Sony Xperia Z versus HTC One.

The HTC One is due to launch globally in the next month, so how does it compare to Sony's latest, the Xperia Z?

The Xperia Z is Sony’s best smartphone yet, and it’s one of the first major flagship devices of 2013 to hit the market. But there’s competition coming, and not just from Samsung. HTC will be launching the HTC One in Europe from the end of the month, and the Taiwanese manufacturer’s going all-out with its very best build quality, redesigned software and a new kind of smartphone camera.

So how does HTC’s latest hold up against Sony’s glass-clad beast? We’ve got comparisons in video, pictures and words after the break.

Build quality

Both the HTC One and Sony Xperia Z are attractive pieces of consumer electronics. The Xperia sports a glass back panel and sealed chassis with a soft-touch plastic “skeleton frame” around the edge. In a world of big black slabs, it is the ultimate big black slab. It’s also water and dust resistant, which is something that’s still rare to find on Western phones. As we discussed in our review, however, the Xperia Z is something of a dust and fingerprint magnet, on account of its glass back and soft-touch trim.

HTC steps things up even further, with a gorgeous aluminum unibody design and a more hand-friendly curved, back. The Xperia Z’s chassis is squared-off around the edges, jarringly so if you’re used to more ergonomic designs. So while Sony manages to execute an attractive design, HTC pulls ahead with superior ergonomics and an even better-looking chassis.

Sony Xperia Z versus HTC One.

Displays

Both the Xperia Z and HTC One sport 1080p screens. In Sony’s case, it’s the “Full HD Reality” display at 5 inches diagonally; for HTC, it’s a 4.7-inch SuperLCD3. In both cases the screens are ridiculously crisp -- the Xperia boasts 440 pixels per inch, the HTC One 468 (that’s not a difference you’re going to notice. Both too are about equal in brightness. But HTC overtakes its rival in viewing angles -- the Xperia Z is prone to washing out colors when viewed from off-center.

Bottom line -- the HTC One packs a smaller, but better-looking display.

Processors and performance

The HTC One is fitted with Qualcomm’s very latest Snapdragon 600 chip, whereas the Xperia Z is running the earlier S4 Pro. Both have quad-core Krait CPUs, so it’s decent silicon we’re talking about in either case.

But there’s a small performance and responsiveness delta there, and unsurprisingly its the S600-packing HTC One that ends up on top. Not a big difference, but a noticeable one, if you have both side by side. As we mentioned in our Nexus 4 comparison, the HTC One is about the fastest Android device we’ve used.

Sony Xperia Z versus HTC One.

Buttons

The Sony Xperia Z offers a tried-and-true Android button setup similar to that of Google’s Nexus devices -- back, home and task-switching keys as part of the screen. That gives you single-tap access to multitasking, and means you can quickly activate Google Now via the swipe-up shortcut. The HTC One is limited to just two keys, home and back, with task-switching activated by double-tapping the home key and Google Now launched by long-pressing it.

It’s not bothering us all that much in our day-to-day use of the HTC One, but we’d always prefer a multitasking key wherever possible. And as we’ve already mentioned, the ugly on-screen menu bar that appears in certain third-party apps is something that HTC needs to eliminate with urgency.

Sense 5 versus Sony’s UI

The choice between software on the Xperia Z and HTC One comes down to a decision between a traditional Android experience and brighter, quirkier and a little more unusual. Sony’s never strayed far from the vanilla Android look and feel, keeping things very basic and minimalist, with dark colors and subdued design cues. HTC on the other hand has completely reinvented its Sense UI in the latest version 5. The BlinkFeed page is an integral part of HTC’s home screen plan, incorporating everything from calendar appointments, social updates, news feeds and TV schedules.

And speaking of TV, HTC also offers some unique tricks not found on the Xperia Z, including an IR blaster and associated TV control app, with listings provided by Peel. On the entertainment side, Sony’s keen to tie the Xperia Z into its existing properties, like PlayStaiton, Music Unlimited and Video Unlimited. There’s no shortage of entertainment options on Android, but if you’re already living in the Sony ecosystem then this might be something to consider.

