For smartphone fans around the world, things really started to get interesting over the past couple of months. First, Samsung unveiled its new Galaxy S5 flagship smartphone in late February, revealing a smartphone that was quite impressive and touted a number of great new features, but failed to live up to the hype stirred up by dozens of rumors. Then, HTC unveiled its own flagship phone, the HTC One (M8), and launched it the very same day.
We called HTC’s new handset the best Android phone on the planet when we published our in-depth HTC One (M8) review. But now HTC’s flagship handset finally has some serious competition in the Galaxy S5.
The new M8 and Samsung’s Galaxy S5 went on sale within weeks of each other and there is little question that these two smartphones are the best all-around Android phones in the world at the moment. But when it comes to wearing the crown, there can be only one.
So, which next-generation flagship smartphone is the best in the business right now?
Last year, BGR took a long hard look at both the Galaxy S4 and HTC One after having used both devices for several months. The goal at that time was to determine which flagship handset was the best Android phone in the world.
In some ways, it was a close call and the Galaxy S4 clearly bests the One in several areas, not the least of which is the phone’s incredible display. But when all was said and done, the HTC One was the better phone. It looked better, it felt better, and performance in most scenarios was on par with the S4.
In 2014, HTC improved on last year’s One in every way imaginable.
I published my in-depth HTC One (M8) review last month and I made it quite clear how impressed I was with HTC’s latest effort. 2014 is shaping up to be another boring year for smartphone lovers, but the M8 managed to stir up some real excitement.
Meanwhile, Samsung’s Galaxy S5 is hardly a slouch. The handset is also better than its predecessor in every way, with a bigger display, upgraded internals and several new features that look to add real value and address serious pain points shared by smartphone users across the globe.
Pitting these two great smartphones against each other and picking a winner was no easy task.
In some key areas, these two flagship Android phones are pretty evenly matched. I found battery life to be comparable, for example, with both handsets lasting beyond a full day with each charge. What’s more, both the S5 and M8 feature enhanced battery-saving modes that can extend battery life by several hours in a pinch.
The HTC One (M8) and Galaxy S5 are also pretty evenly matched when it comes to performance.
In most areas of the user experience, there is no discernible difference between these two phones in terms of zipping around through apps and multitasking. On paper, however, the S5’s Snapdragon processor is clocked at 2.5GHz with the M8’s is clocked at 2.3GHz in most regions.
As a result, the AT&T version of Samsung’s Galaxy S5 that I tested scored an average of 34,914 on the AnTuTu benchmark X test. HTC’s M8 scored 33,632 on the same test.
There are other ways that the new One and the Galaxy S5 are comparable. For example, the Galaxy S5 is water-resistant and can survive a dunk in up to 3 feet of water. While HTC doesn’t like the One (M8) as being water-resistant, a recent test on captured on video suggests that the M8 can be submerged for several minutes and still work fine.
Of course there are also many areas where one of these two phones clearly outclasses the other.
Starting with the user experience on the outside of the devices and then moving inward, there’s really no reason to discuss the design, build or materials that make up these phones for very long. They aren’t just in different leagues, they’re playing different sports.
The HTC One (M8) is the most gorgeous smartphone I have seen to date. The metal housing is sleek and ergonomic, the design is phenomenal and the fit and finish are unmatched.
Meanwhile, the back of the Galaxy S5 is tacky plastic and the design isn’t much different from most slab-style smartphones on the market.
Around front is where the Galaxy S5 shines, both literally and figuratively.
The display on the Galaxy S5 is, in a word, stunning. We have come to expect the best from Samsung when it comes to screens but somehow, time and time again, the company surprises us.
Such is the case with the Galaxy S5, which includes a display that found a way to top the Galaxy Note 3. The Note 3 screen, you might recall, had previously been the best smartphone display we had ever seen.
Pitch black blacks, insanely vibrant colors and class-leading contrast make the viewing experience on the Galaxy S5 sublime. Samsung truly did an amazing job with this AMOLED panel. The HTC One (M8) display is stunning as well, but it’s certainly no match for the S5.
