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Which phablet is best? HTC One Max vs. Galaxy Note 3 vs. Sony Xperia Z Ultra

Bigger doesn’t always mean better, but don’t tell that to phone manufacturers. They seem to continue to find ways to add extra inches to devices, doing everything possible to really challenge the concept of portability. If a big screen is best for you, though, then your best suitors have all devices that recently hit the market. HTC just announced its One Max, an update to the flagship HTC One, that borrows the fingerprint sensor from the iPhone 5S in hopes of one-upping the competition. Meanwhile, Sony has finally brought its huge Xperia Z Ultra and its 6.4-inch screen overseas to the U.S. and Samsung has continued to have success with the latest version of its Galaxy Note handset, the Note 3. So if bigger is better, which bigger phone is best? We take a look at the specs to help us figure it out.

 

HTC One Max  

HTCOneMax

Galaxy Note 3  

GalaxyNote3

Sony Xperia Z Ultra   

XperiaZUltra

Size 164.5 x 82.5 x 10.29 (mm) 151.2 x 79.2 x 8.3 (mm) 179.4 x 92.2 x 6.5 (mm)
Weight 217g 168g 212g
Screen 5.9-inch LCD 5.7 inch HD Super AMOLED 6.4-inch LCD 
Resolution 1080×1920 pixels 1080×1920 pixels 1080×1920 pixels
OS Android 4.3 Sense 5.5 UI Android 4.3 with TouchWiz UI Android 4.2.2
Storage 16/32/64GB 32GB 16GB
SD Card Slot Yes Yes Yes
Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 Quad-core Snapdragon 800 Quad-core Snapdragon 800 
RAM 2GB 3GB 2GB
Connectivity Wi-Fi, 4G LTE, HSPA+, NFC Wi-Fi, 4G LTE, HSPA+, NFC Wi-Fi, 4G LTE, HSPA+, NFC
Camera Front 4UP, Rear 2.1MP Front 2MP, Rear 13MP Front 8MP, Rear 2MP
Gimmick Fingerprint Sensor S Pen Waterproof
Bluetooth Yes, version 4.0 Yes, version 4.0 Yes, version 4.0
Battery 3300mAh  3200mAh 3000mAh
Batt. Removable? No Yes No
Charger Micro USB Micro USB Micro USB
Marketplace Google Play Store Google Play Store Google Play Store
Ave. Price $N/A $300 (with 2-year contract) $680 (off contract)
Availability Oct. 2013 on Sprint, Verizon AT&T, Sprint, T-Mob, Verizon AT&T, Sprint, T-Mob, Verizon
DT Review Score Review Pending 4 out of 5 Review Pending

Performance

It’s hard to believe that being equipped with the still-fast Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 puts the HTC One Max at a disadvantage, but it does thanks to the Galaxy Note 3 and Xperia Z Ultra’s use of the Snapdragon 800. The One Max doesn’t lag behind all that much, but it is a step off the current standard. The Galaxy Note 3 adds an extra gigabyte of RAM, built with 3GB compared to 2GB for both the Xperia Z Ultra and One Max. None of these devices are underpowered, even with their impressive size, but Samsung’s handset (and we use that term loosely unless you have particularly huge hands) has the slight advantage.

Display Size

Of course, it’s hard not to talk about the screens on these phones. The Galaxy Note 3 is the smallest, a word that only applies to it in context of other handsets built for giants, with “only” 5.7-inches. It’s built at this size to make the most of the S Pen feature, which allows users to use the phone like an actual notebook by writing text or drawing menus for the phone to digitize. The HTC One Max only ups the ante slightly to 5.9 inches. Both devices are dwarfed by Sony’s huge, almost technically tablet-sized 6.4-inch display on the Xperia Z Ultra. We haven’t yet held the Z Ultra, but if it feels like the budget Galaxy Mega 6.3, it will fit the bill just fine.

Additional Features

Against most handsets, size would be the distinguishing feature for these devices. But going head-to-head, there has to be something else to set them apart. For the HTC One Max, it has its trademark BoomSound audio built in just like its predecessor. But to set it apart further, it’s the first Android device to include a fingerprint sensor (well, since Apple made it popular, at least. The Motorola Atrix had one). This is sure to draw comparisons to the iPhone 5S, which has had issues, but judging by sales figures people seem to be more drawn to Touch ID than deterred. The Galaxy Note 3 has the aforementioned S Pen, which is really the feature that best justifies a large screen at all. Sony’s Xperia Z Ultra is waterproof, which is handy for a phone of any size, but doesn’t really add much value to the size aside from the fact that you won’t have to buy another one if you drop it in the bathtub.

There’s an incremental increase in size with all of these devices, and the Galaxy Note 3 is the smallest. It also appears to be the one that makes the most of its size thanks to its S Pen. The HTC One Max is intriguing because the HTC One is still a great handset and the larger update to it is sure to be just as good – and the addition of a fingerprint sensor gives it a feature relevant to current consumers. The Xperia Z Ultra is probably the least interesting outside of just its sheer size, but man is it big. That’s a niche all its own, and one even the other phablets don’t come close to matching. You’ll be able to get your hands on all three devices soon to see which one feels best in your hand, assuming you can get your hand around any of them.

(Editor’s Note: We will update this roundup once we have fully reviewed the One Max and Xperia Z Ultra.)

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