HTC One Max $990

14th Oct 2013 | 18:19

HTC One Max

The One gets supersized - but does it impress?

TechRadar rating:

3 stars

The HTC One Max is almost identical to the One, but with a bigger screen. There's been no attempt to make use of that upgraded size, and given the new features will be appearing on the One in the near future, this means the One Max has very few unique selling points.

Like:

Larger screen; Longer battery; MicroSD slot;

Dislike:

Older CPU; Expensive; Unwieldy; Pointless fingerprint scanner

Introduction and design

The HTC One Max is the phone that the Taiwanese brand created to show that it still is able to make a phone for all occasions.

Ratings in depth
HTC One Max review
HTC One Max review
HTC One Max review
HTC One Max review
HTC One Max review

Coming with a 5.9-inch screen and all the same technology that made the HTC One such a world-beater, is this going to be the handset that topples Samsung's Note range, too?

It's not a cheap handset either, coming in at round 23% more on SIM free sales compared to the smaller One, and 12% more on contract. In the UK, this translates to £600 (around $930 / AU$1,010) and £47 (around $75/AU$80) per month, and that's paying upfront for the phone, too.

The One Max is a phone that borrows a lot from its heritage as HTC looks to create a family of products around the One series. The same metallic properties are there, with the all aluminium body still (sort of) in place.

HTC One Max review

We say that cautiously because while it does have the same metallic shell, there's a difference between the One and the One Max: a removable battery cover.

HTC One Max review

This is actually quite an odd feature, as it detracts from the overall build quality of the handset compared to the regular-sized device. It's there for two reasons: to allow access to the microSD card slot (whoo) and to facilitate the use of dual SIM cards in some countries.

The problem is that the battery cover, which pops off using a small switch in the top right-hand corner, doesn't sit very well on the back of the phone, meaning it's difficult to pop it back into place after you remove it.

HTC One Max review

Unless you're willing to spend a couple of minutes smoothing the cover down over and over again, then you may be left with unsightly raises which will irk when holding.

It also seems to affect the balance of the phone, as it doesn't have the all-in-one feel that the One was so famed for, thanks to being made from a single piece of aluminium.

HTC One Max review

We like the idea, but if the microSD card slot could have been designed into the side of the phone, then perhaps some country variants of the One Max could have packed a single chassis.

The battery isn't even removable, which will disappoint many, and it really shows that this is a phone designed for the Asian market, where the bigger screen is king, rather than the US or Europe.

HTC One Max review

But enough of the way it looks. How does it actually feel to hold in the hand?

The HTC One Max is not an easy phone to manipulate in a single palm. We urge you to buy a cover for it as soon as you can (the power cover, which serves as both as a stand and an extra 1200mAh of juice, is an expensive yet attractive option).

The reason is this: You will drop this phone if you try to use it in one hand. The sides are laced with plastic, giving a very similar feel to the One Mini, and the overall shape is made larger thanks to the presence of the BoomSound speakers on the top and bottom.

HTC One Max review

It's those speakers that really make the phone unwieldy - we're not against them, as you'll see later in the review, but compared to the Samsung Galaxy Note 3, this is a much, much harder phone to hold - so get used to double-handing where possible.

HTC has mostly put the original One on steroids with the One Max, as it has a similar design.

Thankfully, the power button has been moved. No longer combined with the top-mounted infra-red blaster, the power button now has the same ridged aluminium design as the volume buttons on the right-hand side of the phone, sitting below the sound keys in an easy-to-reach position for the right-handed.

The screen is still very impressive, with the 5.9-inch Full HD display offering fantastic clarity despite being less sharp than its smaller counterpart thanks to the pixels having more space to roam.

HTC One Max review

It's not easy to interact with most elements of the UI though at times, as you often need to stretch your thumb way across the screen, and that's simply not possible.

We like the way the HTC One Max is put together, but we can't help but feel that this phone is just too big. We know it's supposed to be larger, but Samsung and Sony have devices that feel much more suited to the phablet market.

Perhaps the screen could have been slightly smaller, or the BoomSound speakers engineered down. Basically, don't buy the HTC One Max unless you're ready to hold your phone in a new way.

Interface

HTC has kept the same Sense UI design for the One Max as we saw on the One, but has upgraded things to Sense 5.5 to bring a number of intriguing tweaks. However, let's take a little run through the user interface for those that might not have seen it before, since HTC has brought one of the best Android skins to the market.

The HTC One Max comes running Android 4.3, which should please those who are desperate to have the latest software from Google. In reality, it only means that Bluetooth connections are improved, as most of the features Google brought to the party were already in HTC's platform.

The set up is very simple on the One Max, as you can not only import most of your content easily from other Android phones, BlackBerry, Windows Phone or even the iPhone, but you're also talked through the process simply. HTC is touting its ability to let you set up your phone before you even turn it on, but we've not seen much in the way of take up of this feature.

HTC One Max review

Once you've opened up the One, it's best to sign into your myriad accounts, as these will be displayed throughout various elements of the One Max. Two to particularly watch out for: Instagram is now included in BlinkFeed (more on that in a moment), and once you've signed into Google and opened the pre-installed Drive app you'll be given 50GB of online storage, which is particularly useful for storing snaps from your camera.

