A lot of Android phones come out every year. But for the third year running, if you want the best phone, you have to choose between the HTC One or Samsung Galaxy S. In 2012, we pitted the Galaxy S3 vs. HTC One X; in 2013, the Galaxy S4 vs. HTC One M7; and this year, if you want the best Android phone, you have to choose between the Galaxy S5 and HTC One M8.
So which phone should you buy? In many ways, both devices are very similar, but if you’re going to lay down hundreds of bucks for a top phone, you want the best. Below, we’ve compared both devices in all the important categories.
If you want to play the numbers game, we can do that, but it’s no longer the best way to decide between devices. Neither Samsung nor HTC have skimped on specs this time around. The Galaxy S5 and One M8 both have quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processors. The GS5 has the edge with a 2.5GHz clock speed compared to HTC’s 2.3GHz, but we’re splitting hairs. They both have 2GB of RAM, almost the same size battery, and performed almost equal in benchmark testing.
In 3DMark’s Ice Storm Unlimited test, the Galaxy S5 scored an 18,500; the HTC One M8 got a 20,600. Both of these scores are fantastic and both handsets will run any games or apps Android has to offer with ease. As far as we’re concerned, HTC and Samsung are tied when it comes to processing power. They’re also tied on storage, both offering 16GB with MicroSD slots if you need more storage.
Both of these devices have beautiful 1,920 x 1,080 pixel screens. The difference is that Samsung’s screen uses AMOLED technology and HTC’s uses LCD. We think Samsung’s screen has deeper blacks, richer colors, and looks sharper, overall. This is because on an AMOLED screen, when you see black, that pixel is actually turned off, meaning its as black as it can get. Everyone who has seen our GS5 has complimented its screen. It’s also slightly larger than HTC’s screen at 5.1 inches compared to the One M8’s 5-inch. Honestly, it doesn’t make much of a difference. Both screens look amazing, but Samsung has really perfected its Super AMOLED technology.
Winner: Galaxy S5
Samsung is notorious for emphasizing the camera capabilities of its smartphones, and rightly so. With the S5, the rear-camera resolution jumps from the S4’s 13 megapixels to 16 — easily surpassing the One M8’s 5MP rear camera — while the front camera boasts a resolution slightly below that of the One M8. However, the S5’s rear-facing camera can also capture 4K (UHD) video, and includes an advanced auto-focus feature for capturing crisp action shots.
On the opposite end, the One M8 includes dual cameras: The primary camera offers a backside-illuminated sensor for capturing photos in low-light scenarios, while the second is specifically built to capture accurate depth information. After taking a photo, you can use “UFocus,” an HTC feature designed to add the Lytro effect of blurred-out objects in the foreground or distance. Both smartphones also offer facial recognition, filters, and tools for splicing audio and video directly on the device.
On the other hand, HTC’s front camera outclasses Samsung’s, which has stuck to a weak 2.1-megapixel image. HTC has embraced the selfie with a 5-megapixel front camera. Honestly, with the number of selfies we all seem to take, this is a big advantage for HTC.
Overall, we think the Galaxy S5 does a noticeably better job balancing color and light in its standard automatic mode. That’s not to say the One is bad, but Samsung has upped its game considerably this year. The Galaxy S5 performs better in low light than many of its competitors. When it comes to front cameras though, HTC is up there with the best.
Winner for rear camera: Galaxy S5
Winner for front camera: HTC One M8
Look and feel
Samsung never deviates much from its typical, plastic design. The Galaxy S5 is nearly identical to the S4, albeit with a slightly larger display, and a water-resistant treatment allowing the device to survive submersion in 3 feet of water for up to 30 minutes. The One M8 on the other hand, features a brushed-metal, unibody frame designed to ergonomically wrap around the user’s hand, though it lacks the waterproof encasing of its rival and weighs slightly more.
The HTC One M8 is the obvious winner for style and design. The One M8 has such a finely brushed aluminum body that it feels soft to the touch. It’s as detailed and gorgeous as an iPhone — maybe more-so. It’s comfortable enough to hold, too.
Where Samsung takes the lead is comfort. Thanks to its button placement and design, the Galaxy S5 is more comfortable to hold. The One M8 is so beautiful and slick that it is actually prone to sliding out of your hand. We also had a problem with the M8’s volume adjusting when it was in our pocket because the button sticks out from the unit so much. So, from a practical perspective, we liked using the GS5 more, but damn that M8 looks nice.
Winner for Looks: HTC One M8
Winner for comfort and feel: Galaxy S5
Speaker quality, and listening with headphones
Samsung may lead when it comes to comfort and screen quality, but the One M8 has better speakers on it than any device we’ve used. Unlike the Galaxy S5’s one puny rear-facing speaker, the One M8 has two front-facing BoomSound speakers, which sound clearer, even at peak volume. The One M8 gets louder than the Galaxy S5 and the sound aims directly at you, not away from you. This is a very clear difference between the two phones. HTC has good sound and the Galaxy S5 does not; it’s more like every other smartphone out there.
We also like that the HTC One has its audio jack on the bottom, like the iPhone 5S. This lets you more naturally grab the phone in and out of your pocket if you’re listening with headphones. The audio jack on the Galaxy S5 is up top, like in the olden days. This is fine, but not ideal. If you’re still used to an audio jack on the top of your phone, this distinction may not matter to you.
Winner: HTC One M8
Both Samsung and HTC have made a lot of strides when it comes to their Android 4.4 KitKat interfaces. The Galaxy S5 and HTC One M8 both have slick, speedy interfaces. The big difference between the two is the feel. HTC’s Sense interface looks slick and modern, while Samsung’s TouchWiz design is more colorful and bold. The One M8 ends up feeling more businessy than the Galaxy S5. We like them both.