What lies beneath those display panels is a different story.
Samsung and HTC have both put a tremendous amount of time and resources into the software that powers their phones. Both devices run KitKat, the latest version of Android, but the software has been heavily modified with new interfaces, apps and services.
Beginning with Sense 6 on the HTC One (M8), HTC focused on simplifying its software on the new One. It also made the software’s appearance much flatter and used various bright colors to distinguish one stock HTC app from the next.
The TouchWiz interface on the Galaxy S5 has also undergone some changes, though it resembles the previous version of Samsung’s software much more closely than Sense 6 resembles earlier builds. Recent reports suggest that Samsung is working on a bigger redesign, but there’s no telling if or when we might see it.
Both updated Android versions feature great new functionality and they also improve upon old features. But Samsung’s handset definitely outshines the HTC One (M8) when it comes to a few key intersections of hardware and software.
First off, the Galaxy S5 captures better quality photos than the M8. Forget that the S5 camera is a 16-megapixel unit and the M8’s Duo Camera captures 4-megapixel photos — pictures taken with the Galaxy S5 are more clear and have better color reproduction.
The effects enabled by the depth data HTC’s Duo Camera collects are great, but the image quality simply can’t compare to Samsung’s new camera.
Another area where the S5 has a clear leg up on the One (M8) is fitness. While the M8 does include a simple step-tracking feature with Fitbit preinstalled, Samsung’s S5 has a built-in heart rate monitor and Samsung’s own S Health software.
Finally, Samsung’s Galaxy S5 includes a fingerprint scanner in the home button for added security, while HTC actually went the other direction, having ditched print reader on its last One-branded phone, the HTC One Max.
Fingerprint readers are hardly a necessity and there are some security implications for the more paranoid among us, but Samsung’s scanner works very well — just as well as Touch ID on the iPhone 5s, in my experience.
In many areas, the HTC One (M8) and Samsung Galaxy S5 are pretty evenly matched. In some areas, they are not.
Samsung’s latest smartphone clearly has the edge when it comes to camera quality and fitness functionality, and the new Super AMOLED HD display is absolutely amazing.
Meanwhile, the design and materials on the HTC One (M8) outclasses the S5 by a mile.
So in the end, the same deciding factors that tipped the scales in HTC’s favor last year have again made the Taiwan-based company’s flagship phone the best Android phone in the world this year.
The simple fact is that these two handsets are very evenly matched, but the gaps in areas where the M8 has the edge are much wider than they are in areas where the Galaxy S5 has the edge.
Samsung’s display on the S5 is phenomenal, but the HTC One (M8)’s LCD 3 screen is pretty impressive as well. Samsung’s display is clearly better, but but the margin by which it is better is actually pretty narrow.
The Galaxy S5’s fitness features are better than the M8’s as well, but there’s nothing remarkable that the S5 does and the M8 cannot do. The camera on the Galaxy S5 is also better, but many people have seen good results with the M8’s camera.
HTC and Samsung’s software is somewhat evenly matched as well. Both custom Android builds offer some great and unique features, and both have fantastic new extreme battery saving modes that I love. I will say, though, that the look of Sense 6 is far more sleek, modern and sophisticated than TouchWiz.
When it comes to design and materials, there is no wider gap than the one that exists between the HTC One (M8) and Samsung’s Galaxy S5.
In a way, it’s as if Samsung approached the S5 like it would a mid-range television. The display is the only thing that matters — the hardware that surrounds it is merely a delivery mechanism.
HTC took a much different approach. It created a smartphone that is remarkably easy to adore. It’s unique and gorgeous, and it screams “high-end.”
Both approaches have their merits, but HTC’s leaves users with a phone that has it all: looks, materials, performance and great software. Go with the S5 instead, and prepare to make big compromises in two of those four categories.
Neither phone is a bad choice by any means, but only one can be the best Android phone in the world — and right now, that’s the HTC One (M8).