There are only two buttons to play with on the front of the One Max - both capacitive, they allow you to either go back or to the home screen.

The home button actually has many functions: by default, a double tap will open up the more tile-based multi-tasker, and a long press will start Google Now. However, you can alter this to mean a swipe up will open Google Now, and a long press will act as a menu key, which will placate some that still love such an option.

HTC One Max review

The interface itself from HTC is very different from the rest of the market. For example, the Sony Xperia Z1 offers a more stripped back experience, while the Samsung Galaxy S4 and the LG G2 both come with vastly more complicated offerings, designed to reward the user that likes to have a dig around.

HTC's approach is also more inclusive. For instance, if you want to have fewer icons on the grid in the app menu, you can, or you can disable the BlinkFeed option altogether (by pinching inwards on any homescreen and clicking the checkbox at the top).

The idea is that those who are new to Android will be able to get on board simply, and it's a good ethos. However, if you're coming to the HTC One Max from a feature phone or similar, then we tip our caps to your bravery.

The rest of the interface is simple: The notification bar HTC uses is simple, yet elegant, which means you can easily see what's going on in your world.

We miss the quick toggles that allow you to easily turn off things like Wi-Fi and Bluetooth directly from this area (a common feature on most other phones), and HTC's decision to allow quick access to these using a two-finger downward swipe will be missed by many.

However, it's a simple method and it's nice to see that HTC is thinking here.

HTC One Max review

The app menu still annoys some, moving as it does vertically rather than horizontally as in many other handsets. It does mean that it's harder to scroll through using just one hand, and we hope HTC alters this in the future.

It's also not easy to add items from the menu to the home screen, as you'll need to long press, drag them to the top to the area market shortcut and then drop the icon on the home screen of your choice.

It's almost like HTC wants you to simply use the homescreen for Blinkfeed, and we'd hope for better, as it means widgets and the like (one of Android's strong points) are harder to use.

Another new feature for the HTC One Max is the ability to set widgets on the lock screen. You can now swipe right to get to a "+" icon, which allows you to choose elements like calendar or music player and have them accessible without unlocking the phone. It's a neat touch, but one we've been used to with Android 4.3 for a while now.

Blinkfeed

HTC's big content discovery engine has gone through something of an overhaul - but it's not necessarily to the benefit of the handset. For the uninitiated, Blinkfeed is a mass of tiles that includes everything from social networks to news content to upcoming calendar appointments and gallery entries.

It's a really nice UI, allowing the user to swipe up and down through large tiles to see a variety of different topics and snack on things as they see fit. It debuted on the HTC One but has been improved to include new features on the One Max, although not all of them work.

HTC One Max review

Let's start with the positives: The UI is now much nicer, and you can pull through images from Instagram and posts from Google+ now too. When you first use the service, Blinkfeed will ask you whether you want to search for content through Facebook or Google+ - we urge you to use the former.

The reason is that the One Max will then shoot off and scan your social profile for topics you're interested in, and offer up a selection for you to add to your list. Given Facebook is more likely to represent your actual interests and it turns out you can only use one, we suggest you start there.

In terms of available topics, there are absolutely reams to choose from - plus you can choose different international versions, too. So if you're an international from New Zealand living in the UK, you can get news from your homeland fed into the Blinkfeed so you always know what's going on back there.

Using this method should allow you to have content only tailored to your chosen country, but we noticed a lot of American Football creeping into the UK feed.

We are fans of the new quick-launch bar, which is available by swiping from the left. This means you can choose to see topics from only one area, and makes it much easier to navigate through your Feed without having to scrabble around to get the things you're most interested in.

Plus you can easily turn off and on the things you want to see, meaning that very quickly you'll make Blinkfeed your own. We were skeptical of the service at first, but now it's used all the time and has even usurped Flipboard.

There was one big feature we were excited by, but sadly it hasn't lived up to expectations: the ability to add in your own custom feeds to the mix.

HTC One Max review

The reason this wasn't allowed right from the start was that HTC wanted to preserve the visual experience of Blinkfeed, making sure that all the content it served was vetted to have the right resolution of picture and the correct headline.

While thankfully the brand has realized that consumers want to be able to bring their own feed to the mix, sadly, it hasn't done it in the way we'd have hoped. You can't import your own feed list (something that RSS lovers would have loved); instead you have to search for a specific topic and then either subscribe to its Twitter or YouTube channel.

HTC One Max review

So a search for TechRadar would show our Twitter and YT feeds, but also the option to have it all mashed together as "Blinkfeed content."

What this means is you're essentially subscribing to all tweets, mentions and other articles around the web which mention TechRadar, rather than just the feed of content that most would have probably wanted.

Given the One Max can see said feed within the mix, it's infuriating that you can't choose to just follow that name.

There is a workaround: If you find the feed online and click it, then you're taken straight to Blinkfeed (if you don't have any other feed readers installed) and you can follow it that way. But it's a stupid way of having to do something obvious.

But overall, Blinkfeed is much better than before - more customization options, no matter how poorly put together, are always a great move from a company, and we're glad to see them here to help boost one of HTC's flagship areas.

