The editors here at Android Central weigh in on the latest flagships from Samsung and HTC.
While we've fully reviewed both the Galaxy S6 and One M9, and even gone back around for second opinions, we're always interested in having a little discussion amongst ourselves about how leading devices stack up against each other.
Since we've been using both the Galaxy S6 and One M9 heavily the past month, we wanted to sit down with a slightly informal roundtable to get our feelings about how these devices compare. Read along with us.
1. Fit and finish: Because it's OK to be superficial, which phone catches your eye?
Phil Nickinson: We can't all be Andrew Martonik and have both versions of the Galaxy S6 on hand. And since I consciously decided to give the new Galaxy S6 a proper shakedown (instead of just passing it off on Mr. Martonik), I decided to go all-out and get the Galaxy S6 edge. I'd gone back and forth a few times. When I first tried both at Mobile World Congress, the edge model felt weird. Too thin. A little too sharp. After spending more time with it a couple days later, I changed my mind. The edge was easier to hold.
We can't all have both the Galaxy S6 and S6 edge — I went all-out and got the edge.
This all came after spending a good 36-hours only using the HTC One M9. And that's a phone I was pretty familiar with already, having spent much of the past year using its older sibling, the M8. The M9's not a drastic change in body — it's definitely easier to hold, and after having both the M9 and the GS6 edge in my possession for a while now, I think HTC's got the easier one to hold. But, damn, I like the look of the GS6 edge.
And I like that there's a choice of matte metal in the M9 or glossy glass in the GS6 — though the glass might as well be a really high-quality plastic as far as I'm concerned. In my mind, that's what it feels like. That's not a negative, though.
For me, this one's mostly a push. Two distinct design languages, executed in very different ways, but both very nicely done.
Alex Dobie: This is a question I found myself asking over and over at Mobile World Congress after seeing these two for the first time. Walk into a carrier store and the GS6 and M9 are sitting side by side — which one is the most eye-catching, which one is most likely to make you open your wallet. And as much as I like the M9, I have to hand this to the GS6.
It's hard to put your finger on exactly what gives Samsung the edge here, but I think it boils down to a couple of things: materials and display quality. The M9 does less to hide its plastic parts than the M8 — the speaker facades and the "shelf" that make up the front of the phone are more openly plastic than before. HTC has done away with the chamfers — a small, but noticeable visual downgrade. And the metal unibody's new coating (intended to make it easier to hold) gives it a slightly tacky, almost plastic-like feel.
As much as I like the M9, I have to hand it to the GS6 in terms of hardware.
Meanwhile Samsung — a phone maker once synonymous with the very crappiest of crappy plastics — has pretty much done away with polycarbonate entirely, at least on the outside. Everything that faces you is either glass or metal. No weird coatings, no plastic facades. It's a huge step forward for the company, and one that sees it leapfrogging just about everyone else in the Android space.
Then there's the question of the screens, and while the M9's is perfectly good in its own right, it's blown away by Samsung's QHD SuperAMOLED. The GS6's display is bananas, and if I were a regular consumer checking out new smartphones in a carrier store, this alone would probably sway my decision.
Andrew Martonik: Though it's an expected comparison considering the phones are launching at the same time and are at similar prices, I think the designs of the Galaxy S6 and One M9 can appeal to different people. I enjoy the look of the M9 for its industrial and tough metal design with sharp lines, but on the softer side of things the GS6 really jumps out as a flashy and more fragile work of art.
On looks alone I have to give the nod to the GS6 personally, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's the easier of the two to hold. A new coating on the M9's metal, a rounded back and the sharper "shelf" around the sides makes it easy to keep in your hand — something you really can't say about the flat glass back of the GS6.
Of course part of what makes a device appealing is the display, and this is where the GS6 takes the cake. The M9 really feels like it has a middle of the road display by 2015 standards, and the AMOLED panel on the GS6 really blows it out of the water. You won't be unhappy with the M9's screen on its own … just make sure you don't go look at a GS6 side-by-side because it'll ruin you for anything else.
2. What about the software? TouchWiz? Or Sense?
Phil: I've got any number of complaints about using "stock" Android 5.x Lollipop, but the simplicity of the user interface isn't one of them. So after a few months of using the Moto X, everything else has started to look really forced. I've long been on record as not being a fan of the new "interruptions" scheme in Lollipop. And the good news is that both HTC and Samsung have kept the proper "mute" function. But both have their own ways of doing lock screen notifications (HTC's just feels better to me, though) and both blow up the sleek stock quick settings for something custom, and worse.
Regardless, a new launcher is something that almost immediately goes onto any new phone for me. Same for a keyboard. After that the headaches generally are buried a level or two, so they're not quite as big a deal for me.
I'll give Samsung the edge here, as I'm starting to feel like Sense is in need of a more major visual overhaul.
