Comparisons between the two most prized Android hardware manufacturers’ latest flagship devices were inevitable. Both HTC and Samsung have been battling it out to become the top Android manufacturer since the platform first hit consumer hands. And while Samsung currently has a wide lead over HTC, in both cash reserves and market share, HTC is far from hanging up the towel and going home.
In the past month, both companies have unveiled their latest work to a mostly pleased audience, mixed with thousands of curious press and hundreds of thousands of potential customers.
First came the HTC One, a big gamble for the Taiwanese-based company. Its aluminum, unibody design speaks directly to those in search of a world class product. From other members of our team (as I haven’t managed to actually get my own paws on one yet), the One rests perfectly in the palm like a tailor-made glove.
Putting its love-or-hate interface, Sense 5, on a diet and opting for a bold 4-UltraPixel camera that carries the promise of higher-quality shots, HTC put a lot on the line with its flagship. Outside of Blinkfeed, Zoe and Sense TV, the One doesn’t boast a ton of features on the software front and instead relies on its precision-cut hardware and top notch specs to take from the likes of Samsung’s best efforts.
The Galaxy S 4, a much-anticipated addition to the strong lineage of existing Galaxy S phones, was made official last Thursday to mostly mixed reviews. In a very Apple-like move, Samsung did just enough to carry itself and its most popular smartphone brand through the year.
Rather than pushing boundaries on the hardware front, the 5-inch 1080p Samsung smartphone put the Galaxy S line on par with the rest of the 2013 flagships, while software innovations will push exceptionally successful brand forward.
Frankly, comparing the One and Galaxy S 4 is more likened to comparing apples to oranges than comparing two of the same fruits as it has been in years past. While both still put the brunt of their efforts into making Android-powered devices with similar specifications, the concepts behind both flagships are on opposite ends of the spectrum. The two strings of Android could not be more different. Sense 5 and TouchWiz hardly have any resemblance to one another, much less the native Android experience.
HTC and Samsung have deviated so far from the beaten path that they have created two of their very own paths that are both unique and distinguishing.
HTC is using hardware differentiation and breaking from the mold (read: no longer megapixel boosting) to set its device apart. Samsung, on the other hand, is focusing on solving problems and differentiating with software features, milking last year’s design and continuing with mundane hardware.
The outcome is two totally different handsets that appeal to increasingly different types of consumers.
The first of those two types of consumers are like our own Jaime Rivera, who favor expandability, incremental hardware upgrades, resilience and consistent performance from proven technology over experimental hardware with no expandability. Samsung’s conservative upgrade, additional software features and the ability to pop in additional storage or swap batteries will likely speak directly to the needs and desires of most average consumers.
Samsung has managed to maintain some of the legacy principles of Android that Google itself has abandoned over the years, such as expandable storage and true openness.
HTC, however, has followed Google’s lead, cutting external storage options, slimming down the software of any unnecessary bulk and improving overall user experience and ease of use. This (and poor financials) sometimes comes at the expense of over the top specifications.
The 4-UltraPixel camera is a move that left many scratching their heads. Why not 8-UltraPixels? (Megapixels, after all, do matter.) And some of us are still curious to see how this mysterious UltraPixel camera performs in our own hands. Tony and Michael have already pitted it against some of the best smartphone cameras on the market, and while it’s nothing mind-blowing, it holds its own surprisingly well. The issue is that HTC put a little too much hype into this camera (once again) with barely above average results.
The hardware, specifications and slimmed-down version of Sense are all huge plusses. And while some will consider the lack of a microSD card slot and removable battery deal-breakers, the HTC One packs a serious punch in a fine specimen of mobile engineering.
At the end of the day, both the HTC One and Samsung Galaxy S 4 are fantastic devices. No less, the Galaxy S 4 will undoubtedly be the more successful of the two devices. Samsung has already put no less than 1000 percent more into marketing than HTC. And time has proven again and again that this clever marketing makes a significant difference. HTC CEO Peter Chou promised to double-down on marketing, and, at the very least, the company is showing unprecedented confidence. But the company has its work cut out for it – bad mouthing the competition and throwing billboards and television ads up all around the world won’t magically pull the company out of the rut it has dug for itself.
But it will make a dent. And a device of the caliber of the One is just enough to make headway and possibly bring some much-needed profits in for HTC.
There are a lot of disappointed customers left in the wake of an uninspired iteration of the Galaxy S line, which comes chock-full of gimmicky features. HTC will be sure to capitalize on Samsung’s small misfires … as soon as it works through some painful delays and premature shortages.
HTC has a few weeks to figure things out before the Galaxy S 4 onslaught truly begins. Either way, one thing is certain: the HTC One is anything but obsolete. I may be the minority, but I’m not the only one who will be picking up a One over the Galaxy S 4 this year.