So you’ve read both our HTC One M8 Review and our Samsung Galaxy S5 Review and you still can’t decide which to get. Welcome to the universe… you’re not alone. They’re both great phones – best on the market, even – but neither are perfect. Read on as we pit them head to head in several categories before giving you the verdict on which to call your own.
Design & Hardware
HTC and Samsung have gone two very different directions with the designs for their flagship phones.
HTC has worked hard to craft a device that looks and feels premium, putting appearance and personality above all else. That all starts with a metal unibody frame that looks beautiful, feels sturdy, and has some nice heft. The iconic front speaker grills command attention.
Samsung foregoes some luxury for the sake of mass marketability, attempting to build the one-size-fits-all device that everybody loves. They’ve done a pretty darn good job thus far. The Galaxy S5 looks more typical, is covered in plastic, has some questionable finishes, and a removable battery cover.
If that doesn’t seem very glamorous, that’s because it isn’t, but those choices also allow Samsung to pull off a bigger screen, in a smaller and lighter package, while cramming in more hardware.
That flexibility will help Samsung in other areas, but from a design perspective the HTC One M8 is a notch above all of the competition, including Samsung’s S5.
Hardware Winner: HTC One M8
Overall Score: 1 to 0 (HTC One M8)
Whether you’re talking about phones, TVs, computers, or even touch panels on household appliances, displays are something that Samsung always seems to get right. The Galaxy S5 screen is no different: it’s hands down the most gorgeous screen I’ve ever seen on a mobile phone… and I’m not the only one with that opinion.
That’s a bold statement, but it’s worth noting that the HTC One M8 isn’t far behind. The key difference is the outrageous level of brightness, vibrancy, and contrast found on the Galaxy S5 display. For some people the One M8 screen might be preferred because it looks less artificial with more natural colors. If that floats your boat, go for it- but I’m personally picking the S5 and sticking with it.
From a spec standpoint their displays are nearly identical:
- One M8 Display: 5-inch, Full HD 1920 x 1080, 442 ppi
- Galaxy S4: 5.1-inch, Full HD 1920 x 1080, 432 ppi
This is a matter of preference of course and the choice is made much more difficult when comparing the phones side by side. In reality, whichever phone you choose to use, you’d be incredibly happy with the display. Both the One M8 and Galaxy S5 have market leading screens, but I heavily prefer the latter above all else.
Screen Winner: Samsung Galaxy S5
Overall Score: 1 to 1 (tie)
Software & Experience
The Samsung Galaxy S5 and HTC One M8 both run Android 4.4 KitKat and each overlay their own custom UI- the S5 with Touchwiz and the One M8 with Sense 6. Taking advice from users longing for more of a stock Android experience, each company has vowed to tone down the bloat while still delivering added value through unique integrations throughout the software.
For home screen experiences HTC brings Blinkfeed to the table while Samsung offers My Magazine. They both let you customize an easily accessed feed with social network accounts and news content, but Blinkfeed is much more robust while My Magazine seems a bit half baked. Thankfully you have the option to remove both- but give Blinkfeed a chance, it works well enough to consider keeping onboard.
Navigating your pages and apps is much easier with the HTC One for two primary reasons: the app drawer is designed distinctly different from your home pages and the it follows many more of Android’s standard guidelines. Samsung’s Touchwiz app drawer looks so similar to the home screens that it’s easy to confuse the two, wander with your finger, and get lost.
Diving into the settings is where the software customizations go next level. Samsung has thankfully buried some of its highly touted settings of generations past, but they’re mostly still available, which makes exploring and finding the settings you want a bit of a chore. Each have some really great comparable features worthy of praise such as:
- Do Not Disturb / Blocking Mode
- Battery Saving Options
- TV remotes to go with the IR Blasters
- Greatly improved camera software
That being said, Samsung still has some fat to trim from Touchwiz. In addition to a slight delay when opening native apps like dialer and contacts (we’re talking fractions of a second), the experience can seem scattered, with incomplete experiences in some areas and too many options in others. If Samsung can choose focus areas and reinvest their energy to initiatives they deem most important, they’ll be doing themselves and their customers a huge favor. Right now they seem undecided on far too much, which provides HTC with the opportunity to walk away with the software category.
