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HTC One Max Smartphone Review

Posted by Andrew at 6:19 AM on March 14, 2014

HTC LogoHTC are expected to announced a new iteration of their One smartphone in a few weeks, but here today I have the current version of the HTC One Max on my desk. And it’s definitely on my desk, because this is not a small phone, no. With a whopping 5.9″ screen this easily the largest phone I’ve ever handled, verging into phablet territory. But is it too big? Let’s take a look.

As you’ll see from the pictures, the One Max looks broadly the same as the standard One, with the top and bottom speakers. Although it’s not obvious in the photograph, the curved aluminium back raises the phone off the desk, making it easy to pick up off a smooth surface. The build quality seems good, although I’m not a big fan of the hard plastic bevel round the edge.

HTC One Max Front

Using the One Max, it’s clear this isn’t a phone for one handed use. With a bit of effort, I can use my Nexus 4 single-handedly, but there’s no way I can do this with the HTC. You also know that you’re holding it, as the One Max is a relatively heavy phone at 217 g. It’s not really a surprise – more glass, more metal, more battery – it’s going to weigh more.

Looking round the back, the cover pops off using a small release mechanism making it one of the easiest phones to get into. Inside there’s the slot for the micro SIM and a microSD card (top right). Re-attaching the rear cover is a straightforward and during the review period, I didn’t have any problems with the back coming off accidently.

HTC One Max Back  Naked HTC One Max

Observant readers will have spotted the strange black square underneath the camera; that’s the fingerprint reader to which we will return. Round the edges, there’s an IR port and headset socket along the top; volume rocker and on/off down the right, micro USB connector on the bottom and back release up the left. USB OTG is supported via the micro USB so files and media can be transferred with the appropriate adaptor. I did find that the positioning of the on/off button close to the volume rocker led to a bit of fumbling at times – a bit more space between the two wouldn’t have hurt.

It’s difficult to get an idea of the size of the One Max but here’s a picture with the HTC alongside an LG Nexus 4 and an Apple iPhone 5. Yup, it’s big, but it is a lovely screen with a full HD display at 1,920 x 1,080.

HTC One Max, Nexus 4 and iPhone 5

Moving on from the physical size, the One Max runs Android 4.3 with HTC’s Sense UI. Whether you like Sense UI or prefer vanilla Android is entirely a personal preference but there are some nice touches. If you are big into your social networks, the phone’s home screen is taken over with BlinkFeed which pulls information from your networks and displays it in a magazine style. It’s nicely done. I did find it a little frustrating to have to double tap the “home” icon to get to the list of recently run apps, but I’m sure you’d get used to that if the One Max was your daily phone.

BlinkFeed  Recently Run

There are a few extra apps included too, including a remote control app that uses the IR port to control TVs and other AV devices. If you have children, the most significant is the Zoodles Kid Mode app which creates a safe environment for children to play with the Max and keeps them away from your vital data.

Zoodles Kids Geek Bench 3

Play is definitely something the One Max is good at. Processor-wise, the One Max is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 processor 1.7 GHz quad-core CPU, scoring 640 / 1977 in Geekbench 3 (cf 500 / 1344 for the LG Nexus 4). In practice, the phone is quick, and plays games and movies smoothly. I’ve been having a blast with Zombie Gunship recently, but music and video is where the Max excels. The bigger screen is good but what really sets the phone apart are the stereo speakers which deliver superior sound for the size of device.

Battery life was impressive. Ok, so it has 3300 mAh battery, which is at leat 50% more than the average smartphone but it was great to get throught the working day with plenty of juice to spare. Combined with the large screen, it’s the perfect Ingress phone!

The camera is good too, with a much improved camera app that adds both Instagram-style filters and several cool editing effects including removing unwanted objects, such as people, from photos. You can also create action shots that combine images into a single shot – my efforts to do this were a bit rubbish so I’m not going to share them with you but the camera and apps are definitely one highlights of the One Max as the larger screen really helps with the editing process.

