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Samsung Galaxy S4 vs Sony Xperia Z

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Galaxy S4 vs Xperia Z

The race to become the best smartphone of 2013 is on. Two of the top contenders are the Samsung Galaxy S4 and Sony Xperia Z. But which is better? We’ve compared screens, software, design and specs to find out.

Update July 2013 - We took both these cameras out on the streets of London to see how their cameras stack up against each other. Scroll down to find out the results.

Video Comparison

Don't fancy a lengthy read? We've also made a video comparison of the two phones, showing their top features close-up.

Samsung Galaxy S4 vs Sony Xperia Z - Release Dates

Samsung Galaxy S4 – April 2013

Sony Xperia Z – February 2013

These phones are of the same generation - the 2013 elite. However, the Sony Xperia Z arrived a few months before the Galaxy S4.

The Sony phone went on sale in February 2013, making it the first true flagship phone of the year to arrive on shelves. A couple of months later, the Galaxy S4 arrived.

A couple of months may not sound like a long time, but it did contribute to a few neat technological extras in the Samsung phone we'll get onto later.

Samsung Galaxy S4 vs Sony Xperia Z - Design

Samsung Galaxy S4 – Plastic body, removable battery cover, Gorilla Glass 3 screen surface, 130g, 7.9mm

Sony Xperia Z – Toughened glass rear and front, 146g, 7.9mm, IP57 weatherproofing

The 5-inch screens of these phones ensure they are both pretty huge. However, their design styles are quite different. Samsung has kept with the principles of its predecessors in the Galaxy S4, with a slim plastic body that is remarkably light.

Although both phones are 7.9mm thick, the Samsung Galaxy S4 has the greater impression of 'slimness' because it’s curvier. The Sony Xperia Z is relatively boxy – square edged rather than trying to forever slim down every corner as much as possible.

Despite their high prices, neither phone has quite the high-end feel of the HTC One - but the glass-topped rear of the Xperia Z trumps the plastic of the Galaxy S4 any day.

The Sony Xperia Z also has one other neat design feature. It is IP-certified, meaning it’s guaranteed to offer a certain level of waterproofing. Its specific waterproofing rating is IP57. It can be submerged in up to 1m of water for at least 30 minutes, and is fully dustproof.

It achieves this with flaps that cover all the phone’s ports. It is a bit fiddly, and the phone does not look good when they’re all flipped-out, but it’s perfect insurance if you want to watch a film in the bath.

Xperia Z pics 2

The Samsung Galaxy S4’s stand-out hardware feature is a removable battery cover – much less impressive-sounding. This gives you access to the battery, letting you carry around a spare if you like. It also means the Galaxy S4 doesn’t have to put its memory card slot on its side. It lives under the back cover.

Comparisons 1

Samsung Galaxy S4 vs Sony Xperia Z - Connectivity

Samsung Galaxy S4 – MHL microUSB port, microSD slot, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0, NFC

Sony Xperia Z – MHL microUSB port, microSD slot, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0, NFC

These two phones offer excellent connectivity, both wireless and wired. On the hardware front, both phones use microUSB ports to charge the battery and transfer data. The Samsung Galaxy S4’s port is on its bottom edge, and the Xperia Z’s its top-left edge.

Both phones also have microSD card slots – missing from top-end rivals the iPhone 5 and HTC One. Nice work, Samsung and Sony.

The one thing they miss is something you rarely see in phones these days – a dedicated video output. However, the microUSB ports of both phones are MHL-compliant, letting you hook them up to a TV with the right adapter. Search the web for 'MHL adapter' and you’ll find ones that work with each of the phones. They tend to cost around £25.

Xperia Z pics

One of the Xperia Z's flaps

All the wireless bases are covered. The Samsung Galaxy S4 and Sony Xperia Z have NFC, Bluetooth 4.0, GPS and 4G.

The pair to note here are NFC and 4G – they’re the two things that are often missing. NFC is a wireless payments standard that can also be used to transfer files between compatible devices. 4G is only getting off the ground in the UK, but is available right now from EE.

