A Month with the HTC One max

In October I was contacted by HTC’s PR agency here in London, and after a series of discussions they sent me a HTC One max to test for a month.  I’ll admit, working on the same website as Brian means that I come across easily as a Luddite to the mobile community enthusiasts: my daily driver since Jan 2011 is a Samsung Galaxy S2 on a 24 month contract, which is slowly dying.  It did not help that I have a custom ROM on there that is broken, but the battery is giving up the ghost and the memory is not big enough to accommodate all I need.  In seeing this, I was shipped a HTC One max retail unit before their release in the UK.  By jove, it is MASSIVE.

Back to my Luddite roots, I only invested my first tablet in September – the Nexus 7 2013 model.  Sitting next to this, the HTC One max (for some reason the M in max is not officially capitalized) is almost there, and then when sat next to my SGS2, it is huge.  Over the course of this month, every time I pulled it out in the company of others, all my friends and family wanted to ask questions about it, and wondered if I had gone back to the 80s in terms of size.

So first things first: I had to get a relevant SIM card.  In the UK we have a choice of almost a dozen carriers: I am with T-Mobile under the umbrella of EE (Everything Everywhere), and my SGS2 takes a full sized sim whereas the max needs a micro-SIM.  A quick jaunt into my area of London and the EE shops do not have the clipper to convert to a micro-SIM – this seemed a little odd.  Carphone Warehouse did have the tool, but my SIM had already been pushed to the edge of the plastic so cutting it would break the SIM itself.  So I had to go back to EE and buy a micro SIM for £10 then spend 15 minutes on the phone to EE’s call desk getting my regular number onto the new SIM.  This took 5 minutes, though they state up to 4-24 hours can happen.  Back home, I set up the phone with my regular Google account and set about with the fingerprint scanner.

The staff at the local EE store wanted to play with the camera

I normally have very basic unlock tools on my phone – I am a person that likes to switch the screen off when I am not using it, even if I end up needing the phone two seconds later.  So I set myself the task of living with the fingerprint scanner for the month.  Two things occurred on this front: firstly, the fingerprint scanner only recognized my finger less than 30% of the time.  Much like what Brian said in the Videocast #2, make sure that you record the finger in the normal way you hold the phone.  I did this, but I seem to hold the phone in many different ways, so it got exceptionally frustrating when I wanted to see email / respond to Google messages but the phone would not recognize my finger.  Therein lies another issue I had to begin with – because the fingerprint sensor is on the back next to the camera, for the first fortnight (14 days), on numerous occasions, I attempted to unlock the phone by swiping the camera.  These two issues combined gave me some serious headaches in terms of slowing me down in my normal swing of work.  I have not tried the iPhone implementation of the fingerprint scanner, but as it stands it is not something I want to use on my phone.

The scanner aside, the HTC One max is clearly a step up in terms of performance of my SGS2, even if I have truly borked the latter.  Everything is smoother, there is less time waiting.  But now that I own (since September) the Nexus 7 2013, I am used to this speed.  It was not as thrilling as the bump to a Nexus 7 was.  Let me put this into perspective: I actually play a number of mobile games on a semi-regular basis.  Typically these are Kairosoft games, or Freecell, or anything else on the Play store that catches my fancy (Minion Run, Sheep Happens).  I used to play Kairosoft games on my SGS2, and now that I have a Nexus 7, they are all on there instead: I use my phone as a phone and email client on the move, and my Nexus 7 gets used at home.  The HTC One max felt like a combination of the two devices.  If you own a HTC One max, essentially there is no need to own a tablet – the screen is large enough that it still does all the tablet functionality.

My third use for my phone, after calling and gaming, is usually as a (bad) photography aid, for snapping very quick shots, usually of stills, when out and about.  By comparison, the HTC One max camera is miles above the SGS2, and I dare say that if I had one around Computex this year, it might even replace my Pentax K-x, purely based on portability.  But one thought did linger in the back of my mind, and that was due to Brian’s OIS vs. EIS video showing the HTC One against the HTC One max.  In that video, it is clear that the HTC One is superior for smoothing out shaky motion.  My hands while taking images/video is more like an earthquake.  So in looking at that video from Brian and my own experience, the question becomes ‘what if it was better?’  I have used the HTC One max for several images in recent reviews, as well as some walking around London:

Not exactly sure what part of London this was - near Shoreditch I think 

During the time I tested the HTC One max, I took on the opportunity to visit my undergrad alma mater and do some overclocking demonstrations with TeamGB Overclockers.  Despite the issues with the fingerprint scanner and it not always working first time, the HTC One max will allow you to take pictures without unlocking the phone.  This meant that in times when the camera is needed in a hurry, it is a lot easier to point and shoot.

