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Apple iPhone 5 vs HTC One vs Samsung Galaxy S4 vs Sony Xperia Z

By S21, 16 Jul 2013

The big beasts are roaming the smartphone jungle, hungry for customers. But with so many brilliant phones competing for your attention, choosing the best is harder than ever. Here S21 pitches the top 4 head to head. Let the contest begin!

Today's best buy: iD Mobile from iD Mobile (£0.00)


Let's start with a quick overview of the 4 contestants:

Apple iPhone 5
The best iPhone yet, with a larger screen, improved camera, super-fast 4G and an ultra-thin design.
  HTC One
HTC's all-metal 4G Android flagship. Featuring a 1080p display, UltraPixel camera and a quadcore processor.
Samsung Galaxy S4
A 5 inch 1080p screen, quad-core power, eye-control and touchless interface are just a few of the S4's highlights.
  Sony Xperia Z
A superslim superphone with the world's first 1080p display, plus a quad-core processor and a 13 megapixel camera.

Hardware, looks & design

iPhone 5   Longer than previous generations of iPhones because of the larger screen, the iPhone 5 retains the stunning build quality and attention to detail, making it easily the best looker of the 4. At an astonishing 7.6mm thickness, it's also the slimmest smartphone available.   100%
HTC One   HTC has crafted the One from aluminium. Weighing in at 143g, it's no lightweight, and it's the thickest of the four. However, the curved, tapered edges are superslim, so it feels a lot thinner when you hold it. It's most definitely a looker.   90%
Galaxy S4   Made of plastic, the S4 has little to boast about when it comes to materials, but it's still solidly built, while being superslim and lightweight.   80%
Xperia Z   The Sony is also a beautiful phone, with both the front and back surfaces being made entirely from perfectly flat sheets of strong tempered glass. Aluminium details and a superslim form add to the appeal, but being so flat it can be hard to pick up and it's the heaviest of the 4. It's waterproof though!   85%

Screen size & quality

iPhone 5   Measuring 4 inches diagonally, the iPhone 5 has the largest screen of any iPhone, but it's a lot smaller than any of the Android phones. The Retina display isn't even HD.   60%
HTC One   The One has a 4.7 inch screen with full 1080p HD resolution.   85%
Galaxy S4   The AMOLED screen of the S4 measures 5 inches, with full HD resolution. That gives a pixel density of 441 pixels per inch, well ahead of the iPhone's 326 ppi. There's no doubt about it - this is an astonishing screen and one of the device's biggest selling points.   100%
Xperia Z   The Xperia Z has an enormous 5 inch full HD screen. The OptiContrast panel eliminates an air layer, making it the best that can be achieved from LCD technology, but it's not quite as good as the S4.   90%

Operating system

iPhone 5   iOS remains the easiest mobile OS to use, with the widest choice of apps, the Siri intelligent assistant and the forthcoming upgrade to iOS 7. However, it lacks the customisation options of Android.   95%
HTC One   The HTC One runs Android 4.1 with the benefits of HTC Sense 5 and BlinkFeed. An upgrade to Android 4.2 is imminent.   90%
Galaxy S4   The S4 ships with Android 4.2 plus a ton of extra features such as eye control and air gesture.   90%
Xperia Z   The Xperia Z runs almost pure Android 4.1 with barely any customisation from Sony.   80%

Hardware specs

iPhone 5   The iPhone's A6 chip is certainly fast enough for everyday tasks, but it's half the speed of the Galaxy S4, which could be an issue for demanding apps. The built-in memory is 16GB, 32GB or 64GB, but you'll pay a lot more for the extra memory.   75%
HTC One   The HTC One uses a quad-core processor running at an extremely fast 1.7GHz. The built-in storage is either 32GB or 64GB. The twin speakers are an added bonus for music lovers.   95%
Galaxy S4   The S4 is the fastest smartphone of the 4 with a quad-core 1.9GHz processor. The built-in memory is limited to 16GB but you also get a microSD memory card slot (up to 64GB).   95%
Xperia Z   The Xperia Z comes with a quad-core Snapdragon S4 Pro processor with each core running at 1.5GHz. The phone has 16GB built-in with the option of adding a microSD card for up to 32GB more.   85%


iPhone 5   An 8 megapixel camera with touch autofocus, LED flash and low light capability, plus a HD front-facing camera. High quality optics make for great shots.   95%
HTC One   HTC's UltraPixel camera has excellent low-light performance, but the 4 megapixel resolution can't capture fine details. We like the Zoe moving images though.   85%
Galaxy S4   The S4 has an excellent 13 megapixel camera with power LED flash, autofocus, face detection, smile shot, digital zoom and full 1080p HD video recording.   95%
Xperia Z   Sony's new Exmos RS sensor has a huge 13 million pixel count, plus HDR (High Dynamic Range) to handle a wider dynamic range of light and shadow.   95%


iPhone 5   You'll be spending over £30/month for the 16GB version, or £500+ sim free. The higher memory versions cost significantly more.   75%
HTC One   Available for £30/month or around £450 sim free.   90%
Galaxy S4   The S4 is available for just over £30/month or £500 sim free.   85%
Xperia Z   You can pick up the Sony for less than £30/month, or a little over £400 sim free.   95%

