With last week's launch of the Galaxy S 4, Samsung made the kind of splash that most non-Apple smartphone makers can only dream of. The company's glitzy reveal -- complete with tap dancing, theatrical sketches and a full pit orchestra -- drew criticism as well as praise, but the phone itself did much to justify the hype.
FIRST LOOK: Samsung Galaxy S 4 ]
But is the Galaxy S 4 really the world beater that Samsung says it is? The market is full of impressive smartphones, and the HTC One, released just weeks ago, must be considered a serious challenger to Samsung's supremacy.
Although the Galaxy S 4 is marginally more svelte than the HTC One, critics have been raving about the quality of the latter phone's all-metal construction since its release. It's one of the few Android phones that challenges even the iPhone 5 for superlative fit and finish. Samsung's plastic-based construction, by contrast, is far less well regarded.
Both the Galaxy S 4 and the One boast high pixel densities and full 1080p resolutions. There's not much to choose between as far as the Androids are concerned -- they use different display technology (LCD3 for HTC, AMOLED for Samsung) and the Galaxy S 4's screen is slightly bigger, at 5 inches to 4.7 inches, but that's pretty much it. It's mostly a matter of preference -- the GS 4 offers more real estate, the One has better pixel density.
Camera hardware and software was heavily emphasized by both HTC and Samsung at their respective launches -- so this might prove to be an important differentiator. HTC's "ultrapixel" technology (each pixel is larger and more sensitive than normal) means that the One packs a top-end camera despite being rated at just 4 megapixels. Samsung's shooter is a more traditional design, packing a whopping 13MP. Both have the usual 1080p video recording and array of handy-dandy features like optical image stabilization on the One, 60fps video recording on the GS4, and so on.
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Both devices also pack innovative but ultimately somewhat gimmicky camera software features -- the One allows users to create what the company calls Zoes (automatically captured albums of stills from video recordings that can be set to music and shared), while the Galaxy S 4's dual camera recording capability lets the photographer get into the picture.
The One's camera is probably more impressive in and of itself, but making Zoes doesn't sound like something that's about to catch on, while snapshots that can feature the photographer as well could prove popular among the compulsive Instagrammers of the world.
While Sense 5 was a fairly substantial departure for HTC -- offering users the option of a splashy, media-focused homescreen crawling with live widgets -- Samsung has really gone all out on the software for its latest version of TouchWiz. Along with the heavily hyped Smart Scroll feature (which really just lets users scroll through text by tipping the phone slightly), Smart Pause halts video content if it detects that the user has looked away, and S Translator could be an enormously helpful feature. The Galaxy S 4 also boasts touch-free gesture control, fitness tracking software, and even the ability to act as a remote control.
While some of these features are a little gimmicky, there's more than enough useful stuff in there to make software arguably the biggest differentiator between these two phones.
Both the One and the Galaxy S 4 use quad-core CPUs clocked at 1.7GHz and 1.9GHz respectively, and carry 2GB of RAM. Both boast 802.11a/b/g/n/ac connectivity and are compatible with AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile. (The Galaxy S 4 works on Verizon, as well.)
On the surface, there's little to set the devices apart. Early performance testing seems to show the Galaxy beating the One fairly comfortably -- along with every other smartphone on the market.
Although both the One and the Galaxy will have a maximum on-board storage capacity of 64GB, the Galaxy offers more options than the One -- users can opt for 16GB, 32GB or 64GB of internal storage with Samsung's latest, which also boasts a microSD slot for additional space.
There are arguments to be made for both devices being superior -- HTC boasts superior construction and an advanced camera, but Samsung has the lead in performance and groundbreaking software features. The Galaxy S4 will undoubtedly sell more units than the One, but HTC's entry is a compelling alternative.
Email Jon Gold at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @NWWJonGold.
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This story, "Head to head: Samsung Galaxy S 4 vs. HTC One" was originally published by Network World.