Like many smartphones released these days, the rumour mill among tech talkers has been hot for HTC to release a larger version of its flagship ONE, HTC have now confirmed and announced the HTC ONE Max a One with a 5.9 inch screen – it’s big and EFTM has gone hands on with the Max.
In the smartphone space the competition at the top is well and truly hotting up between Apple and Samsung, however not too long ago there were several companies aiming for leadership in the Android space up against the dominant Apple ecosystem. HTC was one of those companies but the surging dominance of Samsung over the past two years has meant sales of the impressive HTC One didn’t even come close to matching the flagship Samsung or Apple devices.
The HTC One was widely regarded as one of – if not the best smartphone built this year. It had a classy design, excellent construction and snappy performance. It’s metal body was the one key thing that set it apart and gave a full sense of quality and value.
Building a full family of One devices, HTC recently launched a smaller HTC One mini, and this week announced the larger HTC One max.
The max is everything which earned the One the high praise when it was launched, but with a couple of key differences.
It’s big – we mean – really big. It sits alongside the recently launched Samsung Galaxy Note 3, but feels a bit heavier in the hand, however that full metal construction once again gives it the edge in quality.
For the One Max HTC have released an all new version of its “Sense” layer which sits on top of the stock standard Android 4.3 it’s running. This includes major enhancements to the social feed which dominates the home screen which HTC call “Blinkfeed”.
Blinkfeed is a combination of all your social media sources, and various news website sources all combined into a graphically displayed feed – making it a single source for all your updates. You can now add up to 4 regional editions, where before it was only possible to set your home region and choose content from there. Instagram and Google plus are added, and in a big win for lovers of RSS feeds, you can add custom RSS feeds too. User defined categories are also possible based on searches you make within the Blinkfeed regional content. All in all it’s a big winner and a leap forward from the initial version. Sense 5.5 will ship on the One Max, and will be available shortly after on the One and One Mini.
As far as the overall hardware goes, this is a “honey I enlarged the kids” kinda device. Take the One and literally make it bigger, except for two obvious things. A fingerprint scanner and a removable back cover.
Removable back cover
Just to allow access to the SIM slot and MicroSD slot, the HTC One Max has a removable back cover. Inside the battery is not visible or removable so it’s questionable why a slide out slot couldn’t be made for this device. The reason it’s interesting is the quality. While it’s still everything metal as you expect from the One family – it is not a simple thing to put back in place. You need to do it slowly and press around the edges. It’s a minor gripe with what is otherwise spectacular design, however it’s worth noting to ensure you check the cover hasn’t gotten caught on the camera or slightly mis-aligned itself. But let’s be honest, once your SIM and MicroSD are in, you’re unlikely to remove the cover again too often.
While Apple was the first to market, I don’t get the feeling HTC just threw in a fingerprint scanner once the rumours of Apple’s plans hit the web. HTC have a different approach to this. For a start, the scanner itself is on the back – in the middle of the device underneath the camera.
You can only register three fingers (Apple allows five), and the process for registration is different. You swipe several times on the HTC One Max, each time it tells you to go again, and again until it has a successful read – this should take just four swipes.
A key difference is the function your finger can perform. You can set each different finger to a different task. Unlocking the phone, unlock and launch the camera, or another App of your choice. However it is not yet integrated into any other areas of the device as Apple has done with its App store and iTunes purchasing.
HTC see the fingerprint scanning not as a security measure but as a convenience, however with a device this size, I’m not sure its in the most comfortable position to be ultra convenient. I turned it off after just a couple of days, it’s not a patch on what Apple have achieved unfortunately.
Up against its competitors, in particular the Galaxy Note 3, the One Max is like for like a great device and with the camera features like Zoe from the One included you’re getting a quality device hands down. However, it’s simply not enough on its own to make it a compelling better choice.
This is where the accessories come into play.
Users of these huge Phonelets (nope, not going to say the other word) are chewing battery like there is no tomorrow. That huge screen in all its glory wants for more and more power.
Yep, there are rechargeable portable power packs, heck there are even cases with power built-in. But these cases add bulk. HTC have pulled a master-stroke of innovation with their Power Flip case.
The Power Flip case looks just like any other flip over case which covers the screen. It’s as thin on the back to allow the device not to lose its form and shape, yet it packs an additional 1200mAh battery – that’s an extra 30% more power. Where? In the cover over the screen. A wafer thin battery sits folded on top of the screen while your phone is at rest, or folded behind the screen when in use.
It connects to the phone itself via three tiny little dots on the back of the device – it’s pure genius. No need for the case to plug into the micro-USB slot, its got internal access direct from the back of the device.
This is a master-stroke from HTC design, this battery doesn’t charge separately, nor do you ever see its separate battery level. When connected to the Power Flip case, your normal phone battery meter simply shows a small + sign in the corner, and your day gets longer with an extra 30% battery. It’s noticeable – very noticeable.
One of the best features of the HTC One was the front facing speakers. Located above the below the screen, or to the left and right in landscape orientation, these speakers made music and video consumption a highlight and really set the device apart from every single competitor. You could really enjoy music and gaming without the need for bluetooth speakers unless you really wanted to fill a room. On your desk, or on the lounge this is impressive sound.
Now make it bigger, bigger “chambers” for the speakers, a bigger device – the sound just got better too.
Enter the second cool accessory – the HTC Boom Bass. This bluetooth connected device (which pairs via NFC) isn’t an external speaker. It’s the .1 to your HTC One Max’s 2. 2.1 sound gives bass that you notice when you pump the device up. Put the Boom Bass on the table while you hold the device and play action games you’ll hear that bass beating away.
It’s hardly noticeable at volumes from 60% and lower, but once you pump it up, this becomes an investment.
The Boom Bass is not for everyone, you really need to be using the speakers externally a lot to get value, however for those who do – it’s fantastic.
Saving the best for last, HTC have recognised that carrying a 5.9inch screened phone and putting it up against your head looks stupid and frankly isn’t overly comfortable.
Enter the HTC Mini+. This tiny tiny phone looks like a blast from the past. It will certainly attract the attention of onlookers. It really is the ideal companion for people who want a big screen for video, web and other consumption, but feel like a right fool with a huge slab against their ear while on the phone.
This is a Bluetooth headset. You can (I’ve tried it) pair it with an iPhone or another Android phone. It’s capabilities are endless when paired with a HTC One Max (and soon the rest of the One family).
Yep, it’s a phone headset, but on the mini+ you can dial calls, make calls, take calls, then you can see message alerts, calendar alerts, and it’s also a remote presentation controller for your PC.
We’re told this mini+ will be priced around $100 or less, and if that’s the case, you have yourself a steal.
While the Boom Bass is for the few, the Power Flip and Mini+ are in my view must have accessories for the HTC One Max.
The device itself is below the Galaxy Note 3 on the review rating radar, mainly because of the “magic” that the Note 3 can perform with its air gestures and pen capabilities. Take away those features which are almost gimmicky, the huge boost in battery power and the super portable bluetooth “mini phone” you can get with this device makes it an outstanding choice for those in the market for a 5.9 inch phone.
When it comes to build quality, HTC have proven themselves yet again to be up there with the best in class, it’s evident throughout the “One” family and shows again in the One Max.
Pricing and exact release details are not yet certain, however we expect announcements and availability in late October, although likely in short supply at launch.
Trevor Long travelled to Singapore for the launch of the HTC One Max as a guest of HTC