So, here are the scores:

The winner by a tiny margin is the Samsung Galaxy S4, thanks to its incredible screen and hardware. The HTC One comes in a close second, benefiting from its stylish looks and keen pricing. Only just behind is the Sony Xperia Z, with its screen, camera and price being its major attractions. Finally, in fourth place is the iPhone 5, with its high price and small screen counting against it.

But remember - there's no such thing as the perfect phone. What's right for one person will be wrong for another. Use our handy guide to choose the phone that's best for you, but be sure to read our detailed reviews and user reviews before buying - a superphone is an expensive purchase!

By the way, the "people's choice" (user reviews) currently puts the HTC One in first place, followed by the S4 and the Sony, with the iPhone bringing up the rear.

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User comments

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Comment by dave from uk on 5th Nov 2013
great simple comparison but what about usage in poor signal areas, an extra section on reception capability would be the bees knees for this site

Comment by FSD from UK on 1st Nov 2013
Good comparisons S21

This site is my number 1 choice when I want a phone review and have been using it for several years. I do not find the reviews at all biased or one sided. Why do some people (particularly apple fans) react so badly when their favourite brand/phone model does not get the review THEY WANT? A review is based in a large part on opinions and everybody have their own. If you reject a review just because it does not say what you want it to say why did you bother seek the advice of the reviewer in the first place? Just trust your own opinion and buy the phone you want

Comment by Konrad from UK on 24th Sep 2013
I liked your comparison and your final words regarding personal choice of phones. I would like to see a similar review of the Sony Xperia SP v Samsung Galaxy S4 mini. I looked at both these phones, but went for the Samsung Galaxy S3 sim free being cheaper than both.
S21 seems to have the same idea I want in a phone:- Big removable battery, micro SD memory card, big easy to see screen and a reliable performance. Value for money is another important consideration.
As a former Sony user and currently a Samsung user, I have operated recent Sony and prefer Samsung's offering.
iPhones are good but the screen is a bit small and in the UK, the 4g work only with EE and 3. If you are on Vodafone an O2 you will need change network to get 4g, unless iPhone come up with a fix. All these factors need to be explained in the UK during any comparison.
I would like to see Windows phones, there are a few brands Huawei that could be reviewed too.

Comment by Andy from UK on 15th Sep 2013
Good Grief,
Cannot believe people sometimes - I have been using this site for a number of years now and have never thought S21 as being biased towards any phone - e.g. I have never bought a Samsung or an iPhone. Surely if S21 were biased in either direction, their reviews would have made me consider buying said phones. I use their site so I can see reviews and make my own choice about which phone I will buy. I am old enough to make that decision on my own. I always have and always will choose S21 to make my informed decisions as do a number of my friends.

Comment by Louise Pardy from Uk on 29th Aug 2013
I'm no mobile phone geek and i always use your site when it's time to upgrade. I don't always choose the 5* phone, but at least i enter into my new contract with my eyes open.

Thanks S21!!

Comment by steveo from uk on 25th Aug 2013
Thanks for the reviews S21 so glad i have found your site again. I am now due to upgrade my htc one x and after reading your reviews i think i will be going with the s4, as for the constant critics moaning about you being samsung biased i cant understand why as you have listed both good and bad points to all phones on your site . Keep up the good work guys ...

Comment by Oliver from England on 21st Aug 2013
Thanks S21 for the above comparison.
You guys have been providing good independent reviews so far. Please dont be bothered by those who think otherwise.
Also it would really help if you could add music capabilities for each of these phones to the above comparison as I also agree Samsung's music is at best mediocre.

Comment by James from England on 14th Aug 2013
Thanks very much S21
The best independent non bias site on the web.
Please do not let these people bother you with their paranoid delusions,its not your fault Samsung make some excellent phones and also offer such a wide selection of phones to cater for everyone. All the iPhone users that I know have to keep their phone sealed in a protective case, which really does make their high quality seem irrelevant to me.
Thanks again S21 for speaking the truth ,100% of the time.

