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Review: Samsung Galaxy S4 good, HTC One slightly better

Published May 7, 2013 9:01 pm

Review • Latest Android has plenty of goodies but also lots of gimmicks.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The Samsung Galaxy S4, the most-anticipated Android phone this year, is finally out. The question isn't whether it's better than the iPhone. That ship sailed a couple of years ago, once Apple stopped innovating on its mobile phone.

No, the debate is whether Samsung's newest flagship smartphone is better than the HTC One, the previous latest-and-greatest Android phone that hit the market a few weeks ago.

The quick answer is no. But let's dig a little deeper because the HTC One is only slightly more desirable than the Galaxy S4, which is available for Sprint, AT&T and T-Mobile, and soon for Verizon.

Screen • The newest Galaxy sports a 5-inch screen, just a tad larger than its predecessor's 4.8-inch screen but in a phone case that is practically the same size thanks to a smaller bezel.

It also uses the same Super AMOLED screen favored in the Galaxy line that produces bright images with deeper contrast and colors that pop. In fact, the colors with the AMOLED (Active-Matrix Organic Light-Emitting Diode) screen are so bright, they may seem hyper-realistic. By comparison, the colors on the HTC One's screen, which uses a liquid crystal display, are more natural.

The screen resolution is the same as the HTC One, 1920-by-1080 pixels, and the result is sharp, detailed pictures and video. But up close, it may not look quite as clear as on the HTC smartphone, particularly with text, likely because of the difference in the display technologies.

Processor • The phone uses a 1.9 gigahertz quad-core processor that is close in speed to the HTC's. And for the most part, scrolling and other functions on the phone run smoothly, at least much better than most Android phones before it. But unlike the HTC One's always silky-smooth performance, the Galaxy S4 still stutters on some operations, such as scrolling through images on Google or on some Web pages that include a lot of animations.

Hardware • Perhaps the biggest difference between the phones, and a disadvantage for the Galaxy S4, is in the devices' built-in speakers. The HTC One uses dual stereo speakers — the first phone of its kind to have them — with amplifiers, and Beats Audio technology for deeper bass, resulting in the best-sounding smartphone ever for listening to videos or music without headphones.

Samsung's new phone, however, uses the same single speaker, which sounds thin by comparison. And it's in the back of the phone instead of facing the user.

As for feel, the Galaxy S4 is thin and light, and it's a beautiful design with soft curves and a nice textured look on the back. But the phone is made of a high-impact plastic like its predecessor. Although that shaves off a lot of weight — the phone is even lighter than the iPhone 5, even though it's bigger — it also makes the phone less resistant to damage. The HTC One is made of a single piece of aluminum, and it feels substantial in the hand and is more durable.

Battery life is on par with both the HTC One and the iPhone 5, meaning it lasts most but not all of a day on a single charge under normal-to-heavy use. With the Galaxy S4, users can pop open the back cover and replace the battery with a fresh one, which isn't possible with the HTC model. The former also has a slot for a microSD memory card so users can add up to 64 gigabytes of additional storage, again something that can't be done with the HTC One.

Software • The Samsung Galaxy S4 runs on the latest version of Android, code-named "Jellybean." But the most noticeable software differences in the phone are new features such as "Smart Scroll," "Smart Pause" and "Air Gesture."

"Smart Scroll" uses the front-facing camera to determine when someone is looking at the screen and allows the user to scroll a page by slightly tilting the phone. "Smart Pause" also uses facial recognition to pause a video when it determines that the user looks away from the screen. And with "Air Gesture," users can swipe from page to page by waving a hand in front of the screen (but why would you want to do that?). Also, a feature called "Air View" allows the user to hover a finger over a piece of content to see a preview of that page.

These features sound innovative but they either are finicky and only work some of the time or it just takes more work to use a particular feature than to do without it.

The phone also is loaded with a lot of "bloatware," needless software and apps from both Samsung and AT&T (the model I reviewed) that users can't delete but that use up precious computing resources.

Camera • With the introduction of both the HTC One and the Samsung Galaxy S4, Android smartphones have finally been equipped with cameras that can compete with the reigning champion, iPhone 5.

The Galaxy S4 uses a 13-megapixel rear camera, and the results are stunning. Pictures are crisp, and the colors appear to be accurate. Video capture is also much better than previous Android phones. It also fares well in low-light situations, and there are a bevy of photo software features. It is basically a toss-up in picture quality between the Galaxy S4 and the HTC One, but both are slightly better than the iPhone 5's camera.

The Galaxy S4 is only a minor evolution over the already-fantastic Galaxy S3, with software features that are mostly gimmicks rather than truly innovative additions, but it's a worthy successor. I prefer the HTC One for its construction, its sterling display and that amazing set of speakers, but the Samsung Galaxy S4 is a great new addition to the Android family of phones.

vince@sltrib.com

Google+: +Vincent Horiuchi —

Galaxy S4 vs. HTC One

Screen • Advantage HTC One, because of clearer, more realistic images

Processor • Advantage HTC One, a silkier response overall

Hardware • Advantage HTC One, better sound, better durability

Software • Advantage HTC One, less-cluttered "bloatware"

Camera • Samsung Galaxy S4, slightly sharper images and better in low light