Fingerprint scanner

One of the big new features on the HTC One Max is the addition of the fingerprint scanner, bringing with it the ability to protect your phone with your digits.

It's going to lead to a lot of comparisons with Apple's iPhone 5S, but the truth is that biometrics are a big part of what's coming with phones in the future, so expect to see more in this area soon.

HTC One Max review

That said, HTC did confirm to us that there were prototypes of the One Max that didn't pack the functionality, so we can guess that word Apple would be bringing fingerprint recognition forced its hand somewhat.

The implementation on the One Max is very different to Apple's option though, coming as it does on the rear of the phone in the more traditional-looking pad.

Sadly, that's where the similarities with Apple's offering end, as it's really rather poorly implemented on a phone of this size.

We'll start with the positives though: While Apple allows three fingers to open the phone, you can have the same amount on the One Max, even allowing others the ability to unlock your phone, plus you can assign an app to open when you slide your finger down to unlock the phone.

HTC One Max review

So you can have the camera on your right index finger, the music player on your left middle, and so on. You can activate any app using this method, and it was something we thought Apple should have done from the beginning.

That's really where the excitement about the fingerprint scanner ends though, as there's simply so much we disliked about it that it was disabled within hours of testing.

For starters, it's in a really irritating place on the phone. OK, it's exactly where your fingers might rest, but that's also right below the camera, meaning you're never sure where you're sliding your finger, leading to a lot of missed swipes.

HTC One Max review

On top of that, the One Max is so large that you can't really get a comfortable downward swipe, as the phone requests you do, each time. This leads to an unlock accuracy that swings between 33 and 50%, which is enough to get quickly infuriating.

Compare this to about 80%-90% accuracy for Apple's iPhone 5S, combined with the Cupertino brand's sheer brilliance at putting it in the home button, and you can see that these two devices are worlds apart in terms of biometrics.

The HTC One Max's fingerprint scanner will be as unused as that on most laptops and the Motorola Atrix, which is sad as it could have been a really nifty feature if it was in an easier to reach place.

Calling and contacts

HTC has always been excellent at providing the best contact management on the market, and it hasn't let anything drop on the One Max. From high resolution pictures to easy to use dial pads, there's a lot to love here, and anyone coming from another manufacturer's handset will be impressed.

The first thing we love is always the contact integration - sign into the likes of Twitter, Facebook and Google+ and HTC's phones are the most intelligent at being able to work out which accounts belong together.

HTC One Max review

This means that when you turn on the phone for the first time, you'll be presented with a number of suggested contacts to link together, and 99%, if not all, will be correct from the outset. This means that things like Facebook photos and social network updates will be on offer from each contact's profile on your phone.

On top of this, HTC makes a real effort to get high resolution pictureas from the social networks to make sure that when you're phoned by your friends, you're greeted with an attractive shot (providing they've actually used on on Facebook or Google+) rather than a pixellated mess.

HTC has even thought about this in terms of data consumption, and allows you to decide whether to download said high-resolution shots over Wi-Fi or mobile data.

If there is no larger picture to had, then the One Max will artistically add some dots to the image to prevent it looking too low-res - it's a nice touch, and means your handset doesn't look amateur when you pick up your handset.

On top of this, the calling is excellent on the HTC One. For example, there smart dialling on offer, which means that you only need to start tapping out the name of your contact on your dial pad (in the same way as T9 text prediction on the phones of old) and the name will appear as if by magic.

HTC One Max review

HTC has had this feature for years now, but now it's baked right into Android 4.3 directly, which means that you're getting a slick system that bypasses the need to open your contacts book most of the phone.

If this isn't your cup of tea, you can move the dial pad to full screen, but we'd imagine this would be for those with sight issues, as the screen on the One Max is large enough to cope with both smart dialling and making the keys visible.

In terms of call quality, the HTC One Max doesn't seem to have a problem - beyond the fact the phone is so large you'll feel foolish holding it to your face.

Actually, this isn't true in some parts of the world, but it will be a real problem for some, so make sure you're OK with having a handset that could dwarf your head when you want to have a chat with your partner.

The larger dimensions of the One Max do mean that it can sometimes be hard to position the earpiece in the best position to hear the person on the other end of the phone, which can irk also, but a little time spent with the phone will invoke enough muscle memory to sort this.

The HTC One Max comes with noise cancelling microphones, which means that call quality is, on the whole, rather decent; we never had a proble with someone on the other end of the handset wondering where we'd gone.

Signal is generally acceptable as well, although it's not always the most robust. We doubt that this is a problem with the aluminium design, but something like the LG G2, with a plastic chassis, does perform ever so slightly better in the low signal zones.

It's not really something to worry about, but if you live in a house with slightly iffy network connectivity, it's something to bear in mind.

Messaging

Messaging on the HTC One Max mimics, largely, that which was already present on the original One and One mini, and doesn't really re-invent the process in any way - it simply offers up the chance to connect with the people that you want to in the simplest way possible.

One area that hasn't changed, but become harder to use on the HTC One Max, is the keyboard; thanks to being a much larger screen, it's not so easy to get your thumbs in the right place if you're trying to type one-handed.

