HTC One vs. Samsung Galaxy S4: Which phone should you buy?

Due for an upgrade? We break down the big differences between the Galaxy S4 and the One to help you decide which phone to get.

So you've read the reviews and checked out the cameras, and now it's time to decide: the Samsung Galaxy S4 or the HTC One? Though we gave the phones two very different scores, both the One and the Galaxy S4 have their respective strengths and weaknesses. One smartphone doesn't fit all, and the choice really comes down to what you're looking for in a handset.

The devil is in the details

In many respects the One and the Galaxy S4 are extremely similar: Both feature high-end specs, great-looking displays, and IR blasters that can be used to control your home entertainment setup. The big difference between the two phones, however, comes from the philosophies surrounding their creation. Whereas the One takes a minimalistic approach in its design and features, Samsung's offering is loaded with an overwhelming number of extras.

In fact, the Galaxy S4's biggest draw seems to be the number of options the phone gives you. For example, you can turn on gestures, allowing you to control the phone by waving your hand over it. You can add more storage via a microSD card. You can swap out the battery it comes with for a higher-capacity one. Heck, you can even use the camera software on the Galaxy S4 to create your own animated GIFs (using photos and video captured by the phone's excellent 13-megapixel camera).

The One doesn't have gesture controls, a microSD-card slot, or a high-megapixel camera. It also lacks a user-replaceable battery, and its unibody design makes the phone nearly impossible to repair yourself. The One presents you with a limited number of options and extras, but it makes up for that by providing a polished experience with the features it does have.

Rather than sporting a plastic shell like the Galaxy S4, the One has an aluminum chassis that feels great in your hand. Granted, the phone is heavier and slightly thicker than the Galaxy S4, but the One's metal body feels as if it will hold up better over the duration of your contract (and then some). That the phone's camera has only 4 megapixels sounds underwhelming at first, but its UltraPixels technology offers greater performance when taking photos in low light.

The lack of either expandable storage or a user-replaceable battery on the One is lamentable, and if you absolutely cannot live without those features, I suggest going with the Galaxy S4. Note, however, that the two phones were neck and neck in our battery life tests, and that the One ships with 32GB of internal storage for the same price as the 16GB version of the Galaxy S4.

What are the software differences?

The Galaxy S4 ships with the most recent version of Google's mobile operating system, Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean. The phone has all the features introduced in Android 4.2, including Google Now and lock-screen widgets, though Photo Spheres are oddly missing from the default camera app and software. The One also runs Android Jelly Bean, albeit an older version. The phone still has access to Google Now and better notifications, but you'll have to wait until HTC updates to 4.2 to get a more-polished Jelly Bean experience.

Although the One and the Galaxy S4 both run Android, the manufacturer overlays that come preinstalled on the phones make them look drastically different. I've written positive things about Samsung's TouchWiz overlay in the past, but recent versions of the software have become increasingly bloated. Though some people may find Samsung's additions to Android useful, most of those extras don't work as intended and only serve to take up valuable system resources. You can thankfully leave these functionalities turned off--which is akin to buying a tricked-out car and never using the extras you paid for.

HTC Sense has also gone through its fair share of changes: The newest version of Sense works much better than its predecessors, which were pervasive and often plagued by bugs. Many of the software's useless features have been removed, and Sense's social functionalities have been improved. The best example of these refinements is HTC's new BlinkFeed home screen, which pulls in data from your social media and RSS feeds to give you an at-a-glance update on the things that matter most to you.

So which should I get?

Well, that's the million-dollar question, isn't it? If you're on AT&T, T-Mobile, or Sprint, you should get the HTC One. The phone may not be as feature-rich as the Galaxy S4, but HTC's improvements to Sense and the One's superb build quality make it the best Android phone you can buy today. If you absolutely must have expandable storage, are stuck on Verizon, or just love Samsung's products, the Galaxy S4 is still an excellent choice. No matter what I recommend, the choice ultimately comes down to picking a phone that has the features you want, one that you'll to continue use several months into your contract.

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Armando Rodriguez

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