Comparisons

Samsung Galaxy S4 vs Sony Xperia Z - Screen

Samsung Galaxy S4 – 4.99-inch Super AMOLED, 1080p resolution,

Sony Xperia Z – 5-inch LCD, 1080p resolution

Following the 2013 trend for top-end phones, the Samsung Galaxy S4 and Sony Xperia Z have 5-inch screens. That is large enough to comfortably watch a film on, but is also large enough to feel absolutely huge in the hand. We recommend getting a first-hand feel of the phones before buying.

These phones’ screens are also super high-res. They have full HD displays, the same resolution as most high-end TVs. The size and resolution is where the similarities end, though.

The Samsung Galaxy S4 has a Super AMOLED screen, where the Sony Xperia Z uses the more traditional LCD type, with Sony’s Bravia Engine 2 panel tech.

We tend to prefer IPS displays like the iPhone 5’s over the AMOLED type of the Galaxy S4, however this time OLED wins out. The Sony Xperia Z screen is good, but not great.

The Samsung Galaxy S4 offers superior viewing angles and far superior contrast, and we noticed a disappointing amount of backlight bleed in the Xperia Z.

That said, the Samsung Galaxy S4’s screen has its problems too. Its pixel structure is not standard RGB but a type of PenTile array. Pixels share sub-pixels, resulting in reduced sharpness. It’s something that was distinctly noticeable in the Galaxy S3, but less so in the Galaxy S4 thanks to its higher pixel density. The Samsung Galaxy S4 still has a higher number of subpixels per inch than the iPhone 5.

Comparisons 2

Samsung Galaxy S4 vs Sony Xperia Z - Storage

Samsung Galaxy S4 – 16/32/64GB, microSD

Sony Xperia Z – 16GB, microSD

These phones are both storage winners, offering expandable memory. In the UK, by far the most common model of the Galaxy S4 will be the 16GB edition – and the Xperia Z only comes in 16GB form.

With a microSD card slot on-board, there’s little reason to have more. You’ll be able to get a memory card to bump up the storage to 64GB and beyond for far cheaper than you’d have to pay for a higher internal storage model.

As already covered, the Samsung Galaxy S4 keeps its memory card slot under its battery cover. The Sony Xperia Z’s one is under a flap on the top edge of the phone.

Comparisons

Samsung Galaxy S4 vs Sony Xperia Z - CPU, GPU and RAM

Samsung Galaxy S4 – Quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 1.9 GHz Krait 300 1.9GHz, Adreno 320, 2GB RAM

Sony Xperia Z – Quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 Krait 1.5GHz, Adreno 320, 2GB RAM

Some Samsung Galaxy S4 variants use an 8-core processor. However, we won’t see that model in the UK.

The UK version has a quad-core 1.9GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 600. This is the same family of chip used in the Sony Xperia Z. However, it is clocked a little higher in the Samsung phone – 1.9GHz instead of 1.5GHz. It’s a real game of mobile phone top trumps here, though, and the difference is not particularly dramatic.

That said, we did notice a little bit of minor slow-down at times when using the Sony phone.

In benchmarks, the minor spec upgrade shows up too. The Samsung Galaxy S4 scores 23,600 points in the AnTuTu benchmark, against around 21,000 for the Xperia Z. Both phones use the same GPU, the Adreno 320. This is a solid graphics chip, that can handle any current mobile games.

What’s just as important as the CPU power is the amount of RAM a phone has on hand. It’s RAM that’ll stop a phone from chugging when it has a bunch of apps installed. The Galaxy S4 and Xperia Z level-peg once more with 2GB a piece - the most you'll see in any current phone.

Comparisons 2

Samsung Galaxy S4 vs Sony Xperia Z - Software

Samsung Galaxy S4 – Android 4.2 with Touchwiz,

Sony Xperia Z – Android 4.2 with Sony UI

These phones both run the latest version of Android, 4.2 Jelly Bean. However, they look different because each uses a custom interface designed by their makers.

