- Zippy performance
- Beautiful display
- Excellent speakers
- Great for gaming and entertainment purposes
- Comically large and unwieldy
- Finicky, useless fingerprint scanner
- Camera downgraded from HTC One
A long-lasting, powerful phone that fails to take advantage of what makes phablets great.
The HTC One Max is what happens when a smartphone has an existential panic attack. It’s a device with many of the things anyone could want from a high-end device. It’s fast. It’s sturdy. And if you can buy into what it’s selling, its mammoth, 5.9-inch display is actually a lot of fun to use. HTC clearly put a good deal of effort into pushing this thing.
It just didn’t put much thought into it. Point blank, the One Max is a phone that does not need to exist. Yes, it’s HTC’s answer to the Samsung Galaxy Note 3, Sony Xperia Z Ultra, and the other hybrids that have invaded the space between smartphones and tablets, so you could say its creation is to be expected. But unlike those devices, the One Max doesn’t make any attempt to put its engorged real estate to good use. It’s content with being a really big smartphone, and that’s it. In the process, it proves that bigger isn’t better if you’re growing for no reason.
Build and Design
Although its name might suggest that it’s taking after HTC’s acclaimed One flagship, the One Max is more accurately designed like a supersized version of the HTC One Mini, which wasn’t quite as sexy. While the One’s trademark curves and silver aluminum make their way to the front and back of the One Max, the device’s sides are cased in a chunky strip of white plastic that can’t help but look cheap by comparison. It isn’t out and out ugly, but the One Max is rather expensive ($250 with a two-year contract from Sprint, $300 with one from Verizon), so it’s harder to excuse HTC for taking the same shortcuts it took with the budget-level One Mini. We can’t help but long for the true unibody design of the One here.
The One Max’s back cover is now removable, which is nifty for those who’d like to swap in a new micro SIM or microSD card (supporting up to 64GB of storage). However, HTC has curiously chosen to stonewall users who wish to change batteries; you’re stuck with the One Max’s default 3,300mAh pack for as long as you have the phone. This lack of choice is always annoying, especially when an manufacturer teases us the way HTC has here.
To HTC’s credit, there aren’t many additional buttons or ports on the One Max, which means there’s isn’t much in the way of unnecessary clutter. The power button has been lowered below the volume rocker on the right side of the device, which is a much more natural spot for a phone of this size. The IR blaster returns to the phone’s top, letting you use the One Max as a serviceable TV remote replacement, while the microUSB port sits at its bottom.
The One Max’s front is adorned with HTC’s excellent BoomSound speakers, which, unfortunate branding aside, are still the best and fullest-sounding in the business. Play some tunes on the One Max while it’s at full blast and you’re liable to comfortably hear them throughout your whole house. Joining those speakers above the display is a 2.1-megapixel front-facing camera, which itself is accompanied by the same 4-megapixel ‘UltraPixel’ sensor on the One Max’s rear. More on those in a moment.
The biggest addition to the hardware comes underneath that UltraPixel camera. Seemingly taking after the iPhone 5s and a few others, HTC has thrown in a large, square fingerprint sensor that can be programmed to unlock the One Max and open up a handful of apps. Those apps can be assigned to individual fingers, so you can set your right middle digit to open Facebook, one of your pinkies to open your email, and the like.
That sounds pretty cool in theory, but the fingerprint scanner’s unfortunate placement sabotages it from the start. HTC forces you to swipe from top to bottom in order to activate it, and since the phone’s backside is so large, it’s hard not to lay a big smudge of finger grease on the main camera whenever you’re fiddling around back there. We did it often, much to our photo gallery’s dismay.
The scanner’s location and required motion make it just about impossible for any non-NBA player to activate it with one hand too, so any pretense of it being simple to use goes out the window right there. The fact that the scanner often failed to recognize our fingers on the first (or second, or third) try didn’t help matters either, nor did the fact that you have to hit the power button and actually wake the One Max up before it can even read your fingerprints.
If the goal of a scanner like this is to streamline device security, then HTC has done the exact opposite. Opening an app with a swipe of your finger is still exciting tech, but it’s convoluted and just plain inconvenient on the One Max. We found ourselves forgetting it after a handful of uses.
Then there’s the elephant in the room: the fact that the One Max is about the size of an elephant. This is a device that simply cannot be navigated with one hand, or fitted into pockets, or used in public without getting at least one or two curious looks.
With dimensions of 6.47 x 3.24 x 0.40 inches and a weight of 7.65 ounces, the One Max is every bit as bulky and hefty as it looks. It’s notably heavier than the Galaxy Note 3, though it outweighs just about every other modern phablet in existence too. Let’s put it this way: with the Note 3, it feels like you’re using a big phone; with the One Max, it feels like you’re holding a smallish tablet. It’s stuck in this weird middle ground between phone or tablet, not compact enough to feel like the former but still small enough to make you long for the latter. That’s not good.
The One Max’s 1080p display is fantastic. Its larger screen naturally means that its pixel density can’t reach the astounding 469 ppi of the One, but its 372 ppi makes for some beautiful imagery nevertheless. The Super LCD tech from the One and One mini is back again here, and it helps give the One Max outstanding color reproduction, wide viewing angles, sharp contrast, and powerful brightness when cranked up.
Flipping through Netflix, reading articles on the web, and playing through games is consistently pleasing to the eye with the One Max, regardless of where you’re located. Sharp panels are becoming HTC’s forte, and on a purely technical level, the One Max lives up to its maker’s reputation. It makes the One Max an appealing entertainment machine for lounging around the house, especially since the phone itself is too big and unwieldy to be very mobile.