In a Class By Itself? Why the GS4 Takes the Crown Over the HTC One

HTC One in Aqua Blue

It is morning here, and I’ve spent the last near hour reading and mulling over the latest HTC One review online from a tech site that I respect and admire. I am always reading on the latest smartphone reviews and am intrigued to learn what others think about some of the top smartphones on the market at the moment. Of course, a smartphone that is praised today will most likely be criticized harshly tomorrow – so one can only put so much stock into smartphone reviews. At the same time, I think they’re helpful for consumers who want to know what they’re getting themselves into before they purchase the phone in good faith.


In this review in question, however, it seems obvious from the beginning that the individual had a major bias in favor of one phone over the other. What two phones did he compare in his review? The HTC One and the GS4, two of the best smartphones on the market at this moment.


This does not mean that I do not think that Sony, for example, has a winner in its Xperia Z or the upcoming 20.7-megapixel camera Sony Honami (what many believe will be called the Xperia i1 when Sony unveils it at IFA on September 4th). It does mean, however, that I recognize that the HTC One and the Samsung GS4 have been creating a lot of buzz among consumers in the smartphone market. To have either one of these smartphones will bring true delight to the tech-loving smartphone shopper.


At the same time, I want to make it clear that there are certain things that are absolute turn-offs when I read reviews. For one, I do not like reading reviews where grammar and spelling are terrible. I understand that we all make mistakes, and typos can happen, but I think that, if manufacturers have taken the time to beautify their smartphones, and you can notice the beauty in a smartphone, you can notice whether or not your own writing has an outward beauty about it. When a tech writer or analyst tells me that he or she can appreciate the smartphone form but have a dozen typos in the first paragraph of writing, I am already annoyed before I read the body of the review.


I have another turn-off with tech writers and product reviewers: that is, when a tech writer compares two smartphones and says in the middle of his or her review that he or she did not use the features of one of the smartphones often. To see what I mean, read the below quote:


“When choosing a device for personal use, a phone’s hardware is just as important to me as the software experience. I want the total package. Samsung has historically failed repeatedly to deliver fit and finish that match its smartphones’ user experience and as a result, I rarely carry Samsung devices when I’m not reviewing them” (Zach Epstein, “Galaxy S4 vs. HTC One: Four months later, which is the best Android phone in the world?”).


Notice that, in the review, Epstein admits that he doesn’t use Samsung phones regularly, which should not be a surprise to anyone who reads his comparison review. After all, he is heavily in favor of the HTC One and makes no attempts to hide it. He does seem to give kudos to the GS4 in some things (such as Samsung’s Air View gesture control), but he spends more time talking about the HTC One than anything. In the end, it makes you realize that he only spent four months hands-on with the GS4, not enough time (in my opinion) to really acquaint oneself with the user experience of the GS4 or any other smartphone, for that matter.


These are two turn-offs to me whenever I read tech reviews. In any case, it’s time to get down to my reasons as to why I think the GS4 is the better device, and why I think Epstein, though entitled to his opinion, is wrong when it comes to these two smartphones. I won’t give away my reasons here; instead, you’ll have to keep reading.


To start the discussion, however, I’d like to tackle the one area that Zach Epstein criticizes above: Samsung’s plastic display.


Why Won’t Samsung Eliminate the Plastic?

 Samsung Galaxy S4 in Purple



This is the question on the hearts and minds of tech journalists and smartphone consumers all over the world: why is it that Samsung continues to use the plastic? After all, the other smartphones on the market (including the HTC One) come with aluminum metal, carbon fiber, and other well-crafted materials. Samsung has a great user experience, as noted by Epstein, but seems to drop the ball in this area. “Why can’t Samsung be like the other manufacturers in this regard? Many ask themselves.


Let’s deal with the plastic attacks here and now. Why does Samsung continue to use the plastic? It comes down to two items: 1) the removable battery and 2) the microSD card slot that brings expandable memory storage.


Have you noticed the trend with many new smartphones today? It seems that the prices of smartphones are going up, with most being priced at $700 or more right out of the box. While smartphones are becoming more expensive, fewer manufacturers are becoming more generous with what they offer in the smartphone experience. The iPhone 5, a smartphone I do not regret purchasing personally, provides a great user experience but offers only 5GB of iCloud storage – not a lot when you consider that the average iPhone contains games, utility apps, and even music. The most inexpensive iPhone 5 available is the 16GB version, which costs $692 (including tax). It doesn’t seem as though it is a fair trade-off, especially when a company such as Apple should want consumers to invest in Apple and its products. Apple may have a name, but a name dwindles quickly if there are no customers to purchase products.


Take Samsung on the other hand. I just purchased the waterproof GS4 Active for my birthday next week, and I received 50GB of free Dropbox cloud storage out of the box – a neat prize I can have for the next two years if I like. Samsung did this to say thank you to its customers who have struggled to save to purchase a Samsung Galaxy smartphone. I purchased the GS4 Active for the same price as an iPhone 5 (both unlocked smartphones), but I was greeted with a complimentary gift on one while getting nothing but what I paid for on the other.


When it comes to the HTC One, where is this kind of complimentary gift? If HTC One users receive a free Dropbox cloud storage amount similar to Samsung’s, I’ve never read of it in any review on the HTC One – and I consider myself to be current and up-to-date on the latest smartphone reviews. This is only one area in which HTC drops the ball. HTC, unlike Samsung, does not offer a removable battery in its HTC One, nor does HTC offer expandable memory storage like Samsung.


