Samsung Galaxy S4 vs Sony Xperia Z

With Sony stepping into the premium build ring and Samsung bringing out the power, who will come out on top?

Samsung Galaxy S4 vs Sony Xperia Z – fight

Just as the Sony Xperia Z was enjoying the glory that is being's favourite smartphone, the HTC One came along and knocked it off the podium. Now, the ex-number one must prove it's still in contention by squaring up against the latest Android contender, the Samsung Galaxy S4. Fight!

Read our Sony Xperia Z review.

Samsung Galaxy S4 vs Sony Xperia Z – screen

The Xperia Z's display is incredibly impressive – not only is it full HD, it's a staggering 5in without being too unwieldy and the detail is top-notch. Did we mention it's waterproof and shatter-proof? Great for clumsy owners.

Samsung's Galaxy S4 also sports a Full HD Super AMOLED 5in display. In typical AMOLED fashion, colours are a little more in your face than other smartphones but there is an option to switch between natural and retina-searing. Detail is impressive and the contrast is excellent whichever screen mode you favour.

In terms of a winner, the Xperia Z is more natural and the pixel density works out at 443ppi versus the S4's 441ppi. Very close here but the similarly sized Sony wins.

Samsung Galaxy S4 vs Sony Xperia Z – power

Inside the Xperia Z you get a Snapdragon S4 Pro chip and 2GB of RAM – enough juice to make it very, very fast. Clocked at 1.5GHz, it's competitive with all but the fastest devices in the wild. Whether or not the extra juice is noticeable we've yet to really see, but at least you know the Xperia Z will keep you up to speed for a good few months, if not a year.

Samsung likes to go a bit crazy to grab your attention. This time, it's gone for an "Octo-Core" processor, made up of two quad core chips at a clock speed of 1.6GHz, and 2GB of RAM. Nothing else on the market touches it on paper but, like the Xperia Z, there really isn't much out there that needs all that juice – and Android Jelly Bean is a much more efficient beast.

On raw specs, the Samsung wins out – not that either phone is anything but well equipped.

Samsung Galaxy S4 vs Sony Xperia Z – build

Samsung likes plastic casings. We do not. Yes, it's durable – but then, up against the glass Xperia Z it pales in comparison. And the Xperia Z is no fragile flower, either – it's dustproof and water-resistant, and can be dunked for up to 30 minutes.

In terms of looks and build, the S4 sails pretty close to its predecessor, which is to say it's a little uninspiring but well designed in that it houses a gigantic screen without making the device too unfriendly for small hands. At least the lack of metal or glass makes the S4 feel light in the hand – and it means it's easy to get at the removable battery. It's also impressively thin, given all the power on tap.

But for all that, the Xperia Z has all the advantages of a sleek-looking glass body while still being plenty rugged enough for everyday use. We have to hand it to the Xperia Z here.

Samsung Galaxy S4 vs Sony Xperia Z – UI

Sony has dodged the common error of ruining Android Jelly Bean with unnecessary clutter. There's still an overlay but it's unobtrusive, with all core functionality either immediately accessible or a very short stone's throw away.

Samsung, by contrast, has updated the TouchWiz UI with a boatload of extra features to make use of all those new sensors. You can swipe and highlight items without touching the screen, using Air View and Air Gesutre, and scroll through web pages using only your gaze, with Smart Scroll's eye tracking.

The Galaxy S4 comes with the absolute latest version of Android Jelly Bean, 4.2.2, which makes it more current, but it's a minor difference. If you like Sony's approach to Android, go for that. If you want to play with the Galaxy S4's new toys, and you don't mind the overbearing TouchWiz skin, it's more of the same on steroids. We'll call this one a draw.

Samsung Galaxy S4 vs Sony Xperia Z – extras

We've already touched on the Xperia Z's water-resistant trickery, but it's worth another mention – as anyone who has dropped a £500 smartphone into the toilet can attest.

On top of that you get NFC for touch payments and data transfers, DLNA support and a lot of rather useful apps pre-loaded like Video Unlimited. Oh, and it can even be used as a remote if you happen to own a W900A Sony Bravia LCD TV.

But the Galaxy S4 is truly loaded with extras, from Air View to S Health, which muscles in on the Nike and Endomondo apps of this world. A Group Play mode lets you game and share over NFC – without using Wi-Fi – while you can take charge of your telly using the phone's IR blaster and Samsung's WatchOn feature. Samsung takes the prize here.

Samsung Galaxy S4 vs Sony Xperia Z – camera

Although unlucky for some, 13 is the buzzword for both phones. The Xperia Z comes with a 13.1MP rear-facing snapper and a 1080p front-facing one. Using Sony's Cyber Shot technology, the results are excellent be that when light is low or plentiful. That's thanks to a quick-response sensor and 36 presets for setting up the camera as the scene requires. Video is also crisp, smooth and full 1080p.

Samsung's Galaxy S4 is equipped with another 13MP camera, and it's just as capable, with tons of features including Dual Shot, Sound & Shot and Eraser Shot. You can even automatically compile a Story Album using location data, weather data and your personal info.

It's a very close call – but the Galaxy S4's extra features give it the edge.

Samsung Galaxy S4 vs Sony Xperia Z – verdict

Time has not been kind to the Xperia Z. Although it wowed us (and still does) the HTC One came along and snapped away its crown – and the Galaxy S4 may do just that to the HTC One once we've been able to subject it to our exhaustive reviewing process.

In terms of this fight, though, the Xperia Z more than holds its own. Apart from being a far superior device when it comes to aesthetics and build quality, it really isn't much less powerful even though Samsung had the benefit of watching the competition. The simple truth is, Android has really come of age and each device leads the way of what a modern-day smartphone can do, which means you really can't lose.

We'll level with you – this is too close to call without a full review. Cometh the hour, cometh the smartphone – and battle will be done in our smartphone Top 10.

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