The quality of Android phones has gotten better and better with each passing year, but once again, the pair of flagships that yield the most attention come from HTC and Samsung. The HTC One (M8) and Samsung Galaxy S5 are just as different as they are powerful, and they both make for attractive buys.
Ultimately, it’s hard to imagine anyone being too dissatisfied with either of these mobile gems, but if you’re looking for a new top-of-the-line Android phone right now, chances are that you have to decide between one or the other. So which do you pick? We’ve given each device full reviews already, but now let’s put the new One and Galaxy S5 side-by-side and break them down together.
Build and Design
This one’s a no-brainer. The HTC One (M8) and Samsung Galaxy S5 are, respectively, beauty and the beast. The One (M8)’s design doesn’t deviate much from last year’s model, but it’s even more modern on an engineering level. Its body’s plastic materials have been almost entirely omitted, and its back has been ridged, raising its premium feel while also making it a little less likely to slip out of your hand. It’s simply a head-turner, one that looks and feels fantastic.
On the other hand, Samsung has stuck by its usual plastic for the Galaxy S5. This has its advantages — it makes the S5 some 20 g lighter than its predecessor, allows the phone’s battery to be more easily removable, and helps the phone be both water- and dust-proof. Plus, the embossed, dotted material on the S5’s back gives at least some hint that this is a top class mobile device.
However, the S5’s chromed edges are everything but good design, and the plastic’s cheapness is still too overbearing for the phone to be considered a worthy competitor to the build of the One. And even if you plan on masking your phone with a new case, HTC offers the more innovative option with its genius Dot View cover, which can show you status alerts and notifications without being opened.
When it comes to screens, Samsung has a slight advantage. The Galaxy S5 has a 5.1-inch Super AMOLED display, while the One sports a 5-inch Super LCD3 screen, although both panels are Full HD (or, 1080 x 1920). This technically means that the pixel density on HTC’s model is slightly greater (441 ppi compared to 432 ppi), but the difference is so small and difficult to notice that it isn’t any real advantage for HTC. Image sharpness is simply supreme on both devices.
It’s close, but the imagery on Samsung’s device is more pleasing to the eye, thanks primarily to the more pronounced contrast offered by that Super AMOLED tech. Black tones are exceptionally dark on both phones, but whites are truly snowy on the Galaxy S5; they look slightly dirty by comparison on the One, even when the phone’s brightness is pushed to the max. That’s not to say that the One’s contrast isn’t excellent — it just means that it can’t keep up with the world-beating ways of the its rival.
Likewise, viewing angles and sustainability in direct sunlight is also excellent on both devices. Still, I do have one problem to note with HTC’s model: text and other objects tend to blur when moved quickly across the screen, and it sometimes takes a second for everything to come back to optimal visibility. This is mostly evident when scrolling through web sites, and it’s an annoyance the Galaxy S5 does not have.
Both the One (M8) and Galaxy S5 have almost identical chipsets, based on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 801 SoC with four Krait 400 cores. HTC One (M8) runs on a 2.3 GHz clock, while Samsung’s is overclocked to 2.5 GHz, which doesn’t amount to a great advantage. Both models have 2 GB of RAM and use Android OS 4.4.2 (KitKat) too.
Put bluntly, both are incredibly fast and fluid. It’s impossible to choose a real “winner” between the two based on everyday phone usage. Both devices offer an equally premium experience, and really, it’s hard to imagine anyone needing more power than what’s provided here
Results of synthetic benchmarks could be leveraged, but there are so many of these tests that any advantages are once again obscured. The Galaxy S5 wins at some, while the One wins at others. The fact that both manufacturers have made artificial adjustments to get their phones to score better on these tests makes their benchmarks even more irrelevant. The days when it was crucial to know “who’s the fastest” are over; even mid-range phones are fluid these days, and the maximal hardware for today’s smartphone software appears to have been reached. There are no losers here.
Battery life is something that has not reached its peak, though, and it’s still an area where the everyday user would benefit from further improvements. Thankfully, both HTC and Samsung have decided take advantage of the room for growth: the One and Galaxy S5 truly last longer in practice than their predecessors did.
