This past winter two of the best smartphones ever – the HTC One and the Samsung Galaxy S4 – were announced. I am often asked which device I think is better, and I don’t really have an answer, as each has its strengths and weaknesses. Since everyone has different opinions of what they want in a smartphone, I thought it’d be helpful to give a rundown of reviews from sources I like and trust.
HTC One received a score of 8.3, with the highlights being the hardware design, display, and speed, and the lowlights being the camera, battery life, and the HTC Sense UI.
Samsung Galaxy S4 received an 8.0, with strengths including speed, camera, and extra software features, and the weaknesses being build quality/design, an overwhelming number of features, and performance issues.
In short, according to The Verge, the biggest differentiating factors between the two devices are the superior build quality of the One and the superior camera of the Galaxy S4, and the same reviewer gave the One a slightly higher score.
HTC One received a rating of 4 stars, with compliments going to the device’s hardware, speed, and camera and camera app, and complaints about the lack of micro SD card slot and user-replaceable battery and Blinkfeed software that can’t be completely removed.
Samsung Galaxy S4 received a 4.5 star rating. Strengths include camera, speed, the variety of software features, and NFC, micro SD, and removable battery. Weaknesses include a dim screen, poor build quality, and a confusing array of software features.
Overall, the Galaxy S 4 received a higher rating and a consistent “9” in design, features, and performance categories, whereas the One received a 10, 8, and 8, respectively.
HTC One impressed the Engadget staff with its design and build quality, camera, and display. HTC’s Sense UI did receive some criticism, though, in particular with Blinkfeed and the two button navigation layout (back and home).
Samsung Galaxy S4 also earned a positive review, with the staff liking the display, battery life, speed, and inclusion of expandable storage and a removable battery. However, the staff felt that the software features are clever but not extremely practical, and felt that the device is a “predictable” step up from the Galaxy S III and when compared with the high-quality and redesigned HTC One does not seem “fresh.”
HTC One earned high praise for build quality, “acceptable” battery life, front-facing stereo speakers, and display, as well as an underwhelming camera with software features that compensate for the camera itself. The reviewer, however, did not like HTC Sense and said the metallic design is not for him, which puts him in the minority. Worth noting, though, is that the reviewer ultimately chose the unlocked HTC One as his smartphone, and listed the build quality and design among his reasons.
Samsung Galaxy S4 received a pretty glowing review on Droid Life, with highlights including the display, speed, camera, variety of software features, expandable storage and removable battery, and the most recent version of Android (4.2.2). The reviewer did note, however, that the One has a more premium feel to it.
AnandTech (warning: very lengthy and detailed reviews)
HTC One received the “Editor’s Choice Gold” award – the first smartphone to ever receive such an award – and a great amount of praise. The reviewer raved about the build quality, uniqueness, camera (especially in low light settings), the more subtle Sense UI, and speakers.
Samsung Galaxy S4 also earned very good reviews, though no awards. The reviewer described the S4 as improving upon the S III in every way, and liked the display, speed, expandable storage and removable battery, and camera performance, especially outdoors. However, the reviewer described Samsung’s TouchWiz UI as too “in your face” and prefered the metal build of the HTC One.
There’s definitely a pattern with reviews here, and not a clear favorite. Both devices received high marks for their displays and speed. The HTC One has superior build quality and speakers and represents a more novel and adventurous move in smartphone design. It ships with an “ultrapixel” camera that has fewer but larger megapixels, and while some say it has better low light performance, it seems to be a pretty consistent source of negative reviews. Finally, Blinkfeed has received very mixed reviews, and can not be removed (though the default homescreen can be changed). While it is annoying not to be able to fully customize your phone, I have to cut HTC some slack because had they made Blinkfeed removable, many people who may grow to like it would have removed it without giving it a chance, so when introducing a new and prominent feature I can understand why HTC would not give a way out.
The Samsung Galaxy S4 has more software features (though this was seen as both a positive and a negative) and a better overall camera. Advantages of the Galaxy S4 are also that it has a removable back that allows for expandable storage via a micro SD card as well as a replaceable battery. The Galaxy S4 does come with a more recent version of Android, but within a month or two both phones will need software updates so the question will become who will get an update out more quickly, so I wouldn’t buy or not buy a phone based on what version of Android it has right now.
The biggest source of complaints about the Galaxy S4 deal with its “cheap” and plastic build quality and it being just an incremental improvement over the Galaxy S III. As for the build quality, I do appreciate good build quality and that area has always been an advantage Apple’s iPhone had over Android devices. For whatever reason, Samsung chose to stay with plastic. For many this won’t matter as they will keep their phone in a case, but I don’t and would consider the build quality of the S4 a negative, though definitely not a deal-breaker. As for the S4 being safe and predictable, it is a funny thing that happens with successful products: first they’re great and everyone loves them, but then if the manufacturer doesn’t change them they become stale very quickly. Apple has fallen victim to this the past few years. Should Samsung have to completely redesign their best-selling Galaxy S III just for the sake of change? I guess not, but Samsung left the door open for a new “fresh” phone to show up and make their S4 seem less impressive.
Finally, another thing to consider when comparing these devices is the manufacturers themselves. HTC used to be dominant but has fallen on hard times now and is the underdog. Samsung is THE Android manufacturer in the US and has close to a stranglehold on the Android market. So with such disparate brands, do we want to root for the underdog and think outside the box or go with what’s tried and true? That’s a personal choice, but I am rooting for HTC. But the situation of each company also plays into the purchasing decision as far as software upgrades – I’d think Samsung has more resources to keep their devices up-to-date – as well as compatibility with other devices – Samsung has many sharing features built-in to their S4 that give a little more incentive to getting the same phone as friends and family.
Both devices will be available on AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile. The Galaxy S4 is confirmed by Verizon but the HTC One is not, though recent rumors suggest the One or a very similar device with a delayed summer release.
The good thing about comparing these phones is that they are both great and while each has strengths and weaknesses, you really can’t go wrong with either.