Samsung Galaxy S5 vs HTC One (M8)

The first two of 2014's flagship phones are here – but which should you buy? [updated with video]

Deciding which smartphone to upgrade to is the hardest thing in the world. Seriously - it's on a par with naming your firstborn, or deciding which pizza to go for after a night on the town.

Well, your choice just got even tougher - because the first of 2014's flagship smartphones have arrived, in the form of the Samsung Galaxy S5 and HTC One (M8).

They're both incredible handsets, well deserving of their 5-star Stuff reviews. But if put on the spot, which of the two would we buy?

DESIGN AND BUILD

Samsung Galaxy S5 vs HTC One (M8) - DESIGN AND BUILD 2Samsung Galaxy S5 vs HTC One (M8) - DESIGN AND BUILD 3

At first glance, there's only one winner here. The HTC One (M8) is a truly beautiful thing - all brushed metal, subtle curves and precision-engineered speaker grilles. It's a bigger phone than its predecessor the HTC One, and might have lost a smidgeon of design flair due to its rounded edges, but at the same time that makes it more comfortable in the hand. 

The Galaxy S5 could never really be described as beautiful. Striking, maybe. Practical, definitely. But not beautiful in the way that the M8 is. For starters, it's a wholly plastic affair, and while Samsung's wisely given it a nice, grippy back, it just doesn't feel like the kind of lovely objet d'art that you'll be wanting to fondle at every opportunity. Neither is it as solid as it might be - sure, it doesn't creak in the way that the S4 did, but pump up the volume through the built-in speakers and you'll hear the back vibrating.

Live with the phones for a few days and the Samsung closes the gap a little. The fact that it's water- and dustproof to IP67 is a major bonus given how often we drop our phone down the toilet (that'll teach us to play games when we should be, uh, attending to our business), while the removable battery could be useful on long journeys. It's also shorter than the M8 but no wider and has a bigger screen - those expertly milled speaker grilles on the HTC may look nice, but they sure do increase the bezel size.

Overall though, we've got to give this category to the M8. It's one of the best looking and best built phones we've seen, and any owner of one will be proud.

Winner: HTC One (M8)

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

SCREEN

Ooh, this is a close one. The HTC One (M8)'s had a major spec bump from the original One, getting a 5in full HD screen where its predecessor had to make do with a 4.7in effort. A pixel density of 441ppi is high enough that you really won't notice the individual pixels, and both text and icons are incredibly sharp. It's plenty bright enough, serves up vibrant colours and has excellent viewing angles, with our only minor gripe being that the palette tends a little towards the green side.

Samsung Galaxy S5 vs HTC One (M8)

Despite the S5's slightly smaller shell, Samsung's managed to find space for a slightly bigger 5.1in Super AMOLED display. Like the M8 it has a 1920x1080 resolution, giving it a pixel density of 432ppi; you won't notice any difference between them on that front. What you might notice is quite how bright and vibrant the S5 is - it's superb for outdoor viewing, adjusts cleverly to different lighting conditions and doesn't fade even when viewed at extreme angles. 

Ultimately, we can't choose between them - they're both too good to be losers in this round.

Winner: draw

POWER

Another close call here. Both these phones are powered by a quad-core Snapdragon 801 processor and 2GB of RAM, with the only difference being that the S5's core is clocked at 2.5GHz to the M8's 2.3GHz. In our tests, the M8 achieved a massive AnTuTu score of 36,149, with the S5 racking up 29,730.

All of which is great, without necessarily telling us a lot about how they fare in the real world. 

Well, both phones tear through the latest 3D games and both play full HD videos without a flicker of protest. The S5 makes more obvious use of its power through software features such as Multi Window, but the M8 seems a little slicker when scrolling through home screens and opening apps and widgets. So, given that you'll likely be doing a lot more of the latter than the former, we're going to give this round to the M8. 

Winner: HTC One (M8)

READ MORE: LG G3 preview

Battery

There's more than one type of power, of course, and the S5 has the advantage when it comes to battery life.

Inside that shell you'll find a 2800mAh cell, which in standard Android flagship fashion lasts for a full day's use. It's not quite up there with the LG G2 for longevity, but the new Ultra Power Saving Mode helps: switch it on and 30% of battery will last another 3.3 days. Even with a mere 4% it'll survive the half hour until you get home. What's more, the battery is swappable. Now we don't know how many people actually buy a spare battery and carry it around with them for emergencies, but a battery that can be replaced with a fully charged alternative is always going to beat one that's stuck inside its (admittedly quite pretty) metal shell. 

The M8, meanwhile, gets a 2600mAh battery that again lasts for roughly a normal day's use. Just a slightly shorter day. So the S5 definitely takes this round.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy S5

More after the break...

Camera

Two entirely different approaches here, with the S5 going for the cram-the-megapixels-in strategy and the M8 for the let's-make-it-good-for-the-real-world angle. But which is better?