The Samsung Galaxy S4 has a new version of the TouchWiz interface that been used in phones for years. It looks just like the one in the Galaxy S3, but has a bucketload of new features. Top bits include:

• A redesigned camera interface based on that of the Samsung Galaxy Camera.

• Smart Pause, which pauses vids when you take your eyes away from the screen.

• Language translator S Translator.

• WatchON, which uses the phone’s IR blaster to control your TV.

• S Health, which helps you plan exercise activities

Sony’s interface has fewer bells and whistles. It’s out too look grown-up and sleek, while the Samsung Galaxy S4 interface is – with default settings – brighter and jollier. There are a bunch of pre-installed Themes in the Xperia Z, which add an array of backgrounds and lock screens for a phone facelift that only takes a few taps.

Xperia Z pics 3

Which is better? It’s a tough call because neither is exactly stellar. They don’t fiddle with the way Android works in a particularly dramatic way, and part of us wishes we had the option of stock Android. However, we’ll give the nod to Samsung this time for its incorporation of a new camera interface, which can feel a bit underdeveloped in vanilla Android, and some fun gadgets.

Comparisons 3

Samsung Galaxy S4 vs Sony Xperia Z - Camera

Samsung Galaxy S4 – 13MP Sony sensor, LED flash, HDR mode with video, Galaxy Camera-style UI

Sony Xperia Z – 13MP Sony sensor, LED flash, HDR mode with video

The Samsung Galaxy S4 and Sony Xperia Z use exactly the same sensor, a 13.1MP jobbie from Sony. This is the sensor seen in numerous top-end phones in 2013.

Xperia Z pics 4

Although the sensor is a determining factor of image quality, particularly in low-light situations, it’s far from the only one. Processing and lens quality are also of paramount importance.

Galaxy S4 vs Xperia Z 2

Samsung Galaxy S4 - Detail sample

Galaxy S4 vs Xperia Z 1

Sony Xperia Z - Detail sample

Galaxy S4 vs Xperia Z

Detail Comparison

These shots of the London skyline show clearly that the Samsung Galaxy S4's pictures are much higher-contrast. At pixel level, they demonstrate significantly more fine detail too.

Check out the scaffolding to the far left of the building next to the Gherkin - the criss-cross pattern is clearly discernable in the Samsung phone, but is reduced to an incoherent mush in the Xperia Z.

The pixel crop also shows purple fringing in the Xperia Z, largely absent from the Galaxy S4.

Although some of it may come from agressive processing rather than superior photographic hardware, the Samsung's pictures 'pop' far more than the Sony Xperia Z's thanks to the increased contrast.

Galaxy S4 Macro

Samsung Galaxy S4 - macro sample

Xperia Z macro

Sony Xperia Z - macro sample

Galaxy S4 vs Xperia Z 3

Macro comparison

To check out these phones' macro abilities, we headed outside and got as close to nature as focusing distance would allow.

When shooting macro photos, once again the Galaxy S4 comes out on top. Picture-quality wise, the Xperia Z's focusing is softer and it can't render the same level of detail as the Galaxy S4. The Samsung's close-up shot does suggest there's some pretty enthusiastic processing going on there, although the resulting shot is not harsh-looking.

The most significant win for the Samsung in macro shooting isn't quality, though, but focusing. The tap-to-focus-and-shoot style of the Xperia Z left us with 90 percent out of focus images, as the phone failed to lock onto the foreground plant. Taking macro shots with the Galaxy S4 is far more reliable - and less stressful.

Galaxy S4 vs Xperia Z 4

Flash comparison

Both the Samsung Galaxy S4 and Xperia Z have single-LED flashes. And pretty poow low light performance in dark conditions when the flash is not applied.

These phones have truly tiny sensor pixels, so despite their fast lenses, photos quickly become noisy as the light level diminishes. The image quality observations made earlier apply to flash photos too. The Samsung Galaxy S4's shot is far higher-contrast, leaving the Xperia Z's looking milky and indistinct by comparison. There's slightly more of a colour cast to the Galaxy S4's flash, but its photos are - once again - superior.

