Android Dilemma “Google Edition”: Samsung Galaxy S4 or HTC One?

Samsung Galaxy S4 or HTC One, which is better? My research suggests the internet is split. Here's what I'm buying to replace a Nexus 4.

Nexus 4: You're about to get flipped.
Nexus 4: You're about to get flipped.
Nexus 4: You’re about to get flipped.

Next week Google will stock the Play Store with two familiar devices. Both the HTC One and Samsung Galaxy S4 will be made available as pure Android “Google Editions”. They will join the Nexus 4 as the company’s current line-up of non-carrier, non-contract smartphones. Unlocked bloat-free goodness for all. For a price.

I don’t anticipate stock shortages, or the nasty web errors we’re accustomed to seeing when Google starts taking orders on June 26th. At $599 and $649 for the One and S4 respectively, unlocked freedom doesn’t come cheap – and, all of a sudden, the Nexus 4 looks like even more of a screaming bargain at just half the cost.

But I’m game.

I was originally waiting for a new Nexus. The Nexus 5 would slay all. But Google I/O came and went. No new hardware was announced. Instead the conference focus was squarely on… development. That’s a good thing (imagine that, a developer conference focused on developers and not product launches!). Now it looks like the the N5 won’t arrive until Q4. There’s even the increasing likelihood it won’t arrive at all; that Google’s new strategy will be to stock Play with pure versions of flagship devices, just as we’re seeing next week with HTC and Samsung (and word is Sony partner up as well with the Xperia). Then came the leaked “X-Phone” specs. Looks like Google is going mid-market with that now less mysterious, and far less desirable, Motorola device.

On the one hand you’ve got design aficionados. For them, it’s the One all the way, every time, six ways from Sunday.

So now I find myself in that most terrible of early adopter places: stranded in between a long product cycle. In fact, when Key Lime Pie–Android 5.0–finally does arrive it will mark the longest time between major software updates for the Android OS platform. That is also not a bad thing. Google and Apple’s slowing cycles does perhaps lend credence to my suspicion that the mobile market is maturing. Slowing?! No, maturing, man (see: The Incremental Era).

That leads me to the million dollar question:

Samsung Galaxy S4 or HTC One?

Which is better?

My research suggests the internet is split.

On the one hand you’ve got design aficionados. For them, it’s the One all the way, every time, six ways from Sunday. Then there’s those indifferent to plastic and huge fans of expandable memory and a removable battery. The vote there is for the Galaxy S4. Again, passionately so. There doesn’t seem to be much middle ground.

I have some thoughts as to which way I’m leaning. But first let me address the why. Why would I even bother “upgrading” from a Nexus 4? It launched less than a year ago, and as it stands now, at least, reflects the best pure-play Android experience. But, alas, there’s a few problems with N4:

1. The glass back looks nice, but drives me nuts – Matrix-like design aside, it makes for a slippery phone. If I accidentally crack or scratch it, my ability to flip phones on eBay to satiate my ridiculous early-adopter hunger takes a financial hit.

2. Soft keys aren’t quite Valhalla – for the longest time I extolled the virtues of on-screen keys (the Nexus 4 has omnipresent back, home and apps softkeys along the bottom), but I’m starting to think otherwise. For one, the lack of a hardware button means the only way to wake the phone is to reach for the power button on the side. This is a pain and unnecessary nuisance if all I want to do is check a text. I think Samsung and Apple figured this out long ago. The other bugaboo with softkeys is the take up screen real estate. I’d much prefer that space go to more screen space instead. It would be helpful when using the smartphone for things like nav.

And the zinger:

3. The Nexus 4 is no longer the latest and greatest – yes, I’m a geek. It comes with a price. All hail the Rasperry Pi (the perfect XBMC!).

Ok, then there’s the price situation. Actually if you do your comparison shopping you’ll likely discover that $599-650 is the going rate for a flagship, contract-free smartphone. At $300 Google did drop jaws with the Nexus 4. I suspect they also subsidized the crap out of it. But without contract, of course, because Google does things to help others. They are Good. Or maybe it’s just because they wanted to seed the Android platform. Take your pick. Either way, it was fun while it lasted.

Here’s the other thing about price. It’s not really $600. Think of it as about $100-150 over twelve months. That’s because in November-ish when the next big Android lands, you’ll likely do what I do and flip it on eBay. I’m discovering that very clean, top-spec Androids do well on the secondary market. Maybe they’ll lose 20% or so of their value. For me, that’s acceptable. It’s also, once again, cheaper than the carrier option which would have you pay $20 per month to cover the cost of the phone. In a year you’d be out $240. In this scenario the net is less. I’ve yet to test this theory much truth be told, so ymmv. When I flipped my Galaxy Nexus I sold it for $275. I paid only $299 for it. How that was possible I’m not sure – could be that the phone was discontinued but still desirable.

Well, now you know how I rationalize this to my wife. Feel free to drive a truck through the hole in my logic. Just don’t tell her. In my bizzaro world of Android lust it makes perfect sense.

Enough of all that. Back to the original question: S4 or One?

At this point I’m leaning towards the S4. Here’s why:

— I like the physical home button for the aforementioned convenience of waking it up without having to reach for the side power button

— faster processor

— removable battery/expandable memory (neither is too big a deal to me, but it somehow makes me sleep better at night)

— multi-colored LED. The One only has 3 colors so far as I know. S4 has programmable. Yes, I sometimes focus on tiny details that no one else cares about

— wider selection of after-market accessories

— better battery life according to reports

Both have 802.11ac wi-fi (5G) which is a plus as I just upgraded my home and office router to a Asus AC66u.

Having said all that it seems the Internet is voting about 70% in favor of the HTC One. Maybe the $50 price difference has something to do with that. I get that the One is one sexy beast – many call it the best designed Android handset ever (it is). And the front-facing speakers? Perfectomendo. But neither of those features matter to me much. The looks won’t matter as soon as I put a $10 TPU case over it. And I listen to most of my music via headphones (yes, Beats… sadly).

Well there you have it. I could be swayed. But at this point I’ll likely be placing an order for a Galaxy S4 on the Play Store. Anyone looking for a mint, super clean Nexus 4?

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  • dave.lefevre

    I personally find the non-removable battery of the HTC One a major problem. This ended up the defining fact in my choice between these two phones.

  • Amit

    How much you selling N4 for ?

  • scb1898

    It is the S4 GE for me!!

  • D L

    Does anyone know if the S4 GE will only come in white?
    Thanks.

  • Yoric Hunt

    In my office they’ve coined the term, ‘Charlie Accounting’ (my name is Charlie). It stems from me using all sorts of erroneous logic to justify the purchase of the latest and greatest smartphone, but now gets applied to any kind of purchase where “optimistic” accounting is used to justify a purchase.

    • I like it. In fact I might co-op that term and use it with my wife: “What?! You just bought a Galaxy S4, why do you need a Nexus 5?” … me: “Loni, you just never could understand Charlie Accounting could you?”