Without a doubt, the Samsung Galaxy S4 and HTC One will spark one of the biggest Android battles in recent memory. Samsung has a lot of resources and past success behind the S4—its predecessors, S III, S II and S were all extremely popular—while the One may usher in a changing of the guard; the build is incredible, while Zoe, BoomSound and BlinkFeed are all worthy feature additions.
When Samsung announced the S4, we were impressed by the sheer amount of features the Korean company managed to pack into one device. But, overall, we felt as though Samsung hit the infamous wall of iteration—where the device feels more like a minor upgrade rather than a big leap forward. Sure, the hardware is better, and the screen is gorgeous, but do S III owners have a big reason to upgrade? We're not so sure.
Maybe that's the One's biggest strength: it doesn't feel like anything that came before it. You could say the DNA is a close relative, but the One really upped the game by showing us what a well-craft smartphone should be, maybe the best on the market right now.
We've already put the One's camera through the ringer, so we're doing the same for the S4. For all its hardware and software improvements, one of the biggest additions is its 13-megapixel camera. Samsung is still very clearly in the megapixel race, one which HTC willingly bowed out from when the One was announced. So, does the S4's increased megapixels win out against the One's so-called UltraPixels? You be the judge.
I have to say that, after a brief time with both, I enjoyed shooting with the One more. It felt snappier, quicker to focus and take pictures. But the S4 has a ton of exciting modes to shoot in, which I didn't even have the time to touch. What we really care about, though, is which one captured the better images?
In our test, I again took pictures using Auto settings during situations I figured a lot of people would find themselves in: on a hike, in an office, walking alongside the street. We didn't push the low-light limits too far, not like we did in the One tests, but you still get an idea of how colors are represented in different lighting situations—harsh, soft, low, etc. How does the sky look? Which one better shows a more natural skin tone? Those are the kind of questions we wanted to answer.
So—history and hardware and software aside—tell us: which one would you choose? You can view the full-size by clicking on the images.
Update: To get an idea of the One's better low-light prowess, we took the two devices into a room lit only by a single candle.
Snapped in a completely dark room, only lit by a single candle. I stood about three feet away from the subject.