HTC Sense 5.5
The max is running Android 4.3 Jelly Bean -- the latest version currently available -- with HTC's updated Sense 5.5 skin over the top. Although it's packing the most up to date versions of all its software, you probably won't be able to tell as Sense 5.5 doesn't bring many visual changes to the table.
It still maintains the attractive, minimalist interface with large, easy to poke app icons in a scrolling menu. Up to five homescreens are available for you to plonk down any apps and live widgets you want. Four app icons remain static along the bottom to give immediate access to your favourite app and stay on screen even if you're in the app menu. It's a small feature, but it means you never need to be more than a tap away from your camera in case of sudden pet cuteness.
It has the same basic architecture as any other Android phone, so existing droid users won't feel adrift in an unknown sea. The stripped down interface makes it quite easy for new smart phone users to get to grips with everything too as there's less clutter confusing everything. That is, until you start whacking widgets down on every page.
To the left of the homescreens is HTC's news aggregator Blinkfeed. If you've ever used apps like Flipboard before then it'll be quite familiar. It shows your social networks as well as select articles from chosen news sources in a cascade of icons for you to swipe through. It's attractive and very easy to see what's new.
I like the look of Blinkfeed and it works well, but I had two main issues with it on previous phones -- both of which HTC says it's fixed. For one, there was no way of getting rid of it -- it's always sat as one of your homescreens, permanently showing what all your social networks are up to. A quick dive into the homescreen edit page now allows you to turn it off. Smashing.
Secondly, the options for news sources you could subscribe to was extremely limited. Although it had the world's best tech news outlet CNET on board, there wasn't a whole lot else. At a briefing, HTC explained that it's added the ability to subscribe to your own sources using RSS feeds.
After a long time spent fiddling around, I found no way of doing this, however. The closest I got was to search for a website as a topic, which would show results from the site as well as tweets and mentions of the site from social sources, which is not quite what I had in mind. If there's an easy way of subscribing to any of your favourite sites as you would with a normal RSS reader, Blinkfeed would be much more fun to use.
Processor and performance
The Max is running on a Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 processor clocked at 1.7GHz, which is the same processor found inside the One. While it's a powerful piece of kit, it's not competing well with the Galaxy Note 3, which packs in Qualcomm's latest quad-core Snapdragon 800 processor -- a meaty 2.3GHz.
That's a real shame and it could be a problem for HTC. The Note 3 is arguably the Max's direct competitor and it really needs to ensure that it's giving Samsung's phone a proper run for its money. Without the same level of processing power under the hood -- and of course, no built in stylus -- the Max instead has to rely entirely on the draw of its metal body.
The Max's processor is far from underpowered though. It racked up a meaty 2,781 on the Geekbench 2 benchmark test putting it, unsurprisingly, alongside the One, which achieved 2,668 on the same test. Keep in mind though that with various reports of benchmark tampering ---- it's important to take these figures with a healthy pinch of salt.
It still managed to provide a very swift experience overall though, with no delay when swiping around the homescreens or opening apps and menus. The camera launched with no real lag and photo editing in Snapseed was a breeze.
It coped well with demanding games like N.O.V.A 3, Real Racing 3 and Asphalt 8 too, while Full HD video playback was tackled without any hiccups at all. With the older processor, it might not handle the waves of new games over the next couple of years quite as well, but today's titles are no problem for it.
The One Max packs in the same 4-megapixel camera found inside the standard One. 4 megapixels might not seem like very much in comparison to the 20.7-megapixel Sony Xperia Z1, but HTC reckons the individual pixels are better, allowing them to take in more light and therefore give better-looking photos.
I found the One's camera mostly did a great job, so it wasn't much of a surprise to see the Max give similarly pleasing results. On my test shot in the CNET UK office, it achieved a very even exposure, capturing the shadowy areas well, but managing to keep the bright window at the back under control.
There's a minimum of image noise too, and plenty of detail, considering it's only a 4-megapixel sensor. Images aren't as big as you'd get from the high megapixel phones, but the quality and smaller file sizes makes them ideal for Facebook snaps.
To fill up the rest of the space inside the chunky metal frame, HTC has plopped in a capacious battery. Its enormous, high-definition screen is naturally going to suck the juice away faster than a thirsty toddler, but the lower clock-speed of the processor should theoretically use less power than the 2.3GHz Snapdragon 800 chip.
In my own use I found the battery to be very good. With normal use it was easily capable of lasting over a day and if you're careful you shouldn't struggle to get a good way into the second day too. If you're a very heavy user, spending all your time playing games and streaming video, you'll probably need to give it a juice in the evening.
The Max's metal body and huge, high-definition display make it a great choice for those of you who love the look of the standard HTC One, but want some extra room to enjoy your movies and games. It's undeniably cumbersome though so most of you will likely find the standard model a more manageable size.