HTC One Max review

The accuracy when you do get things right is high - plus the option to calibrate the keyboard by teaching it how fat-fingered you are is also a useful tool.

The new keyboard also comes with a line of directional arrows enabled by default, meaning you can navigate through the text you're editing with greater ease. However, with the larger screen size on offer, we'd rather that space be used to offer a line of numbers at the top for easier password entry.

HTC was one of the first manufacturers to embed Swype-style tracing of words on its keyboards, and that's a trick that's been repeated here, although it's nigh-on useless with one hand as you can't reach all the way across the screen – we'd suggest you don't even bother turning it on in settings.

There is another issue in that the default setting for the keyboard is to have languages as a key, meaning you can switch between French and English and German - this is ridiculously easy to hit, thus ruining predictive text input, so get rid of that as soon as you can.

The messaging system itself is well laid out, with a clean interface for the conversation view. Messages received have a nice white box around them, but those sent from your own fine fingers are greyed into the background. You might think you're writing a load of drafts to start with, but you're not. Move on.

HTC One Max review

You can easily append video or pictures to your missives by simply tapping the paperclip icon on the messaging interface, but on top of that you can do things like sending your location too. Try using this when you're explaining to a person using a smartphone where you are and you'll marvel at living in the future.

The email client is one of the better ones we've seen on a smartphone, taking on the likes of the Windows Phone brigade in making the whole operation that much simpler.

HTC One Max review

There are easy checkboxes to hit when you need to choose messages to delete, and all those emails that come in a conversation won't litter your inbox as they group themselves together.

We like this latter feature, but make sure that you don't miss key messages as the grouping will obfuscate those that arrive close together - you'll need to stay vigilant, and some will want to switch this off altogether just to be on the safe side.

There are loads of other little tricks that you can achieve with the HTC email client, such as being able to set your out of office messages directly from the menu (if you've got things so configured on your Exchange server) and having a favourites section that shows you only the messages from the people that matter.

You can also think of this folder as a place to keep the fear-inducing messages from your boss and in-laws… it adds a touch of adrenaline to the business of checking your email every few seconds.

HTC has added in the ability to Smart Sync your email, which places it between push notifications and a periodic update, and seems to manage to throw emails at you when you need them - it works out when you're using the phone more and then decides to poll the server, rather than just doing it willy nilly when the HTC One Max is clearly asleep and unwanted.

Another key email feature, and one that's come from older HTC Sense iterations, is the ability to use folders with ease to navigate your way around. Tapping the Exchange menu dropdown will show recently used message folders, and you can easily find new ones.

The reason we mention this is many of you will be super-organised and keep your emails in dedicated folders on the desktop – and when you're out and about and need that address suddenly you'll be forced to dig it out.

On some phones this is a real nightmare, but on the HTC One Max it's a snap to get to your emails, no matter where there are, and if you need to download older ones from the server it's as quick as a flash as well.

Internet

The internet browsing on the HTC One Max is similar to many other phones on the market launched using Ice Cream Sandwich or above - as in it offers you both Google Chrome and the inbuilt internet browser as a method of spreading your digital wings through the sprawling mass of the internet on the go.

However, while Google Chrome is undoubtedly useful in so many ways, such as being able to sync tabs across the desktop and mobile, the inbuilt option does seem slightly faster.

HTC One Max review

It's not the same disparity we saw between the two browsers when we first got our fingers on the One, but it's still there to a degree. Either way, give the HTC One Max the speed to perform, be that over 4G or through a decent whack of Wi-Fi, and it's generally not bad when browsing the web.

That said, it doesn't like to hang onto Wi-Fi overly well, with data connections offering up a much better speed of download.

Chrome also still suffers with a modicum of stuttering at times, where the inbuilt browser is so much more fluid.

HTC One Max review

The HTC One Max internet browser has a really key feature that we want to speak about first: a Flash player that you can toggle on and off. Placed in the settings menu, this is invaluable for using a web that still, despite Apple and even Adobe assertions to the contrary, still has a large whack of Flash video dotted around.

So when you run into these problems on something like the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 you'll either have to grin and bear it, or sideload the Flash player on there. In this case you can just enable it if you're desperate and toggle it off to save battery and performance when you're not. We're all about options, and this is a good one.

HTC One Max review

Another great thing we're happy to see is the fact you can have a number of tabs open; so many that we got to 12 before we couldn't be bothered to open any more.

For a firm that once only let you have six tabs open at any one time, it's a real step forward, and helps when you're just opening and shutting web tabs all over the place. You also get a '.com' option on the keyboard.

When it comes to bookmarks, if you're one of those that uses Chrome on the desktop then you'll find a lot of joy with the HTC One Max, as any bookmarks you have there (and have saved to Google from other phones) will all show up here through the inbuilt browser, taking away another reason to ever use Chrome on the phone. They're nicely sorted and come with visual thumbnails that populate when you use them regularly.

Beyond that, just sit back and marvel at the size of the screen and the resolution on offer - we tell you now that when you're trying to get your head around an expansive web page full of text and you don't have to constantly zoom in, you'll love what's on offer here.

Text is legible even from impossibly far out (even more so thanks to the larger 5.9-inch display) making the HTC One Max one of the best phones on the market for whipping around the web, and even better than already-stunning HTC One.

