The HTC One Max uses the same interface type as the HTC One – HTC Sense. However, it boasts a few updates added since that phone’s launch.
The phone runs HTC Sense 5.5 and uses Android 4.3, the latest version of Google’s OS (as of October 2013). It’s a much simpler and arguably more stylish UI than you’ll find of Samsung’s Android phones. It doesn’t try to bung-in every feature under the sun, and trades a colourful and jolly look for better visual intuitiveness and a sharper look.
BlinkFeed is placed centre stage in HTC Sense. It’s a widget that gives you the latest updates from your favourite sources, portrayed as sharp blocks. Sounds a bit vague? BlinkFeed gives you control over what goes into the feed, from websites’ news to TV listings and article links culled from Google Plus.
Having greater control over what goes into BlinkFeed is one of the key upgrades introduced in HTC Sense 5.5. For the most part, though, Sense feels just like it did in the HTC One. It’s fast, it looks good and it’s a good deal simpler to use than – for example – the Galaxy Note 3 as it’s less laden with features.
However, HTC Sense doesn’t make a particularly strong case for the HTC One Max’s screen size. Unlike the Galaxy S4, you can’t run two apps on-screen at once or overlay videos on top of your home screens. HTC has deliberately made Sense something quite different.
We’ve heard many arguments for and against features like active phone multi-tasking, but have to admit they’re things we rarely find a use for. HTC is clearly happy to cut out the bits it thinks don’t add to the core phone experience. Among them, apparently, is a cutting-edge processor.
Where other new phones like the Sony Xperia Z1 and Galaxy Note 3 have taken on the Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor, the HTC One Max uses the slightly earlier Snapdragon 600 CPU seen in the HTC One.
The most obvious difference between the two generations it that the newer 800-series processors can be clocked much faster than the HTC One Max’s. Its processor is clocked at 1.7GHz, while the Xperia Z1, for example, has a 2.2GHz CPU.
Making direct comparisons in terms of day-to-day performance are largely meaningless at this level (any performance hiccups are more down to software blips rather than processor power with Android 4.3 at the helm), but benchmarks show the Snapdragon 800 is indeed more powerful. Geekbench 3 on the One Max comes out at 1994 points, the Xperia Z1 2797 - a sizeable 29% improvement.
However, the only time at which we saw a discernible performance hiccup was during Real Racing 3, which suffered from a slightly inconsistent frame rate when Power Saving mode was switched on (it throttles the CPU). It's a powerful phone.
As we saw with the HTC Sense interface, the HTC One Max keeps its apps roster fairly simple. Most additional apps are packed away into folders, leaving essentials like Google Maps, and a few HTC headliner apps to stay on the top layer of the apps menu.
HTC leaves social networking to the official Facebook and Twitter apps, aside from letting you bung Google Plus updates into the BlinkFeed widget. It has a go at some more periphery extras, though.
Scribble is HTC’s rival to Samsung’s S Note. It’s a note-taking app that lets you type with a keyboard or ‘handwrite’ with a finger or pen, as well as add photos, audio notes and little bits of clip art (for the kids). The way it organises handwritten text into lines is clever, but much of the appeal of this app is lost without a clever digitiser stylus like the Galaxy Note 3’s. It’s handy, rather than essential.
HTC TV is an app that lets you plan your TV viewing by showing you local listings, as well as control your TV using the HTC One Max. It can do this because it features an IR transmitter. Again, this app has its Samsung equivalent – WatchON.
Car is an ultra-simple interface screen that you can safely use while driving. It features six big buttons that (hopefully) won’t cause you to swerve off into a ditch while doing 75mph down the M25. It’s a neat and thoughtful app, but doesn’t pack in any extra GPS brains as such – it piggy-packs off Google Maps.
Kid Mode is an app that provides a virtual play pen for kids.
What the HTC One Max misses is a video player app that’ll be able to handle all sorts of video codecs. As is, the phone only has Google’s video player app, which only offers basic video support. Several decent free video player apps are available from Google Play, but this is the sort of feature you’d get pre-installed with a Samsung phone.