What is the HTC One Max?

Read the review of the HTC One M8

The HTC One Max is the bigger brother of the HTC One. It has a 5.9-inch screen – way larger than the 4.7-inch display of the that phone. However, it’s also one of the smaller ‘giant’ phones, making it a bit easier to use. Still, the HTC One Max has diluted the design purity of the HTC One a bit too much for it to be considered a smartphone classic.

SEE ALSO: Top 10 best smartphones


HTC One Max - Design

The HTC One Max is a large _phone_ designed to look and feel as much like the HTC One and HTC One Mini as possible. However, it has added a few bits and bobs to ‘enrich’ the design.

There’s a square fingerprint scanner on the back below the camera lens, there are little metal contacts on the rear to connect a charging dock to and a switch on the side that releases the back panel.
HTC One Max 4

Unlike the HTC One and One Mini, the back of the One Max pops off to give you access to the SIM slot and – the surprise new addition – a microSD memory card slot. Functionally, the HTC One Max is a more versatile device than the original One. But is this an improvement to, or a dilution of, the original blueprint?

SEE ALSO: HTC One 2 news and rumours

The case for the One Max being an unfortunate dilution is pretty strong. First of all, where the HTC One is a metal _phone_ with some plastic trim, the Max is a plastic phone with metal panels. It has a look similar to that of its brother, but construction-wise they’re quite different.
HTC One Max 7

Does it matter? Not a great deal. The HTC One Max still feels like an aluminium phone thanks to its mostly metal finish, and that the rear metal panel is strong enough to avoid any flexing.

What’s more of an issue is how HTC has traded away some of the HTC One’s good looks. We can forgive the stick-out white plastic rim – which also features in the One Mini, but the obvious and clumsy-looking fingerprint scanner feels as though it has been grafted on by a particularly skilled bunch of phone hackers, not one of the largest phone-makers.

Some of the striking nature of the HTC One-series design is lost here.

However, it’s far from all bad. The HTC One Max feels high-end, and is nowhere near as visually imposing size-wise as some phones in this class.
HTC One Max 2


This phone belongs to the relatively young band of super-large phones that aren’t much smaller than tablets and that won’t fit into every pocket. The good news is that, unlike the gargantuan Xperia Z Ultra, it still feels like a phone.

In adopting a slightly smaller-than-average (again, for its class) 5.9-inch screen, the HTC One Max feels much closer to something like the 5.7-inch Galaxy Note 3 than the 92.2mm-wide Sony Xperia Z Ultra. It’s still tricky to use in one hand - not helped by the chunky 10.3mm thickness - but it’ll earn you less ridicule from friends and fewer alarmed looks from strangers.
HTC One Max 8


HTC has also made sure the most commonly used physical buttons are relatively easy to access. The soft keys are all (just about) within thumb’s reach, and the power button sits right under your right thumb.

The HTC One Max has the same BoomSound speakers as the HTC One, making it instantly identifiable as an HTC phone. These are stereo front-facing speakers designed to give a much better gaming and movie experience than most mobiles. They come up with the good too, but more on that later (see p4).

HTC One Max – Fingerprint Sensor

The HTC One Max’s most eye-catching feature is the fingerprint sensor on the phone’s back. This is just the second super high-profile mobile to use such a sensor, having been implemented in the iPhone 5S.

Is this just a ‘me too’ effort, or something worthwhile? We don’t think too much of it.

The HTC One Max uses a capacitive sensor that maps out the conductive properties of your digit – it’s a fingerprint, but not one of curvy lines and an optical CSI-like image. Unlike the iPhone 5S you have to run your finger across the sensor rather than placing your finger on it. If you haven’t used the iPhone’s sensor before, you simply need to place your digit onto the Home button to unlock the phone.
HTC One Max 5


Although the security of fingerprint sensors like the HTC One Max’s have been discussed at length, what they are really about is convenient. And the Max’s one isn’t.

More often than not, the HTC One Max failed to correctly recognise the finger, and it forces you to enter a pre-determined password after three attempts. It’s not a finger-friendly password either, but a keyboard-entered one.