Finally returning to the fingerprint sensor, this is a neat but slightly flawed feature. Simply, the One Max can use your fingerprint to unlock the phone instead of a PIN or similar. Setting it up is straightforward and it works as advertised. Swipe your finger across the pad, and hey presto, phone unlocks. The two problems I had were these: first the fingerprint sensor is very close to the camera and many times I found myself swiping the camera lens, not the fingerprint sensor, and the lens gets grubby. Second, over time I found that the accuracy of the sensor seemed to fall, presumably because of subtle changes in my finger. Re-registering the fingerprint would solve the problem for the next few days, but eventually it would begin to take a a couple of swipes to get in, rather than just one. When it works, the fingerprint sensor is very convenient for unlocking the phone and despite much trying, I never managed to get the phone to unlock using the wrong finger or someone else’s finger.

To sum up, the HTC One Max is a powerful smartphone with a big screen. It’s great for games and entertainment, and the camera is one of the best I’ve used…..but I don’t think I’d buy one. It was useful to have around during the review period but overall it’s too big and heavy to be my daily phone. As a secondary device, it’s great and in many instances, could replace a 7″ tablet, but then again it’s more expensive, so it’s difficult to see the Max’s niche. However, if you are thinking of a phablet-style device for whatever reason, do give the One Max your consideration as I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

Thanks very much to HTC for the loan of the One Max.

Android Apps Accelerate

Posted by tomwiles at 10:34 PM on October 19, 2012

When I got my first Android phone a bit over two and a half years ago, an HTC Evo from Sprint, the Android Marketplace was a confused and confusing place. The Apple App Store had the clear advantage. Android apps that did exist then were often clunky.

A lot has changed in two and a half years. Today, the aptly renamed “Google Play” store contains Android apps that very often match their Apple app counterpart in both they way they look and in their functionality. Google Play also contains a lot of other content for sale, including magazines, music and movies.

My HTC Evo had a limited amount of primary memory, so it was effectively limited in the number of apps that could be installed. As a result, I mostly ignored the app store because I couldn’t install anything new without giving up some other app or combination of apps in order to free up that memory. I experimented with apps mostly on my iPod and iPad. Since replacing my HTC Evo with a Samsun Galaxy S3, which has no similar memory issues, I have been experimenting with new apps like mad.

What I’ve found is that for the vast majority of apps I use on my iPod and iPad, there are Android versions of the same app. So, I am able to use apps right on the Galaxy S3 such as Flipboard, Skitch, MyRadar, Adobe Photoshop Express, etc., etc., etc. In other words, most of the apps that I use on my iPod and iPad now have Android versions of the same app that function, look and act the same as the iOS version(s).

The Google Play store is better organized than it used to be. One of the major advantages of Android over iOS devices is that the apps can be set up to automatically update without any user intervention. The automatic updates function like clockwork. One you’ve installed dozens or even hundreds of apps on a device, there are always several apps per day that have updates. With iOS devices, the update process must be initiated manually. Let your iOS devices sit a more than a day or two without updating them, and the apps needing updates rapidly escalates. With Android, the updates simply happen automatically and leave a pull-down notification of their success.

Apple still has a clear advantage when it comes to iPad apps versus the confusion that still exists in the realm of Android tablets. However, when it comes to phone devices such as the Galaxy S3, the app advantage once enjoyed by iOS has greatly lessened.

Competition is a wonderful thing for the consumer. It makes products far better. The explosion of hand-held computing devices and fast broadband wireless networks is resulting in a continuing explosion of future possibilities and possibilities realized.

Out of the Shadow of the iPhone

Posted by Andrew at 4:42 AM on March 7, 2012

Samsung Galaxy BeamAt this time of year the technology circus does its tour of the world….CES in Las Vegas, MWC in Barcelona and CeBIT in Hanover, Germany. Interspersed are product launches by major companies like Apple.

When Apple and subsequently Microsoft decided to move away from the industry events and do their own mini-shows, many commentators noted that it was disappointing that the market leaders weren’t going to be attending and predicted the death of the big show. From all the evidence I see, it’s been the best thing that ever happened.

