The Samsung Galaxy S6 and HTC One M9 are proof of how quickly perceptions can change in the Android world. One year ago, these phones’ predecessors were looked at in nearly exact opposite lights: The Galaxy S5 stubbornly stood by Samsung’s affinity for plastic and bloatware, while the One M8 felt like a refined version of an already top-notch device. Fast forward to today and the roles are reversed: Whereas the Galaxy S6 and its wholesale design revamp feel like a major leap forward for the entire Galaxy series, the One M9 and its incremental tune-ups feel almost stagnant.
Samsung’s brand recognition and marketing muscle all but ensure that the S6 will outsell the M9 when all is said and done—the Galaxy series competes more with the iPhone than any other Google partner at this point. But because these are two of the biggest fish in the Android sea, and because they’re launching directly against each other today, we’re going to put these flagships under the same microscope.
As was the case with our last tale of the tape, we won’t try to hold these phones to some arbitrary standard of success and tell you which one is better. We don’t know how either device will hold up over time, or which one is more suited to your preferences. Instead, we’ll stick to the facts, using the spec sheets and our own experiences to help you understand what you’re looking at if you’re considering one or the other. With that mouthful out of the way, let’s take a look at how Samsung and HTC’s latest and greatest stack up.
As noted above, the Galaxy S6 is a radical shift from the look and feel of previous Galaxy phones. Instead of the slimy plastic or “faux leather” of Samsung’s past flagships, the Galaxy S6 uses a classier mix of Gorilla Glass 4 on its front and back with aluminum on its sides. It’s a distinctly more professional, mature looking device, yet it isn’t any less comfortable in the hand than its predecessors. The only major knocks against it are its protruding camera, the inherent slipperiness of its glass back, and, well, the fact that it apes the iPhone’s style.
The One M9, meanwhile, doesn’t mess with a good thing. The One M8’s brushed, aluminum body already hit the heights Samsung is aiming for with the Galaxy S6, so instead of fixing what isn’t broken, HTC’s didn’t change for change’s sake. The result is a fine-tuning of last year’s model: slightly smaller than before, with sharper edges and a relocation of the power button from the top of the phone to the right edge. It’s just as handsome and solid as it was last year—though now there’s an unseemly gap where the aluminum ends and the screen begins—but all of the above makes it more comfortable to use with one hand.
One area where both phones may fall short, however, is in protection; neither aluminum nor glass (even Gorilla Glass) is immune to cracks if they’re dropped hard enough. That kind of sacrifice is usually made when you emphasize beauty over utility. HTC has been somewhat proactive in this regard, as it’s introduced an “Uh Oh Protection” program that’ll replace one busted HTC phone for you at no cost.
Smaller doesn’t necessarily mean better, but if you’re looking for something that’s more comfortable in your pockets, the Galaxy S6 is the more compact device of the two. It’s a bit boxier than the One M9, but it’s noticeably slimmer, not as tall, and a fair bit lighter. Officially, the Galaxy S6 measures 143.4 x 70.5 x 6.8mm and weighs 138 grams, while the One M9 measures 144.6 x 69.7 x 9.61mm and weighs 157 grams.
Both devices come in a handful of different colors. The Galaxy S6 has a few livelier looking finishes, coming in black, white, gold, or blue. The One M9 stands by its professional aesthetic by coming in dark grey, silver, or, eventually, gold.
The screens of the Galaxy S5 and there One M8 were almost uniformly praised for their excellence, so neither HTC nor Samsung have changed much here (save for one major difference that we’ll get to in a second). As a result, both phones retain the same screen sizes as their predecessors, with the Galaxy S6 sporting a 5.1-inch display and the One M9 packing a 5-inch one.
Samsung makes slightly better use of the room around that display, however. Its side bezels are slimmer, and roughly 71% of its front side is made up of its screen. The One M9’s front, meanwhile, is still 68% screen, but is again saddled with the infamous “HTC bar” that sits in between the capacitive buttons and the phone’s bottom speaker.
The “major difference” we mentioned above is in the Galaxy S6’s display resolution, which has gone from the standard 1080p to the quad HD setting of 1440 x 2560 pixels. That equates a whopping 577 pixels per inch. The One M9, meanwhile, sticks with a still sharp 1080p panel, which is good for 441 pixels per inch. It’s just as crisp as the One M8’s display, which isn’t exciting, but is still beyond serviceable.
The natural inclination is to assume that more is always better, but that’s not really the case. As we’ve said before, there’s a scientifically proven point where the human eye can no longer discern individual pixels, and a screen like the Galaxy S6’s flies well over it for everyone who doesn’t examine use their phone under a literal microscope.
It’s nice to never have to worry about sharpness, and all those pixels will surely come in handy if you hook the handset up to Samsung’s Gear VR headset, but there isn’t a significant practical difference between 1440p and 1080p on displays this small. In fact, you could argue the higher res may have a negative effect: As we’ve seen on older quad HD phones like the LG G3, all those pixels can tax a phone’s performance and drain its battery faster than usual. Time will tell if that’s the case here.
None of this is to say that the Galaxy S6’s display is overrated. It doesn’t have to go in on the pixel count as hard as it does, but its Super AMOLED screen is gorgeous either way, with luscious colors and dark tones as black as night. OLED tech also excels outdoors, making the S6 more visible in daylight.
That the One M9 rehashes its predecessor’s LCD panel is fine, as we said, but its color reproduction won‘t be as accurate given its technical limitations. It does a great job with what it’s got, but we’re ready to accept OLED as the superior display technology, at least when it’s as fine-tuned as it is on the Galaxy S6.
Really, though, talk like this will only matter to display nerds. For most cases, you can’t go wrong with either screen—they’re both sharp, bright, and make whatever you’re looking at pretty. The Galaxy S6 just holds up better under harsher scrutiny.
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