Alex: Generally speaking, I've preferred the look, feel and generally lightning-fast performance of HTC Sense. That said, Samsung has taken a lot of the popular criticism of TouchWiz on board over the past year, and the results can clearly be seen on the GS6. A lot of the visual cruft is gone, as are some of the superfluous knobs and dials that have accumulated through years of feature creep. On the whole — and I don't say this lightly — TouchWiz now looks pretty good.
Whatever software magic HTC employs is alive and well in the M9.
Overall I still prefer the way Sense looks and behaves, though. It's been literally years since I've had a laggy Sense phone, and whatever software magic HTC employs to avoid the frame rate jank seen in some other Android phones, it's alive and well in the M9. What's more, HTC's done a great job this time around allowing users to customize everything about the way Sense looks, thanks to its excellent theme engine.
For all my praise of Sense, though, I do agree with Phil that we're about due a more substantial visual overhaul. Let's get a bit more Material in there.
Andrew: I generally prefer the look of Sense, even though it hasn't quite "kept up with the times" as Android in general has evolved through different design characteristics. You can't argue with the super-fast performance of Sense on the M9, or all of the neat little features, but I think the next version is due for a pretty large design overhaul and a general cutting back of all the extra stuff everywhere.
I generally prefer the look of Sense, but feel that it hasn't quite kept up with the times.
TouchWiz has actually gone through some big changes in its last two releases since the launch of Lollipop, but this isn't dramatically different from the 'Wiz of old. I still have a distaste for the bright blues and neon greens throughout the interface, and really wish Samsung could go for something a bit more neutral. I applaud the reduction in unnecessary features, toggles, bells and bloops, but Samsung needs to keep going.
There are compromises to be had choosing either software setup, and just like Phil I choose to put a new launcher — in my case Google Now Launcher — on either one. I rarely use the stock messaging, email or calendar apps on either one because there are just downright better options in the Play Store, and both have some design elements that deviate from stock in ways I just don't care for.
3. Battery life has been a big question mark for both phones. Is there a clear winner here?
Phil: For me, the M9 wins, hands-down. There's a good chance I'll need to charge the GS6 before leaving the office for the day if I want the phone to make it to dinner, never mind to the end of my day. The M9, on the other hand, routinely makes it to bedtime.
When it comes to battery life, the M9 wins hands-down.
That's not to say either one knocks it out out of the park when it comes to battery life. Neither phone has overwhelming capacity, but HTC just seems to have the software more dialed in.
Alex: I think it's less of a question of winners and more who's less of a loser. Neither phone is a champion in terms of battery life, and in fact many late-2014 phones outpace both the GS6 and the M9. That's for different reasons in both cases — the M9 runs a power-hungry Snapdragon 810 CPU, the GS6 has to make do with a 2,550mAh battery (or 2,600mAh in the Edge model), which is well below average for a flagship phone.
I haven't spent enough time with the GS6 to make a firm judgment on which phone offers the best longevity, but I've followed Andrew and Phil's usage over the past few weeks, and they're getting less out of their GS6s than I am from the M9. That said, HTC's clearly using that extra battery capacity to keep pace with single-day battery life, rather than pushing ahead to match the likes of Sony, which offers up to two days per charge.
What it comes down to for me is this: M8 owners probably won't notice any loss of battery life when upgrading to the M9, whereas GS5 owners moving to an S6 probably will.
Andrew: Neither the M9 nor the Galaxy S6 has had stellar battery life in my time with the phones, but the flagship from HTC definitely has the advantage. It has about a 15 percent bigger battery, and in my daily use battery life is maybe 15 to 20 percent better than the Galaxy S6.
Neither is a battery champion, but the M9 battery doesn't give me anxiety like the GS6's does.
That means I'm getting around 16 or 17 hours out of the M9 while I'm dead in 14 on the GS6, and that makes a difference when I'm going to be out for the evening and not near a charger. It also means when I need to do some more intense work like hotspotting or streaming, the M9 doesn't fall flat on its face in the afternoon.
I would still prefer to get closer to 18 hours on a charge from both of these phones, but that just isn't an option without seriously changing the way you use the phone. I just hope that this year is a small blip on the path to increased battery life on flagship phones — we can't keep dealing with devices that can't make it a full day even with basic use.
4. Cameras tend to split folks as well. Which phone wins out for you?
Phil: Galaxy S6. Hands-down. I've sat through way too many briefings where a company tells us all about camera quality with a story that basically sounds like it was ripped from a buzzworthyroxx Facebook post. "When you see how great this camera is it'll leave your jaw stunned on the floor!!!" Only, when we actually use the thing, our jaw is not left stunned anywhere. Not even a tingle. (And I'm not just talking about one company here.)
The Galaxy S6 camera, so far, has lived up to expectations.
