Galaxy S5 vs. HTC One (M8): Which should you get?

Decisions, decisions, decisions.

Galaxy S5 vs. HTC One M8

Two of the most eye-catching Android phones of the year are begging for our attention right now -- and all the hype can make it hard to know which one's right for you.

I'm talking, of course, about Samsung's Galaxy S5 and HTC's One (M8). I've spent a good bit of time living with both devices over the past few weeks and have formed a pretty solid impression of what each phone's like to use in the real world.

So let's make this simple, shall we? There are four circumstances in which I'd recommend someone get the Galaxy S5:

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

Some people are partial to a particular brand or the way a certain company does things. If you're firmly sold on Samsung's Galaxy products or think any previous Galaxy phone is the bee's knees, the Galaxy S5 is definitely the way you'll want to go. It's very consistent with Samsung's style -- and if that's your cup of tea, it'll certainly quench your thirst.

2. If you absolutely need a removable battery

Both the GS5 and the One (M8) have respectable stamina, but if you like having the option to pull out your phone's battery and pop a fresh one in its place, the Galaxy S5 is the phone for you. It's among an increasingly small minority of devices to include that (increasingly niche-demand) ability.

Galaxy S5 Removable Battery

3. If you plan on doing a lot of heavy-duty photo cropping

The GS5 and One (M8) are both capable of taking great pictures -- as you can see in my photo comparison gallery, it's actually a pretty close race between the two in overall image quality -- but the GS5 captures photos with 16 megapixels while the One uses 4MP.

For most people, that distinction shouldn't much matter; the One's pictures are perfectly fine for online sharing and even standard-size printing. But while HTC's approach has its benefits, it also has its limitations -- namely the fact that the smaller starting size leaves you far less wiggle room to zoom into an image and crop it. If that's something you tend to do often, the GS5's camera setup would better suit your needs.

4. If you really want a water-resistant phone

The Galaxy S5 is water-resistant. The One (M8) is not. So, if that factor's important to you, dive into the GS5 and float merrily away.

For everyone else...

If you don't fall into any of those four categories, I'd steer you toward the One (M8). The GS5 is fine for what it is, but its strengths are overshadowed by its weaknesses -- and by and large, the One provides the better overall user experience.

HTC One M8 (gray)

When you use the two phones side by side, the difference in their build quality and hardware design is overwhelmingly apparent. The One has a carefully crafted, premium construction and is a pleasure to hold. The GS5, in contrast, looks cheap and feels thoughtlessly assembled. It's almost as tall as the One, too -- and a hair wider -- despite not having the front-facing stereo speakers that take up a good chunk of the One's face.

Speaking of those speakers, they're another advantage of the One-using experience. From watching videos to playing games or even just listening to music, multimedia consumption on that device is simply unmatched.

What else? The One has a meaningfully more polished and cohesive user interface; it also uses contemporary on-screen buttons that follow current Android standards and consequently make the phone significantly more natural to use. The device feels noticeably snappier than the GS5, too, likely due to the differences in software.

And on the subject of software, the One now includes a guarantee of ongoing OS upgrades for at least two years from the phone's launch (and HTC's been making impressive strides in getting those out upgrades out quickly to its flagship phones). While Samsung usually delivers upgrades to its devices eventually, the company makes no promises and tends to be both slow and uncommunicative about its progress.

Last but not least, the One comes with more than double the amount of available internal storage of the GS5 (about 23GB vs. about 10GB on the models being sold by U.S. carriers, once you account for the operating system and other preinstalled software). And HTC now offers a one-time free screen replacement for the phone if it should crack within the first six months after you buy it, which is a pretty nice supplementary perk.

The bottom line

Samsung does a great job selling its devices -- no question there. And for folks who are sold on the Samsung brand, the Galaxy S5 is a pleasant enough evolution of the company's typical technology.

If you don't have any particular brand loyalty, though -- and aren't dead-set on having a removable battery, high-megapixel camera, or water-resistant phone -- you'll find far more compelling options outside of Samsung's galaxy. As I concluded in my recent GS5 review:

If the Galaxy S5 existed in a world of its own, it'd look pretty darn impressive. The problem is that the real world isn't so one-dimensional -- and when you start making comparisons, Samsung's "next big thing" looks a lot less grand.

Of course, the GS5 and One (M8) aren't the only Android options worth considering. If you're looking for a smaller-sized device with an outstanding overall user experience, the Moto X remains one of the best phones you can buy today. And if you want a "pure Google" Android experience with super-quick upgrades and phenomenal bang for the buck, the Nexus 5 could be a good gadget for you.

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I've said it before and I'll say it again: There's never been a better time to be an Android fan.


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Galaxy S5 vs. HTC One (M8): Camera shootout!

Samsung's real challenge: developing a sense of focus, taste, and restraint

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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