Comparisons 2

Samsung Galaxy S4 vs Sony Xperia Z - Battery Life

Samsung Galaxy S4 – 2600mAh

Sony Xperia Z – 2330mAh

A super-slim phone with a massive, high pixel density screen is always going to mean questionable battery life – until phones start using different battery technology. The Samsung Galaxy S4 battery is slightly higher-capacity than the Xperia Z’s, assuming they are of the same voltage.

In testing we found that the Sony Xperia Z’s battery was pretty mediocre, generally conking out within a day of mid-level use mainly due to the hungry CPU and Full-HD screen. The Samsung Galaxy S4, on the other hand, lasted well into the night, even with slightly heavier usage. The one problem we did find with the Galaxy S4 was the recharge time, which could last for several hours without filling the battery.

Comparisons 3

Early Verdict

The Samsung Galaxy S4 and Sony Xperia Z are phones of the same league. Their screens, performance and software are comparable, but in most respects the Samsung Galaxy S4 wins out. Its screen is a bit nicer, the software has some more bells ‘n’ whistles, the battery lasts longer and its camera performs better. The glass rear of the Sony feels a bit nicer than the thin plastic battery cover of the Samsung, but otherwise it’s a fairly safe victory for the Galaxy S4.

Go to comments

Rob

April 25, 2013, 1:22 am

Erm, sorry but I'm not buying that. Its obvious you havent had a S4 to play with. The site is called Trusted Reviews - and you've just broken that with a lazy article based on published specs and bits lifted from other sites. Shoddy work, TR.

Leoparkes

April 25, 2013, 9:05 am

Watch out for the major flaw in the Xperia Z, in my opinion.

Okay, just taken delivery of the Xperia Z (C6603) and downloaded the latest firmware before starting to configure the phone. A time consuming task I don’t look forward to but now here's a funny thing. The first job I attempted to do was to set up the Wi-Fi connection to my wireless router at home... and this is when it all went wrong. Just like many people, I have my wireless router set so it doesn’t broadcast its SSID to every potential hacker in the neighbourhood. Unfortunately it turns out Sony decided not to make this phone compatible with hidden SSID’s. Yes, that’s right - the only smartphone in the top ten list that I can’t use at home, or my friends, or anywhere else where a Wi-Fi connection is set not to broadcast its SSID - unbelievable... and from Sony of all organisations! I wished they would make this clear to buyers.

Luke Taylor

April 25, 2013, 10:15 am

I chose the Xperia Z over the Samsung due to the better UI, and more Premium feel in the hand. You cant under estimate how the feel of a phone changes your feelings about its quality, the theme options are also a nice touch, the cheesy Touchwiz isn't even close in class or usability I appreciate the Camera, but Sony has admitted a software tweak will be in the works, currently Burst Mode produces shots equal to the S4 while we await the Auto fix. The screen issue is a mute point, you look at a phone directly on, well I do viewing angles is a really odd review point in my opinion. I prefer the screen on the Xperia as it looks more natural. I dunno I just feel a few points were made for the sake of argument rather than a legitimate reason to choose the S4 over the Xperia Z.

Now while i'm sitting here sounding like a fanboy I think it's worth mentioning I had the S2/3 and Note 2 and switched to Xperia Z because of the above reasons.

The iPhone and the Xperia Z are in the same league for quality in ui design and premium build quality, the Galaxy feels like a cheap piece of plastic once the Honeymoon period ends and you feel like you have a 'ok' phone. There is a reason the iPhone is popular and that is the quality of the handset, the Xperia is very similar so iPhone owners may see the Sony as there Android Alternative.