And don't forget that HTC is still the master of making it easy to read the words on a page should you want to get closer to the action: a double tap not only brings you larger letters, but as soon as you pinch to zoom in further, the text will redraw itself to fit the screen without needing the confusing pattern of double taps on something like the Samsung Galaxy Note 3, and isn't even possible on the iPhone 5S.

This is only through the onboard browser - we're annoyed it's not a feature of Chrome too.

Camera

The HTC One Max takes the same method of capture that we saw on the original One... and to be honest, does very little with it. In fact, almost nothing, except remove the optical image stabilisation which we saw used to good effect on the original.

This won't be a huge problem for some, but anyone looking to create a good Zoe image or two will need to think twice about whether or not they should hold the phone a little steadier.

HTC One Max review

Apart from that, it's still the same 4MP Ultrapixel sensor we were given in the first One - but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Would we have liked HTC to improve the sensor to incorporate more pixels? Yes indeed.

But if it needs to stick at the 4MP level to make sure the snaps are clear and bright - which they always are - then we're happy to wait.

Actually, one of the things we would say is that general, well-lit scenes are actually over-exposed, which means that perhaps there's some wiggle room here.

Ultrapixel technology allows for more than just decent low-light photography (although it should be noted that the competition has really caught up here, with the likes of Apple taking the same approach as HTC and LG using clever image processing to keep things looking bright) as the HTC One has incredibly fast shutter speeds as well as sharper images than a lot of the competition.

There are a few things that irk: for instance, the camera interface is a little cluttered when you drill down into the menu. This is the case for a lot of Android phones, but we're fans of a little more simplicity here, given the camera on the phone is meant to allow users to take images without having to worry too much.

But more options won't be a drawback for many, and it doesn't take long to get your head around them. It's good to have things like Night, Text and Macro mode, as it allows you to really get to the heart of the matter, whatever you're trying to take a picture of.

Zoe mode is a little too standalone in our eyes, as it doesn't allow you to use these fancy modes, which is irritating when some are available for shooting video.

But the upshot of all this is that you get decent, in-focus pictures most of the time with a quick to operate camera. Zoom in too much and the detail disappears, but keep the snaps on your phone or social networks (as most people do) and you'll find a very capable camera indeed. As we saw on the One. Which is a cheaper phone and easier to wield when taking pictures... wait, why do you need a larger screen for snaps? You don't.

Overall, the HTC One Max does a capable job of recording the moments you care about. Does it shoot in 4:3? Does it have the most advanced features? No. But it takes good photos when you need them, and lets you show them down the pub on a the larger screen. Ah, THAT'S why you need the bigger display.

We've compared the HTC One Max to the LG G2 in terms of raw picture-taking ability, with the latter coming with a 13MP sensor and some industry-leading optics and processing technology - see which pictures you prefer.

HTC One Max review

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HTC Zoe

The HTC One Max comes with the same package as the One in terms of being able to shoot Zoe footage, a mode on the camera that takes 0.6 seconds of HD footage before you press the shutter button and three seconds afterwards, meaning you get a 'moving photo' to give all manner of information about what's actually been happening.

In reality, it's more of a quirky feature that does at least take on the notion that you have to have still images in the gallery all the time, as instead of loads of people staring blankly at you from a grid of snaps, the gallery is an orgy of motion as cats bounce about, people walk out of shot and blinking brings a tidal wave of eyelids.

HTC One Max review

It's a cool idea though, although one big issue is that you have to hold the camera up for a while to capture the Zoe properly, and while many people are used to posing for a while for a cameraphone snap, three seconds feels like an eternity while you wait for that red bar to fill up while the image/movie is captured.

There are some good points with the HTC One Max compared to the system that launched on the One. The main problem that the One had was that Zoes are fairly large, and could take up a lot of space on the limited internal storage.

This is mitigated now by the microSD slot, which really helps when a single Zoe is around 30MB for three seconds' footage. The other improvement is that the Zoes are now no longer stored as hundreds of individual shots, so only the primary thumbnail is shown. This makes it much easier to keep Zoe mode on and still auto-upload onto Dropbox or similar.

The downside of the One Max is that without optical image stabilisation the performance of the Zoe can be quite juddery, which makes your shots look a lot more amateur. Steady hands are definitely a requirement, although that's even harder with this larger device.

HTC One Max review

Now, let's get onto the good stuff, and that's the ability to see your memories in a really fun 30 second video highlight reel. The HTC One Max will look at your snaps and auto-create the short video based on a date or location for the photos being taken (if you've enabled geo-tagging of your snaps).

The results are really rather pleasing, meaning a few pointless snaps of a cat or your Mum being, frankly, hilarious are turned into something that looks a lot more professional.

There are now loads more themes to choose from, and you can extend the footage over 30 seconds and add in your own music too. It's quite a powerful little package now, and HTC has certainly come good on its promise to bring these elements into the Zoe family.

Finding said video highlights is a lot easier too, as when you open the gallery, items are sorted by events (around dates, time, or location if the data is tagged) or just grouped by camera or cloud storage.