The Galaxy S6, so far, has lived up to expectations. That's not to say every picture I take is National Geographic-quality — chances are the photographer is to blame — but I've got a much better chance of getting something usable with each shot now.
And don't overlook what Samsung has done with the camera app itself, too. It's a good mix of important features on the top level and the secondary stuff where it should be — secondary.
HTC feels like it's still trying to figure things out with the M9, and that's a shame. There's potential there, but Samsung (and others) are improving, not just trying to get their footing.
Alex: This is really no contest. Samsung leads the Android pack on camera tech right now, while HTC has historically struggled in this area. The M9's camera isn't terrible, but its flaws are magnified by the strengths of its main competitor in the realm of mobile photography. After two years of UltraPixels, it feels like HTC's just getting to grips with regular phone cameras again. Meanwhile, it's faced with a competitor that's made huge strides in this area.
The GS6 takes great shots every time, effortlessly.
To sum it up: The HTC One M9 can take good-looking shots with a combination of practice, the right conditions, and settings tweaks. The GS6 takes great shots every time, effortlessly.
Andrew: Samsung hit it out of the park this year with the camera — you can't really argue that. And while we may have viewed the M9's camera a bit more favorably had the GS6 launched with a weaker camera, that just isn't the case.
The GS6 can take wonderful photos no matter what the lighting conditions are, and it can do so completely in auto mode. Add to that the ability to quickly launch the camera in just a second by double-pressing the home button and you have a pretty sweet camera setup. I have no problem calling this the best all-around Android camera to date.
In comparison, when I used the M9 I ended up just being horribly frustrated with the shot-to-shot performance in even good lighting situations. It takes a lot of work and manual tweaks to get great shots out of the M9, which shows that it has potential but that just isn't an acceptable smartphone camera experience.
5. Any other outstanding features that deserve a mention?
Phil: I've also been burned by fingerprint scanners too many times — the Galaxy S6 is the first Android phone that's had one that actually worked for me. And being able to easily use it to wake and unlock the phone — as well as quickly launch the camera at any time — has been a greatly enjoyed feature.
And that display. Can't say enough about it.
Alex: I think the Galaxy S6 comes agonizingly close to offering an awesome overall package for anyone looking for a high-end Android phone. And we've already burned through countless words discussing what Samsung's gotten right this time around: from the display, to the camera, to the much improved build quality. The only missing piece of the puzzle is battery life — for me, this is the single compromise that would stop me spending my own money on a GS6. Even with quick charging and two flavors of wireless charging, using a GS6 when traveling would me give a serious case of range anxiety.
Once again the camera is the main reason not to buy an HTC One, and after three years that's kinda crazy.
The M9's weaknesses are more nuanced. The manufacturer has stuck with a solid design, making improvements and tweaks as needed. But familiarity breeds contempt, and I feel like HTC could've been more adventurous with the front of the device this time around. For sure, the leaking of much better-looking M9 and M9+ designs in the weeks before launch probably didn't help.
The display isn't exactly bad, but it's noticeably duller than the M8's, to say nothing of the crazy vivid AMOLED panels of competitors. On the whole I'm fine with the device's battery life, though it's not the longest-lasting phone out there. But the big, huge, glaring weakness is imaging performance — once again the camera is the main reason not to buy an HTC One, and after three years that's kinda crazy.
Andrew: I think Samsung deserves another tiny bit of praise for finally switching to a fingerprint scanner that actually works. The new one-touch model is good enough that I use it every single day, and it has also kept me from wanting to turn on Smart Lock. I'm not ready to hand it the crown over TouchID on the iPhone, but it's darn close.
I also want to note the importance of Samsung including wireless charging by default this time around, no longer expecting you to buy some ridiculous extra accessory in order to charge simply via Qi or Powermat. I use Qi chargers every day, and for anyone that's somewhat invested in the technology it's great to have it built into the phone.
The fact that HTC stuck with the same design isn't an issue in itself, but Samsung really made a leap forward this year.
On HTC's side, I'm actually glad that the design didn't change dramatically from the M8 to the M9. Subtle but important changes were made to improve usability, including a new non-slip coating on the metal and the "shelf" around the sides, which together with the still-curved back actually makes the M9 easier to hold and manage in one hand. While I'm not the biggest fan of the button placements overall, I'm also glad HTC made the decision to go to a side-mounted power button.
Even though Samsung made the more dramatic changes to its flagship when coming from the 2014 model, I don't think HTC made any sort of blunder by not changing the M9 more considerably.
6. What are your thoughts on these phones?
Of course the folks here at Android Central aren't the only ones that have used these phones — plenty of you have picked one (or both) up for yourselves, and we want to know what your experiences have been. Toss a comment in the post here and let us know how you're getting along with the Galaxy S6 and One M9, or hop into the forums for some further discussion.
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