HTC One Max review

Pros

  • Good screen
  • Smart design
  • Removable backplate
  • MicroSD card slot

Cons

  • Fingerprint sensor is disappointing

These days, large smartphones are all the rage. Samsung has produced several such handsets recently – the Galaxy Note 3 with its 5.7in screen, and the 6.3in Galaxy Mega. Sony has arguably gone to extremes with its 6.4in Xperia Z Ultra, and even BlackBerry has joined in with its 5in Z30. Of course, we can expect Nokia’s 6in Lumia 1520 before too long. So it is no surprise that HTC has come up with a handset featuring a display that exceeds the 5in mark.

The HTC One Max is a supersized HTC One, replacing its 4.7in screen with one that measures 5.9in. The One Max isn’t simply a bigger clone, though – you’ll spot some differences as this review goes on. Still, in general, the look of the One Max mirrors that of the One in terms of its general chassis design, use of materials, and those speaker grilles situated above and below the screen.

The grilles mean the chassis is perhaps a little tall at 165mm – but at least there’s a clear reason for the height as opposed to what looked like dead space in the Xperia Z Ultra (which has a 179mm tall frame housing its 6.4in display). The edges are a little sleeker, closer to the screen, and while the black screen bezel framed by the slightly wraparound white edges of the chassis does jar the eye slightly, it’s not a big problem.

Turn the HTC One Max over and there are some surprises. The aluminium back panel comes off. That isn’t a major thing of course, but the panel of the HTC One (and the One mini) was not removable. Pop the metal plate using the sliding lock on the left edge of the chassis and you see a second difference between the One Max and the One – a microSD card slot.

It’s great to see HTC realise that microSD is important for some people. With 16GB of on board storage and 8.9GB of that free, microSD is going to be important if you want to use the HTC One Max to store big video files, for example, which you can sideload via the card.

There are two more features that present themselves while you’re looking at the backplate. Well, actually one is a new presence, and one is an absence. Dealing with the latter first, the Beats Audio label has gone. The One Max has the BoomSound moniker and its stereo speakers feature built in amps. Sound output through the speakers is okay but not great – it’s a bit tinny and bass is weak, but it’s loud enough. Use good headphones and the quality is improved – but another annoyance is that there doesn’t seem to be any EQ.

The other new feature is the black square beneath the camera lens. This is the much talked about fingerprint scanner which you configure in the Settings area of the phone. I’m not sure a handset really needs this level of security, though clearly neither HTC nor Apple agree with me as the iPhone 5S also boasts this feature.

Interestingly, while Apple has used a finger-touch approach, HTC has opted for a sweep across the reader option. It didn’t work very accurately for me: I found that swiping across the scanner pad accurately required turning the phone over. If you like the idea, you can set it up to launch an app from the lock screen – and it can recognise three fingers, so that’s three different apps you can launch.

For the HTC One Max to succeed as a handset its screen needs to impress – and fortunately it does. The 5.9in screen delivers 1,920 x 1,080 pixels, mirroring the HTC One, though because the screen is larger the pixels are more spread out. Still, the quality is great. I certainly found it sharp enough for video, text reading and of course some gaming.

The main camera incorporates HTC’s bizarre Zoe system for making short collections that capture a sequence of events. It also gets the HTC UltraPixel label. The camera shoots stills to 4-megapixels, and if that sounds well below par then note that its 1/3in sensor helps provide better capabilities across a range of lighting conditions, and particularly in low light. If you accept that megapixels aren’t everything, and that your phone is primarily for snaps rather than keepers, then you might be pleasantly surprised.

Android 4.3 is on board, overlaid with HTC Sense, and BlinkFeed is still here. I hated this before, but it is vastly improved by the ability to create custom topics, and you can also turn it off which effectively makes it disappear. There’s not much bloatware on board, either. One app that deserves an honourable mention is Scribble, a note-taking app with plenty of templates. It even supports drawing on the screen with a stylus – the back end of a pen worked really well. If you write text it starts a new line when you tap the enter key, making it easy to write lists and so on. Though it’s nowhere near as sophisticated as what you get with the Samsung Galaxy Note 3, it’s a nice feature.

Less useful, perhaps, is HTC TV which is a TV channel guide and controller – it uses built in infrared for the latter task. There’s also Car, a nice blocky UI for using when you’re in the car to easily select music (and other functions), and Kid Mode which is a walled garden setup for younger users.

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While the One Max is HTC’s flagship handset, it doesn’t sport a top of the range processor. Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 800 has been ignored in favour of the slightly slower Snapdragon 600. I’m not complaining, though, as its 1.7GHz speed seemed perfectly fine for me, and if it drops a bit of battery load and keeps a few quid off the price that’s all good. In terms of longevity, the 3,300mAh battery easily saw me through a day of medium level use, though serious gamers, video and GPS fans are likely to need to boost it during the day.

See the slideshow below for some more pics of this handset, and also note that the final slide here shows the HTC One on top of the One Max for a size comparison of the two phones.

Verdict

I rather like the HTC One Max in terms of handset design and its good quality screen. HTC understands the necessity to provide add-on apps that are useful, and HTC Sense feels intuitive rather than bloated. Neither BlinkFeed nor Zoe are to my tastes, but they are easily ignored. In short, HTC fans should love this handset if they’re looking for a larger smartphone model.

Specifications

Manufacturer and Model

HTC One Max

Network

GSM multi-band; HSPA multi-band; 4G LTE multi-band

Processor

1.7GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 600

Ram

2GB

Memory

16GB

Memory expansion

microSD

Display

5.9in, 1,920 x 1,080 pixels

Main camera

4.0 megapixel (UltraPixel)

Front camera

2.1 megapixel

NFC

Yes

Wi-Fi

Yes

GPS

Yes

FM radio

Yes

Battery

3,300mAh

Size

164.5 x 82.5 x 10.29 mm

Weight

217g

OS

Android 4.3