Andreas is the Chief Editor of AndroidPIT. Prior to joining the AndroidPIT Team, Andreas worked for different publications in the mobile phone sector, including Europe's biggest telco magazine CONNECT and the Website areamobile.de. He grew up on the baltic sea but has lived in Berlin for over 12 years. He still misses the water though.
Yesterday HTC unveiled their new heavyweight competitor, the One max. With the huge 5.9-inch display and the wide stereo speakers, the HTC phablet makes even the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 look miniature. But will that suffice to play with the big boys at the top of the smartphone foodchain? I was able to test the One max already and my answer for the moment is an ambiguous yes and no.
For your reading enjoying, you'll find the complete hands-on test below, as well as a quick test of the HTC One max in video.
No manufacturer has ever followed their design line so consistently as HTC with their One series consisting of the One Mini, the One and now, the One max, all of which are virtually one and the same phone, just in different sizes. The max has definitely reached the maximum; the border between tablet and smartphone has never been so blurred than in the case of HTC's XXL addition.
Although the three HTCs at first glance seem to be cut from the same cloth, there are a few important differences. The frame is not aluminum, but plastic, while the power button has been relocated from the top to the right side, and this for a very pragmatic reason: ''you aren't at all able to reach the top when holding the device in one hand" explained Fabian Nappenbach, HTC'S Product Manager of HTC during the press event. Having tried the device afterward, I can only confirm what the man had to say. In fact, one-handed operation is extremely difficult and borderline impossible, though this isn't a reason why someone would buy a giant smartphone in the first place.
The back can be removed using a switch on the right side. When taken off, you'll see that the cover has been stamped from a single piece of aluminum. It feels heavy in the hand and gives off the impression of being quite stable, the exact opposite of Samsung's flimsy plastic cover. To those who might have wondered why the max is 1.5 times heavier than the One can find their answer here, a fact which makes the new phablet one of the heaviest devices around at 217 grams.
The battery cover is a clear indication that the craftsmanship and haptics have been built for the upper class of devices. The fluid-looking metal is genuinely flattering for your hand, giving off the feeling that high-end technology has finally been packaged the way it deserves to be. No other phablet feels as good as the HTC One max in my experience.
The display (5.9 inches, 1,920 x 1,080 pixel, LCD 3), when compared to the Note 3, appears to be somewhat faint. Our cameraman on hand, Toni, told me later that he even checked twice to see if it was set to maximum brightness, because, to him, it seemed way too dark in comparison with Samsung's phablet. Don't get me wrong though: the picture quality is very good and the One max is bright enough for everyday use. Despite this fact, I'm under the impression that HTC might have intentionally downgraded the brightness in order to conserve battery power.
Software and Performance
HTC delivers the One max with Android 4.3 and the latest version of its user interface, Sense 5.5. Within the UI, the manufacturer especially expanded the manageability and functionality of BlinkFeed (like a ‘Read Later’ function for articles), but more importantly, now you can finally completely disable this HTC home screen with a mere fingertip. HTC One users can also look forward to the new software: according to Nappenbach, it will be delivered to devices at the end of October, while the One mini will receive it "by the end of the year".
I can attest that while trying the HTC One max that the software always responded quickly and without delay in response to input. This seemed to be the case with games as well, where the graphical firecracker, Real Racing 3, appeared to run just as smooth as the Note 3 when in direct comparison. Ok, I must admit that it was slightly faster on the Samsung giant, but then I got to thinking: so what? The critics will likely blame this on the weaker Snapdragon 600 processor from Qualcomm that HTC put in the max, since Samsung is one step ahead in terms of performance thanks to the Snapdragon 800. That being said, I'll stick with my first impression that the difference is less than remarkable.
The One HTC max relies on the same basic image technology found in the One mini, which means a high-intensity Ultrapixel camera that snaps photos with a maximum of 4 megapixels (2,688 x 1,520 pixels), and video captured in Full HD resolution. I didn't have a moment to test the camera, however I noticed that HTC didn't include an optical image stabilizer, a feature which provides good results especially in low light conditions. It is found in the One, so why did the One max miss out? Especially in regards to the high price tag that HTC slapped onto their new device, I have a hard time understanding this decision.
A novelty that HTC placed on the One max is the ''biometric sensor'' to unlock the device. HTC deliberately didn't mention the word ''fingerprint scanner'', because a copy of your finger surface isn't stored nor is it read: it only recognizes a certain pattern. The use is therefore different from the iPhone 5s: Apple users will place their fingers on the home button, while HTC users simply need to swipe their finger from top to bottom over the sensor field. When tested, the recognition worked without problems or error.
What I liked is that you are able to assign different fingers with specific quick start actions. The index finger opens the camera, while the middle finger launches the browser.
What I don't like is that you always need to press the power button before being able to unlock your device with the finger scan, which is one step too many. I also find that its placement directly under the camera lens wasn’t very well thought out, because you are sure to unintentionally smear it on a constant basis, or until you've gotten into the habit not to.
The battery packs 3,300 mAh, a satisfactory capacity. For comparison's sake, the Note 3 offers 3,200 mAh and the Xperia Z Ultra 3,050 mAh. At this time, I'm really not able to make a statement on its running time, but I think that HTC was careful here in making no mistakes. It is still incomprehensible, to me and many others, why you can't change the battery, even though the cover is now removable.
In about one week's time, the One max will be available in the UK Vodafone shops for a £49 up-front charge on a £47 per month, 24-month contract, while off-contract the device should go for an estimated amount of £500 to £600. Another British mobile provider, Phones 4U, should announce their price in a few days, however the likes of O2, EE and Three might not stock it at all because of the exclusive deal HTC set up with Vodafone. MobileFun will sell it to you for £599.99, though delivery could take a few weeks, while Expansys offers the 16 GB and 32 GB models for pre-order with no definite price. HTC stated that the One max should be available globally by mid to end of October, aside from Vodafone of course.
As for the US, the One max will be offered by both Sprint and Verizon, though a bit later, likely in November and just in time for the beginning of Christmas shopping. Canadians can probably expect the device around the same time as their American neighbors.
The One max's price is likely to quickly sink to the Note 3’s level, which is now being sold for $714.99 as per Amazon. I cannot officially ordain the new HTC phablet as a high-flyer, there are just too many negatives: the weight, the size, the non-removable battery, the (unnecessary?) finger sensor, the second-place processor, the camera's lack of optical image stabilization.
The One max is mostly a good phablet, because it feels just like expensive technology should feel. But is that enough to snag potential customers? Overall, it's clear that the Note 3 provides a better overall package.