Despite a handful of high-end flagship smartphones currently on the market and just over the horizon, all eyes are on two companies this week. HTC and Samsung.
The rivalry between these two monster Android manufacturers is unparalleled. HTC was once a well-known, thriving brand in Androidland. And while the name has hardly lost any importance, the company’s finances and standings in market share have slipped over the last two years, largely thanks to the booming success of Samsung and its popular Galaxy brands.
In February last year, while Samsung was polishing off the final refinements from the previous year’s successful flagship, HTC was announcing a total reboot, the One branding, practically starting from scratch. One X, One S and One V. It was focusing on the “less is more” mantra – fewer devices, all of notably higher quality.
It under-delivered on one of its largest gambits, ImageSense, the alleged superior image sensing technology in the One X and One S cameras. And the focus on “less is more” was swiftly lost with the incremental One X+, One VX, One SV, DROID DNA, EVO 4G LTE and a handful of other international mid-range models.
It faltered by missing a widespread global launch, choosing to instead succumb to individual carrier requests and exclusives. Meanwhile, Samsung launched the Galaxy S III, globally, as only two models – one for U.S. carriers with LTE on board and one for the rest of the world. (We Americans are such a pain.)
Selling over 40 million worldwide, the Galaxy S III’s success was what every other manufacturer sought to replicate. And shortly following the Galaxy S III launch, the HTC One X slowly faded into the background.
This is exactly what HTC doesn’t want to happen this year, yet its something the company has to be truly terrified of. The Galaxy S IV – or so that’s what we can only assume it will be called – is slated to be announced tomorrow evening. Just weeks after the One announcement, HTC’s flagship is at serious risk of being swept under the carpet once again.
So it begs the question: should HTC be worried this time around?
Some preliminary reviews went out earlier this week to mixed reviews. And its reception has been mostly positive. In my head, I’m having flashbacks to last year, a crowd of swooning reviewers and potential customers whose attention is quickly drawn in the opposite direction by the One X’s greatest foe.
Fortunately, it seems as if HTC has learned from the handful of tiny missteps it made last year.
The One will make its way to carriers around the world. Here in the States, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and a host of regional carriers will pick up the One. And the company has – so far – adhered to “less is more” by not announcing multiple versions of virtually the same device and a half dozen mid-range devices.
The one hurdle the company is working through is convincing a pixel-happy audience that 4-megapixels – or UltraPixels – is enough. Our own Michael Fisher found the 4-UltraPixel camera to be a marked improvement over the DROID DNA camera and One X’s ImageSense shooter. But make no mistake, we’re all still skeptical an unsure it was the right move for HTC in its current position. Even if megapixels are given too much weight, it was a bold – and possibly unnecessary – move for HTC to introduce a camera with half the output resolution as last year’s devices while other manufacturers are stepping up to 13-megapixel shooters.
The positives in play for HTC, however, are aplenty. The level of finesse it displayed in the build of the One is unprecedented, and will be a marked advantage over the Galaxy S IV, assuming it’s all-plastic as the leaks and rumors allege.
Speaking of design and plastic, if the recent Galaxy S IV leaks prove to be real, a large number of potential Galaxy S IV customers will be upset. The renders and actual (read: alleged) images indicate very few design changes for the Galaxy S IV, which means Samsung is confident the year-old design is strong enough to carry the brand for another year, that software differentiation and specifications will be enough to entice consumers to upgrade from their Galaxy S IIIs.
If this proves to be the case, we all will have a sunken feeling shortly after 7:00 PM tomorrow. The Galaxy S III design is one I was personally never fond of. The pebble-esque design gave the Galaxy S III a feature phone-like feel and appeal. But if the Galaxy S IV does not receive the warranted design upgrade, HTC, coming of a drastic hardware redesign, will rejoice in light of a huge window of opportunity.
HTC One also has the weight of the best display on the market on its side. Samsung’s fourth-gen Galaxy S is said to have a full HD display, but the technology is still up in the air. It could be PenTile, which we assume wouldn’t matter at such a high density. But we’re willing to bet it’s of the Super AMOLED make, meaning the S-LCD3 panel on the One will have a leg-up in color reproduction (accuracy, not saturation).
A quad-core processor versus the octa-core chip is a metaphorical “whose is bigger” contest. For many, the deal-breaker for the HTC One is the lack of micro SD card expansion and removable battery – two longstanding and unresolved complaints from HTC fans.
Point being, HTC has plenty of reasons to be afraid of Samsung and the Galaxy S IV. Should they be? Yes. Absolutely. The Galaxy S III is one of several reasons the One X was not as successful as it could have been. And come tomorrow, we could most definitely see a repeat of last year.
But if Samsung is banking on software features and specification bumps to carry its flagship through the year, it may be met with the cold, hard realization that its original design wasn’t as remarkable as originally thought. And HTC just might be able to breathe a sigh of relief … for the first time in ages.