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Now that the Galaxy S 4 is out in the open, it’s time we step back to recognize and applaud HTC. It’s no secret the company is nowhere near as successful as Samsung, yet the Taiwanese manufacturer bravely and confidently announced its One late last month, knowing full well an S 4 would be unveiled shortly after. And you know what? For all of Samsung’s overwhelming Android dominance and popularity, HTC emerged with the more appealing next-gen prospect.

The stakes were always high for HTC to unveil something exciting, a device that had the potential to push it into the upper tech echelon. The One X was good, and the DROID DNA demonstrated a more thoughtfully crafted approach—a teaser of the Full HD market. But the One brings HTC to an entirely new level, a prime example of forward thinking design and careful attention to detail. So far—we haven’t given it a final verdict—it’s met and exceeded our expectations.

HTC has always offered wonderful designs, probably some of the most under-appreciated on the market. And the One is unquestionably incomparable, a perfectly executed marriage of the appropriate specs inside of an amazing piece of hardware. On the other hand, Samsung’s designs have always been about practicality, and the company admitted as much earlier this month. It’s about the ability to manufacturer in volume, and if that means sacrificing on design, so be it.

Samsung Galaxy S 4 vs HTC One

What we saw at Samsung’s event yesterday was essentially a Galaxy S IIIS, as TheVerge put it, or mini Note II, which is fine. Ok. But it’s so safe—Samsung clearly wants to keep a uniform design language across its most popular handsets—that’s understandable. It would be nice, though, for the Korean company to take some design risks, deliver something more premium than we’re used to seeing rather than gradually going bigger and bigger. HTC’s soft touch preference evolved into a beautiful aluminum gem with the One, and it completely outshines the S 4 on looks—hands down.

Of course, Samsung has largely won out on volume and relentless marketing, and it’s done an admirable job of creating software experiences unique to its Galaxy lineup. But, really—crippling stereotypes aside—how often are those features used by your average consumer? Samsung chucked gobs of new feature names at us during its event last night, because why not? Air View and Air Gesture sound genuinely cool. But enough to thwart the HTC One?

BlinkFeed may not be the newest idea we’ve seen, and Sense has never been the most popular among manufacturer skins, but BoomSound really does sound great, and those UltraPixels look quite nice in lowlight. So what we have, essentially, are two very opposing ideas on how to cater to the masses: beauty vs. brawn. You very well know how driven our culture is by beauty, yet the tech crowd demands the latest specs (which the HTC One has).

There’s no doubt the S 4 will be successful. Samsung’s superiority is undeniable, and that will likely continue through 2013 and beyond. When HTC could have done more of the same, introduced something that looks like and acts like everything else, it bravely touted an incredibly beautiful and thoughtful specimen of craftsmanship and engineering. It took itself out of the megapixel race, and instead tried something new. When you’re a company struggling to keep up, perhaps being against the ropes almost forces you to take risks. With the HTC One, that may pay off in a big way.

Unfortunately, big risks don’t always return big rewards. And the fact that the S 4 will be available on six different U.S. carriers is a huge advantage for Samsung. The Korean company will relentlessly market the S 4 over the coming months by showing off its features against the competition. Design of the One, though, might win out. It’s worth noting, however, that the S4 is an obviously enticing prospect because of the ability to swap batteries, expand memory, and the fact that it’s very light and very thin.

Whatever happens, I applaud HTC for taking a chance and veering off the typical Android path. The One may not emerge victorious, but it’ll sure look good doing it.