From here a side swipe takes you to the video highlights section, where you can choose content, themes and music. It's a world apart from the orinmginal Zoe editor, and we're glad HTC has put some real thought into it.

Zoes are a really, really neat feature, and being able to share them to Facebook with a simple tap is nice. You still have to go through the rigmarole of uploading the video to HTC Share, where there's only 250MB of free space. Why you can't use the 50GB of free Google Drive, we don't know, nor why you can't find a video file once saved and then upload that to YouTube.

A Zoe is no use if you like to share specific snaps, as you'll need to go into the short video and choose a frame to save as the photo - only have the Zoe idea turned on if you like making highlight reels.

It's a good system, and it's an improved one – but it's still a little complex for some people and all the features aren't easy to understand.

Media

Media on the HTC One Max is something that's hard to typify as the handset is clearly set up for such an activity, and yet makes it quite hard to use at times. The first thing we'll deal with is BoomSound – HTC's excellent name for its combination of internal amplifier and front facing speakers.

BoomSound is the combination of the two front facing speakers and the inbuilt amp to help boost the sound through your headphones - and both chuck out fantastic sound, and it's even improved over the HTC One.

HTC One Max review

The latter really does boost the volume levels to a give as more even tone to your tunes, while the former is simply amazing when you're showing off videos to friends and loved ones. As you always do, you bore, you.

Actually, that was one of our biggest criticisms of BoomSound and the two front-facing speakers - we didn't think many people would ask others to crowd around a phone screen that often, thus rendering the technology pointless unless you're alone in a hotel room and want to make the sound of the female actress you're watching sound all the more accurate.

But over the past few months we found ourselves showing off the quality of the front speakers on a number of occasions - always the newest version of that meme (you know the one, the one that all the kids are talking about. Yes, that one). Each time, the bass and clarity of the music was so impressive, unlike anything we've heard coming from a mobile phone.

Also, with the addition of HTC Zoe video highlight reels, you'll find that showing off your work at splicing together pictures is used a lot more often too, and the sound quality really adds to the show. So while it's perhaps not the most important thing in the world to have on a smartphone, BoomSound works.

In fact, we've lost count of the amount of times we were asked whether the music being played was from a phone, and the questioner being genuinely impressed that it was.

With the uprated sound from the larger speakers on the One Max, BoomSound is even better. Well done, HTC.

Music

The music ability of the HTC One Max is something not to be sniffed at, and is easily the equal of anything else out there.

For all your tunes, there's a pre-loaded folder with all your music and media bits in one place, which leads to the lovely and confusing Music and Google Music, both apps denoted by a headphones icon, living side by side.

HTC One Max review

The former is just the onboard music player, the latter the service from the search giant that lets you upload your tunes to one place and stream them back down again.

Both offer high quality sound, and more importantly, both can run on the lock screen, along with the likes of Spotify, to give great control over the tunes you want to play. However, Google Music, for all its power, still needs a data connection unless you're thinking of caching music in a rather complex way (Spotify, it is not).

Soundhound integration is back as part of the music player too, so you can get info on what the song is, and whether there are any gigs or YouTube videos that are relevant to the sound.

On top of this are visuals and lyrics to songs if they're available (providing the song information is correct and GraceNote can access it).

HTC One Max review

It's a fun feature for when you're trying to work out the real words (turns out it wasn't 'wipe in the Vaseline') but unless you've got aspirations of making it BIG on the professional karaoke circuit, this isn't going to be a lot of use. Good when combined with the BoomSound speakers though.

Video

One of the key features of any Full HD phones these days has to be the performance of the video player, and to that end, most are successful.

The Sony Xperia Z1 uses the X-Reality Engine to bring clear, crisp images; the LG G2 simply just offers bonkers levels of clarity, brightness and colour saturation. And of course Samsung is going to continue with the, like it or hate it, Full HD Super AMOLED screen.

The HTC One Max has a slightly improved screen over the One, with brightness and colour showing more impressively than before. This could have been managed through software tweaks, as the underlying technology doesn't look different, but is something of a relief.

HTC One Max review

However, while HTC has taken a step forward, perhaps past the Xperia Z1, it's still massively behind the likes of the G2, with its breathtaking edge-to-edge display.

Also, while the range of codecs you can use is impressive on the HTC One Max, including AVI (but not DivX) there's still – still - actually no obvious way to play them. Really - unless you want to dive through the HTC TV app or the Google Play Movies function, you'll have to download a dedicated player to achieve your goals.

The videos don't even show normally in the Gallery - and all this despite HTC telling us that it will be bringing the ability to play back your own clips through the Watch app.

The screen on the One Max, being larger and seemingly a touch brighter, makes it a better media proposition than the One, and we're glad that this has been addressed.

It's not the best for watching footage, as the likes of the Note 3 and the G2 both outperform it visually, but combined with the excellent front-facing speakers it's among the best out there.

HTC TV

HTC has stayed with another One-debuting feature in the shape of the HTC TV app, as well as an infra red blaster that shoots out TV-controlling rays from the power button.

It's a concept we were, like BlinkFeed, initially quite sceptical about, simply because history has taught us that these apps are usually gimmicks that only serve the country of production, and the HTC TV app won't appeal to all, but those that take the time to set up the phone to control a TV, DVD / Blu-ray player, set-top box or audio system will get a real treat, and no matter your territory there's something for you.

