HTC One Max Review: HTC's first over-sized smartphone wants to topple the segment of phablet. It's bigger, but lesser than the rivals.
Not too long ago the iPhone’s display was considered huge for 2009’s standards. Samsung initiated a new era in the industry, the so called phablet line-up, which primarily is constituted by handsets featuring a display bigger than five inches.
The South Korean Company started this with the first version of the 5.3-inch Galaxy Note, back in September 2011.
Two years after – better late than never – HTC followed suit with the launch of the One Max. A 5.9-inch handset, part of the One family; practically an over-sized One.
We had the opportunity to play with the One Max for two weeks, so here’s our review.
Disclaimer: We received the phone on Thursday 16, January 2014 and used it as my daily driver until February 1st.
HTC’s lineup is well known for its design. The built quality of the One Max is with one word ‘superb.’ The metal body is gorgeous, and along with the bands wrapping around the edges, give a premium and smooth feel to the hands.
The back cover is literally a piece of art. The HTC logo is carefully crafted in the middle, and the white bands circling the rear sensor make the One Max look so extraordinary and yet beautiful, at the same time.
Thankfully, the power button has been relocated to the right bezel, right under the volume control, albeit on the top, found in the original One. If the power button was on the top, you would have to go through such an ordeal to power on and off your phone.
Unfortunately though, this is where the good stuff stop. The phone is really difficult to use. It’s significantly heavier than its other counterparts and cumbersome. Your hands after a short period of time will be exhausted and in a lot of pain.
In addition, the surface is so wide, making it impossible to operate with one hand only. Bear in mind that my hands are relatively big, and there was no way of using it just with one. Overall, it doesn’t fit right in your palm. In terms of ergonomics, the sole thing we found useful was the power button relocation.
The One Max’s enormous body size adds another substantial problem to the table. It’s not portable at all. Even when I put in a relatively deep pocket, I didn’t feel secure that the device was safe. Hence I had to wear trousers or jackets with zip-pockets, to carry it with me.
The device runs Android 4.3 Jelly Bean with the latest version of Sense UI on top.
HTC’s custom user interface really depends on each taste. I personally love Sense. It’s simple, smooth and multifunctional. It includes a whole load of useful pre-installed apps that other UIs don’t. It provides you with a TV app that allows you to use the One Max as a remote controller; a flashlight app thus using the LED flash as a torch. Adobe Flash player to make the most out of your mobile browsing, tasks app and POLARIS Office 5, an alternative to Microsoft Office.
In addition, the Parent dashboard is a different interface, which packs specific apps you select and some children-friendly ones such as painting. You might find the Car mode handful as well. It gives you immediate access to certain apps by making their icons larger, thus more visible to your eyes. Though, eyes always on the road.
Most of user interfaces – such as Samsung’s TouchWiz – include tons of useless bloatware that kill your device’s RAM. The sole that comes pre-installed in Sense is called HTC Apps, which is redundant since there’re no new apps available for the One Max – that’s what it displays when you open the app.
My favorite of all in Sense is BlinkFeed. A news aggregator optimized by you. It’s simple. Select topics that you are interested in (politics, economy, sports, tech etc.) and then select the sources you want to be informed from. In addition, you can get more in depth in terms of content. For example: After selecting the Science and Tech category, there is a list of specific topics, such as Smartphone, Gadgets and Internet.
The number of publications included in featured headlines is limited, though according to your preferences, BlinkFeed features stories from various sources, not included in the particular list.
Sense design is simple but dull. It’s quite boring to navigate through. Though it easy to adapt, not perplexing at all. We just hope Sense 6.0 will have a more intuitive interface. That’s all.
Moreover, HTC should have definitely added some exclusive functionalities that make use of the gigantic 5.9-inch display. Something like Dolby Digital Plus that allows the user to rock two apps on the screen simultaneously. Software wise, it does nothing more compared to the rest two handsets from this line up.