Take Mobile World Congress last week – it was a great show with Samsung, Nokia, HTC, RIM all putting out great phones and tablets. With the figures showing Android well ahead of iOS in the US new handset market and the absence of Apple at the show, it really felt like smartphones had come out from under the shadow of the iPhone. Companies were daring to innovate and be a bit different because the competition is no longer simply about being better than the iPhone, it’s about being better than Android competitors.

HTC’s One line-up might not be earth-shattering but there’s a progression from entry-level to top-end. Samsung continues to produce different sizes and integrate other technologies, such as pico projectors (Galaxy Beam), and Nokia supports its long-term plans in the Windows Phone market while still introducing a bonkers megapixel camera on the older line.

In comparison, Apple would have produced largely the same phone as the last one, only a bit faster, yet would have stolen all the headlines. Great products for sure, but Apple isn’t innovating, it’s perfecting.

The smartphone market is in rude health and it’s great to see genuine innovation and competition rather than the predictable progression of a near monopoly.

Waterproof Your Gear With Liquipel

Posted by Andrew at 9:24 PM on February 24, 2012

Liquipel LogoNanotech waterproof coatings have been quite the fashion at CES this year but Liquipel‘s offering is a little bit different. Todd and Steve learn more from Kevin Bacon of Liquipel.

Liquipel have developed a nanotechnology-based liquid-repelling coating for electronic devices that makes the device waterproof for short periods of immersion. This sounds pretty much like ever other waterproofing technology on the market…except Liquipel can waterproof gadgets you already own. Woah!

For only $59, you can send Liquipel a phone or mp3 player and they will waterproof it for you. At the moment there’s a restricted list of devices that Liquipel will coat but the list includes some Apple, Motorola, Samsung and HTC devices. The list of approved devices will expand over time and if you have a particular need, you can get in touch with them.

Watch the video if you want to see an Apple iPhone get dunked in water!

Interview by Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central for the TechPodcast Network and Steve Lee of Waves of Tech.

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3feet Universal Smartphone and Tablet Stand

Posted by Andrew at 11:00 AM on February 19, 2012

3feet Universal Smartphone and Tablet Stand3feet almost need no introduction. Their universal smartphone and tablet stands are well-known for their neat design and their (probably) unique feature of being dishwasher-proof.

Being universal, the 3feet stand works with iPads, TouchPads, Playbooks, Xooms, iPhones, Nexus, Galaxies, Lumias, Nooks, Kindles… Pretty much anything that’s reasonably flat and you want to see. The 3feet can hold a device at three different angles.

Moving away from the gratuitous product placement, there’s now a wider range of basic colours (11) and the opportunity to have different colours for different parts of the stand. The stand is made from recycled plastic and it’s all made in the USA.

Available from good retailers for around $20.

Interview by Jeffrey Powers of Geekazine and Andy Smith of Geocaching World.

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Griffin Gets Gadgets On The Go

Posted by Andrew at 1:35 AM on January 13, 2012

Griffin has a great range of accessories for all kinds of smartphones, MP3 players and tablets, so it’s no surprise that they’ve a few additions to their product range here at CES. This year they’re announcing a two in-car mounts, some power solutions and a mount for air travellers.

First up, if you have a car that has an aux port (3.5 mm socket), then the WindowsSeat 3 Handsfree is the windshield or dashboard mount for your vehicle. It comes with combined aux cable and microphone that that can be used to make handsfree phone calls and stream music/navigation commands through the car speakers. WindowSeat’s mounting cradle holds iPods or iPhones in most shell- or skin-type cases, as well as a similar sized MP3 players and smartphones, including popular models from BlackBerry, HTC, Motorola, and Samsung. Price is $39.99 and available now.

Griffin AirCurve

If you don’t have  an aux jack, the AirCurve Window Mount is the alternative. This windshield mount is designed as an acoustic amplifier which can raise the volume by as much as 25 dB without any batteries or cables. Designed for the iPhone 4 / 4S, simply put the smartphone in speakerphone mode and chat away. Price is also $39.99 and available now.

