Flash Review: HTC One Max

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The HTC One is still one of the better smartphones to be released this year, and since then we’ve seen the HTC One Mini launch in the US, bringing with it a bite sized Sense 5 experience wrapped up in the familiar and sexy design as the original. Of course, we knew HTC likely wouldn’t stop there, and the One Max was born.

The HTC One Max brings a massive 5.9 inch display to the company’s flagship lineup, and also ships with a few features that not only set it apart from its family, but many other smartphones on the market today.

Firmly planted into phablet territory, the HTC One Max is going to be just too big for some people. Phablet devices are growing in popularity, but the HTC One Max faces some stiff competition with phablets such as the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 and the Sony Xperia Z Ultra. While most manufacturers pump out phablet devices that are just straight up bigger versions of their flagship devices, it is clear that HTC made sure to take their time with the HTC One Max, making sure it provided new features and improved hardware, setting it apart from the HTC One. In this review, we’ll see if this is the go-to phablet to grab right now. Read on!

The Good
  • The 5.9 inch Super LCD 3 display is stunning as ever
  • Ultrapixel camera still gets high marks
  • Fingerprint sensor is a welcome addition
The Bad
  • The massive size may be too big for some
  • Fingerprint sensor sometimes requires multiple attempts to activate
  • Screen can become hard to view when in direct sunlight

Hardware

HTC's One Max might be large, but it's just as sexy as the rest of the One family. Of course, this is to be expected from most HTC handsets today, especially in this current line of Android devices.

The HTC One Max features a 5.9 inch 1080p HD Super LCD 3 display, and it's gorgeous. Given the size and resolution of the display, the PPI is comparitively a little low, but we're definitely not complaining about a 373 PPI on the One Max. Outside of the beautiful screen, users can look forward to a super fast 1.7GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 600, 2GB RAM, Ultrapixel camera, 2.1 megapixel front-facing camera, front-facing Boomsound speakers, fingerprint reader, microSD card slot,  IR Blaster, and 3300 mAh battery.

The front of the One Max will be familiar to anyone who has ever seen the HTC One or One Mini, as it's the exact same -- with the exception of the screen size. The 5.9 inch display swallows the face of the device, and you'll find the proximity and ambient light sensors, one of the two Boomsound speakers, ear piece, and 2.1 megapixel front-facing camera above it. Below the display is where the back and home buttons can be found, along with the HTC logo between the two.

On the sides of the One Max, you'll easily see that they resemble that of the One Mini more than the original One, in that they're lined in plastic and not solid aluminum. Given how large and hefty the handset it, we'd say that this is a good idea. Speaking of the sides, there are a few tweaks on the One Max compared to the rest of the family. For starters, the power button has been moved to the right side of the device instead of the top, allowing for easier access. Here you'll still find the volume rocker right above the power/lock button. The top houses both the IR blaster and 3.5mm headphone jack and the bottom is where you'll find the micro USB port for charging. The left side of the One Max is almost left bare, with the exception of a small switch that some might mistake for a silence toggle, but it's not. The small switch allows the user to remove the back panel of the handset.

The rear side of the One Max is where you'll find the Ultrapixel camera, fingerprint reader, contacts for the optional charging case, along with HTC's logo. Going back to the small switch on the left side, if moved, removed the back panel that reveals a few other things. This is where the SIM card and microSD card slot find a home. The addition of the microSD card slot is going to make a lot of people happy, even if they never use it. Options are always nice to have.

 

Fingerprint sensors are quickly gaining popularity, and HTC has thrown its hat into the ring with the addition of a fingerprint sensor on the One Max. HTC went a step further than Apple with the iPhone 5s by allowing the fingerprint sensor to be used for multiple functions, as well as the ability to register up to three different fingers. Each finger can be programmed to trigger a specific function on the One Max. For instance, a user's middle finger could be programmed to open the camera app, the ring finger could open up the texting app and so on and so forth. It's a quick and easy way to access apps and feature with a quick swipe of a finger. The hard part is remembering what finger does what.

The fingerprint scanner does have some drawbacks, however. The smooth sensor feels very similar to the back of the phablet, making it hard to determine if your finger is in the right spot. What's more, the accuracy of the scanner is a bit finicky, sometimes not recognizing finger swipes at all. If your swipe fails, a password login screen is displayed, which makes the whole process a massive waste of time. The added features of the fingerprint sensor are neat, but that's about it. While Apple's TouchID is based on providing a layer of security, HTC's functions more as an unnecessary feature.

Software

Out of the box, the HTC One Max ships with the latest and great version of Sense, version 5.5. The changes in Sense 5.5 are a minimal but certainly make an impact.

Blinkfeed

Blinkfeed has seen a fair amount of changes. With the addition of Google+ content and RSS feeds, you can customize Blinkfeed even more to your liking, which is a big win if you use it often. In addition to the extra content available to you on Blinkfeed, HTC has also included a Read Later option that will download the selected article so it can be read offline. From there, you can go to the Read Later section to catch up on what you missed. This makes BlinkFeed more of a news aggregator than it has ever been before. It makes BlinkFeed a strong contendor against  news aggregators which have popped up in Google Reader's wake such as Digg Reader and Feedly.

