Big phones are all the rage right now. Although tablets promised the kind of extra screen real estate that would increase productivity while still retaining portability, there’s ultimately nothing more likely to be on your person than a phone. I wager that at least some of the success of the supersized smartphone form factor is still that a phone is ultimately always on your person, while a tablet still isn’t.

Today we’re looking at HTC’s newest member of its flagship One series, and its largest, the aptly named One max. Although HTC has been no stranger to larger display form factors (remember how big the HD2 seemed back in 2009?), the One max is to my knowledge the largest smartphone HTC has ever made, eclipsed only by the short lived HTC Flyer and Jetstream tablets. In the HTC phone portfolio, it’s easily the largest smartphone they’ve ever made, and that’s noteworthy.

The strategy for HTC’s One lineup seems to have been a simple one, differentiated by display size and form factor. We saw the flagship, dare I say midsized HTC One come first, then the smaller, lower end HTC One mini, and finally the huge HTC One max.

At a high level this strategy is pretty basic - offer three form factor options that yield almost the same experience. All three are predominately metal and share roughly the same industrial design notes, featuring an aluminum backside with top and bottom notches for antennas, center mounted camera, and LED flash. On the front, big stereo speaker grilles at the top and bottom, and the same button arrangement, just back and home.

I never had a problem locating the power button on the One, but then again I apparently have longer fingers than most. The power button moves down below the volume rocker on the One max, which does make sense since using your thumb to actuate power naturally positions your index finger right next to the fingerprint scanner.

I have no complaints about the buttons on the One max, they seem different somehow but still are communicative and don’t rattle around.

Up top there’s the headphone jack and IR port, which is slightly recessed. It isn’t the power button this time, just an IR window.

  HTC One mini HTC One HTC One max
Height 132 mm 137 mm 164.5 mm
Width 63.2 mm 68 mm 82.5 mm
Thickness 9.25 mm 9.3 mm 10.29 mm
Mass 122 grams 143 grams 217 grams
Display Size 4.3-inch 4.7-inch 5.9-inch
Display Resolution 1280 x 720 1920 x 1080 1920 x 1080
SoC 1.4 GHz Snapdragon 400
(4x Krait 200)
1.7 GHz Snapdragon 600
(4x Krait 300)
1.7 GHz Snapdragon 600
(4x Krait 300)
Camera 4 MP F/2.0 Ultrapixel with LED 4 MP F/2.0 Ultrapixel with OIS and LED 4 MP F/2.0 Ultrapixel with LED
Battery 1800 mAh, 3.8V, 6.84 Whr 2300 mAh, 3.8V, 8.74 Whr 3300 mAh, 3.8V, 12.54 Whr
WiFi 802.11a/b/g/n 802.11a/b/g/n/ac 802.11a/b/g/n/ac
Storage 16 GB NAND 32 GB NAND 32 GB NAND + microSD

If the dynamic range in size between the One mini and One is a 2 on an arbitrary scale of 1–10, the dynamic range between the One and One max is at least a 9. While the One mini really isn’t that much smaller than the normal One, the One max lives up to its namesake in a dramatic fashion. It’s positively huge, it literally is the One design taken to the max. The One max makes the Note 3 feel almost normal by comparison, and the entire normal sized 5-inch smartphone demographic feel downright small.

The One max is definitely a two-hand device, one handing it is difficult if not impossible, although I doubt that was anyone’s goal for this thing. It’s big in 2D dimensions, and it’s also somewhat heavy, at 217 grams, but I guess that’s expected given the material choices.

What’s interesting about the One max is that the truth is that its design is a lot more like a vastly larger One mini than it is the original One. We saw the mini come after the One and bring a plastic lip rather than the gorgeous diamond-machined edge that the One had, partly for cost reasons, partly for survivability when dropped on a hard surface. Truth be told, I can understand the rationale for having a plastic ring around the device and it making drops and blemishes a bit less destructive. I filed my HTC One down after a drop to my tile floor dented the chamfered edge a bit. The tradeoff however is that you’re now touching more plastic than metal.

I was initially turned off by the glossy plastic ring around the One mini, but if that was what had to take a hit to make the One mini the right price point for HTC to sell into operators and still make money, I was willing to deal with it. I’ll leave discussion of the faux-metal plastic speaker grille on the One mini for another day, which thankfully the One max doesn’t have.