Ultimately, we’re liking Sense 5 a lot, but a more familiar (though less attractive) Android experience may be had in Sony land, if that's what you prefer.

Sony Xperia Z versus HTC One.

Camera quality

Directly quantifying the differences in camera performance on the HTC One and Xperia Z is a near impossible task, because both phones have completely different kinds of shooters. The HTC One has a 4-megapixel “Ultrapixel” camera with super-large pixels on the sensor to allow more light to enter. Sony treads a more traditional path with its 13-megapixel Exmor RS stacked image sensor. Those are two entirely different approaches to smartphone photography, with a laundry-list of various (and very particular) strengths and weaknesses.

The HTC One’s camera tends to be a safer bet for real world use -- the kind of photography you don’t do when you’re reviewing a smartphone. By contrast, the Xperia Z’s camera could be classified as one for the pros -- in as much as any smartphone cam falls into that category. There’s a more extensive array of settings, and, it seems, a higher ceiling for the quality of shots it’s capable of taking. The Z's credentials are boosted by its excellent Superior Auto shooting mode, which intelligently switches between settings like HDR and various scene modes.

The Xperia Z’s larger megapixel count means there’s the potential for more detailed images in ideal conditions, but in real-world use the HTC One offers better low-light performance, faster capture speeds and the fact that it uses optical image stabilization means it’s better at taking steady video darker conditions too. That said, colors on the HTC One had a tendency to appear washed-out compared to the Xperia Z. But then the HTC One is better suited to macro shots and captures more fine detail. The list of differences goes on.

On the video side, we should note that both phones support 1080p HD video and HDR video. The Xperia Z handles HDR video a little more competently than the HTC One, but lacks the One’s 60fps option for regular 1080p footage.

Overall, they’re both very divergent approaches to photography on a phone, and it’s really difficult to say which one wins overall. Look for more definitive thoughts in upcoming review of the HTC One.

Sample shots: First photo in each set is from the HTC One, second from Xperia Z

HTC One shotXperia Z shot

HTC One shotXperia Z shot

HTC One shotXperia Z shot

HTC One shotXperia Z shot

HTC One shotXperia Z shot

Battery life

Neither the HTC One nor the Xperia Z offers a removable battery -- this feature is quickly becoming something of a Samsung exclusive. In any case, the difference between the performance of the Xperia’s 2330mAh battery and the HTC One’s 2300mAh juicer aren’t particularly significant. Both saw us through the day of fairly intensive use without breaking much of a sweat.

Sony offers some unique power management tricks to extend the Xperia Z’s longevity, including “stamina mode,” which allows certain background data tasks to be restricted and location-based Wifi, which intelligently toggles Wifi based on whether you’re in range of a known network.

The bottom line​

However we slice it, we’ve been more impressed by the HTC One than Sony’s Xperia Z. The faster hardware, phenomenal build quality and superior screen are all reasons to choose HTC’s latest handset over the competition.

But just because the Xperia Z isn’t quite the blockbuster that the HTC One is, doesn’t mean it should be dismissed. It’s still a great smartphone, having added bonuses of water and dust resistance and a larger screen. The Z can also boast a software experience that’ll be closer to vanilla Android and more intelligent camera software.

Given the choice -- and the matching £520 UK price points -- however, we’d have to go with the HTC One.

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There are 30 comments

TomStretton says:

Wow, I'm impressed with the HTC one's contrast and detail on the daffodils and dying plant thing!

jenglish7 says:

No kidding. Was the Sony shot shaken?

moo53 says:

Hey Alex were the pictures taken with the default settings? I'm impressed with the One's camera but if this is on the default settings then there is room for improvement when adjusting the settings for each situation.

Lonestaroc says:

I think the ones camera interprets colors more accurate to real life.

JHBThree says:

I agree. The Z's pictures look inferior in every way compared to the One's. Even if the One's pictures are a little washed out (they're not), that's easier to fix than pictures being oversaturated with too high contrast.

Poco Loco says:

Colors may be more real life, but there is a lot of overexposure in the one's images. In the skies on all images of the One it looks like all detail is gone. Even the tarmac in the first shot is overexposed. The daffodills show spots of clipped yellow ( the white blobs) and the small white flowers have lost all detail again. Also overexposed. This has really has to be fixed.

