Yesterday saw the official launch of the HTC One (M8), and our pre-announcement suspicions were correct: it’s a beast of a phone when it comes to specifications.
But how does HTC’s new range-topper measure up against another flagship Android smartphone, the soon-to-be-launched Sony Xperia Z2? Ladies and gents, join us as we take an in-depth look…
Design: not quite the same One
At first glance you could be forgiven for confusing both of these phones with their predecessors.
The HTC One (M8) is fairly similar to the original One on the outside, the main differences being its dual lens rear camera, its dual LED flash and the on-screen buttons replacing hardware controls. As far as the body itself goes, there's more metal and less plastic, while the metal is slightly more burnished and its brushed effect more pronounced. The corners are also slightly more rounded. So its DNA is largely derived from the 2013 HTC One, and that’s something everyone should be happy about, because the 2013 HTC One is simply one of the best-constructed smartphones around. That the 2014 One shares its beautifully engineered, rock-solid aluminium unibody is to its credit – and you can read more about that in our look at how the One was designed. The One (M8) weighs 160g and is 9.4mm thick.
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 HTC phone, 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. It does weigh a tiny bit more however: 163g.
Looks-wise, both phones are handsome in their own way. The One (M8) is a little brasher and bolder in its lines and use of brushed metal, and just as that might appeal to certain people, we can certainly imagine others preferring Sony’s altogether more understated approach.
Overall it’s tough to call a winner before we’ve had the chance to handle both phones on a longer-term basis. Both appear to be extremely solidly constructed (although the Sony’s IP55/IP58 protection suggests it’s the hardier handset) and each has its own unique appeal when it comes to design. Until we’ve reviewed both phones fully, we’re calling this round a draw.
Winner: Undeclared for now
READ MORE: Sony Xperia Z2 hands-on video review
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, but you’d have to have the eyes of a hawk to see any real difference in sharpness deriving from that. At the time of writing we’ve yet to test the Z2, but the One (M8)’s screen is sharp with “satisfyingly vibrant” colours and solid off-axis viewing angles.
Based on specs and size along, this one’s too close to call. We’ll have to spend some time with both phones before we can judge which has the better screen.
Winner: Undeclared for now
Camera: a tale of two lenses
Sony has made the Xperia Z2’s camera one of its defining features. It uses a 20.7MP sensor that’s physically large (1/2.3in in size) for more light-gathering capabilities. The camera features a Background Defocus mode, which takes two shots and merges them together to give the impression of a short depth of field. 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, and SteadyShot image stabilisation helps videos look rock solid even when your hands aren’t.
HTC has also put a lot of effort into the One (M8)’s photo and video skills. As with the original One, the rear camera uses an UltraPixel sensor – in this case each pixel is 2 micrometres in size and the sensor itself is 1/3in. The number of actual megapixels is low though: just 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. This time there’s an iPhone 5s-style dual LED flash to help deliver more natural-looking skin tones and, most interestingly, 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). On the video front, 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. The One (M8), on paper at least, is the better selfie-taking tool.
While we’ll wait on our Sony Xperia Z2 full review results before making a final judgement, it seems like the two handsets each offer something slightly different: in bright conditions, the Z2’s high megapixel count should mean excellent detail in shots, while the One (M8) may well offer the best low-light performance (plus the ability to “save” out-of-focus images thanks to the second rear lens). The Sony also offers better video capture, and we’re just leaning towards it as our weigh-in winner.
Winner: Sony Xperia Z2
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.
We’ve yet to review the Xperia Z2 and run it through the usual benchmarks, but given that the HTC One (M8) scored 36,149 in AnTuTu we’re expecting something a little higher. And the (M8) is the fastest phone we’ve ever tested here at Stuff.
HTC has created a beast of a smartphone which, during our hours with it, has ploughed through HD movies, graphics-heavy games, benchmarking tools and more with nary a stutter. And as long as Sony hasn’t done something odd with the Z2, it should be even better than that.
In terms of battery life, the HTC One (M8)’s 2600mAh performed admirably in our review, matching the LG G2 in our normal battery rundown test (a drain of 6 per cent per hour with looped HD video at half brightness and all data turned on). We have yet to see how the Xperia Z2 copes with the same test, but its 3000mAh battery should, in theory, deliver slightly more life (even accounting for the larger screen size).
The Z2 seems to hold a slight edge over the One (M8) thanks to its extra GB of RAM and larger capacity battery. We’ll know for sure after we’ve benchmarked and tested it.
Winner: Sony Xperia Z2
User interface and OS
Both phones use Android 4.4 KitKat for their operating system, but each has its manufacturer’s own touches applied.
The HTC One (M8) has the new Sense 6.0 interface, which builds on previous versions by improving BlinkFeed, HTC’s “social reader” which brings automatic updates from your favourite sources to the home screen. 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. You'll also be able to answer or reject calls via hand gestures, and as with the One (M8) you can wake the phone with a simple double-tap. Finally, there's support for Glove Mode – a boon in chilly weather.
While the HTC One (M8) is a wonderful phone that we’ve actually been able to review, it seems that the Sony Xperia Z2 is better on paper – albeit marginally.
Without fully testing the Z2 we can’t say with 100 per cent certainty that it’s the superior phone, but in a couple of areas – on paper, at least – it edges out the One (M8). But it’s going to be a very close-run thing either way, and if you’re in the market for a new Android phone we’d suggest you wait until our full review before making your choice.
READ MORE: HTC One (M8) review
READ MORE: Sony Xperia Z2 preview