Anyhow the One max inherits the same plastic ring around the edge design that the One mini debuted with. The polymer has been changed slightly, it’s a more matte, grittier finish that makes it a bit grippier and less chintzy feeling than the One mini’s slippery, glossy finish. The One max also includes aluminum speaker grilles, not the faux-metal plastic cutouts that adorn the One mini.


Now you also won't be able to unsee it (lines added to show asymmetry)

Let’s talk about the speaker grilles for a moment. What I loved about the original One design was how balanced everything felt. The polymer strips required for the antenna array carried over to the front and felt logical, it seemed like each cut had a purpose. On the One max however, I can’t get over how the speaker grille dots aren’t lined up and symmetrical at top. Something bugged me about the One max’s appearance for a few days until I noticed exactly what didn’t seem balanced anymore, so there’s that. I hesitate to make a big deal about it, but it might be a microcosm of what’s really weird about the One max.

The One max also takes a nod from a few of the Asian variants of HTC One which featured a removable back to accommodate two SIMs (when necessary) and a microSD card slot. The One max makes the removable back and microSD card slot standard, in addition to eschewing a SIM tray and enabling design commonality when dual SIM is necessary. What it doesn’t add is a removable battery, since HTC continues its use of a pyramid-like stack of display, battery, and PCB. Peel up the label and you’ll find out you’re looking at the top of some EMI cans and shielding rather than a battery, validating that. At the bottom of the HTC One max there’s no longer a Beats Audio silkscreen (since that partnership is over), instead just blank empty space. The nice thing about having the removable door is that the regulatory markings are on the inside, there’s no laser etched part and model text on the bottom third of the One max.

There’s a small slider on the left side of the One max which pops the removable door open, it then hinges and comes off completely.

There’s definitely a tradeoff associated with this approach though. For starters, although there isn’t much flex or play in the door after it’s attached, it requires a lot of effort to make sure the door is completely seated when re-attached. In addition there’s definitely a gap at top and bottom, which is unfortunate given HTC’s narrative about zerogap construction for the original One.

The only caveat is that the One max myself and a few others were sampled was in fact a PVT (Production Validation Test) as marked, so it’s possible the door is being slightly tweaked, but I doubt it’ll change much. I’ve said my part already on microSD cards and the fact that they’re going the way of the dodo in smartphones, I just don’t need one anymore, and definitely not at the expense of build quality. It is convenient not having to use a SIM ejector tool though, even if I carry one around all the time anyways. For the incredibly small percentage of users that clamors for an SD card every single smartphone launch, it’s at least one point which won’t be belabored so tiresomely this time.

In a lot of ways the construction of the One max is more like the One mini, and I fear that comes hand in hand with making what was an expensive design (the One) profitable, something HTC does need. It still is premium and combines metal and plastic in a pleasing way, but there clearly were tradeoffs on the road to the One max.

The One max isn’t so much a phablet as it is a huge phone. I don’t know if the supersized phone market is quite mature enough to really tell what the defining properties for a phablet are yet, but the scaled up One design makes the One max feel like a huge phone. HTC doesn’t go for an active digitizer and slide-out stylus with the One max, there’s an optional capacitive stylus that’s a standalone accessory, and the scribble application I’ll get to in a bit. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that approach quite honestly (I wager not many Note users actually use the stylus), it’s just something to note.

HTC Power Flip Case

HTC also sampled their new battery case, which is like the flip case we saw for the One but includes a battery in the screen cover portion. Think the Surface’s new Power Cover, but for the HTC One max. The power flip case uses three pogo pins to connect the battery directly to the One max, it’s what the pogo pads on the back of the phone are for. The case snaps on around the perimeter of the One max, and the front portion folds over the display, just like the flip case. The units we were sampled weren’t final however, and had some issues with proper fit, although fit should be rectified in the final version.

The battery isn’t huge, at 1210 mAh and 3.75V (4.53 watt-hours), but it does give a boost as I’ll show in the battery section. It also does add weight what is already an unmistakably heavy phone, and makes using the fingerprint scanner a bit more awkward.

When the power flip case is attached you get a small plus sign on the battery symbol in the status bar. I’m not sure how this actually works in practice, as the One max seems to draw from both the internal battery and the external battery at the same time, rather than using the external battery to charge the internal one. It does boost battery life however.

That Fingerprint Scanner
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  • Braumin - Monday, October 28, 2013 - link

    The SD cards I agree with, but removable batteries not so much. Manufacturers can include much larger custom batteries into a phone if it doesn't need to be a square battery that pops out the back. Plus, you can easily find microUSB battery extenders, which are FAR more convenient than swapping a battery because you don't need to reboot to do it.

