Hands on: The first things you notice about the HTC One Max

HTC One Max

Look out, world: We've got another plus-sized smartphone on our hands.

HTC's One Max is officially making its way into the U.S. this month. The phone is available now on Sprint for $250 on-contract and is slated to come to Verizon soon. (No official word yet on other carriers, but hey, you never know.)

I've been using the Sprint HTC One Max for a few days now. I'll have a full in-depth review once I've lived with the phone a little longer, but for now, I wanted to share some initial hands-on impressions of the device.

So without further ado, here are the first things you notice about the HTC One Max:

It's big.

It may seem obvious, but it'd be crazy not to mention it: The HTC One Max is one giant phone. Even compared to other plus-sized smartphones, this thing is livin' large: The One Max measures in at 3.2 x 6.5 x 0.41 in and 7.7 oz. For comparison, Samsung's Galaxy Note 3 is 3.1 x 6 x 0.33 in. and 5.9 oz. The regular HTC One, meanwhile -- a device that's in the upper range of standard-sized smartphones -- is 2.7 x 5.4 x 0.37 in. and 5 oz.

So, yeah: The One Max feels freakin' enormous. It's pretty awkward to hold -- too big to hold comfortably in one hand, not quite big enough to hold in two -- and even more uncomfortable to carry in a pocket. That's part of the tradeoff with a plus-sized phone, of course, and with the One Max, it's more evident than ever.

HTC One Max Comparison

Perspective: The HTC One Max sandwiched between the Nexus 5 phone (left) and Nexus 7 tablet (right)

Its build quality isn't quite what you'd expect.

So much of the attention directed at the regular HTC One revolves around its hardware -- that all-aluminum unibody casing that screams "premium phone."

You'd expect, then, that the One Max would be the same basic thing, only supersized. But that's not quite the case.

HTC One Max Back

While the One Max looks like the One at a glance, it has some significant differences. The highly touted all-aluminum unibody build is gone; instead, the phone has aluminum panels interspersed with plastic elements. There's a matte white plastic trim surrounding the display and extending onto the phone's outer edges. And, in the most puzzling twist of all, the back of the phone is actually a removable metal panel: Sliding a small button on the device's upper-left edge causes it to release and pull off from the rest of the phone.

What's weird is that there's not much to be found behind it: Pulling off the back panel gives you access to a SIM card slot and micro-SD card slot, and that's about it. No removable battery, nothing else.

Most vexing, though, is the fact that the panel doesn't fit snugly into the phone's frame: When it's attached, there's a noticeable area along its right half where the seam isn't smooth and you can feel its edge protruding. For a phone family created around the idea of premium build quality, that's a surprising lapse to see.

Its screen is absolutely awesome.

No question there: The HTC One Max's 5.9-in. 1080p LCD display is absolutely stunning. It may have a lower pixel-per-inch count than its smaller sibling -- 373ppi compared to the HTC One's 486ppi measurement -- but don't get bogged down in those numbers. The One Max's screen is outstanding, with brilliant colors, sharp text, and excellent viewing angles both indoors and out. And its generous size means you've got tons of room to view content, which can certainly be nice.

This screen is the reward you get in exchange for the phone's bulk -- and a fine reward it is.

Its speakers are no less impressive.

The same dual front-facing speakers that draw rave reviews on the regular One are present here, and they sound as good as ever. No other smartphone comes close to matching the level of audio quality HTC is providing on its handsets these days, and the One Max is no exception.

Its software doesn't give a great first impression.

To be fair, this is largely Sprint's fault -- the carrier has larded up its One Max with a ridiculous amount of bloaty garbage -- but regardless of who's to blame, first impressions matter. And this particular version of the One Max doesn't exactly give you a warm welcome into its world.

Upon signing into the phone, I was greeted with the following mess in the phone's status bar:

HTC One Max Sprint

Good user experience? Not exactly. One of the pending notifications was actually an ad being pushed via Sprint's oh-so-useful Sprint Zone application; it asked if I "like saving money" and suggested I tap it to purchase some new Skullcandy headphones. Seriously, Sprint?

It gets worse: The carrier has put a permanent spinning star icon into the phone's status bar; anytime you're using mobile data, it spins around at the top of your screen. It's supposed to represent Sprint's new "Spark" data network, which is currently available in just five cities. Whether you're in one of those cities or not, though, a version of the spinner is always in your status bar and always a-spinnin'. (Sometimes it changes to show a "3G" on the inside but continues to animate in an attention-grabbing and distracting way.)

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There's much more to talk about with the HTC One Max, of course -- from performance and battery life to camera and the latest incarnation of HTC's Sense software -- and rest assured: We'll get there. I'll be continuing to live with the phone full-time over the coming days and will share my full in-depth review with you soon.

UPDATE: HTC One Max deep-dive review: Size matters

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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