Samsung Galaxy S4 vs. HTC One Comparison Smackdown
I've been doing comparison smackdowns for years, probably 50 of them, and this has to be the hardest yet. Not because the products are so similar, but in this case because they're both so different yet equally good in different ways. The HTC One attacks with its stunning unibody aluminum casing and a very clean minimalist UI. Heck, even the camera shuns the megapixel race and goes for the "less can be more" approach (and largely that turns out to be true). The Samsung Galaxy S4 is as every glossy polycarbonate and goes over the top with software and features. The camera is an impressive 13 megapixels. It's a "more is better" approach. So how to decide which one is for you? Hopefully our comparison points below and our detailed comparison video will show you the standout features for each phone, so you can decide.
Super LCD3 vs. Super AMOLED: you've heard the arguments before. Samsung's Super AMOLED displays were the darlings of reviewers and customers alike quite a few years ago because they offered wide viewing angles, super-saturated colors and deep blacks not seen before on smartphones. But then IPS came to smartphones, along with variants like the Super LCD. Today's non-AMOLED colors are more natural and there's no fringing on text as with Super AMOLED displays with their Pentile pixel sub-matrix. But Samsung has found a way around some of AMOLED's shortcomings, and try though I might, I can't see any halos or fringing on text. Colors are still hyper-saturated, but a lot of folks enjoy better than life colors. Both displays are full HD and large with very high pixel densities that exceed the capabilities of our eyes (we can't see the pixels with the naked eye).
Blacks are Super AMOLED's strong point, and you'll enjoy very deep, inky blacks on the Samsung. The whites on the Samsung Galaxy S4 are not as white, and they look a little dingy compared to the HTC One X. That matters if you're going to read a lot of text, say ebooks or web pages. Since the whites aren't as bright white (even with all display power saving and adaptive display brightness turned off), apparent contrast is reduced on the Galaxy s4 when viewing black text on a white page, making it a little harder to read. When viewing photos and watching videos however, they both look equally stunning. Overall, I'd say the HTC One looks more stunning, from text to photos to videos, it's always superb. The Samsung Galaxy S4 looks lovely when viewing photos and videos, but the launcher, general phone UI and eBooks don't look quite as good.
Winner: HTC One
Whooboy, this is one big can of worms. Watch our video below, where we go into great detail. Suffice to day that HTC has gone as minimalist as possible without running completely stock, vanilla Android. Samsung has re-envisioned Android and changed a lot and added more apps and features than you'll ever remember to use.
On a more empirical level, the Samsung Galaxy S4 runs a slightly fresher version of Android (4.2.2) vs. 4.1.2 on the HTC One. Both are called Jelly Bean and the divide is small. It's nice to get the very latest version, but let's face it, both will fall behind newer phones since carrier branded phones are slow to get OS updates. That said, if you buy the unlocked HTC One or their Developer Edition, you might get OS updates quicker. For you uber-geeks, both have locked bootloaders (for AT&T models, the HTC Dev Edition has an unlocked bootloader).
Winner: Tie. This depends on your personal preference. Do you like a very clean install of Android with little clutter or are you a Samsung TouchWiz person who loves all those customizations of Android? Do you like Samsung's added features or do you feel you won't use them after a few days or a week?
The HTC One runs a much lighter customization of Android (HTC Sense 5) vs. Samsung's TouchWiz software. And as you no doubt know, Samsung adds a boatload of features, which can potentially degrade performance. I run my Galaxy S4 with Smart Scrolling and S Voice turned off (not for performance reasons, but because I don't find Smart Scrolling useful and S Voice isn't very accurate for voice command). That may help lighten load. That said, our AT&T S4 has been a quick performer and it hasn't lagged (stuttered, sputtered or faltered in a noticeable fashion). But the HTC One feels a little quicker. Even though its CPU is clocked 200MHz slower, it feels a little more responsive. Samsung would do well to reduce the bloat in TouchWiz, but in the end, it hasn't seriously hobbled the Galaxy S4.
