Samsung Galaxy S4 vs HTC OneNow that 2013 is winding down, we can safely say that the Samsung Galaxy S4 and HTC One are two of the top Android phones of the year. The HTC One has changed the way manufacturers to look at the camera tech they use in their phones, and the Galaxy S4 is the most popular Android phone of the year.
But which is better? We’ve had a long hard look at both phones, and here’s what we think…
Samsung Galaxy S4 vs HTC One Video comparison
Don't have the time to read our full comparison? We've prepared a quick video summary of all the best bits, including footage of the two phones side-by-side. Give it a watch below.
Price and DealsSamsung Galaxy S4 – From £455 SIM-free
HTC One – From £440 SIM-free
Now that both these phones have been out for a good few months, you can get them for significantly cheaper than their original RRPs. Don't pay more than around £455 for a Samsung Galaxy S4 on pre-pay or SIM-only basis, or around £445 for an HTC One on the same sort of deal. Given these phones started at £600, they've both come down a significant amount.
If these costs sound impossibly high, you'll need to think about a contract deal. These costs have come down less since the phones' launch, as you might expect.
One of the cheapest deals for a Samsung Galaxy S4 is the Vodafone My Plan at £33 a month, which gets you unlimited texts and calls, plus 1GB mobile internet. The HTC One is available on the same plan.
If you're after a more data-centric plan, Three's deals are worth investigating. Here, there's a slight difference in cost between the two phones.
The HTC One is available for £32 a month with a £29 up-front cost, while the Galaxy S4 is £33 a month with no up-front charge. It doesn't make a whole heap of sense, but that's the way it is. Both get you unlimited data, 500 minutes and 5,000 texts.
You're probably getting the idea by now - the HTC One and Galaxy S4 cost the same, more or less, with just a tiny saving buying the HTC One SIM-free.
Release DateSamsung Galaxy S4 – April 2013
HTC One – March 2013
The HTC One and Samsung Galaxy S4 arrived almost at the same time. HTC’s One in March 2013 and the Samsung Galaxy S4 a month later in April.
Since then, both companies have released a few different iterations within these families. The Galaxy S4 was joined by the S4 Zoom, the S4 Active and the Mega 6.3, the HTC One by the HTC One Mini. HTC has kept things a bit simpler.
Both phones are the heads, the flagships, of their ranges, though. The Active has a lower-grade screen and a worse camera than the Galaxy S4, and both Mini phones have slower processors and lower-resoltuion screens than the top dogs we're discussing here.
DesignSamsung Galaxy S4 – Plastic body, 7.9mm thick, 130g
HTC One – Aluminium and plastic body, 9.3mm thick, 143g
If you were to play a game of mobile phone top trumps, you could easily conclude that the Samsung Galaxy S4 wins in a battle of bods. It’s slimmer and lighter than the HTC One.
However, in-hand the reality is quite different. The HTC One doesn’t feel particularly heavily – mostly because it isn’t – and the curvy ergonomics of the phone’s rear stop it from feeling remotely chunky. We’re starting to think that Samsung cares a lot more about hardware specs than actual people do.
What sets the HTC One apart from the Samsung Galaxy S4 is its use of aluminium. The whole of the rear is aluminium, giving the cool-to-the-touch feel that’s really the main reason for using metal rather than plastic.
The Samsung Galaxy S4 feels a lot like its predecessor. It’s impressively slim and light, but the use of a plastic battery cover stops from feeling as flashy, or as hard as an iPhone 5 or HTC One. Ultimately it’s a shallow victory for the HTC as the aluminium used in the phone is just as prone to scratches as the plastic of the Samsung. But it doesn’t half feel great in the hand.
Teardowns of the two phones reveal that, predictably, the Samsung Galaxy S4 is a lot easier to repair than the HTC One. The metal unibody design makes the phone almost impossible to take apart without damage. DIY fixes are not going to be easy with HTC's latest.
Internal SpeakerSamsung Galaxy S4 – Mono rear-mounted speaker
HTC One – Dual front-mounted speakers
Like most phone speakers, the Samsung Galaxy S4’s is a simple mono speaker mounted to the rear of the phone. You’ll find its grille on the bottom left, cut into the plastic battery cover.
Tonally, the Samsung Galaxy S4 speaker isn’t hugely impressive, lacking some of the finesse of a rival mono speaker like the iPhone 5’s. However, it can produce decent volume without sounding too strained.
HTC put a lot more attention into the One’s internal speakers, making it one of the phone’s key features. There are two drivers, one to each side of the screen.
When holding the HTC One in landscape orientation, it’ll supply a decent stereo image, as each speaker is roughly pointed at each of your ears. Few phones pay as much attention to speakers.
