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REVIEW: HTC One max Android 4.3 Phablet with HTC Sense 5.5
Posted by Arne Hess - on Wednesday, 16.10.13 - 14:09:59 CET under 08 - Reviews - Viewed 14634x
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With this week's launch of the HTC One max, HTC has completed its 2013 lineup of the One family and like the One mini before, the One max is targeting a different kind of One clientele which nevertheless is looking for a stylish smartphone. However, the One max isn't just another smartphone but it's - more or less - HTC's first phablet, a segment HTC hasn't addressed so far and where it also has no alternatives in the tablet segment since HTC discontinued the HTC Flyer. So now HTC has its first Android phablet, which shares the DNA of the original One and runs, straight from launch, on Android 4.3 as well as the brand new and updated HTC Sense 5.5.

The Hardware
There One max isn't only sharing the design DNA with the One but in many perspectives also the hardware specs. Therefore is the One max powered by the same 1.7 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 quad-core CPU. Furthermore will the One max be available in three flavors: The European One max supports quadband GSM/GPRS/EDGE at 850/900/1800/1900 MHz, UMTS/HSPA+ at 900/1900/2100 MHz as well as quadband LTE at 800/900/1800/2600 MHz.

Doesn't matter which version is chosen, all of them will feature Bluetooth 4.0 with aptX, WiFi a/b/g/n at 2.4 and 5 GHz as well as MHL, DLNA and screen sharing via HTC Media Link HD and Miracast. The sensors are the Android typical gyroscope, accelerometer, digital compass, proximity sensor and for sure an ambient light sensor. Last but not least is the One max supporting GPS and GLONASS as well as NFC and the infrared transmitter on the top which allows to remote control CE products like TVs or set-top boxes.

New and yet unique for a One device is the finger print reader on the back, which is said to conveniently unlock the device as well as allows to launch apps. This adds an additional layer of security by using fingerprints and up to three fingerprints can be used for unlocking the phone and launching apps. Here it's important to highlight that HTC said that fingerprints are stored encrypted and on the device only. Fingerprints aren't synchronized; neither to Google nor to HTC.

Like the One, the One max has 2 GB of RAM and either 16 GB or 32 GB of flash memory. Also unique for a One device is the fact that this flash memory can be expanded with microSD memory cards up to 64 GB. And while the inbuilt memory decreased, the screen size of the max increased - dramatically. The HTC One max comes with a massive 5.9", Super LCD3, Gorilla Glass 3 protected touchscreen which has a a Full HD 1080p. This contributes to the massive footprint of the device which measures 164.5 x 82.5 x 10.29 mm.

Like the HTC One mini, the One max is also using a slightly different design which nevertheless looks on the backside like HTC's well-known zero gap aluminum unibody design. However, the aluminum back part (which also features three pogo pins), the so called "battery cover" is removable and provides access to the micro SIM card and microSD card slots. The massive 3,300 mAh Li-polymer battery, which allows fast charging but also requires a stronger 1.5 Ah charger, is hidden under a sticker and not designed to be user removable. With this strong battery and the increased overall footprint of the device, the One max weights 217 grams. Other than that, the overall housing looks pretty much the same like the One mini, but slightly different than the One. The side comes with a glossy polycarbonate frame which goes to the front of the device to hold the aluminum-looking stereo speaker covers on the top and bottom as well as the touchscreen in between. And while the frame seems to look pretty massive on photos, in reality it's looking much better and less disturbing. Due to the size of the max, HTC decided to put the power button on the right side, next to the volume rocker, since a power button on the top would be hardly reachable.

HTC One typical are the touch sensitive and backlight illuminated menu keys bellow the touchscreen which are again Home, on the right and Back, on the left. There's no 3rd button but where you would expect the Home button, again you'll find the HTC logo instead.

Like the One and One mini, the max is also featuring this year's introduced 4 megapixel "UltraPixel" autofocus camera, which comes with the same 1/3" BSI sensor and a pixel size of 2.0 µm. All this is again powered by HTC's dedicated ImageChip 2, an f/2.0 aperture and a 28 mm lens. However, HTC decided to leave its Optical Image Stabilization (OIS) out of the max, which was just introduced with the One for the first time. In bright environments you will not notice any major differences in picture quality but the OIS is convenient in darker environments of for video recordings. Nevertheless, the main camera also features HTC's Smart Flash light with five levels which are automatically set by the distance to the photographed subject. On the front, the max has a 88° ultra-wide-angle camera which supports 2.1 megapixel and f/2.2 with BSI sensor and HDR capabilities. The main camera allows recording Full HD 1080p videos (even in HDR) or alternatively 720p HD videos with up to 60 fps; the front facing camera records 1080p HD videos but comes without HDR support.

Next to the UltraPixel camera, BoomSound is the second One-typical hardware feature which also made it to the One max - for sure. This means, as you saw on the photos above, that the One max is also equipped with front facing stereo speakers which are powered by dedicated built-in amplifiers and extra-large sound chambers. To enhance the telephony quality, the One max is also featuring dual microphones and Sense Voice for improved communication in loud environments.