Software Winner: HTC One M8
Overall Score: 2 to 1 (HTC One M8)
The divergent approaches of Samsung and HTC don’t end with design: they’ve gone completely different routes with their cameras. Mobile cameras have become somewhat of a megapixel marketing war with consumers crowning the bigger number the better camera. If you chose the better camera based purely on megapixels, Samsung would be crowned prince automatically, besting HTC by a megapixel count of 16MP to 4MP. The Nokia Lumia 1020 – a Windows Phone with a 41MP camera – would be crowned King.
But it isn’t all about megapixels. Really, megapixels determine how many pixels are in your photos, which directly correlates to their size (in dimensions and file size). The majority of photos taken with your phone are shared only on the web, which means even the 2688 by 1520 pictures taken with the One M8’s 4MP camera are too big for Facebook.
That doesn’t make the Galaxy S5’s 16MP camera overkill, though- it has its benefits. Want to blow up a picture as a poster or canvas? Or perhaps zoom in on a part of a picture? The Galaxy S5 is the only one between the two that can perform this luxury with any significant quality.
The prerequisite of doing anything with your photos is having good photos you want to do something with. In perfect, sunny conditions, the Galaxy S5 probably slightly edges the One M8 in terms of photo quality. As soon as those conditions change it’s the HTC One M8 camera that is better able to handle adversity. I want consistency in a smartphone camera and if I wanted a great camera for traveling I’d opt for a DLSR, point-and-shoot, or Galaxy Camera before either of these.
But wait: the HTC One M8 has some magic up its sleeves. It doesn’t just have a dinky 4MP camera on its rear… it’s got TWO lenses: one actually takes the photo and the other collects depth information, allowing for some amazing effects and wizardry with what HTC calls the Ultrapixel Duo Cam. Samsung has a software-based post production alternative, but it doesn’t come close to touching HTC’s 2 lens phenom in that department. The duo cam is not a gimmick… it works amazingly well and is an absolute blast to use.
Taken with Galaxy S5
Taken with HTC One M8
To top it all off, the HTC One M8 has a 5MP front facing camera that ensures selfie snappers are delighted.
Travelers using a mobile phone as their only camera might disagree, but for its consistency, outrageously fun duo cam integration, and attention to selfie detail, I’m giving this highly debated category to the HTC One M8.
Camera Winner: HTC One M8
Overall Score: 3 to 1 (HTC One M8)
The name multimedia inherently dictates that more than one form of media is being discussed. In the case of this comparison, though, I’m going to cut to the chase: the HTC One M8 BoomSound speakers put it several horse lengths ahead of the Galaxy S4.
Most phone’s these days have an earpiece at the top front of the phone and speakers either somewhere on the side or on the back. In the case of the Galaxy S5 it’s on the back, bottom left. The HTC One M8 meanwhile boasts dual front facing speakers that not only look epic, but sound epic.
I often find myself in odd situations where I’m using my phone as a jukebox. If you do too, you won’t find a phone whose speakers sound more loud and full than the BoomSound speakers on the HTC One M8. Since some people label gadgets as “sexy”, I’m calling the One M8’s speakers voluptuous: it’s a full and beautiful sound that carries itself well.
I find myself wanting that great sound in so many situational moments. Sometimes it’s sitting on the couch playing an immersive game like Dead Trigger 2 and the sound effects bring excitement to the action. Sometimes it’s with a group of friends with whom I want to share a Youtube video without cupping the speaker and oddly switching between looking and listening, looking and listening. Other times it’s just talking to someone on speaker phone and expecting good sound quality.
You’ll get okay sound quality with the Galaxy S5 but the further you turn up the volume the more tinny and shaky it sounds. That being said, Samsung’s audio quality while headphones are plugged in or while using bluetooth is very good. Nothing though – and I mean nothing – tops HTC BoomSound at this point in time.
Once again, there will be plenty of people who never use their phone speakers who disagree with this pick… and that’s fine. That’s good for you to know and you should calculate it into your personal buying decision.
Multimedia Winner: HTC One M8
Overall Score: 4 to 1 (HTC One M8)
This is a hard category to pin down, not only because benchmarks between the two devices vary based on what benchmarks you choose, but also because manufacturers have begun adjusting their hardware to specifically perform better in benchmarks. Not to mention, how you use your phone in real-life may vary from what the benchmark scores for and taking it one step further, how YOU use your phone will differ from me- and thus we could have totally different experiences.
Based on my experience using both devices extensively for over a week, they were both top notch. They both were as swift and smooth as I’d expect from flagship phones by top manufacturers.
