HTC One Max (Sprint) review

The HTC One Max is a nice extra-large phablet that lends itself to on-the-go media consumption, but otherwise doesn't justify its giant size.
Photo of HTC One Max (Sprint)

HTC isn’t afraid of a little excess. After bringing us the unabashedly ostentatious gold-plated One, the company takes a stab at the growing (sorry) genre of ridiculously large devices. The One Max ($249.99 with 2-year agreement) is the HTC One taken to the nth degree, but only in form, not in function. It features the same screen resolution, processor, software, and hardware design—just bigger in every way. But like the Sony Xperia Z Ultra, another device with an inferiority complex, the One Max doesn’t make good use of the added screen real estate. It’s still an excellent choice for on-the-go media consumption thanks to its big, beautiful display and top-notch speakers, but it does little else to justify its pocket-busting size or relatively high price tag. Our Editors’ Choice for phablets remains the Samsung Galaxy Note 3, which makes great use of the large display with its excellent multitasking and stylus support.

Design, Features, and Call Quality
The One Max is basically a scaled up model of the One, but there are a few notable design differences here. The aluminum back pops off via a small switch on the left edge, revealing the non-removable battery, SIM card slot, and microSD card slot. There’s a bit more plastic around the One Max’s edges too, and the whole package doesn’t feel quite as tightly built as the One—there’s a bit more flex and the back plate didn’t sit perfectly flush at every point. It still feels more premium than the Samsung Galaxy Mega, but not quite as nice as the Sony Xperia Z Ultra. Of the three extra-large phablets, the Z Ultra is the largest at 7.04 by 3.62 inches (HW) but also the thinnest at only 0.26-inch. The Max measures 6.48 by 3.25 by 0.41 inches (HWD), while the Mega measures 6.6 by 3.46 by 0.31 inches (HWD). If you’re considering any of these three, though, you’re probably not too concerned with size and you already know these aren’t one handed devices. 

Front and center is the 5.9-inch 1,920-by-1080-pixel LCD, which boasts a sharp 373 pixels per inch. HTC makes some of the best screens around, and the One Max is no exception. Colors are more accurate than the Mega or Galaxy Note 3, maximum brightness is brighter than the Z Ultra’s, and contrast is superb. And as wild as it sounds, the 5.9-inch Max is actually the smallest of the bunch, with the Mega and Z Ultra packing 6.3- and 6.44-inch displays, respectively. Flanking the display on the top and bottom are HTC’s signature front-facing stereo BoomSound speakers. I loathe the name, but I have to give it to HTC here—they blow away all of the smartphone speaker competition and actually get loud enough to rival some lesser portable speakers.

The One Max supports Sprint’s CDMA (800/1900MHz) and LTE (800/1900/2600MHz) bands. That means the One Max also supports Sprint’s new tri-band LTE, dubbed Spark LTE, which the company promises can deliver peak speeds of up to 50-60Mbps down. I tested the One Max in midtown Manhattan, at a location Sprint reps assured us Spark was active, and saw pretty impressive results, with peak download speeds of 34Mbps. It’s currently very hard to find for most customers, but Sprint promises coverage for 100 million Americans by the end of 2014. Call quality was par for the course in my tests. Earpiece volume is sufficient, but not quite as loud as I hoped—speakerphone volume, on the other hand, is impressively loud thanks to the dual front-facing speakers. Transmissions through the mic are clear, but a bit harsh with a serious robotic edge to them. Noise cancellation was only ok, as I noticed that the One Max picked up a lot of wind interference, though it did block out a good amount of typical street noise. In our tests, the One Max lasted for 15 hours, 37 minutes of continuous talk time, which is a good result, but honestly not quite as long as I had hoped the gargantuan 3300mAh battery would last. The Z Ultra lasted for over 24 hours of talk time in the same test.

Performance, Android, and Fingerprint Scanner
Powering the One Max is the same quad-core 1.7GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 processor and 2GB RAM. That was top of the line when the One was released over nine months ago, but has now been supplanted by the Snapdragon 800 chipset. Really, though, you probably won’t notice a huge difference in speed between the One Max and, say, the Snapdragon 800 packing Z Ultra unless you’re a stickler for synthetic benchmarks. The One Max is still a very fast phone that has no trouble with today’s most taxing apps, like Asphalt 8, which looks and plays great. Web browsing benchmarks were off the pace of the Z Ultra, and pages render a hair slower on the One Max. If you must have the latest and greatest, get the Z Ultra, but the One Max is still a very capable device that easily bests the Galaxy Mega.