Feature-wise, they pretty much line up, too. Both of these companies have been copying each other for a while; the M8 and GS5 are so similar that they both have built-in newsfeed applications. HTC uses its own, called Blinkfeed, and is now integrating notifications into it, while Samsung has home brewed a version of Flipboard for your enjoyment. We like Flipboard a little more than HTC’s design, but both experiences are comparable.
We like Samsung’s choice to use physical and haptic navigation buttons on the Galaxy S5 for Back, Home, and Recent apps. Sometimes, onscreen buttons are nicer, but the Galaxy S5 is a little more comfortable to navigate.
(Note about operating system updates: If you really want updates consistently, you need to get a Nexus 5. It’s the only Android device that gets updates directly from Google, not your device manufacturer and phone carrier. HTC and Samsung have gotten a lot better at updates in the last year (we’d give the edge to Samsung), but for all updates, you need a Nexus or an iPhone.)
Thanks to their Snapdragon 801 processors and slightly larger batteries, both the One M8 and Galaxy S5 get about 40 percent better battery life than the 2013 One and Galaxy S4. Both phones will get you through a full day, even with heavy use. We’re big fans of Samsung’s Ultra Power Saver Mode, though. This mode turns off color and all but the apps you specify to maximize battery life. It let us squeeze almost 24 hours of life out of a nearly dead battery. If you’re in a bind, this is great. HTC claims that it has a similar battery saving mode coming, but not all units (including ours) have gotten the software update with it. Who knows when the update will come to your carrier.
Winner: Galaxy S5
Have you ever been scared to pull your phone out because it’s raining? Have you ever stayed away from the edge of a pool because you were worried your phone might take a dive? We have. Phones are expensive and when a few drops of water can take them out, we end up living in fear of H2O. The Galaxy S5 is IP67 rated, which means its completely waterproof in up to a meter of water for 30 minutes. It can handle dirt and sand, too.
The One M8 does have some water resistance, but not enough for HTC to even mention it out loud. It’s IPX3 rated, meaning it can handle spraying water, but only at certain angles, and a set pressure. It’ll handle water for about five minutes. So you might be safe taking it out in a light drizzle.
Winner: Galaxy S5
Every expensive phone has some fun special powers these days. Here are some ways these two phones really stand out.
HTC One M8 and its double camera: If you opt for the One M8, you will have the phone with the most versatile camera. We like Samsung’s camera better for standard shots, but because HTC included a special second rear camera, the One M8 is the only phone that can truly do Lytro-like refocusing and a number of other really cool 3D effects. This camera app is baller. Outside of the camera, HTC’s phone borrows LG’s cool KnockOn feature. You can double tap on the screen to wake up the One from sleep and if you slide your finger from different directions, it can autolaunch apps like voice search or Blinkfeed. Did we mention HTC’s cool Dot View Case?
Galaxy S5 has a heart-rate monitor and fingerprint sensor: The Galaxy S5 has its usual advantage of a removable battery, but it has included some other fun extras. The GS5 is the first Android phone we know of to incorporate a heart-rate monitor. It’s right under the rear camera. Stick your finger on it and boot up the S Health app and you’ll know your heart rate in no time. Like the iPhone 5S, the GS5 also has a fingerprint sensor, which is used to unlock the phone and make PayPal payments. We think it’s a little awkward to use, but it does up your security significantly.
And the winner is: Galaxy S5
Sorry HTC fans. For the third year running we have to declare Samsung the winner. The Galaxy S5 has game-changing water resistance, a beautiful screen, is more comfortable to hold, and has some neat hardware features like a heart-rate monitor, among other things. The HTC One M8 is absolutely a fantastic phone with great sound, and outclasses the Galaxy S5 when it comes to design, but it puts design ahead of functional benefits. We love a pretty phone, but we’d rather have a phone that’s just as powerful, but also waterproof.
If you hate reading and just want to get to the specs, here they are. Enjoy the numbers.
HTC One M8
|Size||142.0 x 72.5 x 8.1 mm||146.36 x 70.6 x 9.35 mm|
|Screen||5.1-inch Super AMOLED||5-inch LCD3|
|Resolution||1080×1920 pixels||1080×1920 pixels|
|OS||Android 4.4.2 with TouchWiz UI||Android 4.4.2 with HTC Sense 6|
|Expandable Storage||Up to 128GB||Up to 128GB|
|SD Card Slot||Yes||Yes|
|Processor||2.5GHz Quad-core Snapdragon 801||2.3GHz Quad-core Snapdragon 801|
|Connectivity||Wi-Fi, 4G LTE, USB 3.0, IrLED, HSPA+, NFC||Wi-Fi, 4G LTE, USB 2.0, HSPA+, NFC|
|Front Camera||2.1MP, 720P HD||5MP, 1080P HD|
|Rear Camera||16MP, 1080P HD||5MP, 1080P HD|
|Bluetooth||Yes, version 4.0||Yes, version 4.0|
|Extra features||Heart-rate monitor, fingerprint sensor||BoomSound, BlinkFeed, dual-lens camera|
|Water Resistant||Yes, IP67 rated||No|
|Battery||2,800mAh, removable||2,600mAh , embedded|
|Charger||USB 3.0||Micro USB|
|Marketplace||Google Play Store||Google Play Store|
|Color Options||Black, white, copper, blue||Silver, rose, gold, grey|
|Ave. Price||$200 with a two-year contract, $25 per month on Next 18, or $32.50 per month on Next 12.||$200 with a two-year contract, or $32 per month on Next 12|
|Availability||AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon Wireless, MetroPCS, and U.S. Cellular||AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon|
|DT Review||4.5 out of 5||4 out of 5|