The iPhone beaters: Sony, HTC and Samsung's "super phones" tested

HTC's One, Samsung's Galaxy S4 and Sony's Xperia Z

This year, Android phones have grown up - with a huge buzz around three new smartphones: the HTC One, Samsung Galaxy S4 and Sony Xperia Z.

Each phone is a high-powered Android smartphone - offering far more screen inches than Apple's iPhone 5, along with other hi-tech functions.

Until Apple releases its new, updated iPhone later this year, these are liable to be the best smartphones you can get. All have received rave reviews from tech sites - but have different talents.

Samsung's Galaxy S4, for instance, offers incredible speed, and a bright screen - while Sony's Xperia Z is water- and shockproof.

Read on to find out which is best for you.












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Design

Right from the off, the HTC One wins the prize for best design. Put together with brushed aluminium, it looks fantastic. The dual micro-drilled speaker sets on the front are a nice design touch.

The Xperia Z takes a very different approach to design. The whole phone is water and dust resistant, making sink-drops and slippery fingers just that bit less frightening. Build quality is also very good, especially the machined aluminium lock button.

The Galaxy S4 is an odd one. In photographs, it looks almost identical to the Galaxy S3, but then when you pick it up, the feel is very different, being just that big more solid. Sadly though, it is still as plastic and cheap feeling as its predecessors. The phone is also a bit of a fingerprint magnet.

Screen

Each one of these phones boasts a Full HD 1080p display. Samsung’s 5-inch Super AMOLED screen just has the edge over the competition, simply because its colours are so vibrant and its blacks so very deep.

The HTC One, with its slightly smaller 4.7-inch screen is virtually as good, but in a different way. It has a higher pixel density than the rest of the competition due to its smaller size, not to mention purer whites, making it preferable for reading. Colour reproduction on the HTC One is more also balanced.

The Xperia Z is the weakest of the trio. The problem it has isn’t display sharpness as such, more viewing angles. Tilt the phone or use it at any angle other than straight on and colours immediately become faded. What starts as a niggling issue ends up being much more irritating as time goes on, though it’s still one of the best displays on the market.




[Related: Get the best prices on new smartphones here]



Interface

Every phone here runs on Android Jelly Bean - Google's latest version of the software. But all are slightly different. Both the Sony and HTC use Android 4.1.2, whereas Samsung’s Galaxy S4 runs on the latest 4.2.2. In reality, it makes little difference; the most major changes are down to the tweaks placed on Android by each manufacturer.

HTC has gone back to the drawing board for the version of Sense (its own "tweak" to Android) included with the One. For us, it's the best take on Android yet. BlinkFeed, which brings all your social media together in one place, is handy. We also like how Sense does little to interfere with Android while still making it look unique.

Samsung’s TouchWiz UI on the Galaxy S4 is fairly gimmicky - filled with Samsung's own apps, many of which are not exactly essential.

A lot of what is there, Smart Pause for example, which stops video playing every time you look away, will rarely get used. That said, it is incredibly quick and snappy, more so than any of the competition. As such, it gets a thumbs up for those who like to multi-task and use Android heavily.

The Xperia Z is slightly more sluggish than the competition, but then Sony does include more widgets and home screen gubbins out of the box. Get rid of these and the handset speeds up to no end. Sony’s Android skin is a lot heavier but never intrusive. Everything is straightforward and easy to understand, plus you get the benefits of Sony’s widgets for playing music.




[Related: Get the best prices on new smartphones here]



Video, music and games

HTC has it nailed on the music front, thanks in-part to the included Beats technology which delivers much more punchy and bass heavy playback. Sony doesn’t trail far behind however and access to services like Music Unlimited - Sony's own streaming service, a rival to Spotify - means you have plenty of downloadable tracks on tap straight out of the box.

Samsung aren’t exactly outdone in this are. The Galaxy S4’s included music player is very good and Samsung even has its own movie and song stores. The actual audio quality itself is where things fall short slightly.

As for watching movies, the Galaxy S4 takes the win here. It is that beautiful 5-inch screen, plus the pop out movie player which lets you use the phone while watching video, that means it takes the prize.

The camera


When it comes to the camera, Samsung has it nailed as well. The 13 megapixel snapper on the back of the Samsung is able to cleverly remove unwanted moving objects from images and takes very sharp and vibrant pictures.

Sony does a good job as well, with the included 13 megapixel camera also being very sharp. Its problems come viewing photos or showing them to friends, simply because the viewing angles on the screen are such that pics shown to those sat left or right of you will always look dull.

HTC opted for an entirely different approach with the camera included with the One. It uses an Ultrapixel sensor, which has larger pixels that in turn translate to better low light performance. It works perfectly at night, but zoom into photos taken in daylight and the lack of a high megapixel count makes itself evident.

Connections and storage

The Galaxy S4 and Xperia Z both feature microSD slots expandable up to 64GB. They both also come with 16GB of internal storage as standard. The HTC One is available in 32 or 64 GB forms, but has no expandable memory.

Whether you’ll need more than 32GB of memory is therefore up to you. The HTC One is the only phone that offers this much memory out of the box, and is priced in-between the other two 16GB phones. If you know this won’t be enough though, the Galaxy S4 and Xperia Z are the ways to go.

As for connectivity, each handset is charged via microUSB. They all feature Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0, not to mention NFC. In fact you won’t find many differences between the phones.




[Related: Get the best prices on new smartphones here]



Performance and battery


Every handset here has 2GB of RAM, which basically means they are all incredibly fast when it comes to multi-tasking. In fact, sit each side by side and you really won’t notice much of a difference in day to day performance. The Samsung Galaxy S4 and HTC One do strike us as being that more snappy, though performance on the Xperia Z is anything but bad.

As for battery life, the Samsung has the biggest battery at 2600 mAh. The HTC manages 2300 mAh and the Sony 2330 mAh. That said, each phone includes a clever battery saver function that you can switch on, which will save battery life by doing things like turning off data when the screen is locked.

If we had to rate them, the Galaxy S4 battery goes a full day and then some. The HTC One will last a day, and the Sony Xperia Z falls short.



Verdict

The Xperia Z, despite looking like quite an exciting phone when it was first shown off, doesn’t quite compare now the HTC One and Samsung Galaxy S4 have been released. If you want something waterproof and tough, it’s great, but ultimately the build of the HTC One and screen of the Galaxy S4 are more enticing propositions.