    SD cards though - I don't think they need to go away until manufacturers (cough APPLE cough) stop gouging customers on increased storage.
    Reply
  • Brian Klug - Monday, October 28, 2013 - link

    SD cards, far and away, are going the way of the dodo. They're effectively already deprecated by the base Android platform (requiring OEMs to manually backport the ability to move APKs and OBB files over), and 3rd party SD support is pretty much in decline. The handful of applications that I'd expect to natively use the SD card either have it as a hidden feature, or have removed it entirely (I'm looking at you, Spotify).

    That pretty much leaves them only for use as dumb, manually managed storage. Like it or not, that's the reality.

    The context (that you left out) is that I wouldn't trade build quality for an SD card, it makes almost no sense to have a huge removable door on the One max just for the sake of an SD card. The tradeoff is huge here.

    Also the other reality regarding removable batteries is you do lose volume that way that could've been dedicated to more battery had it been sealed internally. That's fact.

    The data I've seen from OEMs and operators shows that microSD cards get changed by a tiny demographic of users, or even used, if not installed - yes, OEMs had to start manually installing SD cards since users can't be bothered to install them. Continue to cling to 'em, but normal consumers don't care, and the rest of the world has pretty much moved on.

    -Brian
    Reply
  • apertotes - Monday, October 28, 2013 - link

    heck yeah, I like to dumb manually manage my movies and music files without cluttering my apps space. Why is that so retarded? I have 80 gb in my S3, and I only have 10 free. Am I stupid for using a flagship device as a poweruser would? Should I pay $400 for a phone and use it only as an internet connected device? I think that reporters have way to much easy access to new devices and internet everywhere. Why would I stream movies or music if I can have them on my phone, and play them even on the subway or during a weekend on the mountain?
    There is zero reason not to want expandable space on a phone, other than being able to say "Yes, but this is unibody aluminium". And most reporters are doing half of Apple's job in convincing people that they really do not need a micro-sd card. "Why do you need it, when you can simply pay $10/month for Spotify, and then $40/month for an unlimited data contract to use Spotify?" Well, of course, you are swimming in money, you do not need a micro-sd card. But that is like convincing everybody to ditch their cars and simply call a cab whenever they need it.
    Reply
  • Steven JW FCK - Monday, October 28, 2013 - link

    Damn straight! You tell em! I mean how much money and infinite 4G signal has this guy got to try and rubbish the Micro SD card. Reply
  • Dentons - Monday, October 28, 2013 - link

    It isn't difficult to see why reviewers awash in a torrent of new, free, phones aren't particularly enamored in these features.

    Reviewers don't use phones for 2+ years.

    Reviewers don't have to pay for the larger memory models.

    Reviewers don't keep any phone nearly long enough to wear out the built-in batteries.

    On the whole, most phone reviewers interests aren't very well aligned with those of a cost-conscious consumer.
    Reply
  • kiwidude - Monday, October 28, 2013 - link

    Agreed, I'm still using my Galaxy S 8GB + 32GB, on my third battery and would have been forced into a new phone I have no need for if it wasn't for these features. Data here is very expensive so any cloud/streaming solution is impractical. I agree though in a world were the cost of the phone is not important, you update your phone faster than it takes for a battery to die and where you have unlimited data great. Reply
  • rabidkevin - Tuesday, October 29, 2013 - link

    Couldn't agree more.. I just finally paid off my galaxy s2 after 2 years. The comments this reviewer makes are insane! He has no idea what he is talking about. Reply
  • superflex - Tuesday, October 29, 2013 - link

    Finance a $100,000 house for 30 years. Reasonable
    Finance a $25,000 vehicle for 4 years. Reasonable
    Finance a $600 phone for 2 years. Retarded.
    Reply
  • Johnmcl7 - Monday, October 28, 2013 - link

    Thankfully you're almost completely wrong on all counts there but it's a surprisingly ignorant post coming from someone who is generally knowledgeable when it comes to technology.

    Firstly, micro SD cards are not going the way of the dodo - they were in decline but there's been a noticeable turn around in devices supporting the technology. The microSD support in the HTC phone in this review is a turnaround from HTC's previous position and Nokia have brought microSD expansion to their 1520 which is also a change as previously their top end phones (1020, 925, 920 etc.) did not have sd expansion.

