The release of Samsung’s Galaxy S5, follows hot on the heels of the comparably high profile launches of the iPhone 5s and HTC One (M8).
Each smartphone is so close in terms of speed and the clarity of its display that it’s getting increasingly meaningless to compare them on such terms. Put simply each phone will be faultlessly smooth to use and the screen will be crystal clear.
But there are differences. Battery life and camera quality remain a substantial battleground and, perhaps more importantly, so do the operating systems and the different skins of Android that each handset comes with.
Below we measure up the arms and legs of each phone to find out which one is the best fit for you.
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Operating system – not only is this a case of Android versus Apple iOS, but also a battle of Android skins – with HTC’s Sense 6 and Samsung’s TouchWiz offering a bespoke way to interact with your phone.
The clean interface of iOS 7 makes using the iPhone simplicity itself, but it is more restrictive. You can’t, for example, pick the apps to appear on your home screen with iOS – instead you’ll be stuck with the stocks app… forever. Broadly speaking iOS is best if you’re a smartphone beginner, but this choice really is down to personal taste.
Smile for the camera – smartphone manufacturers are looking to ever more elaborate ways to make-up for the lack of a large aperture lens on their phones. Dedicated camera lenses are built to let in as much light as possible so that every detail is captured, but on a pocket-size phone, that’s simple not an option.
The S5’s 16Mp camera features the highest megapixel count and therefore the largest images in terms of pixels. This means you can crop photos without losing detail. The HTC One (M8) sticks with its predecessor’s UltraPixel system, but also adds a second lens so you can alter the object of focus (though we’ve found this process can take some getting used to). The iPhone 5s also uses larger megapixels at 1.5 microns. This allows for the capture of more light, therefore helping produce brighter images than a small lens camera otherwise might.
We’ve taken a collection of images, with default settings and autofocus applied, so you can spot the differences yourself:
Battery life – if there’s one area where the iPhone 5s struggles it’s battery life. When we last put flagship phones through our battery life test the iPhone 5s came out a little red faced. It simply couldn’t live up to either the HTC One or Galaxy S4, delivering just 11 hours of call time on a full charge.
Given both HTC and Samsung are now claiming even longer lasting battery life in the (M8) and S5 respectively, we’d expect the iPhone to struggle once again. Expect a detailed battery life comparison of all the latest handsets on the Which? Tech Daily blog soon.
Look and feel – there’s currently a trend towards larger handsets as the Galaxy S5 and HTC One (M8) attest, and the extra screen space they provide does make watching video and browsing the web a pleasurable experience. The iPhone 5s with it’s 4-inch screen is much easier to use with one hand though, which can be useful when you’re carrying a bag in the other.
The iPhone is surely the most premium-looking of the three phones too, with its smooth metallic finish giving a real ‘wow’ effect. Of the two Android handset the HTC, with its brushed aluminium case is the better finished, with the S5’s plasticy backplate really letting the side down.
A trick or two – all three phones have a trick or two up their sleeves, and it’s these that might sway your buying decision. The iPhone has its reliable fingerprint scanner and the world’s first 64-bit processor. The latter should, and does, provide a smooth experience when opening apps and swiping between screens. But, ultimately, few apps have been designed that truly push the chip so that in practice the iPhone is only ever as quick as the Galaxy S5 and HTC One (M8) .
The HTC (M8) meanwhile has, as we’ve seen, its dual-lens UltraPixel camera and also its specially designed BoomSound stereo speakers that music lovers might find handy if they’re stuck without a speakerdock. Finally, the S5 has its own fingerprint scanner and almost military grade resistance to water and dust so that you can use the phone in any weather with confidence.
Which? expert verdict – ‘no clear victor means we’re all winners’
It’s the ultimate cop-out of course, but the short answer to which phone is best is that there is no clear winner. Each provides a good user experience, with decent battery life and camera performance, plus a whole lot of extras – most of which, from ‘Kids Mode’ to TV remote replacement, you’ll might never access.
I’ve used all three handsets extensively and, at risk of being called an Apple fanboy, still get the most out of the iPhone 5s. I find iOS 7 simpler to use than the Android OS, and there’s no doubting that Apple’s app store is easier to browse than the Google Play store.
Android does have much to commend too of course, especially its customisable homescreens that relay the top line information from your most used apps, such as Twitter, Facebook, email and the weather. However, if I was recommending a phone to a relative smartphone newcomer it would be the iPhone, and its less cluttered interface, that I’d suggest.
The fact I’m splitting hairs, however, just goes to show just how close the latest generation of smartphones is. In fact, I’d have no hesitation in saying that if you can get any of these handsets at a reasonable price, you won’t come away disappointed.
Mike Plant – writer