That being said, while I experienced virtually no hiccups from the Galaxy S5, I spotted a few roadbumps while using the HTC One M8. It’s quite possible that the blame should be placed on the shoulders of an app developer whose bad coding caused something flukey.
In the end, both devices performed so well that the winner came down to a rather nitpicky decision, but I’m comfortable picking the Galaxy S5 since my experience with its hardware performance was close to flawless. Stock Android evangelists may notice a slight delay (fractions of a second) in navigating, which can likely be blamed on Touchwiz.
Both devices run a Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor with the Galaxy S5’s being a tiny bit beefier.
Performance Winner: Samsung Galaxy S5
Overall Score: 4 to 2 HTC One M8
Where HTC picks up the win on design it simultaneously picks up the loss on battery life, but not because it didn’t perform well. Both phones had above average battery life that usually lasted me through the day without concern. The S5 and One M8 now both have special modes you can place your phone in for when battery life is at a premium and you desperately need to conserve.
Although battery life was comparable, I’m going with Samsung on this category for two primary reasons:
- I preferred Samsung’s Power Saving Mode which offered two different severity levels as presets, especially enjoying the option to remove the backlit buttons and turning the phone gray scale.
- Samsung’s back cover is removeable, so should I start to use the phone more heavily and require a bigger battery, an extended battery will likely be available. It’ll make the phone thicker, but you gotta do what you gotta do, right?
It should be noted that Samsung’s battery is slightly larger at 2800mAh compared to the One M8’s 2600mAh.
Battery Winner: Samsung Galaxy S5
Overall Score: 4 to 3 (HTC One M8)
Some features simply don’t fit into a category and in typical Samsung fashion, there are a bunch in the Galaxy S5. Only this time, instead of packing all the fun into the Software, Samsung has done some really interesting things on the hardware side.
The home button now doubles as a finger sensor, allowing you to lock your screen and other areas of your phone by sliding your finger over the home button and scanning your fingerprint. We’ve seen the idea in the iPhone 5S and although Samsung’s version doesn’t work as well yet, it’s still a pretty interesting feature tossed into the mix.
On the back of the phone is another sensor- a heart rate monitor. Activate it through Samsung’s S Health app, which is becoming quite the lifestyle hub, and it can read your heart rate by placing your finger over a grooved indentation just below the rear camera. It’s an accurate feature and definitely cool, but similar to the fingerprint scanner you’ve got to be incredibly precise where you put your finger, making it a bit frustrating.
The finger scanner and heart rate monitor are cool wildcards, but likely limited in use to a select percentage of the population. However, one new Samsung hardware feature takes the wildcard section all on its own: weatherproofing.
The Galaxy S4 is IP67 certified which means you can use it in the rain, drop it in the toilet, use it in the shower, even submerge it in a couple feet of water while still recording video (don’t go any deeper)! If you’ve ever needed to replace a phone due to water damage you’ll appreciate this greatly and in reality, EVERY phone should have this feature. No longer do you need to fear water when you’ve got your S5, you can embrace it!
Wildcard Winner: Samsung Galaxy S5
Overall Score: 4 to 4 (tie)
A tie? Blasphemy!
In all honesty it’s a pretty telling conclusion: both phones are great, include some awesome features, but have their flaws. Their pros and cons come in different areas, making each phone suitable for different types of people.
Personally, I’d go with the HTC One M8 because I’m dying for its audio experience, love its camera to pieces (simply fun to use), and have a separate camera I use for traveling. I’m a Galaxy Note 3 owner and would love try something new while I keep one eye on the upcoming Galaxy Note 4.
Declaring a decisive winner is up to you, not me, as you’ll weigh the value of the above categories far differently based on your preferences and circumstances. Here are some suggestions based on the above.
Should you get the Galaxy S5 or HTC One M8?
- If you listen to music on your phone constantly, get the HTC One M8
- If you use your phone’s speaker often for music, videos, or games, get the HTC One M8
- If you travel often and this will be your primary camera, get the Galaxy S5
- If you’re clumsy or want to treat your phone with some liquid disrespect without breaking it (rain, shower, toilet, Seattle) , get the Galaxy S5
- If you prefer a finely crafted device made of metal instead of plastic, get the HTC One M8
If you fit into a combination of the above, walk into a store, play with each, and make your decision with hands-on experience. If you want further counseling, don’t trust one sales person at random, instead head to Android Forums for advice from thousands.
And lastly, here is the spec comparison for your convenience: