Tuesday, 26 March 2013

The Battle of the Android Flagships: HTC One vs Samsung Galaxy S4 vs Sony Xperia Z

For arguably the first time, there are 3 Android devices that could be considered better than the iPhone and as the best on the market: The HTC One, the Sony Xperia Z and the recently released Samsung Galaxy S4. So, which is the best?

The easiest place to start is with the key stats, so let's have a look:

Now, let's be clear, there is very little discernible difference in quality between these three phones. They all offer some neat features that will suit varying tastes but overall they all represent the Android platform very well and stack up comfortably as 3 of the best handsets on the market. What I'm saying is - you'll be happy with any of them. But then again, where's the fun in sitting on the fence? Picking apart the statistics: The Samsung Galaxy S4 is by far the most powerful with a sensational octo-core chip (yes, EIGHT! Who knew we were past the quad-core already!?) but it's a tad unnecessary. Both the One and the Xperia will perform at very swift speeds. On paper the S4 also possesses the best battery, however, there have been numerous reports of excellent performance from the Xperia Z with Sony's new 'stamina mode'. There is little difference in weight, no difference in RAM and they all boast full HD screens, 4G LTE, NFC and Bluetooth 4.0. The HTC One joins the S4 with Gorilla Glass 3 whereas Sony have developed their own 'shatter-proof glass'. Resistance tests are yet to be conducted on the Xperia Z's shatter-proof screen but you would hope it would be in-keeping with the 'durable' USP that Sony have chosen.

Given that they are similar under the hood then we come down to aesthetics, features and gimmicks.
Aesthetically, the HTC One is the clear winner. It's a beautiful phone. Clean edges which are complemented with the aluminum casing. The Xperia Z comes in second and not because of faults in design (it's also a lovely looking phone) but more because of the HTC One's excellence. I've already made my feelings clear on the design of the S4 - it's an S3 replica but slightly bigger. Out of the three, the S4 doesn't ooze quality like the other two and this is largely because of the plastic casing. This is a personal thing, and I'm not saying the S4 is an ugly phone, it's simply not as pretty as the HTC One or the Xperia Z. Check them out below:

Lets have a look at a few other areas that could be winners in the eyes of the consumer:

This is an intriguing one. HTC have really stuck their neck out by developing their very own 'Ultrapixels' to compete with the 13MP powerhouses. Whilst others continue to strive for higher and higher pixel numbers, HTC have proven that 4MP (when developed correctly), is plenty. However, I have my doubts over whether this will work in the cut-throat eyes of the consumer who may not read the endless reviews of the HTC One's performance and plump for the highest numbers. HTC have developed a camera that is certainly competitive but is it a game-changing feature? Probably not. The Xperia Z and the S4 both hit high standards in the camera category and in truth, any of these would be a good selection. Samsung have added some interesting (if perhaps a little pointless) features such as Drama Shot, Eraser, Cinema Photo and Sound Shot which you can find more about in my S4 review but again, these should not deter you from selecting the other two.

Sound-wise, HTC have taken the spoils (not by a short distance either). As someone who uses an HTC One X as a portable sound-system, I appreciate the Beats Audio inclusion and it certainly enhances my listening experience. If you enjoy listening to music/watching films on your phone - the HTC One will do the job brilliantly well. Where the Xperia Z has good internal sound, the 'loud'speaker is particularly woeful and Samsung does a similarly solid job with the music - but does include the 'Group Play' which allows up to 8 S4's to connect as one 'surround-sound speaker'.

StorageThe HTC One has stuck with HTC's recent love for a non-removable battery and non-expandable memory via memory card. This is a major pet hate of mine and it's a real shame. The Xperia Z has unfortunately followed suit with the battery but at least Sony have kept the removable SD card. The S4 has included both of these and kudos to Samsung for doing so.

The game of gimmicks has been dominated by Samsung as can be seen in my original review. They've brought in smart pause, smart scroll, smart stay; it's smart-bloody-everything with Samsung right now. The attractiveness of these features will vary greatly on the end-user. I see them as a bit gimmicky and pointless, but I like Samsung's desire to demonstrate and test new technology to perhaps find another niche.
      Sony's main USP is its durability. It is dust resistant and water resistant for 30 minutes and up to 1m deep. This is a massive claim for a flagship phone and Sony have certain put their 'money where their mouth is' with marketing.
     HTC and Samsung have included pretty neat TV controller adaptations on the phones, which allow you to control your TV and also check out the TV listings. Again, these are nice additions but not game changing features.

With the fight being this close, the price may just swing it. The Sony Xperia Z's longer market exposure has allowed prices to slowly fall, and with the release of the HTC One and the Samsung Galaxy S4, these prices are continuing to drop. On a 24 month O2 contract, with unlimited minutes, unlimited texts and 1 GB internet the Xperia Z comes out at £27 per month (with a £30 cost for the phone); about £10 cheaper per month than the HTC One (£37). The S4 contract prices haven't been released yet but it is likely to be in the same bracket as the HTC One. Looking at what is on offer, would you be willing to pay over £200 more for the HTC One or the S4? That's up to you!

To conclude - you will be happy with any of these phones and that's what makes it such a hard decision. They are all powerful devices, each running adapted - yet effective - O/Ss and with some great features to boot. Simply put - they demonstrate everything you want from a handset. However, they do excel in certain areas and perhaps that will turn your head. What would I choose? Probably the HTC One, followed closely by the Xperia Z and not far behind - the Galaxy S4. This is partly because of my affection for HTC, and partly because of the beauty of the phone - but hey, what do I know!

What do you think? Which do you prefer? Hopefully I've helped you ever so slightly if you are trying to make a decision; if not, just enjoy watching the 3 fight it out to becoming the ultimate Android flagship.

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