The One max joins a small but growing list of phones that include a fingerprint scanner for unlocking the device. I’ll leave the discussion about whether fingerprints are fundamentally usernames or passwords for another day, but fingerprint scanners seem to be in vogue right now for mobile phones. You could make the case that the perceived increase in security that comes with fingerprint scanners is both an enterprise or consumer play, again I’ll leave that philosophical discussion for another day. I remember the Motorola Atrix and its fingerprint scanner being a big deal a while ago, since then we’ve had the iPhone 5s dramatically reintroduce the fingerprint scanner and now the One max follow suit.

The One max fingerprint sensor is a swipe type, meaning there’s some kind of strip sensor inside that you swipe your finger across. Sliding your finger over this strip allows the module to scan a 2D region and extract features that are then used to identify a fingerprint. The One max hides this scanner inside a black square that’s slightly recessed on the back of the device, just beneath the camera. I’m reminded somewhat of the LG G2 and its rear-mounted power and volume buttons which also sit just beneath the rear-facing camera. Perhaps that’s a missed opportunity for LG, which could have also gone with a swipe type sensor in its power button. On the One max anyhow there’s no button, just the sensor. Although the fingerprint sensor is recessed slightly, it’s somewhat difficult to locate with just one’s index finger, something that results in inadvertent smudging of the rear-facing camera cover glass, something that didn’t happen as much with the G2 because there’s a larger lip and easily locatable bump.

The placement of the fingerprint sensor makes sense given that of the power button. As stated earlier for right handed users this means your index finger sits naturally near the sensor if your thumb is on the power button. Since the fingerprint button still requires activation to unlock the One max, you still need to press power to turn it on before you can swipe your finger and finally unlock it. I find myself wishing the fingerprint sensor was itself a button, something like the iPhone 5s, so unlocking could be as simple as pressing and swiping with the same finger. On the iPhone 5s the best activation pattern is pressing the home button and leaving the finger in contact with the button.

 

Setup requires you to set a passcode, after which a few training swipes trains the sensor for the finger you’ve chosen. Although the animation that plays shows the finger aligned along the long axis of the phone, for greater accuracy I trained the One max with my finger at the angle it would naturally be given my thumb on the power button. The only requirement given the swipe sensor is that the slide motion is straight down and not skewed.

 

The One max fingerprint sensor allows for up to 3 fingers to be paired, each able to either unlock or have the option of both unlocking and launching an application. I like the idea of fingerprints as shortcuts, something the iPhone 5s implementation lacks, but three fingers seems like a curiously low number given the ten digits humans have to work with. On the other hand, the placement of the button really limits you to middle and index fingers being viable options. In terms of functionality, although Apple doesn’t yet use fingerprints as shortcuts, Apple does use the fingerprint scanner to authenticate iTunes, iBooks, and App Store purchases, something HTC can’t quite do with the One max for Google Play purchases, at least until Google makes an API for it.

I initially trained the fingerprint sensor with my index finger being swiped straight down, and had some issues with unlocks requiring multiple swipes. Doing finger enrollment and training at an angle closer to how I actually swipe it naturally (at an angle) made the accuracy better, but the reality is that unlocking the One max still requires multiple tries more often than not. There isn’t much processing latency after a scan, but I had hoped the One max sensor would be tap and hold rather than swipe given its shape. I’m not clear what suppliers are involved for the sensor, but I’m told the One max also securely stores just the extracted features and not the fingerprint images (which is a no brainer). I haven’t delved much into the infrastructure used to secure the fingerprint features yet either. I’m also not sure whether the One max learns additional parts of the finger which wasn’t part of initial training the same way Apple’s does.

Although I don’t think anyone has totally nailed the fingerprint sensor yet on a device, the One max implementation definitely is further from perfection than Apple’s. Although it does work reasonably well, it still isn’t the transparent kind of convenience that I feel will compel users who ordinarily wouldn’t have to used a passcode to go and use the fingerprint scanner. I’ve continued using the fingerprint scanner on the One max, however.

Introduction and Hardware Sense 5.5 and Android 4.3
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  • ddriver - Monday, October 28, 2013 - link

    Doesn't seem to be doing well in its category (phablets that is) - considering devices already on the market and those soon to be launched, I'd guess the main selling point for this device will be brand loyalty. And people complained the note was too big... Reply
  • Omega215D - Tuesday, October 29, 2013 - link

    The BoomSound speakers are much better than what the Note 3 puts out but you pay the price for them in extra height and possibly thickness. Also, HTC is pretty good at making the most of the battery capacity in which many of their phones have great standby times and good usage life. Reply
  • kmmatney - Tuesday, October 29, 2013 - link

    The price may make a difference. I was planning on buying a note 3, but went for the LG Optimus Pro G because it was $200 cheaper at $99, and almost the same size screen. If the HTC One Max is $199, it might sway some buyers. I probably would have bought it just for the speakers. Reply
  • jshsimpson1 - Friday, November 15, 2013 - link

    you missed out on the note 3 Reply
  • Chaitanya - Monday, October 28, 2013 - link

    a small typo on 1st page. Battery aint 1210mah, its 3300mah I believe. Reply
  • IanCutress - Monday, October 28, 2013 - link

    1210 mAh is the Power Flip battery. 3300 mAh is the phone battery. Reply
  • MrCommunistGen - Monday, October 28, 2013 - link

    If you're talking about this line: "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." he's referring to a battery + flip cover case. Reply
  • nerd1 - Monday, October 28, 2013 - link

    One MAX - 164.5*82.5*10.29mm 217g
    Galaxy note 3 - 151.2*79.2*8.3mm 168g

    I can understand the size but why that heavy and thick?
    Reply
  • Johnmcl7 - Monday, October 28, 2013 - link

    I was surprised at the thickness/weight as well, the larger Z Ultra comes in a lot thinner and a bit lighter despite the fact it has a larger 6.44in screen and fully weather sealed:

    Sony Z Ultra - 179.4 x 92.2 x 6.5 mm 212g
    Reply
  • ShieTar - Monday, October 28, 2013 - link

    Both the Note 3 and the Z Ultra are dead flat though, while the One Max has a nice curvature on the back. Its surely a question of personal reference which you prefer, personally I like the curved body better than something thin and flat. Reply

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