Leo Zapata says:

It least it doesn't offend as much as the Nokia 920. That thing over exposes like crazy.

dplane says:

Thanks for the comparison!

Someone needs to buy Alex a decent camera to take pictures with for his reviews. Phil? :D

briankariu says:

A better video camera too. The videos are not sharp as the should be....

robocopvn says:

for me HTC one has the bigger display most of the time because of the Z share part of it's display for android system buttons. The only the Z's display is bigger is when it comes to fullscreen Video play !

return_0 says:

Wrong. The Z has a larger display even if you don't count the onscreen buttons.

JHBThree says:

Nope. The onscreen buttons take up about .3 of that 5 inches, which puts it at the same size as the One.

shamatua says:

I would choose the HTC One over the Z but if it was the ZL than I would choose the ZL instead.

Prinny Mask says:

Are you going to be reviewing the ZL? I'm interested in how different it is compared to the Z, especially considering that three out of the four (or possibly all four) points made against the Z in the review could potentially be fixed with the ZL.

briankariu says:

+1 I really like the ZL, especially its compact form. But the simcard cover on the back completely ruins the aesthetics for me. The notification LED is awesome(sorta reminds me of knight rider) and that front camera position makes sense in a way.
Did AC ever review the ZL?

JHBThree says:

Alex I think you may need to get your eyes checked (or your monitor calibrated). The One's pictures are clearly superior. The Z's pictures are oversaturated, with too high contrast, and look nothing like what you can find in the real world. I would be pretty dissatisfied with what the Z puts out, because they simply are not accurate representations of whats being photographed.

Choriandus says:

I think Sony had explained this in their video :)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MPqpKo2hlGU

Well, different people have different opinions but I agree with them :)

Shadrach#AC says:

Anyone know how much of the camera performance is software vs. hardware? I like the design and build of the One but would prefer more of vanilla android experience, so am considering it and then flashing a more stock feeling ROM like CM10.1. I don't really care about Zoe, but I would care if picture quality suffered. Regardless, I'll probably wait until May to see what Google announces before making a decision.

jastep says:

Anybody know what the name of that wallpaper on the htc one in the pictures is?

tibere86 says:

+1

Rey Ford says:

Heres the link from XDA to all the walls
http://www.androidfilehost.com/?fid=9390345248346997002

DrDoppio says:

Name? Why don't you just draw it yourself in Inkscape, shouldn't take more than 15 minutes.

so is my nexus 4 still in this game or what :(

DrDoppio says:

HTC One wins. I particularly like their approach with improving the sensor and dumping the superfluous megapixels.

Octavius1701 says:

I've recently bought a new phone and considered both of these before plumping for the Xperia Z. Admittedly the fact that the Xperia was out at the time was a factor, but the more 'vanilla' Android interface and that, for more, the look of the Sony was more to my liking just tipped it in my favour. Both seem fantastic phones, though, and hopefully they can both make some inroads against Samsung's dominance.

I don't know which point it is exactly that did not convince me of the HTC One... I own the Xperia Z now, and I'm really happy with it. I think people should get a chance to take those phones in the hand, take some pics and make their own decision. I liked the pics, and actually amplifying pics i did not see enough details on the HTC Handsets pics... this plus waterproof... made it easy for me to choose the Xperia Z. Furthermore i like the Design more. I somehow don't like that Aluminium Look.... looks a bit like those Huawei Phones... don't throw stones now... it's just the look, but i know the feel will be very different. I had an HTC Desire back then, and I know they make fine phones... but well... this time not... maybe with the next shot :) I'll be happy with my Xperia Z for at least one year... even if it falls into toilet :P .... well... now let's see Motorola's Flagship... if the price tag will be nice... :) go google go!

slayerpsp says:

I want to see a black HTC ONE i dont like silver white what ever that color is just give me black wish Note 2 was black silver white blaa I want black

dinoege says:

HTC One looks really cool.

AndrewTST says:

Still waiting HTC One launching at my country, please come fast. :)

Very good article, well written and informative. thanks a lot for this review