Part of the issue is that for the sensor to accurately map your finger, it needs to pass straight down the middle of the sensor panel. That you’re always doing so ‘blind’, and that the phone isn’t the easiest to wield at the best of times makes this easier said than done in real-life use. You shouldn’t have to try to use something like this.

HTC has done its best to make the One Max’s sensor more useful than the iPhone 5S’s, though. It can be used from the lock screen to launch any app you fancy, rather than just unlocking the phone. And you can ‘train’ the phone to recognise three different fingers.

It’s a great idea, but it highlights two more problems. First, you can’t use it outside of the lock screen – even though it would make sense as a quick app launch function (it’s far too high up the body to be swiped accidentally). Second, only your index fingers are remotely comfortable to use with the sensor thanks to the size of the phone. Swapping hands to launch a different app once again wipes out the convenience benefit.

The fingerprint scanner is ultimately a misfire.

HTC One Max – Screen Quality

The HTC One Max has a 5.9-inch 1080p screen. That’s the same resolution as the 4.7-inch HTC One, stretched over a much, much larger area.

However, sharpness remains excellent. The mobile phone market is currently a bit obsessed with the pixels-per-inch rating of screens, and in this sense the HTC One beats the Max – with 468ppi to the Max’s 373ppi. Like most obsessions, though, it’s not healthy. There’s little different in perceptible sharpness between the two phones.
HTC One Max 1

The HTC One Max uses an LCD-type display, and it’s a good-quality panel. Contrast is good, black levels are decent and colours are fairly vivid without oversaturating reds in the way AMOLED screens like the Galaxy S4’s often do. They do appear slightly cooler than the very best screens out there, though.

That a phone this high-end has a great screen is no surprise. Phones and tablets currently lead the way in terms of screen development, having pushed public expectations much more quickly than TVs.

A more interesting question to ask is – does the size of the One Max’s screen add that much?

In day-to-day use, we found the 5.9-inch screen to be more of a pest than a bonus. It makes navigating the phone and typing one-handed a pain, and HTC hasn’t done a great deal to force the HTC Sense UI to make the most of the screen inches.

When it is a blessing, though, is while playing games, browsing the web or watching film. Playing Real Racing 3 is so much more immersive on an HTC One Max than an iPhone 5S. It’s much closer to playing a game on a small tablet like an iPad mini or dedicated gaming device like a PS Vita – and without anywhere near as much of the inconvenience of a tablet.

As we half-expected of a phone this large, top brightness isn’t quite on-par with the HTC One. However, as there’s a solid anti-reflective coating on the One Max’s display, we never found outdoors use to be much of a problem.

HTC One Max – Software and Performance

The HTC One Max uses the same interface type as the HTC One – HTC Sense. However, it boasts a few updates added since that phone’s launch.

The phone runs HTC Sense 5.5 and uses Android 4.3, the latest version of Google’s OS (as of October 2013). It’s a much simpler and arguably more stylish UI than you’ll find of Samsung’s Android phones. It doesn’t try to bung-in every feature under the sun, and trades a colourful and jolly look for better visual intuitiveness and a sharper look.
HTC One Max 10

BlinkFeed is placed centre stage in HTC Sense. It’s a widget that gives you the latest updates from your favourite sources, portrayed as sharp blocks. Sounds a bit vague? BlinkFeed gives you control over what goes into the feed, from websites’ news to TV listings and article links culled from Google Plus.

Having greater control over what goes into BlinkFeed is one of the key upgrades introduced in HTC Sense 5.5. For the most part, though, Sense feels just like it did in the HTC One. It’s fast, it looks good and it’s a good deal simpler to use than – for example – the Galaxy Note 3 as it’s less laden with features.

However, HTC Sense doesn’t make a particularly strong case for the HTC One Max’s screen size. Unlike the Galaxy S4, you can’t run two apps on-screen at once or overlay videos on top of your home screens. HTC has deliberately made Sense something quite different.
HTC One Max

We’ve heard many arguments for and against features like active phone multi-tasking, but have to admit they’re things we rarely find a use for. HTC is clearly happy to cut out the bits it thinks don’t add to the core phone experience. Among them, apparently, is a cutting-edge processor.

