HTC One Max Smartphone Review

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

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.

The Rise of the Smartphone

Today I was relaxing in a cafe, taking it easy on Sunday. As I looked around the other tables, everyone else was either looking at a smartphone or else had one resting on the table. They weren’t students or young professionals either; these were mums and dads, grandmas and grandpas.

Brewing coffeeHere’s the tally of what I saw:

Getting away from “my phone is better than your phone”, what might this highly unscientific observation say about the mobile communications market, at least in the UK?

First, it’s diverse. While Nokia and Windows Phone is nowhere to be seen, the three other operating systems seem to be pretty much holding their own.

Second, Apple has iPhones and RIM has Blackberries. Is the Samsung Galaxy now the de facto Android brand? The popularity of HTC seems to have fallen dramatically with the rise of Samsung.

Third, no-one was actually using their phones to make phone calls. In all the time I watched, there wasn’t a single call made or received but there was plenty of reading, swiping, tapping and pecking. It always seems that the PDA was lost in the convergence with the mobile phone, but the reality is that the PDA won the battle and “voice calling” is one feature among many.

Fourth and finally, smartphones are now ubiquitous and cross-generational. There wasn’t single ordinary phone to be seen and the range of the users suggests that age is no longer a discriminating factor.

As I said, entirely unscientific but still an interesting snapshot in the evolution of the smartphone.

Coffee brewing photograph courtesy of BigStockPhoto.

Out of the Shadow of the iPhone

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

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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Griffin Gets Gadgets On The Go

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.

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Do you have video editing skills? There is cash on the table for a winning entries. Plus I have a couple of fun prizes to give away in the form of some Roku’s listen to get the details. Your really going to enjoy tonight’s show as the content flow was close to perfect.

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GNC-2011-11-10 #720 No Aliens?

Well no video tonight, I failed to hit record :( Enjoy the Audio :) Lots of great tech content, I am wrapping up a great week here in the Nations Capitol. Headed back to Honolulu which is hosting APEC so that should be fun.. Thanks for listening.

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Android Leads UK Smartphone Race

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.

 

Laza HTC Evo 4G Extended Alternative Battery

Phones come and phones go. Our expectations change. Technology marches forward – well most of the time, except when it comes to the bane of wireless pocket tech – battery life.

I’ve had my Sprint HTC Evo 4G phone for more than a year at this point and I’m still very satisfied with its overall feature set as well as it’s performance. The big ongoing problem has been battery life. With the stock battery that came with the phone I have been lucky to get 5 hours out of it just on standby, perhaps extending that a bit by turning off automatic data synching. The original Evo 4G eats battery power like crazy. I knew this would be an issue going in, but unlike a lot of people I can keep my phone plugged into external power most of the time I’m in my truck, so the power devour issue mostly doesn’t cause me too much trouble. In all fairness, turning off data completely in the settings would vastly extend the Evo’s standby time, but this defeats the purpose of having a super smartphone.

There are times when the phone has to be running on it’s internal battery, and I need extra battery life. I got to searching for alternative Evo batteries on Amazon.Com, and I ended up purchasing this Laza HTC Evo 4G 3500mAh Extended Battery + Cover for along with Laza Sprint HTC Evo 4G Extended Battery Silicone Case Black. I was able to get both of these items along with three extra screen covers for $22.54 from Amazon, a real bargain compared to pricey alternative, less-capable batteries sold by Best Buy or Sprint.

The replacement battery is thicker, and therefore the new back is needed to accommodate the extra battery thickness. It makes the phone thicker, hence the need for the alternative extended battery silicone case.

As previously stated, it does make the Evo 4G thicker than before, but even with the extra girth it still easily fits into my pants pocket.

The new battery does vastly increase the phone’s standby time. In normal use it would probably last me all day. Of course, I’m not a normal user – most of the time the Sprint WiFi Hotspot feature is turned on and the phone is paired with my iPod and frequently with my Macbook Pro. Using the phone as a WiFi hotspot I can probably get about 5 to 6 hours of heavy data usage before pushing Android into automatic shutdown. Overall, I love my Evo 4G and would still buy one today were I in need of a new phone.

Laza also sells a variety of extended batteries, backs and accommodating cases in a variety of colors for other Android phone models – simply search Amazon for “Laza.”

If you want extra battery life from your Evo 4G, I recommend checking out Laza.