Let's deal with the elephant in the room: the HTC One Max is big. Big, big, big. In moving up to what might be broadly termed the 6in phablet category, HTC has avoided any complicated redesign and taken the rather nice HTC One and made it bigger. Bigger and heavier. This is a high-quality and stylish slab of phone, but it's a big one. Big even when it is next to the Galaxy Note 3. Did we mention that it is big?(See also: The best phones you can buy in 2013).
HTC One Max: design and build
(This bit's easy. We'll just take a look at what we said about the HTC One smartphone and increase the point size.)
The HTC One Max is - like its little brother - a beautiful object. Again the feel of the materials, and the way they fit together, is top of the market. The Max is virtually all metal, aluminium in fact. Indeed the only part of the HTC One's shell that isn't obviously made of lightweight metal is the Gorilla Glass screen and a slim plasticky band that runs around the edge.
It measures a hefty 164.5 x 82.5 x 10.3 mm, and bouncy baby Mac weighs in at 217 g. But if it is big it is also solid, and although it isn't light it is well balanced in the hand.
By contrast the Galaxy Note 3, with a similarly sized screen, weighs in at a much lighter 168 g and measures a much smaller 151.2 x 79.2 x 8.3 mm. But despite my size-ist rantings, I don't want to get down on the HTC One Max for its outsized stylings.
You wouldn't buy this handset if you wanted something svelte and petite. It is clearly meant for those with deep pockets in every sense, who want a powerful device with a large screen. And whereas I like the Note 3's svelte feel it's construction is plasticky. The HTC One Max is well constructed and feels like you could use it to shield yourself from flying bullets. It is a solid workhouse that is also stylish. And you won't need a case.
One minor down side is that the display isn't quite edge to edge, although the bezel is far from huge. And we have to point out the all-aluminium back. This sheet of brushed metal is the finishing touch on a beautifully put together device. This is a shiny precious thing you will want to have and hold. But unless you work out you may not be holding it above your head for long.
With great size comes great power. This HTC One is maxed out with a quad-core Qualcomm APQ8064 Snapdragon 600 processor running at 1.7 GHz, and Adreno 320 graphics. These are powered by 2GB RAM. We found the HTC One Max to be perfectly snappy enough, but not perhaps as impressive as was the original HTC One. This is borne out by the synthetic benchmarks which suggest a quick device that isn't the quickest.
You should never base a purchasing decision purely on these benchmarks, as they are intended only as a guide to performance (and we don't know for certain that smartphone makers don't game the more popular ones). But the HTC One Max's mixed set of results reflect our own experience. Good in parts, very good in others, but not great overall.
In our GeekBench 2 benchmark, designed to test general speed, the HTC One Max returned average scores of 2966. By contrast the Galaxy Note 3 turned in a record average score of 4057. This beats out our next two highest performers, the Sony Sony Xperia Z1 with its score of 3673, and the Samsung Galaxy S4's 3227. Again, this doesn't mean the One Max is noticeably a lot less responsive than those other phones (and Samsung is one manufacturer often accused of gaming benchmarks), but is does feel like a marginally less zippy handset.
Things are better on the graphics front, as you'd hope with a device with a display such as this one. In our EgyptHD 2.5 graphics test the HTC One Max turned in a more than healthy score of 40fps, suggesting that even the toughest games and HD content will be no challenge.
Other key specs include a choice of 16 or 32 GB of storage, with a MicroSD slot offering expansion up to a further 64 GB. The HTC One Max takes a micro SIM and offers 3G and 4G LTE connectivity. Sensors include accelerometer, gyro, proximity, and compass. You get Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac and Bluetooth 4.0, too.
The HTC One Max is built around a 5.9 in super LCD3 capacitive touchscreen, that boasts 16 million colours. The resolution of 1080 x 1920 pixels means a very sharp pixel density of 373 ppi. The Note 3 is marginally sharper at 386 ppi, and the original HTC One is out there on its own with a pixel density of 469 ppi.