Where other new phones like the Sony Xperia Z1 and Galaxy Note 3 have taken on the Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor, the HTC One Max uses the slightly earlier Snapdragon 600 CPU seen in the HTC One.

The most obvious difference between the two generations it that the newer 800-series processors can be clocked much faster than the HTC One Max’s. Its processor is clocked at 1.7GHz, while the Xperia Z1, for example, has a 2.2GHz CPU.

Making direct comparisons in terms of day-to-day performance are largely meaningless at this level (any performance hiccups are more down to software blips rather than processor power with Android 4.3 at the helm), but benchmarks show the Snapdragon 800 is indeed more powerful. Geekbench 3 on the One Max comes out at 1994 points, the Xperia Z1 2797 - a sizeable 29% improvement.

However, the only time at which we saw a discernible performance hiccup was during Real Racing 3, which suffered from a slightly inconsistent frame rate when Power Saving mode was switched on (it throttles the CPU). It's a powerful phone.
Real Racing 3

HTC One Max – Apps and Games

As we saw with the HTC Sense interface, the HTC One Max keeps its apps roster fairly simple. Most additional apps are packed away into folders, leaving essentials like Google Maps, and a few HTC headliner apps to stay on the top layer of the apps menu.

HTC leaves social networking to the official Facebook and Twitter apps, aside from letting you bung Google Plus updates into the BlinkFeed widget. It has a go at some more periphery extras, though.

Scribble is HTC’s rival to Samsung’s S Note. It’s a note-taking app that lets you type with a keyboard or ‘handwrite’ with a finger or pen, as well as add photos, audio notes and little bits of clip art (for the kids). The way it organises handwritten text into lines is clever, but much of the appeal of this app is lost without a clever digitiser stylus like the Galaxy Note 3’s. It’s handy, rather than essential.
Scribble


HTC TV is an app that lets you plan your TV viewing by showing you local listings, as well as control your TV using the HTC One Max. It can do this because it features an IR transmitter. Again, this app has its Samsung equivalent – WatchON.

Car is an ultra-simple interface screen that you can safely use while driving. It features six big buttons that (hopefully) won’t cause you to swerve off into a ditch while doing 75mph down the M25. It’s a neat and thoughtful app, but doesn’t pack in any extra GPS brains as such – it piggy-packs off Google Maps.   

Kid Mode is an app that provides a virtual play pen for kids.

What the HTC One Max misses is a video player app that’ll be able to handle all sorts of video codecs. As is, the phone only has Google’s video player app, which only offers basic video support. Several decent free video player apps are available from Google Play, but this is the sort of feature you’d get pre-installed with a Samsung phone.

HTC One Max – Camera

The HTC One Max is the third phone to use HTC’s UltraPixel camera. But what exactly is UltraPixel technology all about?

The term ‘UltraPixel’ is just an HTC marketing term, but what it refers to is genuinely interesting. Rather than bumping-up the megapixel count to produce a more impressive-sounding camera, the HTC One Max decreases the number of megapixels in order to result in larger sensor pixels.
HTC One Max 6

Detail is sacrificed, but you get superior low-light performance and improved dynamic range. For the spec-heads out there, the HTC One Max uses a 1/3-inch sensor of four megapixels, resulting in sensor pixels of two microns a piece - much larger than the Galaxy S4's 1.1-micron pixels. The lens has an f/2.0 aperture, which is among the fastest you’ll find too.

Let’s see how the UltraPixel trade-off pans out.

Detail and Exposure
At pixel level, it’s very clear that the HTC One Max is incapable of capturing anywhere near as much detail as the competition. A four-megapixel sensor can only do so much.

One Max 4

A solid photo, but not one that holds-up to zooming-in


The One Max's camera is one of the least detailed in its class at 1:1 pixel level

However, the HTC One Max is a pretty reliable snapper. Dynamic range is well above average when using the normal shooting mode, making your photos appear (from a distance at last) detailed and vital even when the day is a bit… miserable.

Photos do get particularly noisy towards the edge of the frame, though. In short, don’t expect to be making a poster out of your HTC One Max photos – they’ll look rubbish.
 