At this point I am going to interject on the SD/battery debate that has been going on.  The HTC One max represents the second mobile phone device I have tested in as many years, and both have had user replaceable batteries and microSD cards.  On my SGS2, it was vital: I spent Q1 2012 travelling back and forth between Cambridge and Oxford twice a week via coach (a 3.5hr trip), wherein if I worked I would feel ill, and the only real thing that took my mind off the journey was watching Naruto on my phone.  Note this is my usage case justification for a tablet (media consumption while travelling), but I still did not justify it at the time to actually go buy one.  For that 3.5 hour trip, I needed somewhere to hold 10 episodes of Naruto, and a full battery charge, as by the end of the trip I would have drained my SGS2 from 80% to 10%.  At times this past year I have had to swap out the battery with a friends in order to make some important calls when mine died.  Both of these scenarios warranted removable microSD and batteries to work.  With the HTC One max, while they are there, it does not particularly bother me that much: the battery lasts a lot longer anyway, and the 16GB internal memory is large enough to carry my music – I no longer need to carry episodes as I am not making that commute any more.  Would it be better to remove these features to get a lighter and thinner HTC One max?  In my opinion no – I like a phone to have a sense of bulk.  I have handled the iPhone 5, and it feels too light.  But the sense of bulk brings me on to my next point.

The HTC One max is a big phone.  I live in a big city with a certain crime rate and general need to maintain a status of high alert regarding people around you and where your belongings are (perhaps I am being too cautious, but that is my usual mentality).  Now I am under average height (5’6”), and rather than wear cargo shorts I am more of a jeans or corduroy type wearer.  When using an SGS2, it fits nicely in my pocket and I know where it is – there is no point in taking the Nexus 7 anywhere, it is a bit too bulky.  Now the HTC One max falls on the side of the Nexus 7: it is still too bulky to put into my trouser pocket.  I can do it, and it does work, but I have an ever eternal fear that it is both noticeable to pickpockets, or one sharp knock by another pedestrian and it is going to break as I fall to the ground.  The best place for such a device would be in the pocket of a suit jacket, which brings be to my usage scenario for the HTC One max.

As I have played around with the HTC One max, it brings the power of two devices into one – my phone and my tablet.  I can take calls with it, and also consume media.  Perhaps on this account, the microSD is a good thing, in case I have a lot of media to consume.  For the size, it makes sense first and foremost as a work device – something a travelling worker can use on the train when going from city to city and be large enough to not need to take out the laptop/ultrabook to read a presentation.  It fits into a normal suit pocket and is obvious that it is there when you wear the jacket.  As a casual phone, to me personally, it is a bit too big to be carrying around casually in a trouser pocket.

Now one of the other points that Brian mentioned is that the HTC One max is not a one hand phone, and I would agree in part.  Taking that into account, I noticed during my month that I do use the phone a lot one handed, and despite my stature it works in one hand for almost everything.  The only issue I came across was actually writing on the device – it definitely needs two hands for this.  While I can type the message in one hand (usually my right), it was always an annoyance to move my hand enough to reach the newline button on the keyboard.  More often than not I found myself resting the phone in one hand while performing all the actions with the other, rather than the tablet usage model of holding the device on either side with both hands.


The HTC One max is certainly out of my price range, given how much I use my phone: I work from home, so I have the internet and a land line, so the only time I do use calls/minutes/texts/internet is when I am on the move, or as I recently did, move house.  My current call plan is 300 mins / 300 texts / unlimited (*) internet, but I have only ever hit the limit (2GB internet before it goes slow) when I moved house.  So getting a plan with the HTC One max for my requirements does not really exist (carriers here like to push more minutes and text messages at the expense of data), and as a one-off cost, it also is way out of my price range.  If I did not have a tablet, I could possibly see a justification for a HTC One max, but in my Luddite ways I might actually prefer a smaller device to be honest, something that is truly one handed but is similar to the One max in terms of battery life and storage.  It does feel like the sort of phone for a company contract though, where it would be used continuously either to consume media, read reports or take calls.  Stick it in your suit pocket, and away you go - I could definitely see that as the HTC One max use case.


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  • Badelhas - Thursday, December 5, 2013 - link

    Great review, congrats!
  • neoraiden - Thursday, December 5, 2013 - link

    Wow I'm surprised you don't use your mobilephone more, I guess having the latest device is not a necessity although how you made any android device last that long with any use as a smartphone is beyond me. I can't get my phones to last a year without slowing down or running out of ram in the case of iphones.
  • IanCutress - Thursday, December 5, 2013 - link

    Oh my SGS2 still takes calls and text messages fine. My father and brother got one at the same time I did - my brother's one does not charge anymore, but my father's phone is fine (he uses it almost exclusively as a phone/camera and not a lot else). For apps I find myself using something like Advanced Task Killer a lot, even though it is not really recommended.
  • neoraiden - Thursday, December 5, 2013 - link

    I'm using a note 2 and it wouldn't let me install apps for a while as it kept saying not enough memory, even when I deleted a ton of apps. Then suddenly worked one day and updated all my apps. Then a few days later ran out of memory again :-( . I also lost a ton of photos on the device but retained the thumbnails which was annoying, even used recovery software and they were gone. I think I use my devices a bit too much, but I'm glad yours is still going. I'm hopefully receiving my note 3 tomorrow.
  • stirredo - Thursday, December 5, 2013 - link

    You might want to try and do this:
  • tigger2u - Friday, December 6, 2013 - link

    When you get your Note 3, you can have your photos backed up to Google+, DropBox, SkyDrive and/or any other number of services. There is no need to lose photos in the mobile-era with the many cloud services available.

