||Qualcomm® Snapdragon™ 600, 1.7GHz quad-core CPU|
|Platform||Android 4.3 with HTC Sense 5.5, HTC BlinkFeed|
|Storage||16/32GB with microSD expandability|
|Network||• 2G/2.5G GSM/GPRS/EDGE: 850/900/1800/1900 MHz
• 3G UMTS/HSPA: 850/900/1900/2100 MHz with HSPA+ up to 42 Mbps
• 4G LTE: 900/1800/2100/2600 MHz
|Sensors||Gyro sensor, Accelerometer, Proximity sensor, Ambient light sensor, Fingerprint scanner|
|Sound||HTC BoomSound Dual frontal stereo speakers with built-in amplifiers
|GPS||GPS/AGPS, Digital Compass|
|Camera||HTC UltraPixel Camera
• BSI sensor, Pixel size 2.0 µm, Sensor size 1/3″
• Dedicated HTC ImageChip™ 2
• f/2.0 aperture and 28 mm lens
• 1080p Full HD video recording with HDR video
• Front Camera: 2.1 MP, 88° wide angle lens with HDR capability
• Front Camera: 1080p Full HD video recording.
|Battery||Embedded rechargeable Li-polymer battery, 3300mAh
Talk time: Up to 25 hours for WCDMA, Up to 28 hours for CDMA
Standby time: Up to 585 hours for WCDMA, Up to 393 hours for CDMA
|AC Adapter||Voltage range/frequency: 100 ~ 240V AC, 50/60 Hz
DC output: 5V and 1.5A
ConclusionWrapping up the HTC One Max is a difficult task.
I think the primary reason for this is that I want to love it. I have used quite a bit of HTC hardware, and I have (with one or two exceptions) enjoyed each and every HTC device I’ve used. The exception there is the HTC Desire Z which was just awful.
That said, more recent HTC devices have just been great — I have personally preferred HTC devices over Samsung, and this year has been no different. Having used both the HTC One and Samsung Galaxy S4, I had to side with the HTC One. It truly was a vast improvement over many other devices on the market, and it set some new benchmarks which phones since still haven’t managed.
The HTC One Max isn’t, and doesn’t.
Don’t get me wrong. This phone is not without its huge plus sides. The battery life is just astounding. HTC’s claim of up to 20+ days standby time probably isn’t far off the mark. I’ve seen usage as low as around 7% PER DAY when the phone isn’t used, though of course with the giant screen on and the phone being actively used, you could expect this to battery usage to increase significantly.
The big screen is gorgeous, it truly is. From wide viewing angles and bright colours, this truly is the device to carry around if you like a big screen but don’t want to carry a tablet as well as a phone. This device could be your go-to entertainment device when travelling, allowing you to watch movies on the go without squinting to make out detail, while also allowing you to use it as a phone, all in the one device.
I think that’s where the HTC One Max best fits — as a tablet, it’s too small, and as a phone, it’s too big. The HTC Mini+ does a little bit to address this, but to me, it’s a concession from HTC. They know the handset is too big to be a comfortable phone to use. However, as a hybrid between a phone and a tablet, the HTC One Max fits well enough.
While it lacks some of the features of the Galaxy Note 3, such as a specially designed interface to exploit the large screen and included stylus, these features aren’t everything to everyone. Some people will just appreciate having the extra screen real estate to enjoy.
For them, the HTC One Max is a great device. For those looking for a new phone, you’re better off still considering the HTC One. For those looking for more of a tablet, there are plenty of options elsewhere.
My advice would be that you won’t be disappointed with the HTC One Max, but you really owe it to yourself to test the size and weight in store before deciding to purchase. There’s no doubt it’s brilliant hardware and great design… but it’s not for everyone.