Who makes the better smartphone, Samsung or HTC?

Samsung's Galaxy S5 versus HTC's One (M8)

Software: TouchWiz vs Sense UI

The Galaxy S5 and the One (M8) both run the latest version of Android 4.4 KitKat, but Samsung and HTC differentiate their smartphones by adding a custom overlay.

Samsung TouchWiz

Samsung’s TouchWiz overlay has benefited from some subtle revisions, but the changes are not comprehensive enough to improve its overall appearance. Most of the changes have been made to supplementary applications — which look great — but the TouchWiz framework remains unattractive and lacks intuition. Take the dialler for example, which was in dire need of an upgrade, but unfortunately the same clunky, old and drab one has found its way onto the Galaxy S5.

A noticeable change to TouchWiz is the revision of Samsung’s icons. Large, simplistic icons now fill the application draw, the notification tray and a revised settings menu. The settings menu is completely redesigned and even Android users will have to endure a learning curve.

Good looks don't extend beyond the home screen
Good looks don't extend beyond the home screen

TouchWiz may be ugly, but Samsung’s software is supremely functional. Samsung’s ‘Ultra Power Saving’ mode is a great additive, as is its S-Health fitness app, the SmartRemote entertainment guide, and the Samsung Wallet function. Samsung’s heavy overlay is also very detailed and it will appeal to people who enjoy tinkering with granular settings.

HTC Sense 6

HTC’s custom overlay, known as Sense, used to be as heavy and tedious as Samsung’s TouchWiz, but the company overhauled the entire software when it released the original One (M7). The latest Sense 6 version subtly improves many of the features introduced the year before.

Sense 6 doesn’t offer as many features as Samsung’s software, but everything it does offer is useful. The software is focussed, and by only including the functions people will need, it makes the HTC One (M8) more enjoyable to use everyday.

Overall HTC’s operating system is better looking and more complete than Samsung’s. Furthermore, HTC’s efforts are focussed on delivering the best possible user experience, and not on selling you a washing machine.

BlinkFeed is back and it's even better this year
BlinkFeed is back and it's even better this year

HTC isn't trying to sell you anything but the best smartphone in the world

Samsung’s latest iteration of TouchWiz requires users to sign up to its proprietary account and services all the time. Want to use the gallery? Why not back it up to Samsung Account. Have a Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn account? Samsung wants access to it. Want to download the Galaxy Gear app for your smartwatch? You’ll have to sign up and download it from the Samsung App store and not Google Play. The more dependant you become on Samsung-branded services, the more likely it is you’ll buy compatible Samsung products.

HTC has a more open philosophy centred on promoting the best available services. The company has opened up various parts of its software to developers, and in doing so, it creates the kind of healthy competition between software developers that truly benefits customers. The bottom line is: HTC isn’t trying to sell you anything other than the best smartphone in the world, and you can feel that texture every time you sift through the software.

Winner: HTC One (M8)

Unique features

Flagships are peppered with unique features intended to set them apart from their slew of rivals. Some of these are welcomed additions that improve how we do things daily, but others are tinged with a shine that fades after a few weeks.

Water and dust no longer scare Samsung’s Galaxy S5. The smartphone can be dunked in freshwater a metre deep for 30-whole-minutes, and it is protected against the ingress of dust. These tough credentials are the greatest improvements made to Samsung’s new flagship.

The finger scanner introduced is a legitimate feature. The biometric safeguard will protect personal information, but the real beneficiary of this feature is the enterprise space.

Apple re-introduced the fingerprint scanner with great success on the iPhone 5S. Samsung has taken the functionality one step further by using the technology to authorise PayPal transactions, and the company has partnered with banking merchants in what are the first steps to having your smartphone replace your wallet.

The One produces better sound than any other smartphone. Period.

Samsung has been at the forefront of connectivity since it launched S-Beam on the Galaxy S3. The Galaxy S5 continues the trend with Download Booster, which couples the smartphone’s 4G modem with Wi-Fi in order to boost download speeds. Samsung claimed at the smartphone’s global launch that the feature will result in the download of a 1GB movie in 30 seconds.

Other features leave us less enthusiastic. The Galaxy S5 is the first smartphone in the world to feature a heart sensor, according to Samsung. A niche demographic will benefit from this additive, while everyone else will have to settle for something they might use instead of something they would use daily, such as a secondary speaker.

Samsung’s attempt to make a phone do everything is undermined by the HTC’s simple mantra: do everything a phone should do, but do it incredibly well. Take the HTC’s approach to audio for example. Most smartphone makers throw in a single speaker that barely notifies of incoming calls, let alone complements high resolution screens with decent sound. It’s a pivotal part of a smartphone, but one that is often overlooked.

HTC has made some very simple decisions that instantly improve the quality of sound produced by the One (M8). The company started by adding a second speaker in order to deliver a stereo image. HTC then hooked each speaker up to its own amplifier to improve the quality of the sound produced. Finally, the company moved the speakers from the back of the smartphone to the front. These subtle revisions elevate the audio produced by the HTC One. In fact, it produces better sound than any other smartphone. Period.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy S5

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