In essence the HTC One Max's display is simply a stretched version of the HTC One's. As such it is great to look at, superb for watching HD movies or viewing photos - it's out there at the forefront of portable displays you can buy. But you don't get any more detail than you would on the smaller handset.
The HTC One Mac's multitouch screen is responsive, and it is constructed of Corning Gorilla Glass 3 so it will stand up to a beating.
You get dual stereo front-facing speakers with HTC's comically named 'Boomsound' audio technology. Suffice to say that if you like to play music without headphones or a separate speaker you could do a lot worse than the HTC One Max. (But why?) There is of course a 3.5mm jack for your actual headphones. Oh, and pro tip: although they are far from audiophile quality, HTC's bundled headphones are a lot better than the average tat foisted on to Android smartphone users.
HTC One Max: cameras
With the HTC One, HTC made a bold move to redefine what we should expect from a smartphone camera. It tried with some success to get away from the megapixels arms race and focus on larger pixels in order to allow for greater light absorbtion. Or, to put it another way, it has only a 4Mp camera at the rear and a 2.1Mp, 88 degree wide angle lens with HDR capability at the front.
And it made for a good camera, one that is exactly replicated in the HTC One Max. This is a decent smartphone camera. The faster sensor means you can quickly capture shots - critical for a smartphone snapper. And there are good options: you can change exposure and contrast, tweak ISO levels and adjust sharpness. There's also an HDR mode, but you don't get the shot-selection modes offered by other high-end phones, however.
Pictures taken were pretty good: occasionally noisy which we didn't expect from a camera with such a low pixel count, but good in low-light conditions. It's not a camera for serious photographers, but it will let you take multiple decent snaps in a timely fashion - even in a dingy bar.
We liked the HTC One's camera and, well, this is the same one!
HTC One Max: software
The HTC One Max runs Android 4.1.2 with full access to the Play Store for apps and media, but it is heavily customised with HTC Sense and a new content-flow feature.
As part of the relatively simple HTC Sense interface, now upgraded to Sense 5.0, HTC has introduced a new service called BlinkFeed. Sense is part of all HTC phones, and makes the Android experience clean and simple - although it is very different to a traditional Android interface. I like it, but it is a personal thing.
BlinkFeed offers a cascading flow of all updates and media similar to the Hub in BlackBerry 10 or Windows Phone 8's messages feed.
With BlinkFeed the HTC One delivers tiles of all of your favourite information, social and media feeds, allowing you to see everything that is going on in your life, the lives of your 'friends', and in the world. All in 30 seconds or so.
Honestly, I found BlinkFeed nothing but annoying. I can see what HTC is thinking, but for me it is just too much. Open up your phone and it is there, throwing information at you whether you want it or not. Your opinion may differ, of course. You can't delete it but you can set up your phone in such a way as you rarely see it. And HTC is promising to sign up all manner of media owners, publishers and software developers to populate this feed with compelling content.
The initial setup process is slick, but may feel intrusive to some. When you first use the HTC One you are pushed into synching various social and email accounts, and selecting your news preferences, via a web app on your PC. It's the slickest setup of an Android phone I have experienced - all your contacts and accounts on your device within a couple of minutes. But it does feel unavoidable, and it is possible you may not want to be tied into all of your accounts in this way.
HTC One Max: fingerprint scanner
Something new! In addition to a maxed out version of the HTC One, we get a fingerprint scanner. Placed around the back below the camera this scanner allows you to store up to three fingerprints, and can be overridded via a password. Honestly we found it a little annoying to use as you can't see the back of the phone when you are using the scanner. It just didn't feel as intuitive as TouchID on iOS devices. Your experience may differ, of course, and you don't have to use it.
Buying Advice It won't be for everyone, but if you want a big phone (and we mean BIG), you could do a lot worse than the HTC One Max. This is a serious performer that is built to look good and last.