HTC One Max Australian Review: Bulkish Brute


Ah, the HTC One series. We fell in love at first sight with the original, and found the second one a novel little brother. The larger model, however — the HTC One Max — boy, do we wish we could forget you.

What Is It?

The HTC One Max is the gigantic follow-up to the HTC One mini and the HTC One, both released in the last seven months.

The HTC One Max has a giant 5.9-inch 1080x1920 (1080p) screen at 373 pixels per inch, the Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 processor clocked at 1.7GHz of quad-core grunt, 2GB of RAM and a 4-megapixel camera with Ultrapixel technology.

It comes with 16GB of internal memory, expandable up to 64GB thanks to a microSD card slot hidden under the removable back cover. Despite the cover, however, the 3300mAh battery is still integrated into the handset.

HTC has teamed up with Google this time to bundle extra cloud space into your handset purchase, offering up to 65GB of additional Drive storage.

Telstra will be getting an exclusive on the device, offering the One Max on a rather expensive plan. It will run you an extra $4 per month on the $80 Every Day Connect plan, which includes $800 worth of calls and MMS, unlimited SMS and 1.5GB of data. That’s on a 24-month contract.

If you pre-order online, available from today through to 26 November, Telstra will throw in a free Beats Pill portable speaker. That’s a pretty sweet inclusion if you ask me.

Not a fan of contracts? No problems: Telstra will be offering the HTC One Max outright for $816.

What’s Good?

The HTC One Max packs in a lot of great stuff that made us fall in love with the original HTC One. Instead of leaving it alone, however, HTC has tweaked and upgraded the experience through Sense 5.5 to make life just that little bit better on your smartphone.

Sense 5.5 and the accompanying Blinkfeed news/social/everything river is designed to surface your content immediately, without making you have to dig into separate apps to get to it. Cute idea, and it’s one that continues to pay dividends. Blinkfeed is the ultimate widget.


The new and improved Blinkfeed packs in more topic categories, Instagram and Google+ integration as well as the ability to add content-based search results into your feed, so you can be your own content curator. Blinkfeed also now allows you to download up to 120 articles for offline viewing for information on the go.

For those who aren’t fans of bundled software, however, Blinkfeed in Sense 5.5 is optional. That’s awesome for people who want a mostly-vanilla Android experience without having to root their phone: something manufacturers still advise against. HTC’s rep hinted as to a Google Developer’s edition on the way, but we’ll have to wait on that one.

All your content looks amazing on the 1080p Super-LCD3 panel, with text appearing crisp and clear, with your high-definition content looking and sounding great too thanks to the two massive front-facing Boomsound speakers under sexy front grilles. Seriously, why don’t all speakers face towards you on smartphones and TVs these days? Der.

The giant 3300mAh battery will have you going for around two days before you scramble for a charger, and if that’s not enough for you, there’s a case accessory for sale which boosts the phone’s battery up by another 1100mAh. Handy.

There’s also finally microSD support in the HTC One Max. microSD storage is awesome and it’s what’s missing from a lot of great handsets these days. Good to see it here, sad to see how it has been executed. We’ll get to that.

What’s Bad?

Hardware-wise, the HTC One Max doesn’t blow the doors off the joint like you might imagine, and it really shows in the lab.

Whereas the HTC One (running Android 4.2 and Sense 5) rates a 1422 on Geekbench 3, the HTC One Max (running Android 4.3 and Sense 5.5) rates just over 1900. Over six months has passed since the original One first hit the lab, and HTC hasn’t been doing much to crank the bigger brother up to 11 in that time.

Perhaps it’s a disappointment because we’ve become used to seeing huge leaps in power and subsequently benchmark scores between handset iterations, but no matter how you skew it, the HTC One Max is being sold alongside handsets that lap it in terms of performance. Gear like the Samsung Galaxy Note 3, iPhone 5s and Nexus 5. You can probably get those handsets cheaper, too. Not at all good news for the One Max.

The original One handset was bite-the-back-of-your-hand gorgeous. The One Max, however, feels like a big kid wearing its Dad’s suit: dressed nicely, if a little awkward. The gorgeous attention to detail is back in some places, like the radial pattern on the volume rocker and power buttons, the subtle speaker grilles that sit on the top and bottom of the handset and the excellent placement of the front-facing camera and sensors on either side.


Where it lets itself down, however, is on the giant plastic-looking frame that borders the whole handset (whereas the One had an edge-to-edge screen), and the removable back cover which never goes back down as you’d like it to. All that fuss just to put a removable memory card in? Pass. All that pales in comparison to just how ugly the fingerprint scanner on the rear of the handset is.

The scanner is a needless, gimmicky addition to the whole handset that cheapens it endlessly. Sure, it’s a bid to improve security and be flashy, but it’s ugly and barely works. I had to swipe my index finger at least three times per unlock to get the thing to read my print correctly. The TouchID fingerprint scanner on the iPhone 5s is good because it’s discreet and only a little slow. The scanner on the Max is gaudy, buggy and poorly placed, meaning you have to rotate the handset to check you’re putting your finger in the right place every time you unlock. Avoid.

Should You Buy It?

Unless you’re absolutely set on having an HTC One but demand a larger screen, no you shouldn’t.

The One Max has many of the features we loved in the very first HTC One, but it’s lacking the polish and quality we need. It’s kind of sad that the HTC One line had to go out like this. Always leave them wanting more goes the old saying, but with the HTC One Max, I want significantly less as soon as possible. It’s not to say that the HTC One doesn’t deserve a larger brother, what we’re saying is that the execution of that theory into the One Max has been botched beyond repair. The build quality is forgettable, the fingerprint scanner gimmick is just that and the heft is almost unbearable. It’s a beautiful phone trapped inside a beastly case.

If you’re in the market for a giant screen on a good, light handset that is far more pocketable than the One Max, go check out the Sony Xperia Z Ultra. It’s slimmer, lighter, better specced, cheaper and all round better.

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