If you're in the market for a top Android smartphone and only the best will do, then there are really just two devices to consider. The past and present champions of Android smartphones, HTC and Samsung, go head to head as we compare the newly-unveiled Samsung Galaxy S4 and the HTC One. These contenders are well matched, prime cellular specimens, and a wealth of tech followers and writers have already fawned over their features. So when it comes to the crème of the 2013 crop, which smartphone reigns supreme in this tricky matchup?
Round One: Design and Build
The Galaxy S4 (5.38" x 2.75" x 0.31") is a touch more svelte than the HTC One (5.4" x 2.7" x 0.36") despite having a slightly larger display. It's also lighter at 4.59 oz., compared to the HTC One's 5 oz. However, there are major design differences that account for that extra weight.
The HTC One is crafted from a single piece of precision-cut aluminum, lending it an exceptionally classy and expensive look and feel. Giving the phone an 8.3 rating out of 10, a reviewer for The Verge praised the design, saying, "I kept inventing excuses to use the One, just so I could hold it." The Galaxy S4, meanwhile, is very much an extension of Samsung's existing design language, with a polycarbonate body that can feel cheap, but is in fact very strong. Despite the durability, the same reviewer at The Verge felt that "the GS4 is plasticky and feels much cheaper than a device like the HTC One." Point, HTC.
Overall, the S4 has a very similar look to its predecessor, and that extends to the solitary physical "Home" button beneath the display, which is flanked by capacitive touch sensitive buttons for "Menu" and "Back" on either side. The HTC One simply has a small HTC logo beneath the display with capacitive buttons for "Back" and "Home" on either side.
Round Two: The Display
Full high-definition 1080p displays are the new, premium standard for smartphones, and the S4 and the One don't disappoint. HTC chose to go with a 4.7" screen, which gives it a slightly higher pixel density at 468ppi; conversely, the S4's 5" screen checks in at 441ppi. All things told though, you're unlikely to notice the difference. Samsung's Super AMOLED panel goes up against HTC's Super LCD, and it wins in terms of contrast but loses on color reproduction. The clarity is outstanding on both displays. Since the two can't really be separated on display, this round is a draw.
Round Three: The Processor
With a Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 quad-core processor clocked at 1.7GHz, the HTC One is no slouch. But Samsung has to aim to win best in class, as the S4 will ship with a different processor in different markets; it has either a Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 quad-core processor clocked at 1.9GHz, or the proprietary 1.6GHz octa-core Exynos 5 Octa processor. While that sounds like a Spiderman villain, it is in fact an 8-core CPU. And though benchmarks comparisons are presently unavailable and we won't know for certain about said octa-core's actual performance, as it stands we're awarding the S4 the win here.
Round Four: Storage Capacity
As far as storage goes, choice is limited with the HTC One; it's only available in 32GB or 64GB models with no microSD slot for expandability. Conversely, the S4 comes in 16GB, 32GB, and 64GB options. And although the S4's 16GB model will likely go toe-to-toe with the 32GB HTC One in terms of their subsidized $199 price points, the S4 also features a microSD slot that allows for expansion up to another 64GB. Cloud services may help with additional storage needs for the HTC One (after all, HTC has run a promotion with DropBox in the past), but if you have big storage requirements, the S4 is the clear winner.
Round Five: The Camera
You may have heard camera experts bemoaning the use of megapixel counts as an indicator of camera quality; apparently there's more to a great picture than megapixels, and HTC has taken a different approach with the One smartphone. Its main back camera may only feature a 4-megapixel rating, but it uses "UltraPixel technology" which the company describes as featuring "a more advanced CMOS Sensor, ISP, and optical lens system that captures significantly more light than most 8- or 13-megapixel cameras." The HTC One also has a 2.1-megapixel front camera.
Samsung instead opts for good ole' pixel-packing, with the S4 boasting a 13-megapixel back camera and a 2-megapixel front camera. Samsung has also added a lot of features to the camera software, allowing a burst mode capture of 100 shots in four seconds which can be used to create perfect composite photos, and dual camera recording useful for video calls. Not to be outdone, HTC also offers many extra camera features including Zoe mode which captures 3 seconds of video and allows you to create the best shot by combining frames. Both devices are capable of capturing 1080p video.
We'll need to wait until real world comparisons trickle in in order to pick a winner here, but for the time being, Gizmodo's HTC One camera test is interesting.
Round Six: The Software
Since the S4 is running version 4.2.2 of Android, it's slightly more up to date than the HTC One, which ships with version 4.1.2. However, the real difference is in the user interfaces applied on top of the Android OS. Their distinctive looks and features are meant to differentiate these smartphones from the rest of the Android crowd — and each other. HTC's Sense UI looks more stylish than Samsung's TouchWiz, but Samsung has created some unique (and buzzworthy) features.
Some of the more noteworthy HTC One customizations include BoomSound (backed by a partnership with Beats Audio and features improved sound quality) and BlinkFeed (a personalized stream of news and social media). Samsung's highlights include gestures that allow users to control the phone without touching it, as well as a scrolling feature that responds when the phone is tilted. There's also the S Health package for monitoring the one's environment and personal fitness, and S Voice Drive which allows for hands-free S4 operation while driving.
When it comes down to it, HTC's Sense UI has more style while TouchWiz offers more substance. But how many of these unique features will you actually use?
Round Seven: The Extras
Looking at the rest of the specs, it's very tough to choose a winner amongst these smartphones. They both have 2GB of RAM; they both support 4G LTE and NFC; and they both have Bluetooth 4, GPS, and WiFi covered. The S4 has a slightly bigger battery (2600mAh) over the HTC One (2300mAh), but we wouldn't expect a dramatic difference in performance. The S4 has some extra sensors to support things like the S Health feature, including a thermometer and a humidity sensor. For that, we give the S4 the edge on extras.
And the Ultimate Android Phone Is...
The Samsung Galaxy S4 comes out the winner based on points, but we would urge you to get a hands-on look before making your decision; some of the S4's cons may be significant enough to deter some users entirely. Moreover, if the flashy S4 extras don't appeal to you, then you may well prefer the HTC One. Either way, choose the phone that feels right for you — and be sure to set up an email alert so you can get a deal on these new smartphones in about two to four months after they've hit stores.