A few years ago, smartphone makers and to a large extent all commercial organizations with a large retail footprint targeted the holiday season to bring out their A-Game. Over the last two years, Samsung has turned that practice on its head by launching the Galaxy S3 much before its counterparts thereby capitalizing on a market with little competition. This year onwards, Samsung’s competitors like HTC and Sony have caught up to this practice as well and have launched their best smartphones much before Samsung could even announce their device. So much so that Samsung is rumored to have brought forward their tacky launch of the Samsung Galaxy S4 in New York.
So now that we have the full specs of the super phones of 2013, it is time at Gizmofancy to do the “Best Android Smartphone of the Year 2013” comparison just like last year. As usual, we qualify only three phones in this analysis. For a brief moment, I thought if I should include LG Optimus Pro G but its size squarely places it in the phablet territory and I decided against it. It should come as no surprise that the three devices which have qualified this year –
The Samsung Galaxy S4, The HTC One and The Sony Xperia Z.
Running Android under the hood must be the only similarity that the three smartphones have. Otherwise, the makers of the three smartphones couldn’t be more different. Samsung has stepped into 2013 with success of its Galaxy S3 last year and is under pressure to prove its position at the top of the Android Smartphone market. Sony have had a history of building some good smartphones but have typically struggled with creating flawless software to integrate with their hardware experience. At times, they’ve even missed out on getting hardware button placement right. Finally, there’s HTC who has done everything right in the last few years and yet find themselves cheated of a being in the enviable position Samsung is in. They’ve endeavoured to build beautiful hardware, have kept refining their Android Skins, have partnered with Beats Audio(whether that’s significant is another question) but have always found themselves struggling to take their message effectively to the masses.
I’ve said this before and I’m saying this again. Samsung seem fixated to plastic almost as if they are addicted to the substance. There are several theories why this might be the case. Mass production may be one factor or retaining the functionality of giving their customers removable batteries and micro-SD cards may be another but the noise the phone makes when I pry the plastic off its back just drives me up the wall. As a consumer, I’d surely be thinking twice if I had to pay top dollar for this plastic soapbox construction?
HTC has steadily been innovating and experimenting with their build quality but they should truly feel proud about their latest gadget. With the HTC One, they’ve truly arrived. But I just can’t help but think about Apple’s iPhone when I see HTC’s choice of materials and their diamond-cut, chamfered edges. But by moulding the glass front to the aluminium back with plastic in the middle through what they call the Zero-Gap construction, they’ve truly innovated in the build quality of their phones.
When HTC have created the beautiful yet minimalistic HTC One, could Sony be far behind? I have always held high regards for Sony’s design and engineering team and they’ve not disappointed with the Xperia Z. The glossy all-glass construction feels extremely well-built but in a bid to make the device water-proof, they may have compromised on audio quality where HTC’s One comes out on top with its stereo speakers placed in the front.
Although I’ve not given a lot of consideration for this in the spec comparison I think this is important for buyers who want to consider one of these devices as their next devices.
Samsung Galaxy S4
Samsung has always tried giving its consumers a device without compromise. It has even innovated with its display as the Galaxy S4 has retained the same factor while pushing the screen size further and attaining the 5” size. Exterior hardware on the Galaxy S4 has undergone miniscule changes compared to the S3. But the software part of the phone brings a number of customizations. The Galaxy S4 brings a number of features:
- Dual Shot – A feature which lets the user click himself using the front camera while capturing his subject using the 13 MP camera that the phone has at the back.
- Sound & Shot – A pic taken with embedded ambient sound when the photo is taken
- Drama Shot – A series of frames in a picture stitched together to make a picture so multiple subjects are seen in the same image
- Group Play – Creating a surround sound effect by playing the same song on multiple devices together
- S Translator – A voice translator which takes input in one language and speaks out the translation in another language
- Smart Pause – Pauses playing videos which the face is turned away from the screen
- Air View/Air Gesture – Waving hands to slide pictures across or taking calls while air gestures allows you to preview content by letting your finger hover around the content without actually touching it
- WatchOn – Samsung’s IR Remote capability to control TV
- S Health – Essentially an ambient-aware fitness tracking app using the temperature sensor in the S4
HTC has taken the lead in the year 2013 by announcing their phone before Samsung but that’s not important. What’s important that the HTC One has garnered rave reviews from reviewers and people who’ve used the phone. Its key features are:
- Blinkfeed – HTC calls it a sushi train of news, events and things that are most important to you. I call it Flipboard baked into the homescreen of HTC will added functionality.
- Ultrapixel Camera – HTC has actually taken a bold step backward by dropping out of the race for megapixels while focussing on allowing more light through their lenses thereby resulting in improved low light capabilities in the phone. They’ve thrown in an Optical Image Stabiliser which is great news for people who want to take legible photos after twilight.
- Stereo Sound moves to the front: HTC have given its HTC One stereo speakers at the front which makes a lot of sense considering 99.9% of our smartphone usage happens as we look at the display of the phone.
- HTC Zoe – A Camera feature that takes a picture while recording 3 second videos which brings improving picture editing functionality to the phone.
- Sense TV – HTC’s TV Controller powered by an IR Blaster with a TV Guide baked in.
Sony Xperia Z
Compared to the HTC One and the Samsung Galaxy S4, Sony actually hasn’t done much with its Xperia Z but some of the salient points are:
- 5” Full HD 1920x1080p Reality Display with Mobile BRAVIA® Engine 2 which brightens and saturates pictures viewed on the phone
- A 13MP fast capture camera with Exmor RS™ & HDR video that’s bested by both its competitors in the same category
- Dust and water resistant (IP55/IP57) with a durable glass display that lets the user even use the phone while it is dunked in water(or use it in the shower). This is its best selling point in my opinion.
The Spec Sheet
Okay, this is what you’ve been waiting for – The Spec Sheet. I am not going into every detail in the spec sheet but as numbers would have you believe, it is evident that HTC One has edged out the Samsung Galaxy S4 in the race for the title of “The Best Android Smartphone of 2013”. Sony doesn’t even give the other two devices a good fight.
Click on image to enlarge
And the Best Android Smartphone of 2013 is the stunning HTC One.
Well Done HTC!