In other words, HTC One users may have a gorgeous, sleek, and slender phone, but what good is it if your phone offers the same terrible battery life (that cannot be changed) and no more than 16GB or 32GB of expandable storage? In some cases, carriers such as US Cellular offer 16GB of storage (only); additional costs are added when you purchase a 32GB or 64GB HTC One from other carriers.


The budget-conscious customer may choose to go with the 16GB device, but he or she cannot expand his or her memory storage when the 16GB of memory are consumed. Since there is no removable backplate, the budget-conscious consumer cannot purchase a microSD card to increase his or her storage. This means that, when the 16GB are consumed, an individual will have to rely on cloud storage or email accounts to store photos and documents.


Most 64GB microSD cards cost around $100, but Amazon has a current discount on 64GB microSD cards that are selling for $42 – providing $58 off the original price. You can get more microSD card storage for the same price as you would get smaller cloud storage from Apple’s iCloud service (although iCloud storage is only for iOS, not Android). Even if you decide to purchase 55GB of cloud storage for $100, you can get two 64GB microSD cards and save about $15 or $16. Google only provides 15GB of free cloud storage before it requires an annual fee for cloud storage, so you would still need storage after consuming all of your Google Drive storage.


If you decide to go with other services, you could use SurDoc, a new cloud storage service that provides up to 100GB of storage for 1 year, but you would still need more cloud storage after 12 months. Instead of investing in cloud storage, a lot of consumers who do not understand cloud storage are more prone to purchase a microSD card and forgo creating another username and password that they will likely forget.


As for the removable battery, the GS4 also scores another major point against the HTC One. The HTC One has an aluminum unibody, which means that the HTC One consists of one piece instead of two. There is no removable backplate on the HTC One, so when your battery dies (if it should die even under warranty), you will have to get it replaced and may need to wait a few days for it to arrive in the mail unless you pick one up from your local carrier.


With the GS4, should you need a new battery, you can order one and replace your old one with it. If you want an extended battery, Samsung offers extended batteries as part of its Galaxy accessory line. Paying a small fee for an extended battery pales in comparison to paying a deductible or so for a new phone (or having to wait a few weeks to get it in the mail).


HTC One vs. GS4 Software


Zach Epstein said above that he wants “the total package,” both hardware and software, when it comes to a phone he chooses for personal use. I couldn’t agree more; at the same time, however, I have to ask: what does he mean by “the total package” when it comes to the HTC One? If anything, HTC’s iPhone 5-like aluminum unibody is the only thing going for it. When it comes to software, there are few features that the HTC One offers.


One of HTC’s major software features is BlinkFeed, a software feature that allows you to keep track of all your social media feeds on your phone’s desktop. This means that your HTC One will update your Twitter, Facebook, and other feeds in real time. The downside to this, however, is that BlinkFeed will consume your data plan heavily. Not only will it gobble up your data plan, it will also not work if you’re in an area where you have no Internet connection. If you find yourself in a situation where Internet access is absent, you will only have a blank desktop page instead.


While you can program your phone to bypass the main page where BlinkFeed is, you cannot deactivate it or eliminate it from your phone’s main page on the HTC One. The unfortunate thing, however, is that BlinkFeed will still zap your data – even if BlinkFeed isn’t the first thing you see. In contrast, the GS4 does not come with a BlinkFeed feature, and allows you to do away with any icons on your main desktop that you do not want. You have complete choice over whether to have real-time updates of weather, or whether you would like to have Facebook status or news updates on your lock screen.


Apart from BlinkFeed, which seems to be one of the most-touted features of the HTC One, there is the HTC Zoe, a feature that provides a slide show of your photos and videos and brings them to life. The GS4 has a similar effect with its Sound & Shot camera feature that allows you to capture audio sound with each photo.


While these features are the best of the HTC software experience, the GS4 has quite a list of features to which the HTC One has no answer:


  • Dual Camera Mode
  • Air Gesture
  • Air View
  • Smart Scroll
  • Smart Pause
  • Smart Stay
  • Multi Window
  • S-Health
  • S-Translator
  • Trip Advisor


There are many who will tell you that most of these features are “gimmicky,” but I think that’s the wrong word to use for them. After all, “gimmicks” is a word used to refer to manipulation and manipulative deeds – and sends the message that something looks to be more than what it is. That is not true about the GS4. Rather, the above features are important for certain situations. Those situations in which consumers find themselves using these features (such as Air Gesture, to answer a call) are real and help consumers live their lives with ease. In this regard, these features are more than gimmicks and should not be referred to as such out of respect to Samsung’s innovation in the smartphone space.


My Final Thoughts


Time will not permit me to go into all the details behind why I think the GS4 takes the crown over the HTC One, but I will end by saying the following. It has been said that the HTC One has a better camera in low-light settings, not to mention better audio (with BoomSound), as well as a better quality build. While those claims may or may not be true, the sound of the GS4 is loud enough that you will likely turn down your volume when watching movies and videos with it; the GS4’s 13-megapixel camera will take great outdoor photos (which is where people take photos most of the time), and the GS4 is great to take with you on the go without the need for a case (unlike the HTC One’s metal that gets bent and dinged when it encounters concrete).


Apart from all this, there are a few other reasons. As said above, the HTC BlinkFeed feature will zap your data – not a good choice for budget-conscious smartphone users. The non-removable battery of the HTC One and the lack of an opportunity for an extended battery points to the GS4 as the superior smartphone for budget-conscious consumers. When you combine the microSD card slot, extended battery/removable battery capabilities, not to mention Samsung’s innovative software, you have a phone that remains undefeated.

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