Griffin’s PowerBlock range has been updated with new models –  PowerBlock Reserve, $59.99, a wall charger for iPod and iPhone that can be plugged into any AC wall outlet to provide a quick boost of power that also has a built-in rechargeable 2,000 mAh lithium-ion battery pack for charging on the go. The PowerBlock Reserve Universal, $49.99, is the same concept but quickly charges any USB device. Both models charge their own batteries at the same time they’re charging connected devices, which is often not the case with competing models. A row of LEDs serve as a power gauge, indicating how much charge is left.

Finally, Griffin is bringing a new product to the market in Q2 of 2012 with a Tray Table Latch Mount. Specifically for the air and rail traveller, the mount is designed to be compatible with 90% of the world’s airline and commuter rail tray table latches and holds your eReader, tablet or smartphone at eye level for comfortable viewing. Very handy.

Pop round to Griffin in North Hall, Booth 5212 at CES 2012 in Las Vegas to see all their latest goodies or you can checked out the dedicated CES section of their website.

Android Causing WiFi Router Lockups

Posted by tomwiles at 12:38 AM on January 3, 2012

I’ve had an Android phone for about a year and a half (the HTC Evo from Sprint) but primarily because of battery use issues I’ve never used it on my home WiFi network.

In the interim, a few months ago I purchased a Barnes & Noble Nook Color, which runs a custom version of Android. I’ve also experimented with dual-booting the Nook with CyanogenMod 7, an open-source version of Android. When I dual-boot into CyanogenMod 7 and connect to my Apple Airport Extreme router, the router will loose Internet connectivity after only a few minutes, requiring me to cycle the router’s power off and back on to restore connectivity.

Now that I’ve been able to install the authorized version of Netflix onto the Nook after Barnes and Noble’s latest Nook OS update, I tried running Netflix on the Nook on my home network. After watching video for 15 or more minutes, my Apple router loses Internet connectivity.

My youngest brother has a newer HTC Android phone, and after he connected to my local WiFi network almost immediately the Apple router lost connectivity. It happened so frequently at one point that I was beginning to think the router was dying.

However, after futher experimentation I’ve determined that if I don’t connect any Android devices to my WiFi, the router seems to work as flawlessly as ever.

Time to check Mr. Google. Using the Google-suggested search term “android crashes router” (the term pops up immediately after I start typing “android cras   “ so I know plenty of other people are looking for a solution) 4,730,000 results come up. After reading through a number of posts by people experiencing the same issue, I have yet to come up with a definitive answer. What is it about a variety of versions of Android connecting to WiFi that is causing many different brands of routers to lose Internet connectivity? The problem is by no means an Apple Router/Android WiFi incompatibility – it therefore seems more likely an issue with Android itself, or at least certain Android builds.

The suggested fixes range from people suggesting that they try to update their router’s firmware to trying to confine the router to Wireless “G” only.

Ironically my HTC Evo phone can also be used as a WiFi hotspot. I can connect any Android device to the Evo’s WiFi hotspot feature and transfer all the data I want without issue. In other words, Android cannot cause my Android phone’s hotspot feature to lose Internet connectivity.

It would be logical to assume that this problem is an Android software issue. The problem seems inconsistent, most probably because of the patchwork-quilt variety of Android hardware and custom OS builds.

So far, the problem hasn’t even seemed to be officially acknowledged as an issue. I suspect that bad Android battery life has prevented a lot of people from trying to connect their Android phones to their home networks via WiFi, so mass numbers of people likely haven’t experienced the potential WiFi router crashing problem.

Of the people that do connect their phones to home WiFi routers, some people never have a problem, while others are constantly plagued by it.

Android crashing WiFi routers is enough to cause me to veer away from future Android devices, unless and until the problem is solved. Phase one of the chaos of the Windows desktop has spread to smartphones.

Welcome to the new Windows fractal – it’s name is Android.