What’s more, they’re also smarter and more energy efficient. The One offers nearly 40 percent more juice with its 2800 mAh of battery capacity before recharging. It also offers a nifty “Extreme Power Saver” mode, which turns off every antenna and feature on the device outside of the ones necessary for calling and texting.
With its 2600 mAh battery, Samsung offers an equivalent dubbed “Ultra Power Saver” mode, which also shuts down unnecessary services and antennas. This switches the display to greyscale, and can provide a whopping 24 hours of phone activity after the battery runs down to 10 percent capacity. HTC says its extreme saving mode can do the same for 30 hours, but I have not seen any real difference in practice. Battery life on the two phones is just about the same, which is to say, great.
User Interface and Features
HTC’s Sense UI 6.0 includes several practical novelties, like double tapping the screen in order to wake it up, as well its other “Motion Launch” gestures in stand-by mode. Cosmetically speaking, the user interface has been touched up for the better, but not drastically so. Meanwhile, BlinkFeed, Sense UI’s Flipboard-esque news aggregator, can now be more flexibly configured, making it more useful.
However, I think Samsung has taken it a step further by improving the feature set of its TouchWiz UI. The pointless motion-based gestures of the Galaxy S4 have been moved to the background, while the user interface now looks closer to pure Android OS than it did before.
Furthermore, a fingerprint scanner has been added to the Galaxy S5’s home key, alongside a heart rate monitor that’s been built into the device’s back. This, of course, works with Samsung’s “S Health” fitness app, which provides a functional and friendly intersection between technology and healthy living. Again, it’s close, but this helps give the Galaxy S5 a slight advantage.
Both HTC and Samsung have significantly advanced the cameras on their flagships. The Galaxy S5 now has a 16-megapixel rear sensor which records QHD videos and provides a wealth of options for sprucing up your photos. All the usual features are still here, including a “Dual Shot” mode that works with the phone’s 2-megapixel front-facing camera and captures simultaneous photos, HD videos, and the like.
The One (M8), meanwhile, now has three nominal cameras. Two in the back max out at a humble four megapixels and, weirdly, one in the front features five megapixels. Yes, for the first time in a while, the resolution of a flagship’s front-facing shooter is greater than its rear-facing one.
Recording quality is above average on both devices, but the Galaxy S5’s super high megapixel count gives it a decided advantage in daylight.
Still, in other situations, the One takes the lead in spite of its low shooting resolution. At night, its so called “ultrapixels” capture significantly more light and create images with less noise. Equal low-light results can only be attained on the Galaxy S5 when you manually reduce the resolution of your shots, which is a tiring process. Also, the One’s dual rear camera allows you to effectively simulate a bokeh-style depth effect in your images, a feat Samsung cannot achieve as well without a dedicated sensor.
Furthermore, with HTC’s Zoe software and a whole line of other well-thought out special effects, the One simply offers more freedom to creative types who like taking pictures with their smartphone. Its sharper front shooter makes for better selfies too. Ultimately, overall image quality is better on the Galaxy S5, but the One’s camera is more creative.
The HTC One (M8) and Samsung Galaxy S5 are the two best Android smartphones currently on the market. The Nexus 5 and Sony Xperia Z2 might be the only major flagships that could compete with them today, but the former will age faster, while the latter isn’t yet available en masse. The latest offerings from LG and Apple are still stuck in the future too. For now, these two flagships are as strong as it gets, and it’s almost impossible to say that one is better than the other on a general level.
Still, if you have specific criteria for your phone – and given the high costs involved here, you should – there are things for which the One (M8) is better, and things for which the Galaxy S5 is better.
More specifically, if you insist on premium design choose HTC’s model. If you’re picky about having supreme camera tech, Samsung’s flagship is the right model for you. (Although, if you really wanted the best pics out there, I’d point you to any recent Nokia Lumia phone.) And if you want to nurture a more active lifestyle, you will find your match with Samsung Galaxy S5. Whatever your choice, though, it’ll be hard for you to go wrong.