Bosshogg

April 25, 2013, 11:45 am

There needs to be some clarification about the Sony screen. A number of reviews have not pointed out what Sony has done with it. Sony is one of the best LCD screen makers around, they know what they are doing. In an attempt to lower the battery drain of the screen during normal operation such as Internet viewing or phone calls the screen is lower contrast and brightness. The main reason a screen needs to be high quality is during media playback. When viewing movies and photos the phone engages its Bravia 2 engine which then gives one of the best screen viewing experience ever seen on a phone. Simple thing to do is if you are looking at one at a shop just play one of the movie trailers in the gallery.
You will then understand what the screen is capable of. On the positive side you will use less battery life during normal operation and the screen life and quality will be extended. Hopefully some of the reviewers will start to point this out.

Commander Jim

April 25, 2013, 1:16 pm

Xperia Z for me, no question. The phone feels beautiful in the hand, unlike the plasticky Samsung, and feels like iPhone build quality, waterproofing beats out eye tracking and hand waving gimmicks and the very minor difference in processing power is irrelevant, by the time games and apps actually catch up to these phones in years to come to the point where it becomes an issue most of us would have long since moved onto other phones.

Andy

April 25, 2013, 4:53 pm

The fact that Samsung have reportedly stated their future high end phones will be made using premium materials says it all really. They have acknowledged that people want their phone to feel like a £500 premium device and their current models fall below this standard, a point you have glossed over in this article....

Jek

April 25, 2013, 6:03 pm

I've had the Xperia Z since launch and it's the best phone I've had (I used to have an iphone 4) Battery life is very good (if you use the stamina mode), videos look stunning and internet browsing is fast and clear. The best feature though is the audio. When using Klipsch x10 headphones (with clear audio turned on) The sound is nothing short of fantastic. Treble is sharp and bass is full, but also tight. The soundstage is wide and instrument placement and definition spot on. I actually kept my iphone for 15 months after the upgrade date, waiting for a phone that could properly act as a music player and the Xperia Z makes that decision worthwhile.

torjs99

April 25, 2013, 10:58 pm

audio playback is an afterthought for most people even though they will spend most of their time doing just that and you can drop it down the loo and it will still work.

Franch

April 26, 2013, 12:28 pm

I had the S3 and I replaced it with the Xperia Z. I got the Xperia Z and it has blown me away. When I got my hands on an S4 (my wife's new handset) I felt cheated. It doesn't feel as good/premium because of the plastic. The Xperia Z also has an amazing camera despite the criticism i read on this review. The pics I have taken have been perfect and there really is no difference in quality with the ones taken by my wife's S4. Further, the dust and water resistance features are incredibly useful to have especially on a premium phone.

Cellphones are machines we tend to rate because of how they make users feel; the S4 just looks like an upgrade on the S3, whereas the build quality of the Xperia Z is just exceptional and overall offers me the user a superior experience than the S4. I have this view given how envious of my wife is of my Xperia Z and my experience with it the times I have used her phone.

David Minns

April 26, 2013, 2:23 pm

nice one great feedback

Guest

April 26, 2013, 4:09 pm

Bosshogg Sony may be one of the best LCD screen makers around, but the Xperia Z colors are horrible compared to the Galaxy, HTC One and even the iPhone - largely because the blacks appear washed out and grey, and you don't have the rich color saturation one can experience on other phones.

Guest

April 26, 2013, 4:11 pm

Can you share your screen shots? I honestly can't believe that Sony would do that. In searching the web for similar issues, all I see are your posts that are worded the same about hidden SSIDs not being supported.

Evan

April 27, 2013, 8:56 am

Good work Sherlock. Actually we've had a white version for almost a week and a black version for a couple of days too.

abhi

April 27, 2013, 9:36 am

XPERIA Z wins in all aspect.if u compare the camera,video quality ,sound every thing. samsung stands no where in the league. samsung go for the quality not for the quantity. and also brand name is also there in this world,,,samsung and sony... no comparison at all...sony is the king pin of the electronics and samsung a beginner. that too only in phones.
1st of all try to make the quality of product samsung.
see the looks of sony studding looks ,better feel of a high end ph, unbeatable sound quality, sony has 1.5 ghz of processor but let me tell u the interface of sony is quiet faster than the samsung,,,like vise the s3 hangs many times.
No one can beat sony and apple because. the main thing lies beneath the bed is the QUALITY.

