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There are many thing in life that could do with a size upgrade. Whether it’s a larger car to drive around, or a more comfortable seat on an airplane, or maybe even the size of your bank account. But one thing I’m still not sure needs to get beefed up is your smartphone. Don’t get me wrong, some people manage to effortlessly navigate and use their super-sized smartphone / phablet devices, but to many of us the thought of handling a bulky smartphone doesn’t seem too appealing. This is exactly the case with the HTC One Max, which I had a chance to use this week in place of my beloved HTC One.

Build quality & design

Looks-wise, the One Max is simply a larger cousin of the One. The same design has been used as well as the same materials, but on closer inspection you’ll find that there have been a few downgrades. For one thing, while the One has a beautiful brushed aluminum unibody, the One Max’s body is ringed by a rather unsightly white border, which cuts into the back design as well. While the same border appears on the One as well, it’s flush with the device so it’s hardly noticeable. On the One Max it looks more like some kind of protective bumper and truly spoils the look of the device.

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The back cover of the device is removable by sliding a tiny switch on the side of the device. Once the back pops off, you’ll have access to the phone’s micro-SIM slot but not to the battery (it’s still non-removable). Users have been pleading HTC to include a micro-SD slot in their phones and thankfully the One Max has one, meaning you can easily upgrade your phone’s storage space.

Unfortunately on the review model I received, the build quality of the back plate was terrible. When I snapped it back on I could hear it creak if I press down in certain places, and it never really sat flush with the device, meaning that a small portion of the cover was still jutting outwards. I’m putting this down purely to this being a review unit, so hopefully this is addressed in the retail version of the phone.

You have the same volume rocker as seen on the One, in addition to the charging port at the bottom and a headphone jack at the top. The power button has been moved from the top to the right hand side, supposedly to make it easier to turn on the device with one hand. The IR blaster still sits at the top, so you can use the One Max to control your various entertainment devices. At the back you’ve got the camera and underneath is a small black square that is the device’s fingerprint reader (more on that later).

[Tweet “Don’t even think about putting this phone in your pocket – it definitely belongs in a jacket pocket or handbag.”]

Specifications

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Benchmarks and Performance

What is truly puzzling about the One Max is that it has the same specifications as the original HTC One. So all you seem to be getting is more screen real estate for the same processing power. All the apps that I ran used to run on my HTC One ran fine on the One Max, with hardly any lag despite being displayed on a bigger screen.

But even though the One Max performed well, its ultimate downfall is its size. It just feels too awkward in your hand, and is to bulky to use with one hand. Typing with one hand is difficult, and typing with two hands in portrait mode still feels quite cramped. And don’t even think about putting this phone in your pocket – it definitely belongs in a jacket pocket or handbag.

UI and Apps

The HTC One Max comes with HTC’s updated SenseUI and BlinkFeed, which lets you highlight various news sources into one location on the home screen. The BlinkFeed can now be customized even further from when it first launched, probably due to user feedback since its launch. You have the usual Google apps available as well as HTC’s App store, which at the time of writing didn’t have any specific apps available for the One Max. It’s a shame that there isn’t any stylus included with the One Max, even though there are few preinstalled note-taking apps that would benefit from it.

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A new feature in the One Max is the introduction of a fingerprint reader, located at the back of the device underneath the camera. Swiping on the small square lets you instantly unlock your phone, and the setup application has you swiping through several fingers a few times in order to register your fingerprint. You can also program the One Max to launch particular applications depending on which finger you swipe, so your index finger could launch email, your third finger could launch Chrome, and so on. Unfortunately, there are two major problems with the One Max’s fingerprint reader. Firstly, since it’s located on the back you’re swiping “in the dark” about 99% of the time. This means that unless you’ve turned the phone over to look at where you’re swiping, you simply have to feel around for a bit until you locate the scanner. Often I found my finger swiping over the camera lens before I located the fingerprint sensor, which was incredibly annoying. Secondly, the scanner doesn’t work as great as it should. It’s incredible fickle about the speed and angle at which you swipe your finger – swipe it too quickly or not firm enough and you’ll be presented with an error. In the end I found it easier to assign a numeric password to my phone rather than trying to unlock it with my fingerprint.

Screen and Camera

Having a larger screen certainly has its advantages. While multimedia on the HTC One looked great, on the One Max it looks even better. The larger screen certainly makes watching videos a joy, and colors appear suitably bright and crisp.

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As with the HTC One, the One Max comes equipped with the same “UltraPixel” camera that’s capable of taking some pretty good photos. The only problem is that the One Max lacks the Image Stabilization that was seen in the HTC One, which means that you’ll need to have a pretty steady hand when taking photos. But overall, photos came out quite good, although certain low-light photos appeared a bit too washed out.

Sound & Call Quality

The One Max sounds impressive when playing back audio, thanks in part to its front-facing stereo speakers and beats audio enhancements. Call quality was a little bit on the flip side, with some callers saying my voice sounded a bit robotic on the phone and occasionally a bit muffled. This could be due to the phone’s larger size not picking up my voice as clearly as the HTC One.

With its larger size, the One Max of course comes with a larger battery. The 3,300mAh battery will last you pretty much throughout the day unhindered, unless you’re doing a lot of streaming or listening to music.

Conclusion

The HTC One Max is a great phablet if you’re a fan of the original HTC One. But the few design flaws and redundant hardware inside make the One Max fall behind other phablets on the market. I wish it had a more advanced processor and slightly thinner design, but sadly this wasn’t so. It’s a great device for enjoying multimedia on, much like the HTC One was, but apart from that there’s little here that would convince you to pick up the HTC One Max.

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