We're hours away from our full and in-depth HTC One Max review - stay tuned for the full run down and verdict on HTC's latest flagship challenger, but in the meantime enjoy our early verdict.
The HTC One Max is the phone that the Taiwanese brand has created to show that it still is able to make a phone for all occasions.
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?
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.
We say that uncertainly because while it does have the same metallic shell, there's a difference between the One and the One Max: a removable battery cover.
This is actually quite an odd feature, as it does detract 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 in some countries to faciliate the use of dual SIM cards.
The problem is that the battery cover, which pops off using a small switch in the top right-hand corner, doesn't like to sit well on the back of the phone, meaning it's very difficult to pop it back into place having been removed.
Unless you're willing to spend literally a couple of minutes smoothing the cover down over and over again, then you may be left with some 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 hewn from a single block of aluminium.
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 that's really designed for the Asian market, where the bigger screen is much more of a king than in the US or Europe.
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.
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 simply put the original One on steroids with the One Max, coming as it does with so similar a design. Thankfully the power button is now moved; no longer combined with the top-mounted infra-red blaster, the power button now has the same ridged alumimium design as the volume buttons on the right-hand side of the phone, sitting below the sound keys in an easy to reach place 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.
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 if we're talking about the 'phablet' market, Samsung and Sony have devices that feel much more suited to their position in the 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.
HTC has kept the same Sense UI for the One Max, but brought with it a number of tweaks that we're intrigued by with the new Sense 5.5 iteration. However, let's take a little run down 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 not only can you 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 in the could before you even turn it on, but we've not seen much in the way of take up of this feature.
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 particuarly 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.
The interface itself from HTC is very different from the rest of the market: the Sony Xperia Z1 offers a more stripped back experience, for example, 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 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 doff our caps at 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 is a simple method and it's nice to see that HTC is thinking here.
The app menu is something that still annoys some, moving as it does vertically rather than horizontally like 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.
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.
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.
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 realised 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 the lovers of the now-defunct Google Reader would have loved); instead you have to search for a specific topic and then either subscribe to its Twitter or YouTube channel.
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. We hope HTC alters this, as search for feeds only shouldn't be that hard.
But overall, Blinkfeed is much better than before - more customisation 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.
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.
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 pop in over five on the One Max, even allowing others the ability to unlock your phone. What's more, and this is a feature we're really excited about, you can assign an app to open when you slide your finger down to unlock the phone.
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.
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 33-50%, 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.
We all knew that HTC brought out a wonderful phone with the One, and it's attempted to earn from 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 scrutiny of the Note 3 and Xperia Z Ultra, or is it just a larger One that has very little point?
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 clamouring 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.
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 six 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.
We're not too long from bringing you our full and considered review of the HTC One Max, but in the meantime we'll tell you: this definitely doesn't hit the heights of the 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.
We're not saying that the One Max is a terrible phone, as it's still got 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.