When I first reviewed the HTC One in this paper in April, I liked the smartphone so much, and wrote such a glowing review, HTC used a quote from it in its outdoor advertising. For a glorious moment or two earlier this year, my words were up on a billboard in huge, 800-point, bold typeface.
This week’s review, of the HTC One’s sort-of successor, the One max, won’t even get me into 8-point italic. HTC won’t be quoting from it, not unless it’s in some internal memorandum about the fickleness of the press. I just don’t like the One max as much as I liked (and still like) the One. That’s not to say the One max is a terrible device. On the contrary, it’s actually pretty good. But it’s not great like the One.
The One max is, as you might guess from its name, a very big version of the One. Where the One has a big, 4.7-inch screen, the One max has an over-the-top, 5.9-inch screen, pushing into the “phablet” class of devices that are halfway between phones and tablets. Even by phablet standards it’s big. It’s considerably bigger and heavier than Samsung’s Galaxy Note 3, which is saying something because the Note 3 is itself pretty huge.
But where the Note 3 gives you extra features that take advantage of its extra size, the One max mostly just gives you the extra size. It’s faster than the One (though not as faster than it could be, due to it having a slightly old processor), its software has the improvements you would expect from something released seven months later, and, yes, the bigger screen is better for watching videos and reading news feeds coming in through its excellent (though not universally loved) BlinkFeed home screen.
But to my mind the One max lacks the killer feature you need to make toting around a huge phone worthwhile. Where the Note 3 has its stylus and associated software which combined make the Note 3 arguably the best and most useful device on the market, and where Sony’s Xperia Z Ultra has its tablet mode, the One max has just its bigness, and it’s not quite enough. It needs some app or feature that makes sense of all the bigness, but it’s not there. You might as well get a One (not a bad idea) and hold it a little closer to your face.
Now, the One max does have a fingerprint scanner which the One does not, but as Apple has proven, that’s a feature that has nothing to do with a phone’s size. Indeed, given how difficult it can be to reach the fingerprint scanner, placed on the back of the phone slightly too close to the camera lens, the feature might be better on a smaller device.
Another disappointment with the max is the camera. HTC, like Apple, is pushing the idea that cameras with fewer, bigger pixels take better photos, and while that’s a sound idea in theory, it still isn’t translating to a better camera in practice. Photos from the One max are fine, especially in low light, but they’re not as good as photos from phones like Nokia’s Lumias and Sony’s Xperia Z1, which have smaller pixels but more of them.