Samsung Galaxy S4 vs. HTC One and Nexus 4: Which should you get?

Samsung Galaxy S4 vs. HTC One and Nexus 4

Decisions, decisions, decisions.

No question about it: We're entering one of the busiest times of the year for new Android arrivals. And with options like Samsung's Galaxy S4, HTC's One, and Google's LG-made Nexus 4 now competing for your attention, it can get a little tricky to figure out which device is the right one for you.

So where to begin? This step-by-step guide should help you figure it out. Think carefully about the following prompts, then put your answers together and see what you get.

(You can also check out a side-by-side view of the devices' key specs by clicking the chart below; that's good information to have, but remember that numbers only tell half the story.)

Galaxy S4 vs. HTC One Chart

If you think the Galaxy S III is the best device ever made and/or you just adore Sammy's style...

This one's easy: Get the Galaxy S4. The phone is very consistent with Samsung's smartphone design language and is particularly similar to the Galaxy S III in both hardware and software style. If you're sold on that sort of setup, the Galaxy S4 will make you giddy.

If premium hardware design and build quality are important to you...

Think about the HTC One or Nexus 4. In terms of design, the Galaxy S4's plasticky construction makes it look and feel cheaper and less premium than its competition. The HTC One, in contrast, has a striking all-aluminum casing that screams "high-end phone." And the Nexus 4, with its distinctive all-glass casing, is a luxurious piece of engineering you'll love to ogle and hold.

If you're worried about dropping and breaking your phone...

The Nexus 4 may be gorgeous, but with its glass-centric nature, it's also fragile. The One and GS4 come out ahead in the durability department.

If you want impeccable performance...

The HTC One and Nexus 4 are as good as it gets. The Galaxy S4, despite having cutting-edge hardware, suffered from subtle but noticeable jerkiness and lag during my time with the device. For a high-end smartphone today, that's both surprising and disappointing to see.

If you want the best all-around display...

The HTC One is number one. It has the highest pixels per inch of any phone out there, and measurements aside, its LCD screen just looks phenomenal -- clear, crisp, and bright, with brilliant colors and great visibility even in direct sunlight (something the GS4 can't claim).

If you want a lot of on-board storage space...

Right now, the HTC One has the highest on-board storage of our contenders, with 32GB or the option for 64GB if you buy from AT&T (or at full price direct from HTC). The GS4 is currently available only with 16GB of internal space -- which, after factoring in the operating system and all of Samsung's preinstalled software, comes out to just under 10GB of actual usable space. Samsung says 32GB and 64GB models will be available from some U.S. carriers eventually, but no specific plans have been announced for those models so far.

If SD card support is important to you...

Go Galaxy; the GS4 the only one of our trio that accepts SD cards for external storage expansion.

If you're worried about battery life...

Among the three elite phones we're focusing on, only the Galaxy S4 lets you remove its battery and pop in your own replacement -- a capability some power users like to have. Of course, you can also just get a portable power pack to keep around as a backup; you can find universally compatible packs from manufacturers like Mophie and Motorola starting at around 40 bucks.

If you take lots of pictures in low-light conditions...

The HTC One dominates in this domain. The side-by-side photos -- compared to both the Galaxy S4 and the Nexus 4 -- say it all.

The Galaxy S4 has a strong camera as well; it's pretty close to the HTC One in photo quality across the board. But when the lights get low, the One's the only phone you'll want in your hand.

If you want to show off custom-made video slideshows of your family...

The One's Video Highlights feature may just win you over. The phone automatically identifies related photos and videos on your phone and compiles your content into fully produced 30-second clips with visual effects and music. The clips can be exported as MP4 files and shared anywhere, making the process of showing off your kids (or dogs, goats, or whatever the case may be) easy as pie.

If you want phenomenal smartphone speakers...

Nothing comes close to the One's dual front-facing stereo speakers. Game, set, match.

If you like having lots of flashy features built into your phone...

The Galaxy S4's got a grab bag of goodies, ranging from a feature that lets you view two apps side-by-side on your screen to another that lets you scroll through Web pages by tilting your head. To be sure, many of the GS4's features are more gimmicky than practical, but there are definitely some good party tricks there.

If you want guaranteed fast and frequent software upgrades...

Get the Nexus 4 -- no question. With a non-Nexus Android phone, software upgrades fall squarely in the hands of the manufacturer and carrier; when a new version of Android comes out, it'll quite possibly be months upon months before you see it (if you ever do). Only Google's Nexus devices come with a guarantee of near-instant ongoing upgrades anytime new software becomes available.

If you're planning to buy your phone unlocked and want the best possible value...

The Nexus 4 comes out on top. Google sells the phone for $300 to $350 unlocked and off-contract; most other comparable phones would cost you a minimum of $600 if you bought them without a carrier commitment and its accompanying subsidy. By getting a phone unlocked and off-contract, you can take it to any service provider you want -- including prepaid providers that let you get the same basic service you get now for a fraction of the cost.

If you absolutely need to have LTE connectivity...

You'll want to go with either the One or the GS4; as of now, the Nexus 4 is available only with HSPA+-level data speeds (which, to be fair, are often as fast or even faster than LTE speeds in the States).

If you don't have any specific hardware needs and want the best overall user experience...

Go with the Nexus 4. Other phones have their advantages, but when it comes to overall user experience, the Nexus 4 is in a league of its own. Pure Google Android software is a joy to use; its simple, subdued nature will make you resent the arbitrary UI changes so many manufacturers force onto the operating system. Add in the Android 4.x-optimized virtual button configuration and ongoing instant software upgrades, and you've got a device that's guaranteed to remain relevant and ahead of the curve for months to come.

Android Power Twitter

Lots to consider, I know. But the first step in any educated smartphone-buying decision is figuring out your priorities. Think through these areas carefully and decide what's most important to you. That should make it much easier to determine which device best fits your needs.

Still on the fence? Not to worry. You can get a far more detailed look at what each phone is actually like to use in my in-depth reviews:

Samsung Galaxy S4 deep-dive review: A real-world evaluation

HTC One deep-dive review: A smartphone that flirts with perfection

Google Nexus 4 deep-dive review: Android at its best

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