Comment by Adrianeds from Wales on 11th Aug 2013
I am very sorry to say but I have to agree with, Mark, Tom, Mamun, Kevin, & KDM. I have had quite a lot of Samsung Phones in the past, and liked them all, and my wife has one now the S4. But lately even though I really like your site, you do show the tendency to over favour Samsung. And also comparing everything to the iphone, and why? Like I have said previously on here, as an example take the ultra pixel camera on the HTC One. I would not say it is any better than other phones, but it takes photos just as good as my wife's S4. And we have gone to great lengths to pitch both against one another, every angle, low light, with flash & without, close ups etc, etc. The same with the screen, we have made all sorts of comparisons, & yet for the life of us, we can't see no major differences. So guys please you have always got it right about the phones over the years, however, these days you have changed. I have always looked to your website when looking for a new phone, so don't make the mistake of loosing your readers. Sorry for moaning, but, I am afraid I have to.

Reply by S21 from UK on 12th Aug 2013
Hi Adrianeds, thanks for your comments. We always strive for balance and objectivity in our reviews. Here we acknowledged that the HTC One has a much better design than the Galaxy S4. The main reason the HTC One scores very slightly less than the Samsung is the camera. The UltraPixel camera does its intended job of capturing low light images very well - but so do the other phones in this comparison. And if you want to zoom into the image, it starts to show its graininess quite quickly. Other sites like CNET and Digitalversus also arrived at the same conclusion. We recently reviewed the Samsung Galaxy Mega and gave this a 4 star review, pointing out its defects, so we are not in any way sold on Samsung. At the same time, the massive market share of Samsung in the smartphone sector clearly indicates that Samsung is delivering products people want to buy. Finally, why do we compare products with the iPhone? Because for so many people, sadly, a smartphone is an iPhone.

Reply by KDM from UK on 12th Aug 2013
I'm sorry S21, with your last sentence in your reply, I have lost all respect for this site. People use this site to help them to choose their next phone. People who buy an iphone do it for their own reasons and it doesn't make them "sad" people. They can tell the difference between different phones, that's why they are on this site, they are comparing phones! Lets face it, it's pretty plain to see that you favour Samsung above others, even if you can't see it, the readers here can.

Reply by paul from england on 17th Aug 2013
kdm stop being an idiot s21 didnt say iphone people are sad, you are just twisting what they say because you have sumthin against samsung all of the best android phones are so similar in specs now that its hard to choose, so this article is just helping. i dont think the design of the htc is all that, most peeps are just phone snobs.

Reply by KDM from UK on 17th Aug 2013
Hey Paul... I am expressing my opinion on here, which I am allowed to do. Why you feel you have to call me an "idiot" to get your point across is beyond me, I won't lower myself to name calling. You have your opinion and I have mine. Simple really..And just to add, this is why I have lost all respect for this site, allowing people to post derogatory remarks to other posters wouldn't have happened a year ago. A once very good site has gone really bad.

Comment by peter from uk on 31st Jul 2013
How about the Nokia Lumia 925 the best smartphone out there IMHO? I also find the 4"8 mobiles bit too big, so for me it's between the iphone and the Lumia 925.

Comment by QTP from India on 31st Jul 2013
I dont feel s21 is Samsung biased. If they are then almost every other phone review website on internet is. Its just that Samsung products are very good now (hate to admit it). S4 ticks all the boxes when it comes to the best smartphone but its just its music quality is so poor. S21 team, can you please add another section on the music quality to the above article please.

Comment by Mark from UK on 29th Jul 2013
I start to suspect more and more that this site is sponsored by Samsung, there seems to be a definite bias somewhere, and this is coming from someone who every day phone is an S4.....

Reply by S21 from UK on 30th Jul 2013
Guys, please don't accuse us of being pro-Samsung because we rated the S4 2% higher than the HTC One! In the past 12 years we have been accused of being pro-Apple, anti-Apple, pro-Nokia, anti-Nokia, pro-Android and anti-Android. We want to stress that we are 100% pro-consumer and have *never* accepted money to review any product or service on this site (in fact no company has ever offered us money to review a product). The fact is that there is no such thing as a perfect phone, and the purpose of this article is not to rank phones, but to help people choose the best one for them. All four of these phones are superb.

Reply by Tom from UK on 7th Aug 2013
I'm with you Mark!

Comment by Lm1980 from UK on 28th Jul 2013
Phones these days compare in so many ways that these tests/comparisons are a little pointless. All phones will have something different than what another has.

My biggest thing I get annoyed with is people banging on about HD screens on smartphones. It's a phone. It doesn't need full HD screens. Just as long as when you zoom into a web page or photo the writing/image isn't to badly pixelated then all is good. I think the screen resolution on the iPhone 5 is perfect for what the phone does. By the way I'm an apple fan, not a dedicated fanboy. I just like there products because hey work.