Depth of Field
Shallow depth of field effects are the best way to produce arty-looking photos without spending much time setting up a shot. A good camera will be able to blur-out the background of an image to make the subject ‘pop’ all the more. It’s so effective that some phones have started using fake shallow depth of field modes to mitigate the limitations of their cameras.

The HTC One Max is capable of above-average shallow depth of field effects. It’s not quite the superstar bokeh (that’s the blurry effect) performer that the 1020 Lumia is, but it is superior to the Galaxy S4 and iPhone 5S in this respect. The film-like grain that’s seen across the phone’s photos helps to add to the artsy vibe too.


HDR
High dynamic range is a mode that merges multiple photos at different exposure levels. Automatic HDR modes like the HTC One Max’s take these shots in very quick succession so that you don’t need to use a tripod as long as you have a steady-ish hand. It's dead easy to use.

HTC’s HDR mode is extremely effective in most conditions, largely avoiding the cartoonish effect of some other phone marker’s attempts. It’s even more effective than Samsung’s too.

One Max 3

Sometimes the HDR mode is amazingly effective...

However, it’s so aggressive that we wouldn’t recommend it for everyday shooting. The effect is just that bit too strong, taking away your ability to use shadows as part of a photo’s composition.

It also has a habit of overexposing areas of an image - it’s more concerned with revealing shadow detail than solving overexposure in skies (which can also be fixed with the best HDR modes). The overall level of exposure is raised, meaning it's not much good for 'cooling down' bright skies.

One Max 5

...but sometimes it just causes overexposure

(the above photo was taken in the same lighting conditions as our 'detail' benchmark shot)

Low light and Flash
One of the main aims of the HTC One Max’s UltraPixel camera is to improve low-light performance. Not only is the Max’s low-light performance better than most, it’s also better than the HTC One’s according to our head-to-head tests.

The Max’s shot is not dramatically less noisy, but white balance is far better. Colours are spot-on with the HTC One, while they’re a way off with the original HTC One. We imagine this is likely to be an improvement of HTC Sense 5.5, or another sequential upgrade our HTC One hadn’t received yet, but it’s good news regardless.

One Max 1

As we'd hoped, low-light performance is good. (shot without flash in a dark room)

One Max 2

In fact, it's significantly better than the HTC One (update may fix this)

To give some context to these shots, phones with middling or poor low-light performance leave the scene very dark, with ill-defined objects.

Performance and Camera

The HTC One Max’s camera app is mostly a joy to use. It’s simple, with an almost bloat-free interface. There are no unnecessary visuals here - as seen in Samsung's Galaxy phones.

It also puts the most commonly-used features at your fingertips. ‘Normal’, ‘Night’ and ‘HDR’ modes are right up at the top of the menu system (and are the ones we use most). As we found with the HTC One, Zoe mode is given undue prominence - HTC is pretty proud of it. However, as we found with most of Samsung’s more involved modes, most people probably won’t use it.

Zoe captures a sliver of video along with each photo, letting you create little animated montages of your daytrips (etc. etc.). However, it also ruins the immediacy of the camera, and gives much less satisfying feedback for each picture taken.

We’ll be blunt – we don’t get Zoe. As cute as some of the results produced by HTC’s marketing team might be, we don't find it satisfying to use in the real world. It's for real show-offs only - part of HTC Sense 5.5 is that it makes your Zoe video montages easier to share online.

Use the more traditional modes, though, and shooting is a joy with the HTC One Max. Focusing is fast in anything but terrible lighting, there’s no significant shutter lag and the delay between shots is tiny. As much as we love the Nokia Lumia 1020’s camera for its superior image quality, this one is a whole lot faster.

Creative Modes

Like the iPhone 5S, the HTC One Max gives you easy access to a bunch of creative filters. You get the standard colour filters, as well as more dynamic ones that create a fisheye and mosaic effects.

Video Capture
The HTC One Max can capture decent-quality video, but it doesn't make it one of its key features. We've started to see phones that can take 4K video, but the phone makes do with 1080p. Given how few people own a 4K TV (or will own one in the next two years) it's not something to mourn.

It does have video HDR, though, which applies the same principles we saw in HDR stills to video. It's a great feature, and a sign that this is a top-end phone, but we found the results to be a bit flickery-looking when dealing with changes between bright and dark areas.