In general daytime use, it's got to be the S5. It's superfast, focusing in an incredible 0.3s; well, that's what Samsung says - all we know is that it locks on in an instant. Colours are accurate, contrast is good and with 16MP to play around with, there's bags of detail to shots. Cropping in to pics is easy peasy too, thanks to the sheer number of pixels on offer. 

Give it more challenging conditions and it's a different matter. In low light, images are too grainy, plus Samsung's ditched the Night Mode from the S4 and replaced it with a Picture Stabilisation option. Fine, except that that option is now hidden away inside a menu. All of which means that you won't get great results from it down the pub.

The HTC One (M8) is pretty much its polar opposite. Its snapper has a mere 4MP sensor, but as with the original One, it uses bigger 'Ultrapixel' sites for benefits in low light. But that's not all. The M8's gained a second sensor and lens and a second flash. The new sensor/lens combo is there to capture depth information, giving the phone Lytro-like refocus-after-you've-taken-picture skills. And it works really well. The S5, meanwhile, uses software to do a similar thing, but with less impressive results.

The M8's new flash improves colours in murky conditions - specifically skin-tones - which further adds to the HTC's advantage when you're shooting indoors or at night. But cropping is a no-no, because there's not much information in a 4MP photo.

Choosing between the two approaches is tricky - it's like saying which is best out of chocolate and cheese. So we won't attempt it - this round's another tie.

Winner: Draw

OS

Both these phones run the latest version of Android, 4.4 KitKat, but each has its own skin on top. The M8 gets HTC's Sense 6 interface, and very nice it is too. Chief among its attractions is BlinkFeed - a beautifully balanced blend of social media updates and news from your choice of topics, which sits on a screen of its own. The Sense 6 version can also handle RSS feeds, which is nice, plus it learns what you like and presents that to you first. It's not quite enough to beat the S5's interface on its own, but BlinkFeed is definitely a big string to the M8's bow.

Samsung Galaxy S5 vs HTC One (M8)

As an OS, Sense 6 is fairly restrained and nicely customisable. Other than giving you BlinkFeed, it doesn't ram itself down your throat with unnecessary apps, and that's fine by us. It does have a few other nice touches, though, including the ability to turn on the screen by double-tapping the phone and to swipe straight into BlinkFeed or your last-opened app even when the phone is off.

The S5 gets Samsung's TouchWiz skin, and the good news is that it's finally been toned down from the in-your-face version we've seen on previous Galaxy phones. Icons are simple, key apps such as the S Planner calendar have been cleaned up and stripped back, and all the Samsung bloatware - sorry, essential apps - are nicely tidied away within their own folder.

The big new feature is My Magazine, which is powered by Flipboard and aims to serve up a BlinkFeed-like experience. It doesn't quite succeed, with nowhere near as many customisation options and no way to integrate calendars and RSS feeds, but hopefully future updates will improve it. And of course you get all of Samsung's other software tricks as seen on the S4 - eye tracking tech, the S Health app and much, much more.

Personal taste will go a long way to determining which of the two you prefer, but for us, the HTC's cleaner interface and useful touches such as tap-to-unlock and BlinkFeed beat the throw-everything-at-it approach of the S5.

Winner: HTC One (M8)

OTHER FEATURES

Bit of an uneven contest, this category. The S5 is awash with extra talents, while the M8 sticks to the tried-and-tested. So on the Samsung, you get a fingerprint sensor, heart-rate tracker and super-fast downloads. And on the M8 you, er, don't.

The S5's fingerprint scanning doesn't work as well as it does on the iPhone 5s, but you can use it to pay for Samsung apps and authorise PayPal transactions and the like, which means it's more than just a fancy way to unlock your handset. The heart-rate tracker integrates with the S Health app and checking your pulse soon becomes quite addictive thanks to the array of graphs on offer. The Download Booster feature, meanwhile, uses Wi-Fi and 4G together to speed up your downloads. Obviously.

The HTC lacks none of the essentials but, dual sensor camera aside, offers little functionality that the S5 doesn't. Both devices have upgradeable storage via microSD. Both have NFC. In fact the only other features it has which the S5 doesn't are its front speakers - still the best we've heard on a phone, and a genuinely useful thing to have. That said, this category is all Samsung's.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy S5

Verdict

As head-to-heads go, you won't get much closer than the HTC One (M8) vs Samsung Galaxy S5.

In many ways they're similar phones - both have big, beautiful screens, both have more power than they realistically need, both run the latest, and greatest, version of Android. But it's the differences between them that ultimately decide this battle.

If you're looking for a phone with masses of extra features - from fingerprint scanning to heart-rate-tracking to waterproofing to a removable battery - then you should go for the Galaxy S5.

If you're more bothered about owning a beautiful object, both in terms of its physical build and the software that runs on it, then you'll be better off with the HTC One (M8).

For us, the extras you'll get from the S5 don't compare to the joy you'll gain from the M8. And that's why it's our overall winner.

Overall winner: HTC One (M8)

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

READ MORE: Samsung Galaxy S5 review

READ MORE: HTC One (M8) review

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