Android flagships have moved on leaps and bounds this year, with big name devices from several manufacturers pushing the limits of what smartphones can do. One of the most high-profile of these is the Samsung Galaxy S4, an incredibly powerful handset that builds on what the Korean firm did with the earlier Galaxy S III.
But other firms have not been far behind, with HTC receiving almost universal glowing reviews for its HTC One flagship and some commentators calling the device the best Android handset ever made. So how do the two smartphones shape up against each other?
There’s barely a millimetre of difference in any of the dimensions of each device and they are almost exactly the same size. However, the materials used to make each one create quite a significant difference between the two, with the aluminium casing of the HTC One having a much more premium feel than the polycarbonate shell of the Galaxy S4.
Samsung pulls off an impressive feat in fitting a 5-inch display into a device that is roughly the same size as the HTC One, which only manages 4.7-inches. The Galaxy S4 has an added advantage in its removable backplate which allows battery access and room for a microSD card.
Despite all that, the HTC One comes out on top in terms of form factor and its incredibly stylish design stands head and shoulders above Samsung’s flagship.
Samsung makes great use of its Super AMOLED technology for the Galaxy S4’s display, whereas the HTC One features a Super LCD offering. Both are incredibly clear and bright and are a step ahead of almost anything else that can be seen on a smartphone right now.
Samsung has a habit of making screens with very saturated colours, something which is seen on the firm’s latest flagship. While striking, the colours shown on photos seem a little unrealistic and their boldness can reduce details somewhat. Throughout the user interface this vibrant look can be a little tiring on the eyes as you are constantly bombarded with bright, sharp colours.
HTC’s screen produces a softer light that is much easier to look at, whether viewing images and videos or just browsing around the UI. There’s a cool hue to the display that makes everything crisp without being brash and, while Samsung’s screen is outstanding, the HTC offering does its job even better.
The HTC One has the more striking user interface of the two devices, with the BlinkFeed feature appearing as soon as the handset is unlocked, bringing news and social updates to the front of the device. Samsung can’t match it in this respect, but has some startling innovations of its own.
The Galaxy S4 sees the advent of features such as Air Gesture and Smart Scroll which allow you to control the handset with hands-free gestures rather than actually tapping the screen. However, the usefulness of these is widely debated and they have been accused of being gimmicky, something which we can’t help agreeing with having spent quite some time with the device.
Nevertheless, Samsung has added some small but significant touches to other parts of its UI that make a real difference during everyday use. In particular, the handset’s brilliant notifications bar is packed full of handy controls and its settings menu groups the raft of options into a number of sections, making them easier to navigate.
HTC has certainly created a good looking interface but some people may find BlinkFeed intrusive and it’s Samsung which wins out here.
Much has been made of the HTC One’s camera and the innovative way in which it uses larger pixels to create high-quality images. However, the Galaxy S4’s 13 megapixel lens is slightly better at picking out fine details in images and, while both are brilliant, when it comes to straightforward photography it is Samsung that has the edge.
However, the extra features added by HTC are more impressive than those offered by Samsung and the Taiwanese firm’s Zoe function is outstanding. This allows you to capture a short clip and pick out your favourite frame before editing out unwanted objects and changing particular parts of the image.
Samsung has moved the wheel-like menu seen on the Galaxy Camera over to the Galaxy S4 almost wholesale, but its extra features don’t stack up against those brought in by HTC. There are a range of shooting modes to suit different conditions but the Dual Camera function, which merges images from the front and rear facing cameras, is of very limited use.
There is the Eraser mode, which mimics what HTC Zoe can do, but while it also captures a short clip it automatically picks out a frame for you, giving you far less control over your final image.
These two devices are fantastic, both being leagues ahead of almost any other Android handset currently available. However, the HTC One just about has the edge over the Galaxy S4, something which is pretty much all to do with its excellent form factor and premium feel. Samsung’s flagship is a brilliant, powerful device, but HTC’s is just that little bit more sophisticated and impressive.