If you’re not a fan of HTC’s Sense Android skin then there’s nothing new here that’ll win you over. Running atop Android 4.3, Sense 5.5 on the One Max has all the same features as found on the One, including BlinkFeed, Zoe, and all the other visual flourishes we’ve come to expect from HTC. BlinkFeed has a few more options for customizing what kind of content it delivers, but I still really don’t like this feature. There’s no way to disable it, you can only hide it to the side, and I don’t see the point with apps like Flipboard. Camera tricks like creating GIFs or creating single sequence shots are fun, but mostly just novel tricks.

Sprint also went ahead and heaped on a healthy serving of bloatware, but luckily almost all of it is removable. These include apps like CBS Sports, eBay, Lookout, Messaging+, NextRadio, Scout, and, of course, Sprint content discovery apps like Sprint Music Plus, Sprint TV & Movies, and Sprint Zone.

The marquee feature, and point of distinction, is the One Max’s rear-mounted fingerprint scanner. Honestly, I think this was thrown in as a me-too feature, without any regard to adding any real value. First, its location is a bit problematic. It’s right below the camera, so you’ll probably end up smudging the lens a good deal, and it’s parallel with the phone’s sides, while your finger’s natural inclination will be to swipe at an angle when holding the massive phone. It worked about 80 percent of the time, once I learned how to best swipe my fingers, but the movement never felt natural. The One Max also requires the extra step of pressing the Power button and then swiping your finger, instead of just a single motion for unlocking like with the iPhone 5s. You can program multiple fingers and assign specific programs to launch into with each finger, but it never felt more convenient then just using the lockscreen shortcuts for your favorite apps. And once your phone is unlocked, the fingerprint reader serves no function—I would have like to see app purchase authentication like with TouchID or even just quick launching into apps by swiping a specific finger at any time. It’s possible HTC works these in via software updates, but for now the fingerprint reader is too gimmicky and its awkward placement makes it more trouble than it’s worth.

Multimedia and Conclusions
The 32GB model comes with 24.58GB of free storage out of the box. For video, the One Max supports MP4, H.264, AVI, and Xvid, but not DivX, at resolutions up to 1080p. The One Max played back all of our audio test formats, including WAV, WMA, FLAC, and OGG. And with such a beautiful display and loud speakers, you’ll definitely want to load up the One Max with a ton of media. If the internal storage isn’t enough for you, the One Max supports microSD cards up to 64GB in size, which is a nice advantage over the seamless One that has non-expandable storage.

Around back is the same 4-megapixel, or UltraPixel if you go by HTC’s designation, rear-facing camera found on the One. The idea here is the same: bigger pixels, not more pixels. The result is also the same here: great low-light images, but just good standard shots. I find the added heft makes it a bit easier to maintain a steady shot for video, which tops out at 1080p here just like the original One.

Phablets are here to stay, so it makes sense that HTC throws its hat in the ring. But while Samsung crafted genuinely useful features on the Note 3 that make the big screen worth it—like excellent multitasking and stylus support—the One Max is simply a blown up version of a normal phone. Even with the fingerprint scanner, which is of dubious usefulness, there’s really no change in how you fundamentally use this phone. It’s great for gaming and watching videos, but I don’t think that justifies the bulk. Those on the Windows Phone side of the fence should check out the Nokia Lumia 1520, which features one of the best cameras we’ve seen. Our Editors’ Choice for phablets on Sprint remains the Note 3, which is plenty of phone, but more importantly, packs plenty of features that make that big screen worthwhile. 

Specifications
Phone Capability / Network CDMA, LTE
Screen Resolution 1920 x 1080 pixels
NFC Yes
Dimensions 6.48 x 3.25 x 0.41 inches
802.11x/Band(s) 802.11 a/b/g/n
Battery Life (As Tested) 15 hours, 37 minutes
Available Integrated Storage 24.58 GB
Processor Speed 1.7 GHz
CPU Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 Quad-Core
GPS Yes
Service Provider Sprint
Total Integrated Storage 32 GB
Weight 7.65 oz
Screen Type Super LCD 3
Operating System as Tested Android 4.3
Physical Keyboard No
Camera Resolution 4 MP Rear
2.1 MP Front-Facing
Screen Pixels Per Inch 373 ppi
Bands 800, 1900, 2600
microSD Slot Yes
Form Factor Candy Bar
Screen Size 5.9 inches
Bluetooth Version 4.0

Verdict
The HTC One Max is a nice extra-large phablet that lends itself to on-the-go media consumption, but otherwise doesn't justify its giant size.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc