HTC One Max (5.9) in-depth review - HTC’s first phablet rocks the great design and features of the five-star original

Look and feel

The HTC One Max sports the same sexy design of its dinkier brethren, the One and One Mini, but this time it packs a chunkier, bulkier body. We prefer the smaller models, which are easier to handle and carry.

 

Ease of Use

One-handed use is pretty much out with the One Max, although the spacious screen makes web browsing and bashing out emails a breeze.

 

Features

All of the One’s great features return, including the Ultrapixel camera and BoomSound, while Sense 5.5 adds great functionality to BlinkFeed and Zoe. The HD screen is also marvellous, but the new fingerprint scanner is sadly just irritating.

 

Performance

A Snapdragon 600 quad-core processor provides excellent performance, although this chipset has already been superseded.

 

Battery life

We managed an entire weekend without charging the One Max, and you’ll get over seven hours of battery life when streaming video.

 HTC One Max (5.9) Review - HTC’s first phablet rocks the great design and features of the five-star original
4

Review by Sunetra Chakravati,10/15/2013 4:44:50 PM

9

out of 10

Performance

7

out of 5

Look and feel

7

out of 5

Ease of use

9

out of 5

Features

10

out of 5

Battery life

Pros:

Bright, spacious 5.9-inch HD screen; Memory card slot; Ultrapixel camera; Tough, sleek design

Cons:

Iffy fingerprint scanner; Typically chunky and heavy

We still absolutely bloody love the HTC One, many months on from its launch – in fact, we threw it our ‘Phone of the Year’ award thanks to its gorgeous design and innovative features. HTC then thrilled us with the One Mini, an easy-to-handle compact version that lost next to nothing in its miniaturisation. Now we have the HTC One Max, which swings the other way. This full-on 5.9-inch phablet isn’t just a massive HTC One, however, as it adds some brand new features such as a fingerprint scanner and pop-open case.

 

HTC One Max review

 

To the Max

The HTC One Max boasts a spacious 5.9-inch Full HD screen, compared to the original One’s 4.7-incher. In phablet stakes, that makes it larger than the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 (which is bizarrely one of the smaller phablets around these days) and a tad smaller than the Sony Xperia Z Ultra (6.4-inch) and Samsung Galaxy Mega (6.3-inch). That may only sound like a minor difference, but the One Max actually feels a lot more compact than the Xperia Z Ultra, which is a chunky beast that almost encroaches on tablet territory.

 

HTC One Max reviewThe HTC One Max fits neatly between the Galaxy Note 3 and Xperia Z Ultra in terms of enormity

 

While the Xperia Z Ultra poked out of our pockets and restricted our movements, the One Max just about slips inside our jeans. It’s not too easy to handle one-handed, as with almost every phablet, and at 212g it’s one of the heavier devices out there. That said, the weight suits the premium metallic design, which remains largely unchanged. This is one solid smartphone, resistant to key scratches and other perils, and just the occasional quick polish is needed to keep the shiny silver surface clean.

 

HTC One Max reviewHTC One vs the Mega: David vs Goliath

 

The power button is now found on the side for easier access, and a dinky switch opens up the back of the One Max to reveal a new microSD memory card slot, for expanding the 16GB or 32GB of built-in storage. You’ll also find the SIM card slot here (no more jabbing a paper clip into a tiny hole to open up a mini drawer, hooray!) but sadly the battery isn’t removable. A dual-SIM model is planned for future release, which will be handy for anyone who uses different phones for work and home – rather than carrying two handsets, you can just slip both inside a single mobile.

 

HTC One Max review

 

The back plate can be rather fiddly to re-attach, with the corner beside the switch proving particularly fiendish. However, our review sample was one of the first off the conveyor belt, so this issue will hopefully be fixed in the final model.

 

 

Finger print lover

 

One of the biggest new additions of the One Max is the fingerprint scanner that sits on the back of the phone, beneath the camera lens. It’s intended as a secure way of unlocking your mobile, replacing standard PINs and patterns. Simply register your favourite fingers (up to three in all), and then swipe across the pad from the lock screen to reach the desktop.

 

HTC One Max review

 

It’s a neat idea and something we’ve only just seen in Apple’s iPhone 5s, but in practice it’s far from perfect. Occasionally we’d get lucky and unlock the One Max on the first finger swipe, but more often than not it’d take two or three attempts to get in. And if your finger’s wet, you might as well forget it. After five or so declines you have to input a password instead, and that happened to us several times over the course of just a single weekend.

 

Another issue is the positioning of the scanner. While Apple has housed theirs on the front of the iPhone 5s, the HTC One Max has the scanner hidden away on the back. This is fine if you’re holding the phone, although we did accidentally swipe the camera lens occasionally instead, but if the phone is resting on a surface, you have to pick up the mobile in order to access it. We’re used to quickly checking our alerts while our mobile’s sat on our desk, or a table in the pub, so this proved to be a massive annoyance. After three days, we gave up and went with the standard PIN protection instead.

 

HTC One Max review

 

Makes Sense

HTC's latest version of its Sense overlay (5.5) is splashed over Android 4.3, and boasts a number of improvements over the previous effort. The biggest tweaks have been made to BlinkFeed, HTC’s social media/news feed aggregate, which has been overhauled to make it easier to use. A swipe to the right now brings up a menu displaying your chosen accounts, Google+ and RSS support has been added, and a new search facility allows you to scan your feeds for a specific term. Good news for anyone who travels by tube or has a rubbish data plan too, as you can now download from your feeds before leaving home and read them offline.

 

HTC One Max review

 

Our first impressions of BlinkFeed pinned it as an embryo, a potentially nifty tool that still needed some work. With the addition of RSS support we’re finally seeing a handy news widget that can deliver all of the big headlines with just a single swipe. The presentation may not be quite as cool as something like FlipBoard, but we at least found ourselves flicking through BlinkFeed during the daily commute, something that never used to happen.

Sense 5.5 also improves the camera’s Zoe mode, so it's easier to share your photos and clips using social network sites such as Facebook. There's a new GIF editor, so you can create hilarious clips of your cat chasing a bit of string and share them online. You also get greater control over the highlights reel (which plays back your shots and clips as a funky montage), right down to editing the background music.

 

Ultrapixel action

 

The same Ultrapixel technology from the original One is packed away inside the Max, and it’s still among the best camera phone tech of 2013. Almost all of our snaps, from landscapes to late-night pub shots, came out brightly lit and impressively sharp. The wide aperture of the lens and its ability to suck in lots of light means you need to hold your hand reasonably steady on auto mode, but there is an anti-shake mode if you’re constantly getting blurry photos. There’s also less detail when you zoom right into a photo compared with shots taken on other premium Android handsets, such as Sony’s Xperia Z1. However, that’s only an issue if you’re blowing up photos well beyond A3 size.

 

HTC One Max review

 

As with earlier One models, you can shoot three-second Zoe clips throughout your day if a photo just isn’t enough, as well as a rapid series of shots or full-length HD movies. Our videos looked great on a big screen, with the focus working well to keep the scene sharp and the lens capably dealing with changes in lighting. You can take snaps while shooting too.

 

We’re also big fans of the front-facing camera. The wide-angle lens makes it easy to take group selfies, as you can happily cram five or six people into frame. There’s a three-second timer so you can get yourself ready, and the camera app tracks your face(s) to make sure you’re sharp and bright in the final photo.

 

 

Five point nine incher

 

That Full HD 1080p screen is the main reason for grabbing the One Max instead of the smaller models. It’s another crisp and powerfully bright panel that brings high definition video to life, rendering supremely sharp blur-free videos with vibrant colours. We had no complaints with viewing angles or contrast levels, and on top brightness the screen easily counters glare. There’s no denying that it’s a comfortable way to take in a movie on the go, but the added bulk of the phone is quite a price to pay.

 

HTC One Max review

 

HTC’s fantastic BoomSound speakers make another welcome return, and these dual sound blasters are still some of the best built-in speakers you’ll find on a phone. They’re powerful enough to fill a bedroom with music, and surprisingly good quality considering the tininess of most phone speakers.

 

 

Power and battery life

 

The 1.7GHz quad-core Snapdragon 600 processor is the same chip found in the dinkier One handsets, and it’s still more than powerful enough for running the latest Android games and HD media. However, it’s been superseded by the Snapdragon 800 found in the latest handsets, such as Sony’s Xperia Z1. Right now it won’t make a difference, but the One Max will be dated before some of the other premium handsets now available.

 

HTC One Max review

 

You might worry about the HTC One Max’s battery life given the enormous screen, but the 3300mAh battery is one of the biggest we’ve seen in a smartphone (even a massive one like this). It clearly works, and we were incredibly impressed in our first couple of days with the phone. With occasional text messaging, email checks and web browsing sessions, plus taking the odd photo, we came out at the end of 48 hours with 25% power remaining – something helped massively by the almost non-existent power drainage when the phone is hibernating.

 

Put the One Max through some more punishment and you’ll see a drop-off in longevity, but it still outlasts most other phones. We almost managed seven hours of video streaming before the battery died, far exceeding the average of five hours.

 

HTC One Max review

 

The verdict

 

As much as we love the One Max’s features, we’ve seen all of the best stuff here in a better form with the original One and One Mini. The spacious screen is a more comfortable way to enjoy video, but the cost is a bulky frame that’s difficult to handle with one hand. The memory card slot will also please media fans, who can now carry around a much larger music and movie collection, but the fingerprint scanner is a huge disappointment. When you balance the pros and cons, we have to recommend the One Max’s smaller siblings instead.