The One Max features a competitive spec sheet, based on the average phablet’s specifications. Albeit being sort of outdated, the quad-core Snapdragon 600 processor along with Adreno 320 GPU gets the job done. The handset packs a killer 2GB memory making app switching and the rest a child’s play.
It runs through the operating system with ease and after spending two weeks of rocking plenty of 3D apps such as RipTide GP2, we didn’t come across any sort of lag whatsoever. The Adreno 320 GPU makes use of the phone’s stellar display delivering incredible graphics. It’s by far the best mobile gaming experience I ever had.
Despite what other reviewers said about the Snapdragon 600 being significantly slower than the 800, we didn’t find any glaring indication to prove that. The only phablet that we consider substantially faster is the Galaxy Note 3.
The only way to spot the difference between these two processors is by undertaking a benchmark test. We tested the handset’s performance with the AnTuTu Benchmark app. It scored 19450, the same results as the Nexus 4 attained. Nothing impressive when reading it, when you use it though you’ll see what a beast the One Max actually is.
Something that overwhelmed me while using the One Max as my daily driver for the last two weeks was its Wi-Fi antenna. I got at least one Wi-Fi drop out of the blue. Don’t get me wrong, the One Max loads any website stupid fast, though the Wi-Fi performance was rather inconsistent.
Three days before sending the handset back, I received a software update claiming that it fixes the particular issue. Though, I was never able to install it. After downloading the update a message opened up that my phone is running a modified version of the software for whatever reason. I asked HTC’s tech support, and the only thing they managed to do is freeze the phone for six hours on the boot screen until the battery finally died.
The One series is where the so called UltraPixel, which supposedly is bigger than megapixel and captures more light in the images, made its first appearance in the mobile industry.
Though, we really didn’t see any difference compared to a handset which camera has megapixels, like the iPhone 5S or the Galaxy S4. UltraPixel is a term coined by the company itself, and it’s nothing but a marketing thing.
The One Max has a 4 UltraPixel rear sensor and a front 2-megapixel shooter with full HD video and HDR.
Unfortunately, the camera isn’t the phone’s strongest. While camera software is incredible – includes Sweep Panorama, Dual Capture, Anti-Shake, a lot of settings to tweak and intuitive – the sensor is average, for its price point.
The handset misses a rather significant feature found in the original HTC One. And that is Optical Image Stabilization (OIS). No matter the conditions, there is a huge amount of noise in the background, and auto-focus always messes up. The color reproduction of the pictures is pretty accurate though and low-light environment performance was relatively fair.
Unlike the camera, video recording on the One Max is pretty neat. Lot of details and great quality. The microphone is acceptable as well.
The One Max’s marquee feature is its 5.9-inch full HD LCD display, covered with the Gorilla Glass 3. It’s stellar. The color reproduction is fantastic, accurate and natural, and viewing angles are sharp. That is due to the LCD technology behind the display, which aims to fit the color gamut, which is a portion of all colors that can be seen by the human eye.
Usually, in an attempt to make their displays look more vibrant, possibly just to keep up with the marketing of AMOLED displays, some LCD device manufacturers often mess around with the levels of saturation, which can also end up ruining the color balance and displaying vibrant and less accurate colors that we often see in AMOLED displays.
The display wasn’t well fair in the outdoors. When set the phone’s brightness setting to maximum, under sunlight, we could distinguish apps and read text with a bit effort. Though, using the device under sunlight wasn’t the most comfortable experience for my retinas, as I had to peer my eyes in order to see more clearly.
The proximity sensor of the device was a bit tricky as well. When set to auto-brightness, the display would start flashing in between bright and dark colors, which was quite troublesome for my eyes.
Something I have definitely missed from the One Max is its battery. My daily driver is a Galaxy Nexus, and the juice runs out insanely fast. Before the Nexus, for two generations I was using an iPhone; hence it didn’t make a big difference for me since both line-ups pack inefficient amount of mAh.
To accommodate the high-res 5.9-inch screen, HTC installed a 3,300 brick on the handset. Without a doubt, the One Max features the longest battery life I’ve ever tested on a mobile phone.
