Samsung Galaxy S5 vs HTC One M8: what’s the best iPhone 5s alternative?

If you’re looking for the best Android smartphone, two handsets that should certainly be on your shortlist are the Samsung Galaxy S5 and the HTC One M8.

The two were launched within a month of each other in 2014, and both follow on from successful high-end smartphones: see our Samsung Galaxy S4 and HTC One reviews from 2013 to find out more.

Since these are both high-end phones, they come with a premium price tag: expect to pay £30 or more per month over the course of a two-year contract. If you have the cash ready to spend, you may be able to save money overall by buying an unlocked, SIM-free Samsung Galaxy S5 (around £550) or HTC One M8 (around £480); you’ll then be able to choose a separate SIM-only or pay-as-you-go service plan to suit your needs.

If you do end up tied into a two-year contract, however, it isn’t a huge loss. Manufacturers aren’t releasing major technology upgrades every year: recent smartphones from the likes of Apple, HTC, LG and Samsung have tended to up the screen size and pixel density, but important characteristics such as storage capacity, battery life and reliability mostly remain at the same levels as in 2012.

Samsung Galaxy S5 vs HTC One M8: interface

The Galaxy S5 and HTC One M8 both overlay Android 4.4 KitKat with their own software. In the S5’s case it’s in the form of Samsung’s familiar TouchWiz UI; the One M8 has HTC’s Sense 6 running on top.

Samsung Galaxy S5 vs HTC One M8 interface

Notable features of the S5 include S Health apps, which work with the onboard heart-rate monitor, and integrate with Samsung’s Gear 2, Gear 2 Neo and Gear Fit smartwatches.

The S5 also has a My Magazine feature that automatically brings in news from your social feeds and favourite websites. The Download Booster is another clever addition that teams up your handset’s Wi-Fi capabilities with your mobile data connection to download files more quickly; in our tests we found this feature capable of doubling download speeds. For more about the S5’s software, see our full Samsung Galaxy S5 review

The HTC One M8 has a few unique features of its own. Perhaps the most useful is what HTC calls Motion Launch: this lets you use a variety of gestures to wake up your smartphone, with each gesture taking you directly to a different function. Thus, swiping from the right will bring up the traditional Android homescreen, whereas a swipe from the top launches a voice-dialling mode. More information about HTC’s software can be found in our full HTC One M8 review.

Another notable feature of the One M8 is the Dot View case. This can display the time and a variety of notifications through translucent dots in the case, without your needing to flip it open – something we found surprisingly handy when reviewing the device.

From an ease-of-use point of view, we’re awarding this round to the HTC. The S5 has some interesting features with plenty of potential, but for most of us they won’t be relevant in day-to-day use.

Samsung Galaxy S5 vs HTC One M8: screen

As we mentioned above, smartphone manufacturers have been ramping up the screen specifications lately, and both the One M8 and S5 offer very high-quality displays. In fact, they’re extremely similar: both boast a whopping 1,080 x 1,920 pixel resolution, and the size difference between the 5in HTC and the 5.1in Samsung is negligible.

Samsung Galaxy S5 vs HTC One M8

On paper, the One M8’s slightly smaller screen gives it a higher pixel density of 441ppi versus the S5’s 432ppi. You might expect it to look sharper, therefore, but in practice both are well beyond the threshold where you’ll notice any difference.

It’s worth noting that the Samsung’s screen uses OLED technology, which gives slightly richer colours but is susceptible to screen burn over time. However, we’ve no reason to think this will become a problem within the duration of a two-year contract.

On balance, we’re calling this one a dead heat. Both screens are magnificent, with huge, super-sharp resolutions, and whichever you go for, you won’t be disappointed.

Samsung Galaxy S5 vs HTC One M8: storage, processor and RAM

It’s a little spooky (and boring) to compare these two smartphones’ internal specs, because they’re pretty much identical.

S5 vs One M8

Both the HTC One M8 and Galaxy S5 come with the option of 16GB or 32GB of internal storage, and both offer a microSD card slot that allows you to boost the handset’s capacity by up to 128GB.

Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 chipsets can be found in the M8 and S5, coupled with 2GB of RAM. Both feel highly responsive: the Galaxy S5’s processor does run 0.2GHz faster than the 2.3GHz Krait 400 CPU found in the HTC One M8, but this barely represents a meaningful performance advantage.