You also get fast motion (60fps) at 720p and slow motion - however this is only captured at a disappointing resolution of 768 x 432 pixels. The Note 3 manages 720p.

Front Camera
As well as a feature-rich main camera, the HTC One Max has a decent front camera. It's a 2-megapixel f/2 sensor that shoots video and stills at 1080p resolution.

It employs pretty serious noise reduction that leaves images looking heavily processed. However, it is good fun. There's an HDR mode for the front camera, and you can apply the same sort of 'live' creative filters you have access to with the rear camera. 

HTC One Max – Battery Life

With a 3,300mAh battery, it’s no wonder that the HTC One Max is quite as chunky as it is. That is bigger than the battery of the larger Sony Xperia Z Ultra (3,050mAh) or Samsung Galaxy Mega 6.3 (3,200mAh).

The generous battery shows in day-to-day use too. With regular email checks, some browsing and use of Google Maps, the HTC One Max lasts for a solid day and half. With careful use, and switching-on of the phone’s power-saving mode, you should be able to squeeze two days’ use of out it – you will be running on fumes by the end, mind. And although the back is removable, you get no access to the actual battery unit.
HTC One Max 3


The HTC One Max offers a number of sensible power-saving options, all tucked into a separate Power settings menu so they don’t get in the way. You can set ‘sleep mode’ hours, during which the data connection will switch off entirely.

A power saving mode also throttles the CPU, controls brightness, turns off haptic feedback and limits the data connection to when the screen is on. With or without such measures, this is a long-lasting phone.

HTC One Max - Sound Quality

HTC BoomSound speakers are one of the HTC One series’s calling cards. They are stereo speakers that sit on the front of the phone, rather than the back where mobile speakers usually live.

Sound quality is well above average, especially if you’re using the phone held right in front of you – when playing a game, for example. You get a genuine stereo effect, as well as speakers that can go louder without sounding strained.
HTC One Max 9

There is one downside, though – the HTC One Max misses out on the Beats DSP mode seen in the HTC One. We’ve been less than kind about Beats headphones, and the use of DSP modes when wearing headphones, but it does wonders for teeny-tiny speakers like those found in the HTC One Max.

The sound isn’t as rich or smooth as it was on the HTC One with Beats mode engaged. And it won’t be added in an update as the partnership between HTC and Beats ended in September 2013.

Still, speaker quality is well above average.

HTC One Max – Call Quality

The HTC One Max has great call quality. Its earpiece speaker is much better-than average, bringing improved clarity and sound depth compared to a lower-cost phone.

Like most higher-end phones, the One Max uses a secondary microphone to employ active noise cancellation. The tiny pinhole mic is found on the back of the phone, in one of the plastic seams.

There’s only so much you can do with ‘standard’ phone calls, which sound rubbish through the best of equipment, but the HTC One Max has a good go at it.

HTC One Max 2

Should I buy the HTC One Max?

The HTC One Max has the same issue to surmount as other giant phones like the Sony Xperia Z Ultra and Samsung Galaxy Mega 6.3 – why would you buy it over its slightly smaller cousin?

HTC’s giant phone tries a lot less hard than some to justify its screen size. And while it may have a smaller screen than some, its thicker body ensures it’s still a tricky phone to handle day-to-day.

For gaming and video-watching, the 5.9-inch screen is fantastic. For everything else, we still think the HTC One is a better fit for most people’s lives.

The changes it makes to the HTC One formula aren’t particularly successful, either. Its plastic-based body is less impressive to look at, the look is less simple, the BoomSound speakers are less effective this time around and the fingerprint sensor is – at present – more pain than gain.

The Galaxy Note 3 in particular offers a screen that's only slightly smaller, but is significantly smaller in-hand and is much more successful at adding features that really make use of the extra screen space.

This is a solid phone, but a series of slight disappointments ensure it’s not the perfect smartphone storm that the HTC One was.

SEE ALSO: Top 10 best Android phones

Verdict

The HTC One Max is a strong phone that looks less silly in the hand than a Sony Xperia Z Ultra, but most of the ways it differs from the HTC One detract from the phone, rather than adding to it.

Next, read our top 10 best smartphones round-up