The Galaxy S4 and HTC One are about the same height. The One is about 2 mm narrower (chalk that up to its smaller screen) and 18 percent thicker.
The Galaxy S4 is made of plastic ... with a look that's very familiar to owners of the Galaxy S3. Radical departure? No way. But we were still happy with its look and feel.
The HTC One, meanwhile, sets a new benchmark for smartphone design. The aluminum unibody phone did something that’s increasingly rare. It's a smartphone that's both stunning and not quite like anything we've seen before.
Plastic does has some advantages. It helps to trim weight (see below), and it opens the door for removable batteries and microSD cards. The GS4 ticks all of those boxes.
The Galaxy S4's plastic body is lighter than the One's aluminum chassis: by more than 9 percent. The GS4 feels like one of the lightest phones on the market, though, when you take its size-to-weight ratio into account.
Both phones have ridiculously-sharp 1080p displays. Both are terrific, but with different strengths.
The One's pixel density is higher (same number of pixels squeezed into a smaller screen), and it has more toned-down, realistic colors. The Galaxy S4’s screen is bigger, with the more vibrant, in-your-face colors you'd expect from a Super AMOLED display.
In terms of benchmarks, the octa-core version of the GS4 is the fastest. But the quad-core GS4 and the One are both extremely fast too, with their Snapdragon 600 chips. In terms of experience? Both phones – including both versions of the GS4 – are insanely fast. The One feels a little smoother, though, since its software is a little leaner.
If you live in the U.S., you'll get the quad-core Qualcomm version of the GS4. Ditto for Australia and much of Europe. Most of Africa, Asia, and the Middle East (and some of Europe) get the octa-core Exynos GS4.
Both handsets are even, with 2 GB of RAM.
The base model of the One doubles the internal storage of the entry-level Galaxy S4. But Samsung’s handset has a microSD card slot. No such luck for One owners.
One thing to remember is that the GS4's wacky bag of software features (see below) take up a lot of space. So we're looking at about 8 GB of usable internal space after you add TouchWiz to the core OS.
So GS4 owners will probably want to take advantage of that SD card slot. Fortunately, you can pick one up for about US$12.
No surprises here. If your local carrier supports LTE, both phones should be able to take advantage of the speedy network.
The Galaxy S4’s battery holds more juice. In our tests, it also lasted longer during typical use. There isn't much to worry about with the One, though. For most of us, both phones should last a full day.
On paper, this looks like a rout for the Galaxy S4. But the One has a wildcard up its sleeve. They call them Ultrapixels.
HTC put less pixels in the phone's sensors, but they're bigger (hence, the “Ultrapixels”). The One also has f2.0 aperture and a 1/3-inch backlit-CMOS sensor. HTC says that these will let it perform better in low light.
In our tests, the One had some of the better low-light performance we've seen in a smartphone ... as long as the light was really low. In moderately-lit indoor settings, the GS4 beat it out. The lower the lighting got, though, the better the One performed.
Samsung achieved the impossible with the Galaxy S4: it released a phone that runs the newest version of Android (4.2.2). The One is a full version behind. Fortunately for One owners, though, the difference between the two Jelly Beans is relatively minor. So we wouldn't bail on the One just because of this.
Much more obvious are the manufacturer UIs sitting on top of Android. Samsung threw a crazy amount of features into the latest version of TouchWiz. Where do we start? You have Air Hover (preview select tasks by hovering your finger over the display), Dual Camera (combine front-facing and rear-facing stills or video), and Smart Scroll (scroll through emails and web pages via facial recognition).
Some of the features are gimmicky, but we found them to be fun and – in some cases – useful. And if you don't like them, you can always turn them off, and never think about them again.
... or you can just buy the HTC One. HTC’s new Sense 5 scales itself back a bit. There are much less extra goodies, but the stuff that is there is high quality. It's classic HTC: elegant, understated, professional.
One of Sense’s more memorable features is Blinkfeed, which puts a Flipboard-like news and social hub on your homescreen. It's well-made, but we would've preferred the option to disable it.
Both phones also have similar TV apps that take advantage of their built-in IR (infrared) blasters. Using your smartphone as a TV remote control sounds gimmicky, and maybe it is. But we were happy with the feature: nice for those times when your remote is on the other side of the room.
Wrap-upSometimes, in these comparisons, it’s clear which device is better. After spending a lot of time with both of them, though, we still can't declare a clear-cut winner. How do you choose between two of the best smartphones ever made?
You could easily pick the HTC One for that stunning, premium design and more subtle software. But you could just as easily go with the GS4, for its bigger screen, ridiculously-light build, and everything-but-the-kitchen-sink mix of software features.