Another feature that some might like is that you can actually disable Blinkfeed altogether now. While we believe Blinkfeed is worth taking up one of your panels up, some may want the extra space for applications and widgets.

Zoe & Highlight Videos

Zoes and Highlight Videos are largely a part of the camera on the One Max, but it's HTC's software touch that makes the features one of the greatest part of the experience. Both Zoes and Highlight Videos have received tweaks that many are going to enjoy in Sense 5.5.

Zoes are no longer confined to being an interesting 'piece' of Highlight videos now. With the new GIF creator, you can now choose to turn your short Zoe into a GIF with ease. Simply select the new GIF option, chop down what part of the Zoe you want to be a part of the GIF, choose an optional video effect and you're done! Sense 5.5 includes some awesome video editing options, with a new video highlights editor added into the mix. Users can now string clips together without switching to full-screen mode, and transitions can now be synced to the beats of a music track. The result is hours of fun, and you may just find yourself scouring your hip-hop catalog in search of the best song to set your homemade video to.

Along with Android 4.3, Sense 5.5 runs smooth and as buttery as ever. Sense 5.5 also provides a useful "Do Not Disturb" mode, accessible from the pull down menu at the top of the homescreen. The new version of Sense also includes some bundled apps, such as SenseTV, Kid Mode, Stocks and Polaris Office 5, as well as a bevy of other features. Android 4.4 KitKat will hit the Max soon, so that's something else to look forward to if you decide HTC's phablet is the one for you.

 

Camera

The HTC One Max sports an Ultrapixel camera, which also graces its little sibling the HTC One. The Ultrapixel camera is designed to capture amazing low-light pictures. The sesor is comprised of three sensors at 4.3 megapixels each. When the images are combined, they reach close to the 13-MP standard, and are in most part on par with other 13 megapixel shooters. This technique means that three lots of data can represent one pixel, making the extra data available to be intelligently “combined” to make a crisp, clean image and better color accuracy. The f/2.0 lens coupled with a small bit of optical image stabilization allow the camera to capture still pictures quickly and without bleeding. It's no 41 megapixel camera like that of the Nokia Lumia 1020, but it does the trick quite nicely. HDR mode is snappy, and processing occurs almost instantaneously, allowing you to snap quality HDR photos as fast as you please. Since HDR takes two shots and combines them together - one brighter than the original and one darker - interesting colors and lighting sometimes occur when snapping a photo.

HTC did make one move with the One Max's camera however that puts the phablet at a disadvantage: they dropped OIS from the device altogether. This results in darker and more pixelated photos from time to time. This move really hurt video quality, with video coming out shaky and sometimes unbearable to watch. Videos on the HTC One come out better than those of the HTC One Max, something which seems hard to fathom.

The camera app included with the One Max is supurb, allowing quick access to camera modes and change exposure and focus for those who like a little more control over their photos.

Taking pictures with the HTC One Max is as easy and snappy as the HTC One, with the exception of its size. Taking pictures with the massive phablet doesn't feel like using a tablet, one of the biggest faux pas of all time.  All in all, the Ultrapixel camera performs very well, especially in HDR mode.

Call Quality And Battery Life

With such a massive device, HTC had to make sure that there would be enough juice to power the handset for at least a full day. Not messing around, HTC dropped a 3,300mAh battery into the One Max, which lasts for longer than one might think. After using the One Max on Wi-Fi all day, streaming music and doing some light browsing, I got twelve hours of battery after all was said and done. I got around 10 hours after a day of heavy use, which is amazing to say the least. The Snapdragon 600 processor doesn't require as much juice as say the Snapdragon 800, and HTC has used this to their advantage.

To really put the HTC One Max to the test, I streamed Netflix via 4G LTE for 9 hours straight, which put a small dent into the battery. After the Netflix test, there was about 23% of battery remaining. That's pretty impressive when stacked up against similar devices such as the Galaxy Note 3 and Sony Xperia Z Ultra, with the HTC One Max coming in with at least 20% more battery life after completing similar tests.

As far as charging time goes, the One Max recharges very quickly. After just an hour of being plugged in, the phablet had gone from a battery level of 10% to fully charged, even while connected to Wi-Fi and streaming music. I'd venture to say that the One Max could be fully charged in an hour or possibly less if left to charge without running any resource hungry processes.

 

The Final Take

Any way you slice it, the HTC One Max is an exceptional piece of hardware. Fans of the HTC One will be thrilled at it's beautiful aluminum design, brilliant screen and snappy processor. Sense 5.5 has some nice additions, and the fingerprint scanner adds a layer of functionality into the mix. The battery life is amazing for a device of its caliber, and is the ultimate media viewing center while on the go.

The size of the One Max may turn some people away, and the lack of OIS in the camera is a huge disappointment as well. Don't be fooled though, the camera is still very good and will provide some good still shots, it just might not be the device to take to your children's soccer game. Coming in at $150 with a two year contract on Sprint and unlocked for around $650, the HTC One Max provides a ton of value for the price, and is a great option if you are considering a phablet device.

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  • ZeusKitty

    Okay, I’d love to “Read on!”, but where’s the review?

  • ZeusKitty

    So, does the missing OIS effect the quality of Zoe?

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