HTC One Max review

For instance, in the UK, all we needed to do was give the app our postcode for location purposes, and then choose the provider we used. From there, all the channels we use were front and centre, with no hint of not being able to control certain devices. It's much more impressive than we anticipated.

The app itself is also very clever as you can set your favourite programming and then see large thumbnails when the stuff you care about is playing. Think of it as an EPG that knows what you want to watch, rather than a list of channels.

That latter feature is actually there too, but it's poorly executed as it takes AGES to refresh when scrolling through and weirdly can't be used in landscape mode. It's better for when you need to get inspiration for your favourite shows.

Making sure the app knows what you like to watch is important, and while it takes some time to set up your fave shows, it's worth it, as you'll be constantly impressed when you flick on the TV, don't know what to watch, only to be shown that Friends or Scrubs re-runs are currently on. And here's the fun bit: press the thumbnail and the channel will change to the show. It will impress those watching you, trust us.

Also, searching for your favourite shows is laborious, with a search for 'Arrow' not showing the popular programme until we'd refreshed the pane five times. It's really good, and should be shooting (sorry) straight to the top of the results.

HTC One Max review

There are some other neat touches, such as being able to see episode guides of your favourite shows, see when other showings are available and be reminded when specific showings or new series are starting. We didn't get to test that new series functionality, but it's something that's invaluable if it works as missing new episodes really, really hurts. You know what we're talking about.

There's still a lot more that the TV app on the HTC One can do though, as we constantly ran into limitations. For instance while it's cool the remote can learn functions (by pointing the IR blaster at the original remote to show the command) you can't edit the layout of the remote itself. So if you've got a TV, amp and cable box and want to control the volume on all three independently, you can't.

The interface is a lot easier to use now as well, with swiping left and right getting you to the places you're after – plus color buttons are helpfully included for ease of use.

One advantage of a real remote is tactility to press things without looking, something a smartphone can never offer, so ease of use has to be enhanced.

There's also no inter-app operability as it stands, with only HTC's quite limited and expensive Watch available for on-demand content. It's good when it can offer you an episode of something you missed, but it would be really cool if your current OD services (such as 4OD or Sky Go Extra in the UK) were in there too and could be jumped into.

The app also likes to suck down the battery too - we noticed that after using it a little bit here and there throughout the day it will constantly be up at the top of the power consuming apps. Come on HTC, it's only an IR blaster. It's not a torch, let's see some battery saving here if it's at all possible, else the actual remote, which doesn't need constant recharging, will come back into play.

Overall though, we like HTC TV. It would be cool if the remote would pop up when your home network is recognised (as is the way on the LG G2) but we're glad the TV remote appears in the notification bar when we're using it, at least.

Battery life and apps

Battery life on the HTC One Max is much better than we expected, and perhaps that's being a little harsh on HTC.

After all, this is a brand that looks like it's finally getting a handle on the insane amounts of power its phones were chewing through in recent years, and the HTC One was much kinder to its battery pack with a recent update.

HTC One Max review

Actually, beyond all that, we should have just realised that like Samsung, HTC has used the extra space the larger screen commands to whack a massive battery pack behind it, and the results are much better than we could have hoped for.

The fact that HTC Zoe files now longer create loads of pictures in the Gallery folder does help, as most of us will have these set to auto-upload, which nabs a lot of battery power. On top of that, we noticed that the camera app didn't take as much juice as we expected it might, nor did playing music and video for long periods of time take loads of power out of the system.

GPS tracking was a surprising drain, with nearly 25% of the power going during a one hour run. This was partly due to the screen being turned no more than usual, but we'd have thought the loss would have been in line with what we've experienced throughout the phone.

HTC One Max review

It's not something that most runners will have to think about, as the HTC One Max is just too large to worry about as a running accessory. We doubt that any running pouches will ever be made to hold it.

But it's worth making sure you've got a car charger if you're thinking of using the handset as a sat nav - and you should, as it's an excellent choice with its gargantuan display and clear audio notifications. However, don't go out using it to navigate if you don't have a power pack to back it up.

In terms of raw numbers, the HTC One Max delivers genuine performance while lasting over a day, which is excellent. The 3300mAh power pack is the sort of thing we're used to seeing in high end handsets, and we're happy that HTC has gone with the idea to keep up with the trend in the industry of offering phones with over 3000mAh power packs.

HTC One Max review

There will be many that wonder why it's not removable, which is an obvious question seeing as the cover comes off the back of the One Max. It's because the phone is designed in such a way that the processor, screen and all manner of other innards are packaged together so tightly that a discrete power unit that the user can get their hands on simply wasn't possible with the footprint.

Users should get used to this being an issue, as we can see Samsung following suit soon. A removable battery creates design headaches, and with the way a phone looks becoming ever more important (just as LG, which created a battery that was moulded around the innards) companies will move to inbuilt power packs given most consumers don't ever remove them.

As long as each has a robust returns policy should the battery give up the ghost, this shouldn't be a bad thing.

