Dec 16 AT 5:00 AM Nick Gray 12 Comments

HTC One max review

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As we inch our way to the close of 2013, we thought it would be appropriate to give you a detailed look one of the biggest Android phones to hit the market this holiday season:  the HTC One max. The phone is currently featured in Sprint and Verizon stores here in the US, providing yet another option to consider if you’re looking for a device in the phablet category.

Display

The name of the HTC One max is directly attributed to the size of its display. The 5.9-inch 1080p Super LCD3 display is the largest HTC has ever used in a phone. The HTC One max display is optically laminated with a Gorilla Glass 2 covering, reducing the space between the glass and producing some pretty amazing viewing angles and durability. The LCD display that HTC chose to use on the HTC One produces incredibly vivid images with true-to-life color reproduction, deep blacks and crisp whites. Though the display on the HTC One max packs in fewer pixels per inch that the HTC One (440 versus 373 ppi), pictures and high definition video truly come to life on the 5.9-inch screen. You’ll still need to crank the brightness up to 100% while using the phone in direct sunlight, but you’ll be hard pressed to find a competing device with a better display.

Design & Build quality

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Put simply, the HTC One max is massive. The handset measures 164.5 x 82.5 x 10.29mm and weighs in at a hefty 217 grams. The One max isn’t the largest Android phone ever built, but I was asked multiple times if the max was the iPad mini (yes, people are that ignorant).  The size of the HTC One max is mainly attributed to its 5.9-inch display, but HTC could have reduced the handset’s size by changing the placement or design of the front-facing BoomSound speakers. Unfortunately, changing the speakers would have compromised HTC’s unified design language with its 2013 One series devices. If you were to take the HTC One max and blast it with a shrink ray, you’d have a hard time telling it apart from the HTC One mini. But because the HTC One max has a removable back panel, the build of the device is significantly different form the HTC One and the One mini. The panel is released by a latch on the left edge of the phone and takes a bit of work to pull off. Unfortunately, the tight fit does not translate into the same “zero-gap” construction we saw on the HTC One.

The only pockets that will comfortably hold the HTC One max are those large side pockets in cargo pants. The HTC One max will fit into front jeans and trousers (as long as they are not too tight), but you will want to remove the phone from your pocket before you sit down. If you plan to put the phone in a shirt breast pocket, don’t be surprised if a third of the phone protrudes.

The size of the HTC One is something that you will need to sort out on your own. Personally, the 5.9-inch display of the HTC One max makes the device unwieldy for me. That said, everyone has their own size preferences. The first words out of my wife’s mouth when she saw the HTC One max were “So, you’re buying this one for me?” She’s currently a Samsung Galaxy Note II users and is of the firm belief that a larger device is easier to use even if it is harder to carry. It’s nearly impossible to use the HTC One max with one hand, but if you’re willing to make a few adjustments, the handset’s massive display will change the way you consume media while on the go.

Sound

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The HTC One max is the first flagship-tier phone from HTC to not feature Beats Audio integration, because has HTC sold back its remaining stake in the company.  The One max may not have a Beats Audio profile, but it does feature two amplifier-enhanced front-facing stereo speakers, giving the One max a huge advantage over nearly every other smartphone on the market.  I still chuckle every time I see HTC’s BoomSound branding on a handset box or ad, but it does capture the essence of the audio experience delivered by the HTC One max. HTC has made the experience of listening to music or watching videos on a smartphone without headphones enjoyable. Combined, the HTC One max audio and video capabilities deliver the best mobile entertainment experience currently available on the market.

Performance

The HTC One max has quite a few bells and whistles and has grabbed the attention of the media, but the real test of a device is how it handles itself under pressure. The phone is equipped with a 1.7GHz Snapdragon 600 processor and 2GB of RAM – the same hardware used to power the HTC One. At first glance, the HTC One max looks like it can take on any device released in 2013… until you realize that phones in the same category have the newer Snapdragon 800 chip or 3GB of RAM.

On paper, the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 and the Sony Xperia X Ultra should outperform the HTC One max,and benchmark scores seem to confirm that notion. But we all know that a spec sheet or benchmarks don’t really translate into how a device actually works on a day-to-day basis. To put the HTC One max to the test, we opened up Google Play and proceeded to download a few gigs of high-definition 3D games. After playing Injustice: Gods Among UsAngry birds Go! and Anomaly 2 (which looks stunning on the One max) for a few hours, we concluded that HTC One max owners will not be disappointed by the performance of the phone.

The only flaw in the HTC One max’s performance is HTC’s aggressive control over the device’s 2GB of RAM. Due to size and memory requirements, we wouldn’t expect the HTC One max to keep any of the games in active memory while making a phone call or checking twitter, but we found that Chrome, Foursquare and Facebook would need to refresh if we went back to them after looking at 2-3 other apps. The experience isn’t optimal, but we know why HTC is keeping a close eye on the device’s available memory. In the past, the HTC Sense launcher has always been a bit laggy and would often force users to wait 5-10 seconds to reload – an issue we have yet to experience on the HTC One max.

