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Samsung Galaxy S4 vs. HTC One: A clash of two Android titans



If you're in the market for a new smartphone this year, chances are good you're seriously considering two highly anticipated handsets: the Samsung Galaxy S4 and the HTC One. Both offer tempting helpings of powerful components, advanced features, and cutting-edge software.
So which device should you go with? It's a tough choice. But fear not: CNET is here to help. Sit back as we stack up all the abilities these excellent phones have in common and the key differences that separate the two.
Editors' note: We have a full review of the HTC One (available in the U.S. April 19) and ahands-on preview of the Samsung Galaxy S4 (available later this spring). We'll update this story -- and the HTC One review -- once we've had a chance to live with the Galaxy S4 and make some final conclusions. In the meantime, we're kicking off the debate based on announced specs and known feature differences.)

Screen

Samsung Galaxy S4
Perhaps the most striking thing about the GS4 is its massive 5-inch HD Super AMOLED display. It also features a sharp 1,920x1,080-pixel resolution and a pixel density of 441ppi (pixels per inch).
HTC One
HTC gave the One a 4.7-inch LCD screen that's slightly smaller than the Galaxy S4's but boasts the same 1,920x1,080 resolution. As a result, the HTC One's display has a higher pixel density of 468ppi.
Assessment
We're looking forward to an in-depth, side-by-side examination of the screens once we get the two phones together in the CNET Labs. In the meantime, both phones have advantages on the specs fight: the Galaxy S4 is a tad larger (if that's your thing), whereas the One's slightly smaller 1080p screen offers greater pixel density. Typically, OLED screens offer more-vibrant colors, deeper black levels, and wider viewing angles versus LCD screens, and Samsung is on the forefront of OLED research. Our guess is that the GS4 has the edge here when it comes to pleasing colors, especially if you're able to dampen its screen's color saturation in the settings for better accuracy, as you can do with Samsung's Galaxy Note 2.

Meet the stunning Samsung Galaxy S4 (pictures)

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Storage

Samsung Galaxy S4
The GS4 comes in 16GB, 32GB, and 64GB configurations, though not for every market in which it'll be sold. Expect U.S. carriers to sell it in the smaller capacities, starting at $199 for the 16GB version and $249 for double that amount.
Unlike HTC, Samsung isn't a fan of sealing up devices; as a result, the Galaxy S4 comes with a microSD card slot that can handle up to 64GB of additional memory goodness for storing photos, videos, games, and apps.
HTC One
One consequence of the HTC One's beautiful , aluminum unibody design is that its chassis is sealed. Add in the phone's thin design, and you've got no room for a microSD card slot to add extra storage. HTC does its best to alleviate the situation by eschewing a 16GB model and packing the handset with either a sizable 32GB, or a whopping 64GB of internal memory. Significantly, the on-contract price of the 32GB One starts at the same $199 price of a 16GB S4.
Assessment
This ultimately comes down to personal preference. If you're the type of mobile user who constantly swaps SD cards between devices, or prefers to drag and drop large files from PC to phone, then the Galaxy S4 is a better fit. Of course, you could spring for the premium 64GB HTC One -- or even the 32GB version. which still offers plenty of room. The affordable price of the 32GB One certainly helps soften the blow, too.

Hands-on with the sleek, gorgeous HTC One (pictures)

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Battery

Samsung Galaxy S4
Samsung equips the Galaxy S4 with a 2,600mAh battery that's user removable. It pops out when you remove the back cover, which makes swapping it out for a fresh one a simple maneuver. Samsung will also offer batteries that are compatible with wireless chargers.
HTC One
By contrast, the HTC One features a slightly lower capacity 2,300mAh battery, which is embedded. That means you can't remove it on the fly for a fully charged battery pack. Also, if the HTC One's battery fails, you'll need to send the device in for repair, or replace the phone for a fresh handset.
Assessment 
The iPhone has proven that a sealed battery is far from a deal breaker. And the HTC One demonstrated solid battery life, lasting for 9 hours and 37 minutes on our CNET Labs Video Playback benchmark. However, HTC lacks Apple's retail infrastructure -- meaning you can't make a trip to the neighborhood Apple store if the One's battery ever gets wonky. The Galaxy S4 definitely offers more flexibility on the battery front.

Samsung Galaxy S4 accessories (pictures)

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Operating system

Samsung Galaxy S4
Right out of the box, the Galaxy S4 will run Google's latest version of Android Jelly Bean, Android 4.2.2. That's great news for Android fans who can enjoy the all important bragging rights that come with owning a cutting-edge smartphone. However, Samsung does have its own user interface, formerly known as TouchWiz, so you're not getting a pure Android Jelly Bean experience.
HTC One
The HTC One uses the slightly older iteration of Jelly Bean, Android version 4.1.2. Nevertheless, the HTC One does support the enhanced Google Now search function, which can also be used as a dedicated widget on the phone's home screen. Of course, HTC layers its latest Sense user interface over Android, which many have blamed for holding up Android updates in earlier HTC smartphones.Assessment
When you get down to it, the difference between Android Jelly Bean 4.1.2 and 4.2.2 isn't earth-shattering, but Google has added plenty of bug fixes including a big one to address audio streaming over Bluetooth. There are also UI enhancements, too, such as the ability to access the camera and other apps from the lock screen. Perhaps the bigger issue is that we expect an even newer version of Android known as Key Lime Pie to debut before the end of May; when it will make it to either phone is anybody's guess.
Samsung Galaxy S4