On top of the standard hardware, HTC is going to release two separately available accessories, which were specially designed for the max. The first one is the HTC Power Flip Case. A dual-purpose phone case which protects the One max but also includes a 1,200 mAh battery. This, together with the inbuilt 3,300 mAh battery easily gives the One max a working time of one day - and more.

The second accessory is the HTC Stylus. It's a sleek, fine-tipped and ergonomic capacitive pen designed to enhance the drawing and writing experience. While the One max is designed to be used with thumbs, the stylus allows writing clearer notes, drawing finer lines, and sketching in style.

The Software and Services
The One max is released with Android 4.3 which is the yet latest available Android version, even if Android 4.4 is already around the corner. This means that the One max is coming with all the latest Android enhancements Google has brought to Android 4.3. On top of this framework, HTC put again its HTC Sense 5 UI which is far more than just a skin. The max even sports the updated 5.5 version which comes with a lot of useful enhancements and tweaks. In addition to the unique Sense features and enhancements, Sense also replaces original Android apps, like contacts, calendar or the inbox as well as the camera app. And as mentioned, HTC Sense isn't only replacing apps but it's also spicing-up the whole operating system with apps and services.

For instance we have the HTC BlinkFeed, which is said to give you all your "favorite content on one screen". While it's basically replacing the home screen and transforming it into a single live stream of relevant information, HTC is finally also allowing users to turn off BlinkFeed. However, HTC still believes in the value of BlinkFeed and therefore it has updated BlinkFeed a second time. In addition to the standard social updates (from Facebook Twitter and new - Google Plus), news and photo updates as well as relevant calendar entries and the previously introduced update to also integrate Instagram photos are displayed. But BlinkFeed can now be personalized even further by allowing to create different profiles as well as support for the long time missing RSS feed integration. This is even more convenient after Google turned off its Reader. Like before, content is aggregated from more than 10,000 feeds from around the world and the BlinkFeed can be customized to show you only the for your relevant news, info and social media updates. For sure, the rather more traditional home screen is still alive and can be used for shortcuts and widgets.

The HTC UltraPixel camera isn't just a piece of hardware but also feature the so called HTC Zoe and Video Highlights. HTC Zoe brings special moments to life in three-second videos, enabling a range of advanced editing capabilities and creative flexibility. Creativity and ease of use is also supported by the enhanced and redesigned image and video gallery which makes it easier to find relevant photos and videos. The redesign is appreciated, especially for creating Video Highlights; which finally came over the initial limit which only allowed creating 30 seconds videos from still photos or Zoe videos. Now, Highlight Videos can be endless but as before, they are mixed with predefined templates (HTC has even added more color schemes and music themes now). Also part of the enhanced Highlight Video experience is the option to use on the device stored music instead of the prerecorded music HTC has added for each template.

There is no professional editing software or skill required to create a highlight from the past excursion or trip; the One max is doing it pretty much on its own. All you have to do is to select the photos and Zoes you want to use, select the video theme and maybe select a custom soundtrack from your personal music library.

Last but not least, with the launch of the HTC One max, HTC is also introducing a new and updated HTC Share web presence which allows to like and comment shared Highlight Videos. However, the storage space of 250 MB is unchanged which means it limits the possibilities a little bit.

And if you don't want to create a complete Highlight Video, Sense 5.5 even allows you now to create animated GIFs - out of your best Zoe video.

Other than that, the HTC Sense typical imaging features are pretty much the same as for the other Ones. Continuous shooting and VideoPic as well as slow motion video recording with variable playback speed are also supported like retouch with object removal, Face Bautification, Always Smile and Sequence Shot.

A new and yet One max exclusive app is HTC Scribble. This all-new phablet typical app lets you create digital scrapbook pages or unique photos to share on social networks or blogs. Scribble's comes with a couple of ready-to-use templates which allows getting artistic and combining photos, text, illustrations, and even HTC Zoe photos. With the separately sold HTC Stylus, it's even easier to sketch, scribble or write in your own handwriting. Last week, when I was in London, I signed an NDA that way and send it back via E-Mail.
However, HTC Scribble isn't the full featured note taking app with handwriting recognition and it works pretty much standalone. It's not synchronizing to a counterpart on the PC or web and it's not integrated into Evernote, as the HTC Flyer's note taking app was. However, scribbles can be exported to Evernote which make them again synchronized.

Last but not least, HTC added the possibility to customize the "quick settings" panel that provides access to 10 quick settings. It's now possible to add, remove, edit and rearrange the setting order. New to the quick settings is the "Do not disturb" functionality which turns off all notifications while it allows to white list certain phone number.

