HTC received a much needed boost to a flagging reputation when it released the HTC One, so it’s not entirely surprising to see the Taiwanese smartphone giant milking this success at every opportunity. The HTC One Mini was fairly well received, retaining many of the most lauded qualities of its predecessor, including the premium metal body and Boomsound speakers. The One Max continues this trend, though is obviously significantly larger than the original. There’s nothing inherently wrong with shrinking or enlarging a wildly successful design per se, as long as it doesn’t end up watering down an inspirational brand if it fails. So with the HTC One Max doing the rounds in the UK the big question is, can it maintain an elite reputation among the tech press?
First up it’s worth checking out Gizmag for a nice comparison of the One Max and another big player in this market – the Samsung Galaxy Note 3. Two important differences here are two of the most common problems we’ve seen mentioned in reviews – dimensions and processing power.
These “phablet” devices are walking a fine line when it comes to something that’s still portable enough to use as a phone yet represents a significant upgrade (often purely in screen real estate) over a more traditional smartphone, and HTC appears to have fallen to the wrong side of it with the One Max. Despite being only 4mm wider, it’s 14mm longer and 2mm thicker than the Samsung Galaxy Note 3, and seems to have overstepped the mark in terms of something that’s comfortable to hold and use.
Pocket Lint, who gave the HTC One 5/5 and still rates it as the best smartphone around, is less impressed by the One Max largely for these reasons, scoring it 3.5. Alongside relatively underpowered hardware, which hasn’t been significantly improved since the One, it adds that “it just feels too big” and “The original handset feels better in the hand, it’s nicer to hold and use day-to-day…”
CNet feels the same, listing these two features as the only notable drawbacks in its 4/5 review, concluding that “It’s undeniably cumbersome though so most of you will likely find the standard model a more manageable size”, though is impressed by the display, battery life and the new Sense 5.5 interface.
Another common issue is the built-in fingerprint scanner, which sits on the rear of the phone under the camera lens and appears to be a bit of a disappointment, certainly compared to the iPhone 5S, which was generally well received. TechRadar was particularly irked by this, calling it “pointless” and “a real waste of time”. It too argues that by effectively creating an HTC One with a bigger screen, HTC hasn’t done enough to impress in this market, and though it does praise the battery life, expandable storage and software additions such as 50GB of Google Drive storage, is largely put off by the price “…it’s so expensive. Ridiculously so. We’d have understood if the specs were updated, but to bring to market something that doesn’t even have an improved list over the original (released over half a year ago) this isn’t something we can come close to recommending.”
This is echoed by GSMArena, who argues that “Unless HTC delivers a prompt upgrade that makes the fingerprint scanner a real game-changer, it will probably have to cut the One Max’s price a bit to keep the phablet relevant.”
Finally, Engadget, like most others, praises the display, stating “HTC’s Super LCD 3 panel is still the best in its class, and the best on the whole market if, like us, you prefer the natural colors of an LCD display to the over-saturated appearance of an AMOLED panel” and twinned with Boomsound makes it “a perfect video-watching experience.” Added to an impressive battery life, which on a rundown test lasted 30% longer than the Galaxy Note 3, it states that “It will especially appeal to someone, such as a frequent flyer, who wants a big screen and big battery specifically for the purpose of consuming video and music”. However, as an overall package it still suffers from the issues described above here, and interestingly Engadget got in touch with HTC to ask why. The general consensus seems to be that “The One Max is a mid-term addition rather than a new flagship, perhaps primarily designed to cater for an Asian niche, and so it was never going to be the target of big investment”, so by this token it seems that HTC weren’t planning to push the boat out with the One Max anyway, which does rather sound like a lack of ambition given the original’s success.
So there you have it. In summary, the HTC One Max is effectively a large HTC One with few notable additions. While this does mean that it still looks and sounds great, it appears to be a bit too large to feel comfortable, a bit too expensive to represent value for money and a bit too underpowered to compete with capable rivals. If it’s true that HTC didn’t really see this as a significant release outside the Asian market, let’s just hope it has something major in the pipeline to help truly build on the success of the One.