I Feel Stupid

Posted by Andrew at 7:25 AM on December 28, 2011

Windows Phone 7Over the break, there’s been a bit of discussion by some of the big names regarding the reasons why Windows Phone 7 handsets haven’t been flying off the shelves this holiday season. Charlie Kindel started the debate with “Windows Phone is Superior; Why Hasn’t It Taken Off?” and largely faults the relationship between the OEMs, Microsoft and the carriers.

MG Siegler responded with a fairly weak response largely citing the mantra of “too late and not enough apps” but as can be seen from today’s news of 50,000 apps in the Windows Phone Marketplace, the latter argument really isn’t that valid.

As usual, Robert Scoble hits the nail on the head. People buy Android or iOS because it’s a safe bet and they don’t want to look stupid or uncool by buying something else. Microsoft Windows Phone 7 and RIM’s Blackberries simply don’t have the gold-plated appeal of a sure-thing.

And he’s right. I was a big Palm fan and look how that turned out. I do feel stupid. After spending years waiting for Palm to move from PalmOS to WebOS and then HP promising to do big things. I bought in with a succession of Pre phones and pre-ordered a TouchPad. Maybe I shouldn’t be so shallow and have a less of an ego, because WebOS is a great operating system and even with the smaller app selection, it does 99% of what I need a phone to do. But when everyone else is, “Have you got this app and that app” on their Galaxy S IIs and iPhone 4Ss, you do feel a bit of a chump.

So thanks, HP. I feel stupid.

Boost Smartphone Battery Life

Posted by Andrew at 5:33 AM on December 22, 2011

Mugen Power Batteries LogoToday’s smartphones are energy-sucking devices that can rarely go for a day or two without charging. I fondly remember my Nokia 6210 that could go a business week without needing a charge, but enough of the reminiscing.

If you do have a thirsty smartphone (or you get one for Christmas) and you find that the battery lets you down, you might be interested in Mugen Power Batteries, suppliers of replacement batteries for smartphones and other devices. Typically, a Mugen battery will offer an extra 10%-25% over the OEM battery of the same size. Take the battery for the HTC Wildfire S - the OEM is 1250 mAh but the Mugen version is 1500 mAh, giving an extra 22% more juice.

If you really need much more power, Mugen also sells batteries so big that you need a new back cover to fit it in. For the Samsung Galaxy S II, Mugen offers a 3200 mAh battery which nearly doubles the energy of the stock battery (1650 mAh), but the battery size increases too and a new back cover is needed. If you value talk time over aesthetics, it’s the only way to go.

Even Apple products are catered for, though as the iPhones et al don’t have user-replaceable batteries, the additional power has to come from an external unit.

Mugen are fairly well-known if you follow any of the main smartphone forums, and there are other vendors out there, but they seem to have the widest range with a good reputation, so if you need more power for your smartphone, check them out.

Android Leads UK Smartphone Race

Posted by Andrew at 1:40 PM on November 1, 2011

Android LogoIn the UK, Android is beginning to dominate the smartphone space, with 50% of handsets sold in the last quarter running Android. RIM (Blackberry) and Apple are almost level pegging on 22% and 18% and with half of UK adults now owning a smartphone, Android has an impressive lead.

Breaking the Android figures down, HTC is the top dog, with nearly 45% of Android handsets sold. Samsung is picking up the pace at 38% but Sony Ericsson is the big loser, falling to 8.5% of the Android market.

Surprisingly, this means that HTC, Samsung, RIM and Apple are each taking about a quarter of the market. Compared with mindshare that Apple generally has and the dominance in the tablet market, it’s clear that the iPhone is under performing.

Personally, I would agree with the figures. Looking round the office, Android phones are definitely in the majority followed by iPhones and Blackberries. I think Blackberries are popular with younger people as both my nephews have that brand of phone. The breakdown of the Android shares also rings true. This time last year, it would have been exclusively HTC smartphones but now there are quite a few people sporting Samsung devices.

The research was carried out by Kantar Worldpanel ComTech over the past 12 weeks. To be fair, this probably means that iPhone sales were down as people waited for new model but there’s no doubt that Android is the no.1 smartphone OS in the UK.