    As for support in Android, the fact that it's not used in Nexus devices or part of the base system is completely irrelevant as Android builds are usually heavily customised in many areas. Samsung are one of the main Android handset manufacturers and they support microSD across their range, quite seemlessly as well plus Sony although not nearly as big are also sticking with micro SD support. The fact that the micro SD can only be used as 'dumb' data doesn't matter as that's what it is great for, many people criticise SD storage when it was incorrectly used in place of onboard storage (when it was a stupidly small amount). Micro SD expansion is ideal for larger amounts of video such as HD films and music, leaving the onboard memory for applications.

    As for a supposed tradeoff, that's a completely nonsense excuse and a really poor one at that - it's easily possible to produce micro SD slots without compromising the build quality, Sony are currently able to produce weather sealed phones with micro SD slots.

    And if nothing else, you should at the very least appreciate what SD expansion offers cost wise - the amount of money charged for onboard memory is completely ridiculous, it's far, far more than high speed micro SD cards cost.

    I don't believe the data you've seen from OEM's as it doesn't make any sense at all - if such a small amount of people are using them, why do companies keep on putting them there? Why are companies adding micro SD slots to phones? I can't claim my experience to be in any way representative but looking at large deal sites when someone posts a good deal on a micro SD card, the deal usually gets very popular and most people are buying the cards for their mobile phones.

    As for batteries being bigger if they're sealed in, that is absolutely not 'fact' and it certainly doesn't always apply in practice. The HTC One is a similar physical size to the Samsung Galaxy S4 (despite the larger difference the screen sizes suggest) yet the removable battery in the S4 is larger than that in the One. Either way, the differences are very small particularly compared with the full capacity of a battery which can be immediately achieved when swapping it out but not on a device with a sealed battery. Given current smartphones can quickly burn through batteries, it make a lot of sense to be able to switch over the battery and be back up to full almost immediately yet frustratingly few companies are now offering user accessible batteries as standard.

    Furthermore, the battery is unlikely to last the full two years a phone should and certainly won't while keeping performance. On a device with a removable battery that's not an issue as it's a matter of seconds to swap over but for devices with a sealed in battery it's a much more time consuming and expensive repair.

    John
    Reply
  • Brian Klug - Monday, October 28, 2013 - link

    I don't know how you can be objectively "wrong" about whether or not you think the tradeoffs are worth it, but whatever. I'll address the rest of your points:

    >As for support in Android, the fact that it's not used in Nexus devices or part of the base system is completely irrelevant as Android builds are usually heavily customised in many areas.

    The base platform has deprecated SD card support, plain and simple. You saw the SGS4 launch initially with SD card support that essentially only worked for music and as a storage intent for the camera. Later they added the ability to move application data over by backporting it. Ironically enough today you see NVIDIA doing the same thing with Shield and their own BSP.

    >it's easily possible to produce micro SD slots without compromising the build quality,

    The context here is the One max, it isn't worth the tradeoff in build quality.

    >I don't believe the data you've seen from OEM's as it doesn't make any sense at all - if such a small amount of people are using them, why do companies keep on putting them there? Why are companies adding micro SD slots to phones? I can't claim my experience to be in any way representative but looking at large deal sites when someone posts a good deal on a micro SD card, the deal usually gets very popular and most people are buying the cards for their mobile phones.

    Take it or leave it I suppose, but that's the reality. Samsung continues to do it as a differentiation point, as do a few others. I would say however the trend against microSD by OEMs like Google and obviously HTC backs up this claim, rather than your other one.

    The anecdote I heard that really made me think about this was that one of the major operators in the USA added a requirement that OEMs preinstall SD cards since users weren't even doing so with the pack-ins. Says something interesting about what demographic even knows about removable storage.

    >As for batteries being bigger if they're sealed in, that is absolutely not 'fact' and it certainly doesn't always apply in practice.

    Sorry, you are completely wrong here.

    Removable batteries need to have a dedicated protection circuit for CE compliance and this adds to volume. In addition they need to be structurally sound, this translates to a plastic frame around the battery itself, and around the volume the battery occupies in the phone. That's the point almost everyone always misses when they start arguing about removable battery volumes versus internal battery volumes, and you can ask any OEM about it, its 100% fact that internally sealed affords bigger volumes in addition to geometries that wouldn't work with a removable battery. Also every OEM shoots for at least a two year longevity. Both LG (and Motorola) have talked a lot about how long they tested their 3.8V chemistry before accepting it.

    -Brian
    Reply

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