A current trend for smartphone manufacturers is to take their latest high-end model and make it larger, perhaps with extras such as a stylus. With the One Max, HTC seems simply to have made a bigger, more expensive HTC One.
The One Max certainly looks similar to the smaller model. However, while the HTC One has a unibody design that doesn’t open, the One Max has a removable aluminium rear cover. Strangely, you still can’t replace the battery, as the cover just gives access to the microSD card and SIM slots. This means you lose the neatness of a unibody design without gaining the flexibility of being able to replace the battery, which is a pity. You wouldn’t need to carry a spare, though, as the One Max lasted for a huge 15 hours 45 minutes in our video battery rundown test, but it will limit the handset’s useful lifespan.
Nestled under the camera at the rear is a fingerprint reader. This works differently to the reader build into the iPhone 5S, which can unlock the phone and authorise purchases from the App Store. The One Max’s reader can learn up to three different fingerprints, and you can use them to unlock the phone, or unlock it and launch an app. We found the fingerprint reader’s position on the back of the phone less convenient than that of the iPhone 5, which is on the front, but it’s still a more secure way of unlocking a phone than using a passcode or unlock pattern.
Sadly, the One Max was unable to run Android 4.3 with the same effortless smoothness we’ve seen on Snapdragon 800-powered smartphones. The animation when opening the app tray is slightly jerky, for example.
In the 3DMark benchmark, the One managed 6928 in the Extreme test, which is low compared with the Xperia Z Ultra’s 17,899. The One Max is still significantly quicker than Samsung’s Galaxy Mega, which scored just 2782 in the same test. We certainly noticed the One Max’s slower 3D performance in games. Real Racing 3 was noticeably less smooth than it was on a Google Nexus 5, for example.
We’re fans of the HTC One Max’s Full HD LCD screen. The resolution works well on such a big screen, making headlines, standfirsts and captions on web pages easy to read when zoomed out. This is also possible on 5in 1080p displays, and even on the 1280x720 display of the Galaxy Mega, but it’s easier on the One Max. We liked the display’s colour balance best at maximum brightness, as it was slightly too cool at lower levels. Compared with the Google Nexus 5’s screen, the One Max’s has purer whites, with none of the Nexus 5’s slight yellow tinge.
The large display is great for watching films, and the forward-facing stereo speakers are loud and good, so you don’t necessarily have to use headphones. We enjoyed watching YouTube clips of stand-up comedy shows, but the lack of bass and thin mid-range means the speakers aren’t best suited to music.
The One Max has a 4-megapixel camera, which is far fewer pixels than the 8- or 12-megapixels we usually see on modern smartphones. When HTC launched the One, it claimed that the sensor uses what it calls Ultrapixels, which are bigger than typical smartphone sensor pixels and capture more light, helping the camera perform better in low light.
The One Max certainly takes impressive low-light shots. However, we weren’t impressed with its daylight images, which were well exposed but lacked detail. They were far below the standard we expect from even a budget smartphone.
The One Max is a phone to avoid if you’re even vaguely serious about photo quality.
Whether or not you want such a big phone is a matter of personal taste. With a 6in smartphone you really don’t need a tablet, as it’s perfectly big enough for casual web browsing. However, the One Max did poke out of our jeans pocket, and we often couldn’t sit comfortably unless we removed it. The One Max isn’t particularly comfortable to hold for long phone calls, either, and using the touchscreen one-handed isn’t really practical.
The HTC One Max is a reasonably impressive example of a super-sized smartphone. We like the design, the screen and the battery life, but the phone’s performance doesn’t match its premium price, and the camera is substandard. We’d be tempted to save some money and find a grey imported Samsung Galaxy Mega instead. However, the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 is still king of the monster phones.