User interface and usability

Samsung Galaxy S4
Samsung may have backed away from calling its custom Android layer "TouchWiz," but there's no mistaking the Galaxy S4's highly stylized interface. Samsung digs deep to give the Galaxy S4 a dizzying array of extra software features. Whether you use them all -- or even know about them to begin with -- is another story.
Gestures such as eye tracking play an even larger role in this new superphone. If you enable it, you can play and pause videos by looking at the screen. If the camera is tracking your eyes, you also scroll up or down by tilting your wrist, a trick that could be useful when your hands are full.
The Group Play sharing feature also expands on past features to give GS4 owners in a group the ability to simultaneously play the same content like music and games, without the need for data or Wi-Fi connections. (Read our Group Play hands-on.)
Not to be outdone by Nokia, Samsung blesses the GS4 with a sensitive screen you can navigate with gloves, and wireless charging. A fitness app, S Health, and several body-conscious accessories take Samsung into new territory. S Voice Drive is an expanded voice assistant feature that Sammy developed specifically for drivers. Though Samsung is determined to remain the Android king, the company also thirsts to unseat iPhone's Siri supremacy.

HTC One
In its latest flagship device, HTC has taken a more conservative approach than Samsung. That doesn't mean the manufacturer didn't make considerable changes to its Sense UI and to Android Jelly Bean in general. The lock screen can display helpful information such as local weather conditions, complete with slick animations, calendar data, along with phone staples time and date.
The icons for app shortcuts and text fonts are also clean, sleek, and futuristic. The biggest departure from stock Android, though, is the BlinkFeed feature, which is the primary home screen by default. BlinkFeed aggregates both news and social media updates into an almost Flipboard-style presentation designed to give you bit-size chunks of digestible information.
Assessment
There's no doubt the Samsung Galaxy S4 wins the feature arms race against the HTC One. It packs in a frightening number of features, gestures, and new ways to interact with a smartphone. The million dollar question is whether the average customer will find any of the GS4's bells and whistles truly useful, let alone must-have killer apps. (Read: "How Samsung might actually get featuritis under control.")
We think that the HTC One's down-to-earth abilities are more than enough. Sure they aren't as exciting as Samsung's, and certainly less ambitious, be we have a feeling typical phone users will enjoy the One's tweaks more often. It is, however, a shame you can't completely shut off the HTC One's BlinkFeed feature, but you can downplay it by making another home screen the default.

Camera features

Samsung Galaxy S4
In terms of imaging abilities, both the GS4 and HTC One bring their A game. Samsung, though, sticks with a more traditional trend of the 13-megapixel sensor. Although overflowing with settings, filters, and effects, many of Samsung's advanced photo extras also exist in the HTC One (and the LG Optimus G Pro and Nokia Lumia camera filter apps). That said, the GS4's photo tricks are impressive, such as compiling a sequence of actions into a single image, erasing unwanted background objects, and using the image from both front and rear cameras in a photograph.

The HTC One's camera in action (pictures)

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HTC One
You'll find a deep selection of settings, filters, and shooting modes on the HTC One. But what really sets the phone apart are its unique auto-editing features. Covered under the umbrella of HTC's Zoe brand (short for Zoetrope), the handset automatically creates Video Highlights, which are essentially personal sizzle reels crafted from photos and movies you've shot each day. You can also capture 3-second video clips, called Zoes, to share with friends.
In another wild departure from the phone camera playbook, the HTC One uses a special 4-megapixel sensor, not the sharper resolution 8-megapixel or 13-megapixel sensors found in competing handsets. HTC says it allows a bigger sensor size, larger pixels, and hence more light sensitivity. This time it's HTC's turn to borrow from someone else's book: Nokia's 808 PureView smartphone's 41-megapixel camera resolves photos to 5-megapixel readouts withlossless cropping.
You're also able to pack action shots in a sequence into an HTC One image.
Assessment
Samsung's Galaxy S4 might challenge the HTC One in terms of the sheer amount of camera tricks it offers. Just like with the phone's GeeWiz user interface, though, it's not clear how often phone owners will want to mess with camera settings before snapping a shot. Turning modes on and off may be fine for portraits, but when it comes to a quick-shot opportunity, the camera that takes the picture fastest and most accurately usually wins in our book.
Additionally, in the time we've spent so far with the HTC One, its Zoe imaging system and specifically Video Highlights is surprisingly addictive to play with. It just may be a sleeper feature with typical users who often prefer taking automatic shots.

Other essential extras

When it comes to other smartphone staples, the Samsung Galaxy S4 and HTC One are evenly matched. Interestingly, both boast IR blasters that give each handset the ability to command HDTVs. They also feature 4G LTE, Wi-Fi wireless networking, Bluetooth 4.0, and NFC (near field communication) hardware to enable quick Bluetooth pairing with accessories such as headphones and speakers.

The (tentative) take away

There's no doubt that both the Samsung Galaxy S4 and HTC One are awesome mobile devices that represent the pinnacle of smartphones today, and indeed for the foreseeable future. From what we've seen so far, both phones are worth your time and money. Which one you choose may well come down to factors like the phone's physical design and expandable storage preferences.
Until we get our hands on a GS4 for an extended period of time, however, we can't yet answer a few crucial questions to make an ultimate judgment about which phone we think takes the prize.
We'll still need to weigh how the devices' processor speeds, battery life, and camera performance stack up. We'll also assess voice quality and data speeds on each handset for the icing on the cake.
Be sure to check this space for an in-depth Samsung Galaxy S4 review, plus an update this story with our final head-to-head results.
The HTC One also acts as a TV remote.

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