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Review: HTC One max

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Oct 15, 2013, 11:16 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

HTC takes the One series to its logical conclusion with the One max, an Android smartphone meant for two hands and not one.

Is It Your Type?

A device such as the HTC One max is only for those who want or need a phone with the biggest screen possible. The footprint is outrageously huge and the phone requires two hands for even the most simple tasks. But hey, if you live by the "bigger is better" mantra and want one device (HTC max) instead of two (phone+tablet), then perhaps the One max is what you're seeking.


HTC has taken its One series to the logical conclusion with the One max. HTC started the year with the One, a smartphone with a now-standard 4.8-inch screen, and followed it several months ago with the One mini, which had a smaller, 4.3-inch screen. The One max is nearly tablet-sized with its 5.9-inch screen. All three devices share the same design language and basic appearance, but there are important, distinctive differences that give the max its own identity.

The max is more like the mini than the One. The front and back have aluminum panels, but the device is built around a polycarbonate frame that holds everything together. It doesn't have the glistening chamfered bezels on the One, nor the injected plastic molding, nor the refined finish of HTC's flagship phone. It does have the dual BoomSound speaker setup, with grills above and below the screen that extend the already large footprint even further. The white plastic, brushed aluminum, and black glass make for an attractive combination of hues, there's no denying that. It retains a classy appearance, despite its garish proportions.


To call the max large is an understatement. The max is a hair smaller than the Samsung Galaxy Mega (which has an even bigger screen), but it dwarfs the Samsung Galaxy Note 3, let alone the One, and the mini. I think it looks better than the Note 3, but the size and weight of the max put it in the "unusable" category for me. I used the max as my primary phone for several days and could not stand the size. It measures 6.47 x 3.25 x 0.43 inches and weighs a hefty 7.65 ounces. By way of comparison, the One measures 5.41 x 2.69 x 0.37 inches and weighs 5.04 ounces. The max is more than an inch taller, more than half an inch wider, and 50% heavier. The width is a key measurement. Anything wider than about 3 inches makes for an unwieldy device that's hard to get a handle of. Want to fit the max in your jeans? Good luck. If you're active at all, the max cannot be in your pocket. The display is so big that my thumb could reach perhaps only 45% of the screen. I had to reposition the max in my hand and stretch my thumb to reach the upper two-thirds of the screen. Reaching the far top corner is almost impossible with one hand, no matter how you hold it. One-handed typing was a work-out, even with Swype.


It is probably worth noting that the max isn't meant to be used one-handed. Personally, I want a device that can be used one-handed, but others may feel differently. If you don't mind using the device with two hands most of the time, it isn't so awkward. HTC believes a device like the max really serves as both a phone and tablet together, allowing people to buy one piece of hardware instead of two. In that case, it makes more sense to get something with a larger display. Hence, the One max.

The quality of the max is lacking as far as I am concerned. I thought the seams were uneven and many of the aluminum panels did not fit snugly with the polycarbonate frame. The battery cover, in particular, doesn't sit right. I can only hope that later production units will have a slightly better build quality. The materials themselves are of high quality and feel good.

The front panel holds the large screen, stereo BoomSound speakers, and two capacitive buttons for controlling the Android operating system. After using the One for months, I still have an issue with the two-button setup as opposed to using three buttons. The two capacitive keys (Back and Home) work fine, but are hard to find without looking since they are embedded in the glass panel that covers the front of the phone. I also dislike that the buttons don't stay illuminated for more than a few seconds at a time.

HTC made one smart design choice with the max: it moved the screen lock button from the top to the right edge. It would be impossible to reach were it on the top. Positioned as it is on the side of the phone, I was able to reach it without straining my hand. The button itself has a low profile, but isn't too hard to locate. Travel and feedback was decent. The same is true of the volume toggle, which is also on the right edge of the phone. HTC has made a marked improvement with its volume toggles this year. The max's works very well. The stereo headphone jack is on the top and the microUSB port is on the bottom.