Software

The HTC One max is the first device to ship with HTC Sense 5.5, which includes dozens of new tweaks despite the fact that the phone is running on Android 4.3. On the surface, Sense 5.5 looks identical to Sense 5, but HTC has spent time refining its software in an effort to deliver an improved user experience. Compared to Samsung and LG, HTC’s custom UI is understated, opting for flat, dark tones and very few animations.

BlinkFeed is a very slick news reader with tiled graphics providing a similar look to the Flip Board application.  You scroll up and down through your series of feeds and tap on the news item you want to read.  It’s as simple as that. The latest improvements to BlinkFeed now allow RSS and Instagram integration, but the one thing die-hard Android fans will be most excited about is the new option to turn BlinkFeed off.

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HTC’s Video Highlights has also been re-worked with a more intuitive layout and a half dozen new themes. Users can quickly select multiple video and image files to create a 30 second Video Highlight with professional looking transitions timed to the beat of the music. Unlike previous iterations of the software, you now have the ability to select your own music file from your device if you’re sick of using the same music that’s associated with the individual themes.

Sense 5.5 has some great features, but the software experience you get on the HTC One max is essentially what you get on the HTC One or any other device from HTC these days. HTC has not included any customizations to take advantage of the 5.9-inch display. If you purchase a large-screen device from the competition, you can expect to see multi-windows app support and advanced multi-tasking features that are not available on the HTC One max. All you’re getting with HTC’s large phone is a large phone – nothing more.

Fingerprint Scanner

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Besides the extra-large display, the only other feature that sets the HTC One max apart from any other device in HTC’s lineup is the fingerprint scanner located on the back of the device, below the camera lens. The fingerprint scanner works as advertised, allowing you to simply unlock the phone or jump directly into a specified app with a swipe of your finger. If you’re not a fan of using a lock code on your phone, the fingerprint scanner is a great alternative to help keep your information secure.

The fingerprint scanner on the HTC One max is very sensitive, forcing you to swipe your finger in the exact same motion every time. Don’t be surprised if you fail miserably the first few times you try to unlock the HTC One max with your finger. The first day or two I was able to successfully unlock the phone with the fingerprint scanner 50% of the time. After a week, that number jumped to about 90%. It’s definitely not perfect, but it’s nice to see HTC trying something new.

Camera

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Following in the tradition of the HTC One, the HTC One max is equipped with an Ultrapixel camera. The Ultrapixel camera features 2.0 micrometer pixels, which are significantly larger than those found on competing Android devices. Put simply, Ultrapixel is a marketing term to hide the fact that the HTC One max’s camera features a 4 megapixel imaging sensor. No, that’s not a typo – the HTC One max’s main camera is only capable of capturing images at 2688 x 1520 pixels. That’s less than a third of the pixels used to capture images on Samsung’s Galaxy Note 3. The larger 2.0 micrometer pixels do allow the HTC One max’s camera to absorb more light than competing sensors, but the tradeoff of having fewer pixels becomes evident if you want to zoom or crop your images.

Like the HTC One mini, the max is not equipped with optical image stabilization. The lack of OIS wasn’t immediately noticeable when using the HTC One max to take pictures outdoors, but we recommend a steady hand if you want to capture a blur-free picture on your first try while indoors.

HTC’s camera app is one of the best on the market. Users have immediate access to video and image capture buttons on the screen that even allow you to capture a full resolution image while recording video. The One max is also equipped with HTC Zoe, which captures a few dozen images while recording a 4 second video clip. It may sound like overkill, but HTC Zoe is a godsend if you’re in the habit of taking pictures of your kids or at sporting events.

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Battery

As good as today’s flagship devices are, most of them don’t have the battery life needed to keep them running for a full day. The dream of a smartphone that can last a full week is out of reach with today’s battery technology, but manufacturers have found that cramming in a ridiculously large battery is extremely easy when you’re working with devices in the phablet category.

The 3300 mAh battery used in the HTC One max is not the largest we’ve ever tested in an Android phone, but it does have enough juice to keep the phone powered up for days. If you consider yourself a a power user, we wouldn’t be surprised if the HTC One max lasted a full 48 hours before needing a recharge. Those who don’t use their phones constantly for social media, gaming or media streaming could easily get three full days of use without needing to plug the HTC One max in for a charge.

During our three weeks with the HTC One max, the only time we were able to successfully kill the battery in one day was by streaming 9 hours and 22 minutes of high definition Netflix movies over WiFi. That’s about an hour and a half shorter than what we got with the Motorola Droid MAXX, but that’s not surprising since the 720p display on the Droid MAXX is significantly smaller.

HTC One max7.5 / 10

On its own, the HTC One max is a good device with an amazing high definition display, a decent camera and fingerprint scanner for additional security. The issues arise when you start talking about the phone’s size and the additional features that the HTC One max’s competitors have to offer. If size is not an issue for you, the HTC One max is an amazing media-centric Android phone, but I’d suggest you take a hard look at what the competition has to offer before signing a new two-year contract to purchase the HTC One max.

Nick is a tech enthusiast who has a soft spot for HTC and its devices. He started HTCsource.com (the first HTC blog) back in 2007 and later joined the Android and Me family in the summer of 2010.

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