That’s illustrated by the phones’ benchmark scores. The Galaxy S5 returned results of 957 and 2,960 in the single and multicore Geekbench 3 test, and the One M8 scored 984 and 2,849 – an effective draw. It was a similar story with the GFXBench T-Rex HD gaming test, in which the HTC averaged 1.1 more frames per second than the 27.9fps of the S5.

Such tiny differences in performance are unnoticeable in real-world use. Both phones are very snappy devices that won’t leave you wanting to pull your hair out due to lag when scrolling through web pages, zooming around images or opening and closing apps.

Samsung Galaxy S5 vs HTC One M8: battery life

Samsung and HTC have worked hard to boost the battery performance of their flagship handsets, and our tests show that they’ve achieved some positive results.

Galaxy S5 vs One M8 comparison

The non-removable Li-Po 2,600mAh battery in the HTC should hold out for more than a day of average use. In our tests, playback consumed the One M8’s power at a rate of 6.5% per hour, while streaming audio over 3G used up juice at 3.8% per hour.

The Galaxy S5’s Li-ion 2,800mAh battery did slightly better in the video test, drawing only 5.2% per hour, but performed worse in the 3G audio playback test, using up charge a rate of 4.9% per hour.

Overall, there isn’t much in it in terms of power consumption. However, the Samsung does have one big advantage: its battery is removable, so once its capacity starts to fall (and it will), you can easily replace it for less than £30 – a far better option than buying a new smartphone.

Samsung Galaxy S5 vs HTC One M8: camera

Perhaps the biggest difference between these two smartphones is in their cameras. While Samsung has used a regular 16-megapixel sensor, HTC has torn up the rule-book and opted instead for a pair of 4-megapixel rear-facing cameras.

Samsung Galaxy S5 vs HTC One M8 camera

These two cameras work with the built-in UFocus tool to allow creative depth-of-field capabilities – allowing you, for example, to blur the background of an image while keeping the subject sharp. From our time with the One M8 we can’t hail this as a huge step forward: it’s a little clunky to use and results can look rather fake, with uneven blurring around the edges of your subject.

Still, regular pictures look good, if not spectacular; there’s no image stabilisation, meaning 1080p video can be a little shaky, but photos generally look at least as sharp and clean as those taken by the previous HTC One (which did have image stabilisation).

Samsung’s approach is more traditional but no less ambitious. The resolution has been raised from the 13 megapixels of the Galaxy S4, and the 1/2.6in sensor is slightly larger than the 1/3in sensor of the One M8. The result is really excellent images; in low light in particular, the S5 stands out as the best phone camera we’ve seen. The Samsung doesn’t slack when it comes to video performance either: footage looks great, and it’s one of the only smartphones on the market that can capture video at 4K.

The HTC does gain back some ground with its 5-megapixel front-facing camera. Taking selfies and Snapchatting on the S5’s 2.1-megapixel front camera is fine, but you simply get more pixels for your buck on the One M8.

Credit must be given to HTC for thinking outside the box with its twin-camera approach. Unfortunately, the camera falls a little short on its promise; if you’re a keen smartphone photographer, the S5 is a clear winner.

Samsung Galaxy S5 vs HTC One M8: Design

When it comes to size and weight, there isn’t much difference between these two smartphones. The 142 x 72.5 x 8.1mm measurements of the Galaxy S5 make it ever so slightly shorter, wider and thinner than the 146.4 x 70.6 x 9.4mm HTC One M8.

Samsung Galaxy S5 vs HTC One M8 comparison

Samsung has once again chosen to give its flagship Galaxy device a plastic shell: this keeps the weight down to 145g but perhaps gives the handset a slightly less sophisticated appearance. However, the soft-touch rear case, covered in a grid of dimples, certainly doesn’t feel cheap.

HTC has gone down the tried-and-tested route of equipping the One M8 with a chiselled aluminium finish. This nudges the weight up to 160g, but the new finish really attracts the eye. Its dark, gunmetal grey is polished to a luxurious satin finish, so the texture of the metal shows through in horizontal striations. It’s available in gold and “Arctic Silver” as well, but we think most people will opt for the attractive gunmetal model.

Ultimately, it’s a choice that comes down to personal preference, but we suspect more people will prefer the metallic HTC One M8.

Samsung Galaxy S5 vs HTC One M8: verdict

Both smartphones are extremely capable contenders. HTC deserves to be commended for creating such a beautifully engineered handset, and for trying something new with the camera.

Overall, however, we prefer the Samsung Galaxy S5, with its replaceable battery and superior camera. Samsung’s relentless process of constantly improving and updating its flagship device has once again produced a winner.

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