Guest

April 28, 2013, 4:51 am

Next time make sure you were using Superior Auto + on the Xperia Z. Note that the camera in Samsung and Iphones are all "Sony". OLED is a Sony patented product which is in Super AMOLED (Super armored organic light emitting diode). In all respect, Sony still wins at the end of the day. Xperia Z has a built in universal RF remote. Sony was smart not using the same screen technology as Samsung, the battery will last longer with the ZL to prove it. Samsung is also starting to run out of ideas in terms of cosmetic design.

On top of that, remember that Sony just recently was on the bottom of the mobile food chain. They were on the top with Walkman phones which were ahead of their time until Iphone, and were completely forgotten about. Within 1 year after releasing the Xperia S, ION, T, J, Go and a few others. This is the Phone Sony is banking on. Not only that, enjoy having chinese capacitors in all of your Samsung electronics. Japanese manufactured products will out last any brand.

Sony is also the ONLY independent manufacturer who has their hands on every single electronic department you can think of. They make movies, tv shows, the worlds best televisions (Triluminous 4k panels baby).

Samsung is funded by their government which is their advantage, and since they were contracted to manufacture panels with Sony for years until the end of last year, the majority of technology that they use is originated from guess who?

Sony > Samsung on so many levels.

Rob

April 30, 2013, 12:38 am

In that case, Dr Watson, the article should have been so much better than it was. Elementary, my dear....

Evan

April 30, 2013, 1:39 pm

I had thought your deductive powers had failed you. Sorry you didn't like it old fellow but we will be spending more time with both phones and this piece will evolve with more detail on every facet of both devices.

We hadn't shot the GS4 when this was written so we used some older photos, we'll update with some new ones as I can see why you got the impression we didn't have the phone originally.

Thanks for the input.

Sonny Koo

May 2, 2013, 10:38 pm

But problem is xperia Z still drain faster than any other phone .. Sony need to work out on the battery, nearly none of any their phone with good battery when compare with similar spec

Rob

May 2, 2013, 11:24 pm

You mean "now you've managed to actually get one...." ;-) (sorry, cant do an emoticon with a deerstalker and a pipe...)

some random phone geek

May 10, 2013, 11:16 am

first of all i want to state that i have had the Samsung galaxy s3 for 8 months now and it is a very beautiful and outstanding device. some will call it a very fast device but i have to disagree, because while opening some apps (contacts, phone, gallery etc..) it tends to lag a bit, (mostly a second or two).

which just goes to show that processing power is half the deal, what truly matters is the UI. as we have seen in iPhones, while the processor might not be the fastest, the user interface is very light and doesn't need a lot of processing power to work smoothly and as a result iPhones have been proven to be faster than Samsung devices.

i do not agree with Samsung's standards for their smartphones, which is to equip the smartphone with a faster processor to be able to run a heavier UI.

i truly hope Samsung looks further into building a device with a less power-hungry UI

and maybe even aluminum or glass materials ( we deserve it :p)

x3Evo

May 10, 2013, 9:08 pm

I have to agree with this. Samsung gives CHEAP PLASTIC feel.

x3Evo

May 10, 2013, 9:09 pm

Draining issue can be solved. User learn how to conserve battery energy ^^.HAHA

Krystian

May 10, 2013, 11:23 pm

I see a Fanboy!

Dr.Ruchir

May 11, 2013, 10:18 am

agreed to ur honeymoon point as i m using S2 earlr it loooks awesome dat u r using a smart phone but latr on ull feel disgstng ki wht i m using is it a crap or wht dat old same look of samsung dat creapy cheap plastic body datswhy i just wanna move on from samsung thankx fr d reviews but yeah still ill say dat sony n apple hav some battery issues due to their gud processors n quality resolutions

DainiusV

May 12, 2013, 1:44 pm

What the hell did u write here? O_O

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