The HTC One has 32 gigs of internal storage (64 gig is available via AT&T and the unlocked Developer Edition). The Samsung Galaxy S4 is available with 16 gigs of internal storage, and 32 gig models should be shipping very soon. The 16 gig Samsung and 32 gig HTC are priced roughly the same here in the US. You might think that 16 gigs is plenty on the Samsung since it has a microSD card slot, which the HTC One lacks. Keep in mind that Android 4.x only allows you to install apps to internal storage, and if you're a fan of 3D games like ever-popular Gameloft titles among others, you can quickly run out of app storage space on the 16 gig Samsung Galaxy S4 that has only 9 gigs of available storage. Some games are 2 gigs these days! If you're a gamer, wait for the 32 gig Galaxy S4 or go with the HTC One. Conversely, if you could care less about 3D games but you want to carry a large library of music and videos, the Samsung might be the better choice since you can store multimedia files on microSD cards, and the Galaxy S4 supports cards up to 64 gigs.
Winner: Tie. HTC gains points for the lighter OS that results in very fast performance. Samsung fights back with a microSD card slot for expandable storage.
The HTC One's front capacitive buttons are not very responsive and you sometimes have to hit them several times. The Samsung Galaxy S4 is the opposite: the buttons are much too easy to press accidentally because they're very sensitive to touch and they're close to the edge of the screen where one is likely to accidently touch them when holding the phone.
Winner: Tie (they both have room for improvement).
No surprise when it comes to the camera the HTC One does better in low light settings like average home lighting down to dark nightclub shots. Why? It may only have 4 megapixels, but those pixels, or sensors, are much larger so they let in more light. The Samsung Galaxy S4's 13 megapixel camera captures much more detail and makes for sharper images if you have very good lighting: outdoors in sunlight and very well lit interior places such as workplaces with copious fluorescent lighting. It does surprisingly poorly in weak lighting (indoor lighting); so much so that I hope there's a firmware update to improve this.
In the end it comes down to where you think you'll take pictures most often. I must say it is amazing that HTC's 4MP UltraPixel camera takes shots that on casual inspection compete well with today's megapixel monsters. Even some outdoor shots were a close call when viewed on a 27" Apple Thunderbolt display. If you intend to share photos and videos on Facebook, your home monitor or a photo frame, both will do the job well. The Samsung's higher resolution is better for those who wish to print photos or use them for professional purposes (at least daylight shots) where capturing maximum detail is important.
HTC Zoe is pretty cool; it captures a Vine-like moment with a 3 second video and 20 photos. I'm not a big fan of Vine, and I admit that Zoe got a little old after a week, and managing all the files it created became a headache. What never gets old? The HTC One is very fast to focus and it's accurate. The Samsung Galaxy S4 sometimes hunts if lighting isn't very bright.
Both cameras have a wealth of creative modes for Instagram style effects and more. Each offers vignette, panorama, color effects and fisheye (the HTC uses a slider so you can actually slide your way from pincushion to fisheye). We really liked the Galaxy S4's ability to use the front and back camera simultaneously, so you can bring yourself into the shot. The HTC One gains points for optical image stabilization, which made for less shaky videos and fewer blurry photos. It's quite effective. We don't appreciate that the Galaxy S4's lens protrudes from the back, making it more vulnerable to scratches and dirt collection.
Winner: Samsung Galaxy S4 for outdoor daytime photos and videos, HTC One for indoor and night photos and video. Sadly, I live my life indoors, and the HTC One wins for me personally.
Adobe Flash Player
While's Flash Player's importance in the mobile market has seriously diminished thanks to the blossoming of HTML5 videos, there are still sites that require Flash. The HTC One is one of the few new phones to ship with Adobe Flash Player (Adobe discontinued development of Flash mobile and the Chrome web browser doesn't support Flash). The included Android Webkit web browser works fine with Flash (you'll need to turn it on in browser settings). Though the Samsung Galaxy S4 also ships with both the old Android Webkit web browser and Chrome, it doesn't have Flash Player. I tried side-loading Flash Player and the stock web browser ignored it. So you'll have to go with a third party web browser that does support Flash Player if you need it on the Galaxy S4.
Winner: HTC One
This is a tie. Both have surprisingly good battery life for powerful smartphones with large displays and LTE 4G. The Samsung has a 2600 mAh battery vs. the HTC's 2300 mAh battery, but the Samsung's slightly larger display and slightly faster processor make it a tie. The Samsung gains big points for its removable battery. Not only can you swap in a spare, but you'll likely be able to buy extended batteries. With the HTC One, you'll have to use external micro USB battery packs. Not the end of the world, but a little more bulky and less versatile.
Winner: Samsung Galaxy S4 for removable battery life. Actual battery life with stock batteries is a tie.
Here's our detailed Samsung Galaxy S4 vs. HTC One Comparison Smackdown video: