Also adding to that entertainment appeal is the One Max’s horsepower. You’d expect a handset that straddles the line between phone and tablet to be plenty powerful, and indeed the One Max handled just about any program we threw at it with relative ease. Officially, we’re working with a 1.7GHz quad-core Snapdragon 600 processor and 2GB of RAM, which, you may recall, is the exact same hardware found in the first One.
Games, HD video, and other graphics-intensive programs all fly on the One Max the same way they do on the One, meaning that they run about as well as they look on that big 1080p display. (Which is to say, very well.) Gaming is particularly satisfying on a device like this, and when combined with a quality third-party controller, the One Max’s high-res screen, booming speakers and zippy performance can turn it into something like a makeshift Nvidia Shield.
It is worth noting that the One Max isn’t quite as future-proofed as the Galaxy Note 3 or the Xperia Z Ultra, though. Those phablets squeeze in stronger Snapdragon 800 chips and, in the Note 3’s case, 3GB of RAM, so they’ll have the edge when it comes to raw power. The amount of apps that actually need that extra power is still rather small, however, so you’ll be able to lay around and easily enjoy your videos and games on the One Max for the foreseeable future.
Using the One Max to make calls will make you look like an absolute goof, but if you can brave the awkwardness, it does provide commendable call quality, with only some background noise making it through. Nothing to complain about here.
Sprint provided us with our test unit, which is notable if only because the One Max is compatible with the yellow carrier’s new advanced LTE (or ‘Spark’) network. Sprint claims that you can get speeds of 50-60Mbps if you’re hooked up to Spark in a compatible area, but since this reviewer doesn’t live in one of them, we weren’t able to put that claim to the test. Regular 4G LTE speeds were nothing out of the ordinary, however, so Sprint customers will know what they’re getting into. GSM, EDGE, CDMA, and HSPA networks are all compatible with the One Max too.
The One Max runs on Android 4.3 Jelly Bean underneath Sense 5.5, the newest version of HTC’s proprietary skin. Generally speaking, it doesn’t add much of anything new to the Sense experience. It’s still a rather heavy layering over Android, what with its Flipboard-cloning BlinkFeed widget taking up the homescreen and an assortment of visual tricks running on top of the OS.
The 5.5 update gives the option to replace BlinkFeed for a traditional home screen, adds a GIF maker to the photo gallery, and presents some new themes for HTC’s ‘Zoe’ imaging software, but other than that, the One Max’s software is virtually identical to that of the HTC One. In other words, it still lags well behind Google’s stock Android experience. It’s not at all unbearable, but we’d say that Sense is starting to feel a little outdated once again.
The lack of changes here is doubly worse on a phone as big as the One Max. BlinkFeed has adapted, but virtually no other adjustments have been made to UI to rejigger it for the larger screen. As a result, app icons and on-screen buttons become harder to reach with one hand, the already-subpar virtual keyboard is far too intrusive, and having to use HTC’s trademark two-button navbar is a bigger chore than usual with the expanded space. Top these inconveniences off with a fair amount of bloatware from both Sprint and HTC, and you have a phone that feels oblivious to its own issues.
We can argue all day about how silly or not silly the idea of a phablet is, but it’s hard to deny that a company like Samsung is at least trying to get you to buy into the idea that a bigger phone can be more useful to the everyday person. Its Galaxy Note 3 is loaded with gimmicks, sure, but it also features some of the best multitasking software on a smartphone — software that can only exist on a device of its girth.
The One Max is begging for something like side-by-side app functionality or stylus support, but HTC seems content with merely taking the status quo and blowing it up a tad. It brings nothing new to the phablet concept; it has virtually no value for those who want a productivity machine (relative to other phablets, at least); and it seems to think that being bigger, even to the point of self-parody, is a selling point. It’s not. For a company that has hit some home runs lately, HTC has shown startlingly little original thought here. It’s disappointing.
When we said that Sense 5.5 doesn’t make many changes to the usual Sense UI, we meant it. That applies to the One Max’s camera too, which has the same 4-megapixel ‘UltraPixel’ camera from the original One. We’ve noted before that its ‘larger > more pixels’ approach has never made it much of a world beater, but that it does allow for some quality shots in low-light settings. It’s a fine camera, and that doesn’t change here.
What does change is the original shooter’s optical image stabilization (OIS) tech. It’s been removed now, replaced instead for electronic stabilization software that just can’t provide the same steadiness that the original OIS system could. HTC claims that the OIS was displaced to conserve battery life, and while that may be true, it puts you at a greater risk of taking blurry photos when you’re not standing perfectly still. We’d rather have the stabler shots, especially if we have to view them on such a big display.
It also comes with HTC’s great Zoe software. As on other One phones, that lets you share gifs, movies, clips, and a day’s worth of pictures, all on a related webpage that gets linked to your social media. It’s still one of our favorite things about HTC’s phones, and it’s the kind of innovation we mean when we talk about HTC needing to step it up a bit more.
As mentioned earlier, the One Max’s battery is non-removable, but it does come in at a sizable 3,300 mAh. That gave us a little over a full day of average use, which is just what we’d hoped for with a phone this large. We’d feel comfortable saying that the One Max can outlast the even the Galaxy Note 3 and Xperia Z Ultra, so if more than all-day usage is a prime necessity for you, the One Max should be under consideration. Battery life has always been one area where the phablet form factor proves its worth, and that’s the case again with the One Max.