    I know in the US, my Note 3 came with 50GB of additional Dropbox storage for two years. That should be plenty of additional storage to backup photos for the time you have the device before an upgrade.
  • akdj - Sunday, December 8, 2013 - link

    I've got the Note 2 as well...we've also got access to Dropbox, albeit I didn't get a free 50GB storage addition, that's cool. But we've got Google drive with I think 20/25GB. Dropbox, Cloud...you're right, excellent options for backup in the cloud....and for free. 50GB is a lot. If you're storing RAW files. I get it...me, I only back up my jpegs to Dropbox and the RAW photo and video files are redundantly stored on external drives via thunderbolt in RAID.
    Maybe you were already aware or this....even his SG2 is able to utilize most of these services...not sure about GDrive though depending on the ROM he's using and generation of Android's OS.
  • akdj - Sunday, December 8, 2013 - link

    Man I can't get out of my Note contract quick enough. I can't STAND the damn thing (Note 1 & then I did an early upgrade after reading the healthy, positive reviews). Same as you. Even with my micro SD card it's ALWAYS coming up 'out of memory' when background apps are updated...the little question mark, pull down and see the app wasn't able to update....try it, get the message. Pisses me off....I've found a weird fix though. A lot of times, uninstalling the app and reinstalling it (obviously the new install has the update) tends to work, for me, at least 7/10 times. The other issue, and perhaps Ian could comment...I'm still having a hell of a time downloading apps from the Play Store on my Note. It'll say 'incompatible with this device, it's a phone app' or something to that affect. Drives me NUTS! And lastly, don't get me started on these silly SD cards. Indeed, if you're using it as a 'content consumption' device....it makes sense throwing some movies or music on it. But I can't get ANY apps to install it. Half the time it's not showing up in storage as an option and asks to be formatted....I've never messed with the ROM or deeper level 're' programming of the phone. Perhaps I should....but I've played with the '3' and spoke personally with a pair of long time AT&T employees....guys that have been taking care of me for a long time....and the three of us all enjoy owning both Android and iOS devices. We've all three got iPhone 5s phones, one has the S4 and HTC1--- the other, a Note 3. The fella with the S4 got rid of his Note3. Couldn't stand it. The other gentleman that has lived with the Note 3 (IMHO I think it's very cool these guys own the latest of both and have 'working' knowledge of the actual gear they're selling), same response. He says they got it right with the '2' but the '3' is filled with a lot of 'junk' half baked and doesn't work consistently OR fluently....TouchWiz has turned into a pile of turd bloat while HTC's Sense is getting it 'right'....then you've got the carriers (I'm on AT&T and can't speak intelligently about the others or outside of the USA), adding their crapware on top of T/W----the move I'm making next time is hopefully the SG4, HTC2, or Nexus 6....from the Play Store. Android stock. Or I'll give HTC a shot. That said Ian, I'm sorry to hear about your problems with the fingerprint reader. That sucks. As an owner of the 5s, I can Honestly say it's been a revelation for me. Works 14/15 times for me (wet or extremely dry fingers can glitch it first try, but typically the second responds immediately). And like you, I NEVER utilized security on my phones. Like you I want fast and immediate access. Apple's implementation is incredibly fast. For me, it's as quick as hitting the home button....and 'swipe to unlock' execution
    Thanks for the review. Obviously you're coming from an almost three generation old phone now so the improvement is gonna be astounding....but what were your thoughts about the display quality? The speed and fluency of the UI? How DID you end up carrying it? I must've missed Anand's review and I don't usually do that ;)---that said, I'm getting more and more curious about HTC. Although their financial issues concern me....I've owned three Samsung phones and two tablets and I'm just not a fan of the length of time for updates and bug fixes (Samsung? Carrier.)---& can't stand TW. I'm not too high on either Nexus 7 either...I've got last years 16 and this year's 32. Again....the whole tablet 'optimized apps'....or lack there of.....and with such a phenomenal display..their decision to go 16:9 absolutely destroys the ability to surf or even read documents in 'portrait'...even in landscape, a lot of scrolling is involved in comparison to the 4:3 aspect ratio..as always, ymmv...but that would be my last question Ian, what is the aspect ratio of the 'Max'?
    Thanks. Sorry to be so long winded
  • Stanley33 - Monday, December 9, 2013 - link

    Here's a very simple solution that works on my Galaxy Note;
    Open the Phone app and switch to Keypad.
    Dial *#9900#
    On the screen that appears, click on the button labelled "Delete dumpstate/logcat"
    I've restored about one GB of system space this way.
  • CuriousMike - Friday, December 6, 2013 - link

    Replacement batteries for the GS2/3 can be damn cheap and work well enough as a bridge until your next phone.

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