The tone of the HTC One speakers isn’t miraculous, but they are a cut above, and provide good volume without distorting. This is a clear with for HTC.
ScreenSamsung Galaxy S4 – 5-inch, 1080p resolution, Super AMOLED
HTC One – 4.7-inch, 1080p resolution, IPS
Is bigger always better? The HTC One has a slightly smaller display than the Samsung Galaxy S4, with 4.7 inches instead of five.
As a result, the Samsung Galaxy S4 is a teeny bit wider – around 1.5mm - than the HTC One. The difference is so small because Samsung aggressively slimmed-down the phone’s screen bezel.
There remain some minor handling benefits to the HTC One, thanks to the smaller screen.
Both phones use a 1080p-resolution screen panel, offering supremely sharp text and images. The HTC One’s pixel density is slightly higher, but with both phones offering 400-plus pixels per inch, looking too deep into pixel density is pointless.
A keen eye might just be able to see the HTC One is a bit sharper, but it’s not just down to the resolution. It’s also the type of panel used.
The HTC One uses an IPS screen, much like that of the iPhone 5. The Samsung Galaxy S4, like its predecessors, has an AMOLED-type screen.
Most AMOLED screens, including the Galaxy S4’s, use a pixel sub-arran called PenTile. This is not as regular as the RBG arrangement found in most LCD screens, reducing sharpness slightly. There are so many pixels to go around here that it’s a trifling problem - when reviewing the phon we didn't notice any lack of sharpness whatsoever.
However, we do still prefer the look of IPS displays. AMOLED screens have a tendency to oversaturate colours, giving an unnatural look to images.
Samsung offers colour temperature modes that cool down the colours a little, but we still prefer the natural colours and super-bright maximum setting of the HTC's IPS screen.
StorageSamsung Galaxy S4 – 16-64GB of storage, microSD slot
HTC One – 32/64GB internal memory, no memory card slot
So far the HTC One has won a few points, but Samsung strikes back with storage. One of the reasons why the Galaxy series has won so many geek points over the years is it continued inclusion of a microSD memory card slot. This makes it tremendously easy and cheap to upgrade storage.
You can buy a 32GB microSD card these days for under £20. You’ll find the Galaxy S4’s memory card slot under the plastic battery cover.
The HTC One sacrifices the memory card slot for a unibody design. You have no access to the phone’s internals with this mobile. It’s available with 32GB of internal memory in the UK.
Expandable memory is something to consider pretty seriously if you want to use your phone as your main music player, or as a portable video buddy. 32GB will soon run out when put to these uses – especially as Android chomps-up some of the 32GB
CPU and PowerSamsung Galaxy S4 – 1.9GHz quad-core Snapdragon 600, 2GB RAM
HTC One – 1.7GHz quad-core Snapdragon 600, 2GB RAM
Before the Samsung Galaxy S4 was released, we were confident that it was going to be the first eight-core phone. There is an ‘octo-core’ version of the phone, but the one we have in the UK is just plain old quad-core.
However, it is one of the most powerful – if not the most powerful – phone around. The UK edition of the Samsung Galaxy S4 has a 1.9GHz quad-core Qualcomm APQ8064T Snapdragon 600 CPU, based on the Krait architecture. This is paired with 2GB of RAM.
The HTC uses a processor from the same family, but it is clocked slightly slower – at 1.7GHz instead of 1.9GHz. It too has 2GB of RAM. And both phones use the Adreno 320 graphics chip.
You might assume that the difference between the two would be slight, but benchmarks do show a pretty big gap. In the Sunspider java test – which shows how fast a phone can render web pages - the Galaxy S4 trounces the poor old HTC One. In the AnTuTu test, a benchmark that’s a pretty good indicator of general performance across all sorts of tasks, it scores a solid 3,000 points more – 10 per cent more.
(lower scores are better in Sunspider)
(higher scores are better in AnTuTu)
At this point, there’s not a great deal to challenge either phone – both the Galaxy S4 and HTC One are at the top of their game. However, the extra injection of grunt in the Samsung phone will be handy a year down the line.
SoftwareSamsung Galaxy S4 – Android 4.2 with TouchWiz
HTC One – Android 4.1 with HTC Sense 5
Although the Samsung Galaxy S4 will ship with a slightly newer version of Android – 4.2 instead of the HTC One’s 4.1.2 – what’s much more important is the difference between the Samsung custom UI and Sense 5, HTC’s Android interface.
They demonstrate two different approaches. The Samsung Galaxy S4 wants to pack in as many cool-sounding gadgety features as possible while the HTC One is happy to keep things simple.