Extra apps

HTC hasn't gone too hard on the additional apps with the HTC One Max, sticking with the elements it knows and loves.

The main change is the Scribble app, which looks like it wants to be a combination of Evernote and the S Note app found on the Galaxy Note 3.

HTC One Max review

It's a messy, hard to use and fairly useless app in our opinion. Write anything with your finger (the optional stylus isn't coming to Europe or the US) and it gets added in a rather odd shrunken down way. Adding in pictures is a random affair, and there's an option to get "web content" that simply opens the browser.

You can create a neat scrapbook of information if you really, really work at it, but in truth most won't bother doing such a thing when there are far better options on the Play Store.

Google Drive comes pre-installed, and as we we mentioned, you should consider downloading this as soon as possible to make sure you've got the additional storage it brings. You annoyingly have to tap it in the Gallery to start drawing in pictures, but once that's done it's a really helpful way of doing things.

Plus any time you see the share icon, you can then have it upload directly to the cloud server, which is a nice way of saving the things you need.

And let's have a special mention of the HTC Weather app as that's one of CEO Peter Chou's favorites... as well as ours, too. Not only is it better integrated into the system than on any other phone (always displaying at the top of the Blinkfeed list, for instance) but it's also got more data on offer.

HTC One Max review

Want to know the hourly weather in your area? You've got it. The future forecast? You don't need to jump to a separate app.

There's not a lot of pre-installed nonsense on the HTC One Max, and for that we're truly thankful.

Hands on photos

HTC One Max review

HTC One Max review

HTC One Max review

HTC One Max review

HTC One Max review

HTC One Max review

HTC One Max review

HTC One Max review

HTC One Max review

HTC One Max review

HTC One Max review

Official photography

HTC One Max review

HTC One Max review

HTC One Max review

HTC One Max review

HTC One Max review

Verdict

We all know that HTC brought out a wonderful phone with the One, and it's attempted to capitalize on that reputation with the HTC One Mini, and now supersized that again with the One Max.

Despite slight protestations that this could be geared more for the Asian markets, there's no doubt the company will be judged heavily for the One Max in Europe and the US - so does it stand up to the challenge of the Note 3 and Xperia Z Ultra, or is it just a larger One that has very little point?

There are a number of issues to consider: the fact it seems to be a large chunk more expensive than the One, while eschewing the faster and improved processor of the Snapdragon 800. We're waiting on confirmed SIM free pricing, but it looks to be a large amount more than the HTC One, which isn't great considering you're losing a camera function and build quality and gaining only a bigger screen and microSD slot.

We liked

The HTC One Max is a phone that takes the DNA of an already great phone and supersizes it. It's a device that excels at web browsing, media playback and content discovery through Blinkfeed.

It's running the latest version of Android, has a much-improved battery life thanks to the larger innards and most importantly manages to keep that power down while still running silky smooth under the finger.

The addition of a microSD slot is something that HTC fans the world over have been clamoring for, and makes the decision not to put the same thing on the original One even more perplexing.

All of the additions to the HTC One party are welcome, in short: the ability to better manage Blinkfeed, the ease with which one can enter the gallery and see video highlights, the 50GB of Google Drive storage - these are all excellent ideas and bolster an already great phone that's been brought up to a larger frame.

We disliked

But here's the problem: The HTC One Max is almost identical to the One, but with a bigger screen. There's been no attempt to make use of that upgraded size, and given the new features will be appearing on the One in the near future, this means the One Max has very few unique selling points.

Unless you're desperate for a nearly 6-inch screen, that is.

The fingerprint scanner is a real waste of time. Apple has shown us how well this can be implemented as a feature, so putting it on the rear of the device in a hard to reach place is never going to be a good idea.

The One Max is also terribly unwieldy, meaning you're likely to drop it if you try to use it in one hand very often. It could be worse, but those BoomSound speakers do nothing to help the ergonomics.

And it's so expensive. Ridiculously so. We'd have understood if the specs were uprated, but to bring to market something that doesn't even have an improved list over the original (released over half a year ago) this isn't something we can come close to recommending.

Verdict

We won't pull any punches. The HTC One Max doesn't come close to hitting the heights of the HTC One.

It's a phone that's designed to serve a very singular purpose - give those that liked the look of the One a phone with a bigger screen, and almost nothing else.

Biometrics are going to be big in phones, but not implemented in this way. If you're after a fingerprint scanner on a phone and are brand agnostic (yes, we know, there won't be that many of you) then the iPhone 5S is the way to go.

Put simply, the HTC One Max is just too large and too feature-poor to be considered as a great device in its own right. The Samsung Galaxy Note 3 is at least filled with functionality that's not available on the Galaxy S4, mostly down to the S Pen, and as such is worthy of being called a different device.

The issue of an exorbitant price, and an ageing processor, combined with internet browsers that don't seem as zippy as we'd have expected, is something that anyone looking to buy this will really need to consider.

We're not saying that the One Max is a terrible phone, as it still has all the features that we love on the One, and they're implemented just as well as on the smaller version, meaning you've got a winning device.

However, HTC seems to be doing nothing more than ticking boxes here by making a One with a bigger screen - let's hope that the One Max 2014, if there is such a thing, gains something more of its own identity.

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