Final Conclusion

First of all, it should be said that the HTC One max wasn't designed as HTC's next hero device - which seems to be a common misunderstanding. HTC's hero device was, and still is, the One. The One max was designed to complete the One portfolio and to serve markets, HTC wasn't able to serve with its current line of Android and One devices. Therefore it doesn't make me wonder at all, that HTC made some deductions in some of the features, like the missing OIS or the used CPU. Sure, HTC could have also taken a Snapdragon 800 (and HTC confirmed me that they could have used it, all other rumors are wrong) and added OIS but for which price and benefit? The One max is designed for certain regions of the world which have different needs, than us Europeans or Americans. Therefore it's hard to vote about a device, which was definitely not designed for me.

The HTC One max is huge, no question and a 5.9" display plus stereo speaker on the bottom and top make the One max the "Big Mac" under the phablets. Does I like it? No, but for me, even the One was too huge and I prefer the One mini instead (which is even lower spec'd). But then again, in the evening, at home, on the couch, I like the max and its size. The 5.9" Full HD display is stunning for writing and reading E-Mails, web browsing, watching YouTube and I'm even sure it will be a trustworthy companion on travels on events, thanks to its super strong 3,300 mAh plus 1,200 mAh battery case combo. Sure, the One max is heavy, but it's not heavier than my One and the extra battery I'm carrying on such events.

While I've heard voices that the One design is becoming boring now, I appreciate the job HTC did by transferring the original One design to the One max. The HTC One lineup is comparable to car manufacturer lineups where HTC created a signature design and identity. Does I want to see the same design next year? No, next year I want to see something new, which nevertheless grabs the 2013 design philosophy and continues with it on a new level. Part of this is the aluminum design which I just love. In terms of design, HTC did everything right - with the One and One mini and the One max isn't anything different. The One series of now three devices is the best looking smartphone series in the market and the max completes this series. Sure, I would have wished that the max's footprint would less but if I would have to trade-in the stereo speakers - I wouldn't. I'm not going back to mono smartphones which have low performing speakers on the backside.

The technical specs are pretty much what I expected and the 1.7 GHz quad-core and the 2 GB RAM do a fantastic job. I've neither noticed any lack in speed nor in memory usage. HTC did a great job in tweaking HTC Sense as much as possible to make it the perfect addition to the hardware specs. The One max is even sufficient enough for high-end hardcore users, even if it doesn't seem to be the über geek device. Sure, more is always better and I wouldn't mind if HTC has added 3 or 4 GB of RAM instead of 2 GB. And also 64 GB flash memory wouldn't hurt but then again - for which price?

I still love HTC's excellent UltraPixel camera even if I had hopes for a 8 megapixel upgrade but hey, HTC needs something new for next year's devices and at the moment, the 4 megapixel UltraPixel are sufficient enough. For sure, the lack of OIS is somehow a drawback; HTC set the benchmark by itself when it introduced it with the original One. During the day, you will hardly notice it but for low light shots it would be really good to have it. Nevertheless, for me not in discussion is HTC BoomSound as well as all the HTC Sense 5.5 features and enhancements. With the introduction of Sense 5, HTC got me again since it became so light, clean and useful that I don't want the stock Android GUI anymore. In my humble opinion, HTC Sense 5.5 is very attractive to use and the designers and developers did a fantastic job to polish it even further and to tweak and enhance it in the right areas.

Unfortunately poorly integrated is the fingerprint reader. I don't have it gotten working proper and therefore I ended up with turning it off. That's a pity since the idea is good and appealing and it's nothing new at all. HTC had fingerprint readers back in the early 2000's when it built Pocket PCs for Compaq. Therefore I have expected more from it but unfortunately the execution and integration failed.

So can I recommend the HTC One max? No, I can't - at least not without restrictions. If you are looking for a phablet with enhanced phablet features, not just for a bigger smartphone, the HTC One max shouldn't be your choice. For a phablet, HTC has added too less features to take benefit from the screen estate. Where is the possibility to run two apps next to each other, is the HTC Scribble really everything HTC was able to add? That's not enough for a phablet, not at this super-size. However, if you are just a regular smartphone user but looking for something bigger, the HTC One max might be your choice. The battery, especially in the combination with the case, is super strong and gives you "endless" standby. The regular HTC Sense 5 features are the best a smartphone can get today and Sense 5.5 makes it even more attractive.

So all together, the One max leaves mixed emotions. I can hardly get over its size, even if I know I will use it under certain circumstances. But it's definitely too big to be my every day device (and I've used it now for roughly one weeks). But other users and parts of the world might see it different; I've already heard voices from users which want it, and these were Europeans, not Chinese for who the max seems to be designed for.

Everything but attractive and mass-market compatible seems the price. The HTC One max, which will be available in silver, will be available in Europe from late October and the suggested retail price, without any subsidization, is said to be 699 Euro. That's a lot for a smartphone as well as a phablet which isn't a phablet at all, except for its size. So as I said, the HTC One max leaves mixed emotions and it's one of the few devices I have a love-hate relationship with.

Cheers ~ Arne


 
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