The HTC One offers BlinkFeed as its main interface tweak. This is a home screen that shows recent updates including articles, tweets and Facebook updates as tiles, arranged to look slick as they careen down the screen with a flick of your finger.
HTC has also reworked the look of the interface too, making Sense appear a lot more stark and bold. However, if you like the old Sense look you can revert to that style easily enough.
Samsung hasn’t really altered the look of the TouchWiz UI of the Galaxy S3 for the 2013 model. However, it has introduced a bunch of new features. These include S Health, Smart Scroll, S Translator and Air Gesture.
S Health is fitness tracker app, Smart Scroll lets you tilt the phone to scroll text, S Translator is a clever translation app and Air Gesture lets you interact with the Galaxy S4 without even touching the screen. Clever, eh?
The question is – how many of these will you actually use? Whether the interface of the Galaxy S4 is actually better than Sense 5 is largely a case of personal preference. However, we prefer the pared-back style of Sense 5. What do you think?
CameraSamsung Galaxy S4 – 13-megapixel BSI sensor with LED flash, 2MP user-facing sensor
HTC One – 4-megapixel UltraPixel sensor with LED flash, 2.1MP user-facing sensor
The argument with camera tech is curiously similar. The Samsung Galaxy S4 tries to impress with its abundance of features, while the HTC one uses a more stripped-back approach.
First comes the differences in sensors. The Galaxy S4 has a 13-megapixel sensor, while the HTC one has a 4-mepapixel sensor.
The sensors are roughly the same size, though, meaning that the HTC One’s sensor pixels can be a good deal larger. Larger sensor pixels means more light can be reaped per pixel within the same exposure time. You guessed it – better low-light performance is what results.
However, in dazzling sunlight, the Samsung Galaxy S4 will be able to recreate finer details – particularly visible when you zoom in.
The zoomed-out views of the London skyline show that both cameras produce punchy, high contrast photos in good lighting. However, note the different colour reporoduction and exposure levels of the left side of the sky. There's a slightly odd green hue to the HTC One's photo, and some parts of some clouds are clearly overexposed.
There are no clearly overexposed areas in the Samsung Galaxy S4 photo.
At pixel level (these are exact pixel crops), the difference between the two sensors is dramatically clear. There's much less information in an HTC One photo, and while the HTC phone produces a decent amount of detail for its resolution, four megapixels just can't compete with 13.
MacroBoth the focal length and the sensor resolution of these phones affected macro performance. Macro photography is all about reaping as much detail as possile from a close-up object.
Today's test suject is a cuddly toy of the character Om Nom, from mobile game series Cut the Rope.
The photos below are of the cuddly's right leg.
Samsung Galaxy S4
The HTC struggled to focus as close-up as the Samsung, and even when in focus, the level of detail captured was significantly lower.
We should point out that this is a particularly tricky setup for these cameras as lighting was the limited indoors type rather than the dazzling sunshine of your typical flower/leaf macro test.
HDR stands for high dynamic range and melds multiple exposures to get the most detail out of a scene as possible - both increasing image information in dark/shadow areas and getting rid of overexposed areas.
Both phones perform pretty well here. However, look to the left of the HTC One's sky and the clouds appear quite closed to becoming overexposed. The expsoure of the Samsung shot is more even.
So far the Samsung has triumphed over the HTC camera. However, it wins back many points in the low light test. The whole point of the "UltraPixel" sensor of the HTC One is to improve low light performance.
And it works. The HTC shot is much less noisy, much clearer and more detailed than the Samsung photo.
Where the edges of object are barely discernable in the Galaxy S4 photo, they're obvious in the HTC One shot.
InterfaceThe Samsung Galaxy S4 offers a snazzy camera interface based on that of the Galaxy Camera, where modes are picked using an animated 3D "dial".
The HTC One’s interface is rather more standard, but it does offer an eye-catching feature in Zoe mode. This is a mode that captures a short video clip along with a still, which can then be weaved into a 30-second clip to share online.
Which is better? Each claims a win in a certain set of conditions. The Samsung Galaxy S4 can produce much better photos in the right conditions, but thanks to its low-light performance the HTC One is a little more versatile.
VerdictThe battle between the Samsung Galaxy S4 and HTC One is a close and fierce fight. The same flexibility benefits that made the previous Galaxy S phones come out on top apply in this new phone, but the superbly well-made aluminium body of the HTC One and its better-looking software win it some serious points.
The strong “tilt factor” of the HTC One sees it take the lead, but it’s a marginal one.
Next, read our comparison of the Galaxy S4 and iPhone 5
Samsung Galaxy S4 Video Preview