We ran the Inferse Battery Test, our standard test that cycles through a series of popular websites, 3D games and high-res images with brightness set to 100 percent — we usually set it to 65, but this time we had a challenge. The One Max lasted about 14 hours. The specific test also included watching three movies, 90 minutes duration each.
When it comes to normal usage, the phone’s battery can easily make it through a weekend without a charge. That means if you go on a trip and forget your charger at home, and as soon as you keep your web browsing and 3D gaming between 45 minutes to 1 hour per day, you won’t have a problem at all.
The sole issue with the battery is the fact that is built-in. In certain occasions, that can become quite overwhelming. As I mentioned before, during the two weeks trial, the One Max froze during the booting process due to an illiterate from HTC support.
The phone’s battery was at 69 percent. Well, despite having Wi-Fi on and brightness adjusted to the highest level, the juice run out six hours later. The device was literally burning. Had it had a removable battery, the problem would have been addressed in seconds. But well, nobody is perfect.
The One Max is among the first handsets launched short after the breakup between HTC and Beats. The particular event didn’t prevent the handset from scoring a ten in this section.
HTC did the right thing by placing the speakers on the front of the One devices. For whatever reason, the vast majority of manufacturers embed the speaker grill on the back, where we lay our fingers on to hold the device, hence we end up using our headphones.
The Beats Audio definitely stand out. The lowest sound adjustment is as loud as the highest adjustment on my Nexus. I’m pretty sure you have already figured out what happens when you rock Martin Garrrix’s Animals while the blue sound-bar hits the finish line.
The One Max’s speakers offer what is called “warm sound.” It exhibits adequate low frequencies and fundamentals relative to harmonics, and perfect bass. Smooth, easy on the ears, and not harsh. The sound quality doesn’t alter at all when set to a high adjustment.
The telephone was invented in 1876. Its purpose? Guess what, make phone calls. The One Max might have a tons of distinguishing features underneath the hood, but in the end of the day, it’s a phone.
Of course talking to the phone made me a laughing stock, as the One Max was covering my entire face. Jesting aside, the handset faired pretty good. Due to its brilliant speakers I could listen to the other party clearly. The microphone performed solid as well.
In terms of reception, I didn’t experience any dropped calls.
It appears this year’s trend in the smartphone industry is fingerprint scanners. Initiated by Motorola in 2011 with the launch of the Atrix and later on by Apple with the iPhone 5S, the particular feature is expected to debut in upcoming flagship phones as well.
HTC’s first device to support a fingerprint scanner is the One Max. And we have to admit, we weren’t satisfied at all. Following LG’s tracks, HTC embed the scanner on the back, making it impossible to align your finger properly.
In addition, you can’t use the fingerprint scanner to wake up the device. This type of technology is being used by manufacturers to accelerate the procedure of unlocking your handset. There’s plenty of potential here as you can enroll up to three different fingers and assign each an app to launch, but that only works from the lock screen.
When I used it for the first time, I thought it was a matter of time to get used to it. A week later it dawned on me that it wasn’t me doing something wrong, but the clumsy implementation of this technology.
Going from the 3.5-inch iPhone 4S to the much-larger 4.65″ Nexus was a big change for me. Going from 4.65″ to 5.9″ was even bigger.
The device was fun to play around with for a couple of weeks, but that’s all. Like Savov said in his review of the handset, the form factor just doesn’t work. Even the 6.3-inch Galaxy Mega felt more comfortable while using.
After two weeks, I cast no doubt that the One Max is the best entertainment device currently in the market, with that killer battery life, stellar display, and magnificent sound system. It will certainly turn a lot of heads around as well. Though for me, these reasons are not good enough to lay cold off-contract money on this device.
If you’re looking for an HTC phablet, I’d suggest you being patient, and wait for the second-gen of the phone. It was the company’s first entry to this line-up and as expected it’s not fair enough as its price tag suggests. The company has to put a lot of effort developing the fingerprint scanner, enhancing the ergonomics, and for Christ’s sake, a better camera.