When all other smartphones run the same OS like android it is to easy to become dazed by what each phones gadgets are, instead manufacturers should be designing phones that make that OS operated great. The Sony has a 13mp camera. But it won't produce them same quality image as my 10mp DSLR camera with a raw image format. So I don't see the point in making the big hype about it. I think an 8mp camera is perfect for such devices.

In general I use my iphone to listen to music. Control my ATV3 and browse photos in Dropbox where all my photos end up. I use it for email for work, making calls and texts. I browse the www when not using my ipad mini or laptop.

Personally I honk the best android phone is the LG nexus device. Made specifically for android. To many bells and whistles complicates things.

I'd either stick with my iphone or if I wanted an android I'd go for the LG Nexus.


Comment by Mamun from Australia on 24th Jul 2013
I'm a regular reader of the reviews from this site since 2006. And my gut feeling is that, this site is Samsung biased, which they have proved again in this review :D. In the Screen size & quality section HTC one got 85% while S4 got 100% only because of 0.3 inch smaller screen size. This is ridiculous. There is not very difference in size of these two screens that might have significant effect. And I think most of the ppl will agree that HTC one has the most stunning display ever that a smartphone can have. And what about the audio quality of the HTC one compared to S4? Please do a comparison of that also and then decide which one is the best.

Comment by Qtp from India on 19th Jul 2013
Hi Guys, Any idea when the GS4 32/64 GB variants are coming out? I cant find this info anywhere.

Comment by bmehra from India on 17th Jul 2013
Thanks alot guys. This really helps. Can you compare music and multimedia experience on all the phones. For example : I tried music on GS4 in one of the stores using my good quality earphones and the results were far from good. :-(

Comment by Kevin from England on 17th Jul 2013
Love the way that you give very little detail about the HTC Ones screen, it is by far the best screen out of the 4 and you seem to be only one of a few Galaxy Fan Boy sites that thinks otherwise, yes it may only be 4.7 inches but that isn't exactly small and is only marginally smaller than the S4 and Xperia Z but it gives it a ppi of 469 which guess what, is even higher then the S4's and seeing as you make such a point in the S4's screen description that it is way ahead of the iPhone 5's crappy 326 ppi retina display (that's what you were pretty much saying) then surely it means the HTC has the best screen and is the winner overall? Just admit it that this year Samsung hasn't developed the best smart phone, it's features are gimmicky and have a bad habit of not working, Sense 5 is better then Touchwiz and i think most people apart from fanboys will agree. Yes the camera might be better but it's not so much better that it would be a deciding factor. They both have the same ram. The extra .2ghz on the processor doesn't really make a difference when you consider how laggy Touchwiz can be. Of the 16gb memory you get, only about half that is available because the rest is taken up by bloat ware and system files that can't be deleted or uninstalled, yes you can expand the memory but you should't be forced to just because there isn't much memory on the phone itself, at least on the One the minimum you can get is 32gb which is plenty for most people. Obviously the One is better looking, I know a few people who have grumbled at the fact that the S4 is made from plastic again. Both have similar battery life but I think the thing that definately wins it for the One is them dual speakers on the front and beats audio, I've got a pair of genuine beats and music just sounds awesome through them on the One. Don't believe in the hype of the S4, Samsung are getting just as bad as Apple now when it comes to making new phones they're both ripping customers off bringing new phones out every 10-12 months which only have minor differences from their predecessors!

Reply by KDM from UK on 18th Jul 2013
I feel I have to agree with a lot that you say Kevin. It certainly seems like this site favours Samsung phones above all others. One important thing they missed on the iphone summery is just how well the OS works with the iphone,it's far smoother and more reliable than the GS4 imo... and in another section of this site they say that "iphone users are forced to download content through itunes" That may be true of apps (personally, I don't want third party apps on my phone anyway) but not of music. I regularly download MP3's from Amazon and they go straight to my iphone no probs. It's a shame, they used come across as unbiased but since the name change to S21 it seems more like a Samsung ad site. Maybe the 'S' stands for Samsung?

Reply by Nik from England on 22nd Jul 2013
Well said Kevin... it would be nice for once if objective comparatives were applied generally on this site. When these guys used the iphone's 326ppi as the benchmark (and still do) for screen resolution, they completely failed to praise the 341ppi resolution of the HTC Windows 8X. They fail to do the same again with the HTC One. Maybe HTC aren't contributing as much as Apple or Samsung...I know S21 you're not in it for the money...I know...hmmm...

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