HTC One Max

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This hefty device is disappointing on many counts. In fact, it’s underwhelming, especially considering it was expected to be a few leaps and bounds on from its predecessor. Sales might displease its manufacturer

The HTC One Max is the follow up to HTC’s flagship device, the HTC One, which launched last February (What Mobile Awards Readers’ Choice winner). While the HTC One was heralded for its great design, it didn’t sell in the quantities HTC had hoped.

With the HTC One Max, the Taiwanese manufacturer is aiming to replicate the success of devices with displays larger than five inches, such as the Samsung Galaxy Note 3, five million of which sold within a month of being launched.

To do that, HTC has taken the quality look of the aluminium-cased HTC One and expanded the screen from 4.7 inches to nearly six inches (5.9 to be exact).

Hardware and design

The display is larger than the 5.7-inch Galaxy Note 3 but smaller than the Xperia Z Ultra (6.4 inches), which Sony reckons is the world’s thinnest Full-HD smartphone.

The HTC One Max makes no such claims. It is a rather hefty device and much larger than most of its competitors. At 10.3mm, it’s thicker than the Xperia Z Ultra (6.5mm) and the Galaxy Note 3 (8.3mm).

The HTC One Max is well made from anodised aluminium, with a plastic band bringing the two parts of the metal case together. The reason for this design is to allow for a removable back cover.

This seems pointless as the only access is to the SIM and microSD card slot. The battery is secured under another cover, which cannot be opened. It might have been better to make the One Max thinner and site the slots in the side like most other manufacturers have.

At least HTC has finally offered a microSD slot after two years of making devices without storage expansion. The One Max is more like the One Mini, which was a cheaper version of the One and is made using plastic, with a less powerful processor. Fortunately, the One Max doesn’t suffer from the lower specs of the One Mini – it has the same Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 processor as the One.

BoomSound speakers

The latest and fastest processor is the Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor, so it looks as though HTC is sticking with a tried and tested chip.

The top and bottom bezels of the One Max are also thicker than on other devices in its class. The reason for this seems to be the BoomSound speakers. These are placed above and below the display and HTC claims this makes the One Max sound better than your average smartphone.

At 164mm, the handset is quite a lot longer than the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 (151.2mm). So the HTC One Max isn’t the easiest thing to hold with one hand. Unless you have huge mitts, you’ll struggle to reach all corners of the phone. At 217g, it’s also quite heavy, which makes it hard to balance in just one hand.

Everything else about the One Max is standard Android smartphone fare. There are two capacitive touch buttons for “home” and “back” on the front. A slider on the right side removes the back cover – although you might have some difficulty putting it back on.

A lock button and volume rocker live on the left-hand side. An interesting feature on the One Max is an infrared transmitter that turns the One Max into a universal TV remote.

It also matches the Apple iPhone 5s by having a fingerprint sensor. Unlike the iPhone, you have to swipe your digit over the sensor four times rather than just placing it on the sensor. It’s a nifty idea but the implementation here is disappointing.

After initially setting up the scanner you can configure what the gesture does. Unlocking is likely to be the most popular option but the chances of unlocking your phone on the first swipe are rather slim. If it doesn’t recognise your fingerprint after five swipes it reverts to a password screen. If you forget your password you’ll need to hard-reset the phone.

You can teach the scanner to learn to recognise more than one finger and you can set a different gesture. So you could unlock the phone with your index finger and launch the camera with your thumb.

The fingerprint sensor is in an odd position directly underneath the camera, leading to smudges on the lens; it’s also on the back, so you can’t see the sensor while you’re trying to use it. The sensor doesn’t actually scan your fingerprint but measures the capacitance of your skin.

Camera

The HTC One Max camera sensor isn’t the same as the HTC One. It uses “UltraPixel” technology that boosts the size of pixels in an image. A 4.0 micrometer pixel produces a 4MP image similar to the Lumia 1020 or Sony Xperia Z1, which use the more standard two micrometer pixel size.

HTC has settled for a 4MP image for better low-light performance. It’s not quite as impressive as the lowlight performance of the Lumia 925, which produces a brighter image under poor lighting.

Some of the great features of the HTC One have been removed, such as Optical Image Stabilisation (OIS). OIS moves the lens with the phone, cutting down shake; video and images are less likely to be blurred as a result of a shaky hand.

The lack of OIS also means shutter speeds have to be fast, without causing light blur in photos. Thus the HTC One Max camera lags behind its nearest competitors, including Nokia and Sony.

Display

The Super LCD 3 panel is one of the best displays around. It’s not quite as vibrant as the AMOLED panels on Samsung phones but it has more natural colours. A problem with LCD is that viewing angles are tight but the HTC One Max is not bad; the screen looks sharp and bright, even outdoors.

Performance

The processing performance of the HTC One Max is disappointing. At £609 it is more expensive than the Galaxy Note 3, which has the newer, faster Snapdragon 800 processor as well as more RAM (3GB). The Snapdragon 600 in the HTC One Max is slower than the 800, which loads apps much faster. On games like N.O.V.A. 3, it took up to 14 seconds before the game was ready to play.

The less powerful chip means battery times are better than the Galaxy Note 3. The 3,300mAh battery powered 11 hours of intensive gaming, taking photos and much tweeting. And let’s not forget the HTC One Max is still a phone. We squeezed over two days of standby from the device when using it just for calls; it had impressive call quality, even when used in a noisy shopping centre or bar; and a Skype call made on a tube platform was easily heard.

Software

If you like stock Android you might not be thrilled that HTC has changed the interface on the One Max. Like every other HTC Android phone, it includes the Sense 5.5 screen. This turns the home screen into a Windows Phonestyle “BlinkFeed”. It pulls down on the latest news from your social networking profiles and your favourite news site and is really suited to the large screen.

If you don’t like BlinkFeed, turn it off by pinching on the home screen and tapping the top left button. There are some pre-installed apps you can’t delete. These include SenseTV, the infrared transmitter to control your TV; Kid Mode, an app designed for in-car use (aptly named Car); and a note-taking application called Scribble.

Conclusion

The HTC One Max is underwhelming and implementation of the fingerprint sensor is poor. If HTC is counting on the HTC One Max to revive its fortunes, it might be disappointed. The Snapdragon 600 processor makes it feel slightly slower than similarly-priced devices. The handset is too heavy and thick to not be noticeable in your pocket.

It seems like HTC put a larger screen on an old phone and hoped that would do.

After the high quality of the HTC One, we had big expectations for the One Max but we’re disappointed. HTC says the One Max is a mid-term addition, rather than a new flagship and was also targeted at an Asian market rather than to take the UK by storm. Unfortunately, the One Max is just too expensive for a stop-gap product.

Verdict

The HTC One Max piggybacks the reputation of the HTC One, although nothing much has improved. The high-quality display is present but HTC has failed to add processing power and the fingerprint sensor implementation is very disappointing. 

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