HTC One max: Hands-on preview

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One size does not fit all, apparently. After shrinking down the HTC One to produce the One mini, HTC is now bringing us a supersized version of its beautifully designed flagship phone.

The numerous leaks may have sapped some of the HTC One max's launch lustre, but this phablet is still an impressive device with its signature aluminium design and big, beautiful display. And while it may seem like it’s merely a scaled-up model of the One, HTC has added a few interesting features to set it apart. But the question remains: Can it hang with the superlative, supersized Samsung Galaxy Note 3?

Let's start with what the One max is and isn't. While the Galaxy S4 and Galaxy Note 3 represent distinct lines in the Samsung family, the One max is a faithful extension of the original One. There's no stylus here, so aside from the gargantuan display, the fundamental way you interact with the device remains intact. It is basically a stretched out One with a few new tricks up its sleeve. The processor and camera are the same, so we expect similar performance levels from this handset. For now, we'll focus on the new additions.

HTC's proudest new feature is a built-in fingerprint scanner. A small black square on the back, situated under the camera lens, lets you use a swipe of your finger to unlock the device and even launch specific apps that are tied to individual fingers. You can store up to three fingers from either hand, each with its own unique action.

It works most of the time, but it misses the whole point of adding a fingerprint scanner – convenience. Apple built its fingerprint scanner right into the Home button of the iPhone 5S, meaning that unlocking and turning the phone on can be achieved with one simple action. With the One max, you'll need to press the Power button to wake the device, and then reach around back to unlock with your finger.

The size of the device is also problematic here, as it's hard to maintain a secure grip on the gargantuan handset, while also accurately locating the small square around the back. You'll also have to keep your finger swipe as parallel with the device's edges as possible for it to be reliable, which can be awkward. And while Apple lets you use your fingers to authorise iTunes purchases, there's no other function for the fingerprint scanner in the One max outside of unlocking your phone. It just seems more like a gimmick here than a genuinely useful feature.

The 5.9in LCD is, as we've come to expect with HTC panels, excellent in every way. It's big, sharp, bright, and boasts a wide viewing angle. And unlike Samsung's AMOLED displays, this LCD produces white whites and accurate colour reproduction. The big display is great for watching movies, and playing graphically intensive games – Asphalt 8 is pretty awesome compared with the gameplay on a more modest 4.7in display as seen on the original HTC One (check out the final slide in the slideshow below for a size comparison of the HTC One on top of the new One max).

Adding to the media and gaming chops are the beefed up BoomSound front-facing speakers. These things get really loud – in fact, they're loud enough to challenge some lesser Bluetooth speakers out there, though there's still no real bass response.

Of the 16GB of internal storage, only about 10GB is available to users out of the box. Luckily, HTC added a microSD card slot to the One max. You can remove the back panel by flipping a small switch along the left edge, which exposes the aforementioned microSD card slot, the Sim card slot, and a non-removable battery. The latter might be a sticking point for some, as fans of Samsung's Galaxy line generally love the user replaceable battery. The back snaps back on easily, and while it's far sturdier than Samsung's plastic backs, it's not as tight as the original One. The seams are more apparent and on the handset we used for this hands-on, the corner nearest the release switch wasn't quite flush with the casing.

HTC also makes a few software tweaks to Sense on the One max. BlinkFeed is now easier to configure to your liking. You can choose which services and apps to pull information from, as well as specific websites to subscribe to. There are preset topics you can select, and you can create your own custom topics to add to BlinkFeed. You'll also find various tweaks to system apps, like the Gallery's improved sharing functionality. If you weren't a fan of Sense to begin with, there's nothing new that will sway you – but if you appreciate HTC’s work, then you'll like the subtle refinement on the One max.

For all of its strengths, I just don't understand who will want to buy the HTC One max. I'm also not sure why HTC went with a fingerprint scanner and not a stylus, which is far more useful on a device of this size. The One max is arguably a better choice than the Note 3 if your focus is on media consumption and gaming. However, when it comes to anything else, the Note 3 simply offers more features that actually make use of the added screen real estate (see comparative pictures of the One max and Note 3 above and below).

Unfortunately for HTC, I expect the One max to succumb to the same fate as the original – playing perennial second fiddle to an immensely popular Samsung device.