HTC One (M8) vs Sony Xperia Z2

Two flagship smartphones, but which would we buy?

About a month ago, when the HTC One (M8) was announced, we pitched it against Sony’s forthcoming Xperia Z2 in a spec face-off.

Our conclusion? It’d be a mighty close call between the two, but on paper at least the Z2 looked the better phone.

Well unless you live in some kind of freaky 2D animated world, you don’t use your mobile on paper. You use it in the real world. And having now given both phones the full Stuff review treatment, we’re ready to tell you which of the two is better. So read on for our conclusion.

READ MORE: HTC One (M8) review

READ MORE: Sony Xperia Z2 review

Dressed to impress

Line these two up side by side and it’s clear you’ve wandered into Premium Phone Town. There’s very little plastic on display at all, with both phones crafted almost entirely from metal and glass.

Which smartphone? HTC One (M8) vs Sony Xperia Z2

Of course the same was true of their predecessors, and the fact is neither of these phones represents a huge tearing up of the rule book. In the case of the M8, there’s 20% more metal used in the body, a nice burnished finish and slightly more rounded corners. It’s also a fair bit taller on account of its newly embiggened 5in screen, but it’s otherwise much the same design that we fell in love with on the HTC One. No bad thing that.

The Sony Xperia Z2 has less in common with the Xperia Z1 than the One (M8) does with the One, but Sony’s phones still bear a strong family resemblance: as with the M8, the Z2 blends glass and metal near-seamlessly, and like its forebear it’s fully sealed against water and dust – you can take the Z2 into the shower or bathtub with you for up to 30 minutes and it will not mind one little bit.

Despite its slightly larger screen (5.2in to 5in), the Z2 is a fair bit skinnier than the HTC One (M8) at just 8.2mm in depth (to 9.4mm). But while admirably svelte, the Z2’s angular form makes it a bit of a pain to hold and anyone lacking bear paws should resign themselves to two-handed use here.

Looks-wise, both phones are handsome in their own way, but to our tastes the M8 is the more attractive of the two. And although the M8’s extra height makes it harder to hold than the original One, it’s still a lot easier to handle than the Z2.

Winner: HTC One (M8)

READ MORE: Samsung Galaxy S5 vs HTC One (M8)

Screen time

Full HD has firmly established itself as the minimum standard display resolution for flagship smartphones, and both the Sony Xperia Z2 and HTC One (M8) offer screens with 1920 x 1080 pixels. The One (M8) has a 5in display, while the Xperia Z2 offers a 5.2in screen. That makes the (M8)’s pixel density slightly higher (441 to 424ppi), but you’d have to have the eyes of a hawk to see any real difference in sharpness deriving from that.

Which smartphone? HTC One (M8) vs Sony Xperia Z2

In use, the One (M8)’s screen is sharp with “satisfyingly vibrant” colours and excellent off-axis viewing angles. Full HD movies look excellent too and try as we might, we can’t find anything negative to say about it.

The Z2’s screen is every bit as special in most situations, with wonderfully vivid colours, superb contrast and crisp text. Viewing angles are much improved over the Z1, too, with nothing given away to the HTC in that regard. Ultimately, both screens are as close to flawless as makes no difference, so we’re calling this one a tie.

Winner: Draw

READ MORE: Android 4.5 preview

A tale of two lenses (or rather five)

Sony has a long history of producing cracking good cameraphones, and the Z2 is its best yet. It has a 20.7MP sensor that’s physically large (1/2.3in in size), giving it excellent light-gathering capabilities, and the camera also features a Background Defocus mode, which takes two shots and merges them together to give the impression of a short depth of field.

Which smartphone? HTC One (M8) vs Sony Xperia Z2

On the video front, it can record 4K footage (at a resolution of 3840 x 2160) or 120fps 720p footage for super slo-mo playback. Plus, SteadyShot image stabilisation helps videos look rock solid even when your hands aren’t.

The results are often incredible, rivalling those you’d get from decent compact cameras; only Nokia’s Lumia 1020 gives it any real competition as far as smartphones go. Admittedly, it’s not the easiest camera for a novice to use, and the Superior Auto mode doesn’t always give you perfect results. But learn to get the best from it and you’ll reap the rewards.

HTC has also put a lot of effort into the One (M8)’s photo and video skills, but it’s taken an entirely different approach to the Sony. As with the original One, the rear camera uses a sensor with bigger ‘UltraPixel’ sites, but fewer megapixels - a mere 4MP, like the original One. What it means is that low light images are less noisy and sharper, but also that you can’t zoom in to crop your shots without them looking blocky.

Still, an iPhone 5s-style dual LED flash helps deliver more natural-looking skin tones and, most interestingly, there’s a second rear camera that captures ‘depth information’; this essentially allows you to refocus shots after you’ve taken them (a little like the Lytro camera). As far as video goes, there’s 1080p but no 4K.

On the front-facing camera, er, front, the One (M8)’s has a 5MP sensor and 1080p video capabilities, while the Xperia Z2’s has a 2.2MP sensor, also compatible with 1080p. So if you’re a selfie addict, the M8 has an advantage here.

Overall though, the Z2 is the clear winner here. In low light the HTC just pips it, but in almost every other situation the Sony leaves its rival in the dust.

Winner: Sony Xperia Z2

READ MORE: The 10 best apps for the HTC One (M8)

Peak Performance

Both the Sony Xperia Z2 and HTC One (M8) feature a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 running at 2.3GHz, but Sony pairs it with 3GB of RAM while HTC has plumped for 2GB.

Which smartphone? HTC One (M8) vs Sony Xperia Z2 AnTuTu

That might suggest that the Z2 will be the more powerful of the two, but in our tests there was very little to choose between them. The HTC One (M8) scored 36,149 in our AnTuTu benchmark test while the Z2 managed 32,504 - not really enough of a difference to worry about.

The fact is, these are the two most powerful phones we’ve ever tested. Both tear through HD movies and graphics-heavy games, both will do you proud in day to day use. That said, we did suffer the odd stutter when testing the Z2, and we also noticed it heating up when shooting 4K video. The problem was severe enough to make our handset quit shooting on occasion, and for that reason we’re going to award this round to the HTC. But it’s a close thing.

Winner: HTC One (M8)

READ MORE: Samsung Galaxy S5 vs Sony Xperia Z2

More after the break...

Power to spare

Stamina is another area where the Z2 looked better on paper but can't quite best the M8 in the real world.

It has a far bigger battery - 3200mAh to the HTC’s 2600mAh - but also a bigger screen to power and the net result is that neither is noticeably better than the other. Both have impressive battery-saving modes, both will last a day’s general use, both still lag way behind the class leader, the LG G2.

All of which means that this round is another draw.

Winner: Draw

READ MORE: HTC One (M8) vs LG G2

Blink or you'll miss it

Both phones use Android 4.4 KitKat for their operating system, but each has its manufacturer’s own touches applied.

In the case of the HTC One (M8), that means the new Sense 6.0 interface - which builds on previous versions by improving BlinkFeed, HTC’s ‘social reader’. Now BlinkFeed was already a very tasty bit of software, aggregating your social media feeds and favourite news sources into one scrollable, magazine-style format. Previously sources were limited to official partners, but now you can add any site with an RSS feed and the software also learns which sites you like best and thus prioritises them.

Other nice touches include the ability to turn on the screen by tapping it twice, or to swipe from various sides to go straight into BlinkFeed, your last-opened app or your home screen.

Sony traditionally goes for a more hands-off approach when skinning Android, but it has made a few tweaks for the Z2. One of these is a Smart Backlight feature, which automatically turns off the screen when you’re no longer looking at it - good news for battery life. As with the One (M8) you can also wake the phone with a simple double-tap.

Truth be told, there’s not much between the two here, but we’re so enamoured with BlinkFeed that the HTC triumphs again. Given that the app will soon be available to download on all Android devices, we might have to revisit this category in the near future.

Winner: HTC One (M8)

READ MORE: The best cases, headphones and accessories for the HTC One (M8)

A sound choice

As far as features go, neither phone can compete with the multi-talented Samsung Galaxy S5. Fortunately for them, that handset’s not part of this test, so they needn’t worry about it.

Instead, they can be content with matching each other by both packing the usual likes of NFC and Bluetooth and trumping the competition with their really rather good front speakers. The HTC’s are louder, the Sony’s slightly better sounding. Neither quite does enough to take the round though, so it’s another tie.

Winner: Draw

READ MORE: Samsung Galaxy S5 review

Verdict

Much as the Z2 might have looked like the better phone on specs alone, when we came to test both handsets it was clear that the M8 is the one we’d want to live with.

That said, there’s not a huge amount between them, and personal preference will play a big part in determining which is best for you. If a top quality camera with bags of versatility is a must, the Z2 is the better bet. Conversely, if the design flair and charm of BlinkFeed float your boat, you’ll want to shell out for the M8.

For us, the Sony is just a bit too awkward to handle, the M8 a more desirable phone to own and use on a daily basis. For that reason we’re giving the overall nod to the HTC.

Winner: HTC One (M8)

READ MORE: The 10 best smartphones in the world right now