HTC One Max review: First look

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Given the all the hoo-ha over HTC’s build quality on the HTC One and HTC One Mini it’s perhaps unsurprising that the HTC One Max continues to impress when it comes to design and construction. It is, essentially, an enlarged HTC One Mini.

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I specifically say HTC One Mini rather than HTC One, because although it’s the biggest of the three it has slightly more in common with the design of the smaller 4.3-inch member of the trio. To be more precise, it has the same contoured plastic surround hugging the outer edge and just peeking around either side of the display.

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On the silver model this is white coloured and links up with HTC’s purely cosmetic dividing bands at either end of the back panel, while at the top, the band runs down to surround the camera port.

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As with both of its stable-mates, the HTC One Max is fabricated from aluminium and features a panelled design. On the front there are two equally sized panels, one above and one below the display, and each houses a punched speaker grille.

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Meanwhile on the back, the two end panel design is repeated, divided by those white plastic bands, and the middle section is a single larger expanse punctured by the camera port, flash, and, uniquely amongst its kin, the fingerprint scanner just below.

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Differing further from its brothers, the HTC One Max’s back panel is removable. There’s a little sliding button embedded in the side of the handset which, when pushed, pops the panel open and you can remove it quite easily to access the SIM and microSD slots (the battery can’t be removed).

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I found operating the button tricky as it doesn’t stick out far enough in my view. Taking the panel off once the button is pressed is easy enough, but getting it back on so that it is properly seated and secure is also quite fiddly.

Aside from issues with re-seating the back panel, the overall build is extremely solid, as I’ve come to expect from HTC’s recent offerings. Once properly secured there isn’t even any flex or movement to the rear panel, or anywhere else for that matter.

The power button and volume rocker sit next to each other on the right-hand side of the device and are equally easy to use with either hand. These controls are made from brushed metal and have a nice quality feel to them with a satisfying level of travel in operation and a slightly soft rebound.

Like the existing HTC One models, the HTC One Max has two capacitive touch keys at the bottom of the handset’s fascia, flanking the HTC logo (which is not a button, no matter how much you press it). Home is on the right and back is on the left, while various other functions are accessible with either a hold press or double tap.

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The elephant in the room is the sheer scale of the device. It looks good with its aluminium chassis and narrow bezel, and it is well-made with a quality feel in the hand. But it’s huge and, rather like the Sony Xperia Z Ultra, feels a bit too unwieldy. Balance is okay, but the overall weight is on the heavier side at 217g and I found the handset barely fit in a jeans pocket (just like the Sony Xperia Z Ultra). In KYM’s full review we’ll be examining the handling usability in more detail.

Of course you don’t buy a premium phablet these days without expecting something pretty special in the display department, it being the most prominent part of the handset. The HTC One Max’s touchscreen doesn’t fail to impress.

At 5.9-inches it’s a sizeable expanse of glass with a full HD 1920×1080 pixel resolution giving a pixel density of 373 pixels-per-inch (ppi). Visual quality is high with a clear, crisp picture, as well as fantastic brightness and colour depth.

Viewing angles are also very wide and, although the sky is a bit too grey to prove it just at the moment, I have a suspicion this will stand up well to use in bright sunlight.

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As with the HTC One Max’s comrades, the software has a distinctly tailored HTC flavour, it’s Android 4.3 Jelly Bean but with the extensive aesthetic and functional twist that is HTC Sense 5.5.

Naturally, the BlinkFeed homescreen has made a return, aggregating your social networking, news and photos into a continuous tile-based feed. Unlike Sense 5.0, however, this can be switched off entirely if you so desire.

At a glance the drop-down notifications menu is more-or-less stock Android, though with HTC’s tweaked Roboto font. The Quick Settings section is still there and can either be brought down from the Homescreen with a two-finger swipe or switched to from the notifications menu with a tap of the icon in the top right corner.

The app drawer is a little different, with a vertical layout of snap-scrolling pages. Pulling the list all the way to the top reveals custom shortcuts to Google Play, a search function and drop-down menus for sorting, hiding and managing apps, as well as customising the grid size and layout.

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The full settings menu is bright white and divided into sections. Meanwhile, personalisation comes via a hold press or pinch gesture on the homescreen, which presents you with a carousel of homscreens at the top, the option to add, remove or set as home, the option to turn Blinkfeed on or off, and a menu in the lower half for apps, widgets and shortcuts which can be dragged onto the homescreens.

HTC takes a very different approach to Android’s multitasking. The functionality is much the same, but the layout doesn’t involve a carousel, rather a sizeable grid of small screen previews. As with the regular multitasking these can be tapped to enlarge or swiped to close.

Operation appears to be just as nice and smooth as it is on the similarly equipped HTC One, with both devices sporting the same well-optimised Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 quad-core processor at 1.7GHz with 2GB of RAM and an Adreno 320 GPU.

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On storage the HTC One Max is very well equipped with either 16GB or 32GB options, with HTC’s blurb stating you’ll get 10GB or 25GB of user-available space respectively. Additionally, the HTC One Max is the first in the range with microSD support and it can take cards up to a full 64GB.

As might be expected for a modern phablet, the battery pack is pretty sizeable at a whopping 3,300mAh so I expect this handset can easily keep stride with the likes of the Galaxy Note 3 and Sony Xperia Z1. The HTC One and HTC One Mini didn’t have the best battery life but, all being well, this bulked up iteration should put such issues to rest.

Connectivity includes full 3G and 4G LTE, Wi-Fi, NFC, Bluetooth, DLNA, infrared, microUSB and MHL TV-out. I’ve yet to explore the full features of the fingerprint scanner but it’s an entirely optional security feature which you can setup for accessing the handset or particular apps – again this is something which will get a deeper examination in the full review.

The apparent lack of Beats Audio is a bit of a sting for headphone use, although the phone still features HTC’s BoomSound stereo speaker setup with a built-in amplifier. Just like its stable-mates, the HTC One Max appears to be capable of extremely loud and clear audio and as with its predecessors I had to frantically turn the volume down when the first call came through.

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The camera sees a return, for the third time, of HTC’s Ultrapixel technology implemented with a wide f/2.0 aperture, back-illuminated sensor (BSI), 1.3” sensor size, LED flash and 1080p video recording. The front camera is a 2.1-megapixel setup with 1080p video too.

Sadly, the optical image stabilisation (OIS) seen on previous models appears not to have been included here, which is a real shame.

In our HTC One review we commented that, for all its pomp and circumstance, the Ultrapixel setup at 4.3-megapixels lacked the detail levels we’ve come to expect from higher-end cameras. In other areas it performed well, particularly low-light, though not exceptionally. It appeared it was reasonably capable in no small part due to the OIS, so the fact that it’s now absent doesn’t bode well.

Our full review will examine many of these facets more closely, however, and it’s too early to say at this point what performance, battery life and camera capabilities will be like, even though the outlook (except for the camera) is largely pretty good at this point.

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