You may have noticed a silver switch on the left edge in the photos above. When I first played with the max, I thought this was a mute switch or rotate lock. It's not. It's a spring-loaded switch that, when pulled, releases the back cover. Yes, believe it or not, the max's cover can be removed. The aluminum panel makes up about 80% of the back surface. Once it is pulled away, you can access the SIM card and the microSD card, but not the battery. The 3,300 battery is still sealed in, which is a bummer. Also, there's no dedicated camera button.

The last detail that might have caught your eye is the square black patch positioned just below the camera module on the back surface. This is a fingerprint sensor. For my money, the fingerprint sensor easier to use than the Apple iPhone 5s's Touch ID sensor, mostly due to the positioning. (We'll discuss the fingerprint scanner, software, and performance in depth later in the review). Of course, because the fingerprint sensor is positioned directly below the camera lens, there's a strong probability you're going to accidentally smear your fingerprint across the lens.

At the end of the day, the One max is simply too big for me. For normal people who prefer to use their device one-handed, it is probably too much phone. But if you don't mind using both hands (or even prefer using two hands!) and want the biggest screen possible, the One max is a fine piece of hardware.

About the author, Eric M. Zeman:

Eric has been covering the mobile telecommunications industry for 17 years at various print and online publications. He studied at Rutgers Newark and University of Kentucky, and has a degree in writing. He likes playing guitar, attending concerts, listening to music, and driving sports cars.


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Oct 16, 2013, 1:47 AM

Note 3's Screen

This must be a pretty terrible display if it's worse than the Note 3's, which is an extremely disappointing display with its Pentile arrangement.
ROFL. No one expected anything less from you.

Oct 15, 2013, 4:42 PM

Fingerprint Scanner security

As far as maximum security goes, the fingerprint scanner is a step back.

If you have a PIN that you never tell anybody, nobody will know it unless they guess. If you have serious information on your phone, maybe security is also a serious issue for you. A professional can easily find, and lift your fingerprint off of almost any surface. Scan it at 2400 DPI, print it at 1200 DPI using raised ink, and then use a latex substance to create a "fake fingerprint" that can then be used to steal your data. Oh, and this method was found to work on the iPhone fingerprint scanners 2 days after the phone was released.

Seems like a step backwards.
this is far from a step backwards, the method they used to unlock the iphone only works in perfect circumstances, circumstances that if were even slightly off wouldnt work, in the real world you would have to have very expensive equipment to get a pri...

Oct 16, 2013, 8:24 AM

Boom Sounds and Ultrapixels

I really think HTC did themselves a disservice with Boomsound and the "Ultrapixel" experiment. The Boomsound sounds great, but takes up a lot of space on the front of the phone that could be used to fit more screen. How often does one really sit and watch a video or listen to music without headphones in. Maybe I'm in the minority, but I rarely do. I'd rather have more screen and less speaker.

The Ultrapixel camera is also shoddy. It takes decent enough pics, but zoom in or crop it and the quality gets degraded due to the lack of megapixels. I know megapixels aren't everything, but a decent camera needs more than only 4. The whole lowlight picture thing is overblown.

Oct 16, 2013, 1:47 AM


Seems to me everyone wants to use their phone with two hands whether they admit it or not. What's the point in having a multi-touch display if you only ever want to use one finger with your phone? I'd like to see someone make that trick look natural with one hand.

Oct 15, 2013, 11:35 AM

what happened to compact phones?

I agree with you that using, and holding my phone with ONE HAND is very important to me and not something I ever want to give up. My hands have not grown, I really don't want my phone to
There are still a handful out there. See the HTC One mini and the Motorola Moto X, also the iPhone 5s/5c.
You may find this somewhat interesting.

I know there are many people out there that find anything above 4.8" to be somewhat intrusive. But, only two people I know have actually made a comment that they like one handed operation. Believe it or not,...

Oct 15, 2013, 1:21 PM

finger scanner placement

why dont you like the touch id placement, i have the 5s and find it a great place to put the sensor, i can have my phone unlocked before a even get it out of my pocket using touch id and it works over 99% of the time, having it on the back seems out of the way, while the home button most iphone users use to unlcok there phone over the power button, making inlucking your phone seamless
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