The UK's Alex Dobie and the USA's Phil Nickinson take on two of the year's hottest phones
With the release of the Samsung Galaxy S4, the Android smartphone battle lines are drawn. Samsung’s new flagship will go up against the HTC One, and it’s sure to be a fierce fight. Samsung needs to maintain the lead it established in 2012; for HTC, the future of the company depends on the success of the HTC One.
So which one should you buy? As always, it’s never as simple as recommending one device over the other. That’s why we’re launching into a little discussion with Alex and Phil, where we’ll try to spell out exactly where each device is strongest.
Join us after the break as we go back and forth on the HTC One versus Galaxy S4. There’s also a good old-fashioned video comparison, if you’re into that sort of thing.
More: Samsung Galaxy S4 review
Phil Nickinson: I’m still not sold on an all-plastic phone being “worse” than something else. HTC’s done plenty of plastic phones. “Polycarbonate,” even. Same goes for Samsung and everyone else out there. But I’d defy anyone to say that the Galaxy S4 has a better industrial design than the HTC One. Maybe it’s the new-car smell. Or maybe it’s because HTC’s done something new here for us in Android land. There’s nothing inherently wrong with what Samsung has here -- and chances are the GS4 is much cheaper to produce. But after using an aluminum phone for a month or so now. I wanted the plastic chrome edge of the GS4 to be actual chrome-plated aluminum.
That’s probably not realistic, but it’s what I wanted to see, picking up the Galaxy S4 again.
Alex Dobie: Materials, like any design decision, are a compromise. Samsung’s choice of plastic means it gets a thin and light device; HTC trades this in in favor of a more premium finish. Samsung’s aimed to create a different kind of device, in line with its earlier design language. It wants its curved, shiny designs to achieve iconic status, and so it’s shipped its new flagship in an S3-like chassis. Neither is the right choice, but I personally prefer HTC’s set of compromises to Samsung’s.
Phil: I actually prefer the size and overall feel of the Galaxy S4. It just fits better in my hand. I had the same complaint about the Droid DNA, and it shares the overall design of the HTC One. Samsung’s done well to squeeze in a larger display in the same footprint.
I’m still going back and forth over the redesign of the rear of the phone. The pebble shape of the Galaxy S3 was nice. The GS4 is a little less artsy, a little less of the “inspired by nature” thing, and more of a smartphone, perhaps. That’s not a horrible thing.
Alex: I’m a fan of the overall size and shape of the Galaxy S4. Samsung’s managed to cram a 5-inch screen into the same profile as its earlier device, and it deserves praise for that.
As much as I like the HTC One, it’s just a little bit awkward to palm in one hand, and that’s due in part to its unorthodox button setup. When it comes to ergonomics, Samsung has it nailed. That said, the curved back of the HTC One may be a good fit for those with larger hands.
Alex: HTC’s approach is measured and design-centric, Samsung’s is bright, colorful, a little chaotic and very feature-focused. HTC’s minimalist Sense 5 software is a good match for its external designs, whereas with Samsung every individual component feels like it’s been designed separately. The Samsung Hub looks great on its own, but it deosn’t look anything like the rest of the OS. Sense, on the other hand, has some continuity to it.
Phil: TouchWiz is still TouchWiz. I’m nonplussed, and have been for some time. That’s not to say it’s not decent, and it’s nicely refined. But I’ll also probably be using another launcher on top of it.
That said, kudos to Samsung for shoehorning Android 4.2.2 into it -- but it still seems like there’s some optimization left to be done. (When is there not, though?)
Alex: Samsung wins hands down on features -- there’s just more stuff that the Galaxy S4 can do. The S4 has more bells and whistles, like air view and air gesture, and I can’t deny there’s a futuristic feel to being able to wave around in front of you device and have it respond in an intuitive way.
That said, HTC has some interesting points in its favor, like its excellent Zoe photo capabilities and Zoe Share service.
Phil: More features isn’t necessarily better. There’s a lot of stuff going on here. A lot of good stuff -- and the implementation, especially in the camera app -- is better than the HTC One. But is it too much for the average user? That’s a big concern for me. It’s a lot for the seasoned smartphone expert.
Alex: For me, it comes down to whether daylight or low-light performance is more important to you. The Galaxy S4’s 13-megapixel camera has the potential to suck in more detail in daylight, while the HTC One’s 4-megapixel “Ultrapixel” shooter trounces it indoors and at night. For me, the S4’s superior dynamic range and exceptional camera app pull it slightly ahead of the HTC One -- though I’m already missing Zoes and Zoe Share.
Phil: I’ve had to go through those trade-offs once this year already. I miss Photospheres. I’d certainly miss Video Highlights from the HTC One. I’m not sure I want to give that up for Samsung’s still-image galleries.
The Galaxy S4 versus HTC One discussion is sure to be played out online and in stores for weeks and months ahead. Be sure to weigh in down in the comments, and over in our Samsung Galaxy S4 forums.