Droid Pack 2014 (Part 1) – Sony Xperia Z2 vs Samsung Galaxy S5 vs HTC One (M8)

OVERVIEW

Welcome to Droid Pack 2014 (Part 1), Twenty First Tech’s Flagship Shootout! Here we will put the three currently available Q2 2014 flagships head-to-head to see which one is truly the king of the Android domain. The LG G3 is a recent release, and will be included in Droid Pack 2014 (Part 2).

The contenders:

Sony Xperia Z2

IMG_8395_2

First up to the floor we have Sony’s latest and greatest, the Xperia Z2. With twin glass panels and a aluminium body, it looks and feels truly like a flagship device in your hand. It also has a superb camera, and waterproofing to boot.

HTC One (M8)

Back Logo

Offered up by the Taiwanese, the only ones to put off a 6 month release cycle, the One (M8) has seen a massive improvement up from its 2013 predecessor. With its 90% metal unibody, and powerful speakers, it is a definite contender for top spot in 2014’s smartphone hall of fame.

Samsung Galaxy S5

S5

The only plastic device out of the three, the Galaxy S5 is perhaps the sole reason why plastic gets such a bad rep against the metal competition offered by Apple, Sony and HTC. It does have its merits – you’re not going to get its looks marred by a dent. It followed Apple in its inclusion of a fingerprint sensor, though the overall package is arguably a large improvement over the Galaxy S4.

INTRODUCTION

This year, all three flagships are such brilliantly designed and manufactured smartphones that it is really too close to call any one the best without delving deep into the inner workings of each.

Out of the three, each have a solid reason for their adopters. The Z2 has the truly amazing camera, the One (M8) has the design appeal, while the S5 has a removable battery and accompanying wearables.

Enough talk then. Time to get to the meat of this review.

DESIGN, AND BUILD QUALITY

From left: HTC One (M8), Sony Xperia Z2, Samsung Galaxy S5
From left: Sony Xperia Z2, HTC One (M8), Samsung Galaxy S5

Out of the three, the Galaxy S5 is the only one not to use aluminium as the base for its chassis. The plastic used does have its benefits, though. It creates a device that has the greatest amount of grip between the three smartphones, and also protects the exterior well against unfortunate dents that may plague the Z2 and One (M8).

In terms of looks, though, the S5 is a sore thumb. Widely referred to as a “band-aid”, we can’t help but smile at the comparison, for it’s very much true. The problem is exacerbated in the beige coloured S5, so it is entirely possible you’re going to feel inadequate when comparing looks with any other flagship device today.

Talking about looks, the HTC One (M8) wins this by a landslide. It’s not even fair to call it a competition. A brilliant 90% metal body in gunmetal grey compared to the S5’s plastic is like driving a carbon-fibre Ferrari compared to the plastic Corvette – both have ungodly power, but one just looks and feels so much better than the other.

From left: Samsung Galaxy S5, Sony Xperia Z2, HTC One (M8)
From left: Samsung Galaxy S5, Sony Xperia Z2, HTC One (M8)

The solid feel that the metal exudes is also unparalleled. As said in my review of the M8, I was finding excuses to hold the device in my hand all the time. The metal, cool to the touch gives the feeling of impregnability, but the review set quickly collected permanent scratches and small dents – inferior to plastic in this way.

The Sony Xperia Z2 was no exception. The glass panels rapidly collected small but noticeable scratches, and the metal is prone to chips and dents (which I unfortunately discovered with my Z1). There is no denying, however, that the Z2 feels truly worthy of a thousand dollar price tag, something that cannot be said about the plastic-bodied S5.

The looks of the Z2 are also a definite head-turner, but it would be hard to choose a clear superior between this and the M8. Personally, I liked the M8’s design better, but it’s frankly up to you to decide. Our verdict?

Winner: HTC One (M8)

HANDLING

All three devices each have a unique feel to the, and as a result, also have a unique handling characteristic. The Xperia Z2 has an unapologetically rectangular design which definitely makes it stand out, while the M8 has a curved back and the S5 simply has curved corners with a flat rear.

The HTC One (M8) is a brilliantly handling device. It has a curved back, so even though the specs say 9.4mm (making it the ‘thickest’ flagship), it actually nestles in the curve of your palm and does not cause strain during long periods of usage (not that you should use your phone that long). Also, the metal body makes holding it a joy, so much so I was finding excuses to hold the device all the time.

From left: HTC One (M8), Samsung Galaxy S5, Sony Xperia Z2
From left: HTC One (M8), Samsung Galaxy S5, Sony Xperia Z2

Looking at the Z2, concerns are immediately raised regarding the rectangular corners. However, pick up the device, and those concerns are put to bed. Thanks to the rounded edges, the Z2 does not dig into the edges of the palm, similar to the Z1 and unlike the Xperia Z. While it does not fit into your palm like the HTC One (M8), it is still very usable.

The S5 is all plastic, yes, but this creates a nice textured back that is grippier than anything seen before the Galaxy Note 3. Furthermore in all previous Samsung phones, the battery cover was so thin it warped significantly upon removal. No such problems here. The backing is rigid, thick, and sturdy.

Still, while the plastic of the S5 may be more durable, it does not feel as solid and deserving of my thousand dollars (S$1068 to be precise) as much as the metallic M8 and Z2 do. Between the two, the superior ergonomics give the win to the M8.

Winner: HTC One (M8)

DISPLAY

From left: HTC One (M8), Sony Xperia Z2, Samsung Galaxy S5
From left: HTC One (M8), Sony Xperia Z2, Samsung Galaxy S5

The Xperia Z2 has a 5 inch Full HD (1080p) IPS LCD display, which is a marked improvement from the TN panel used in the Z1. Colour reproduction has taken a boost and viewing angles have gone from a measly 1 degree (I kid) to the 178 degrees promised by all IPS panels.

Similar to the IPS panel, the HTC One M8 has a Super LCD3 Full HD display with a diagonal of 5 inches. This gives it a pixel density of 441 ppi, making it the densest (but not by much) pixel layout of the three April 2014 flagships.

The Galaxy S5, on the other hand, has continued with the long line of AMOLED displays by including a 5.1 inch Full HD panel, with the Super AMOLED Plus debuting in the Galaxy SII. Thing is, AMOLED screens may be really bright, vibrant and have impeccable blacks, they unfortunately are heavily oversaturated. Colours then look too vibrant, and thus unrealistic.

Display test 50% brightness 100% brightness
Black, cd/m2 White, cd/m2 Contrast ratio Black, cd/m2 White, cd/m2 Contrast ratio
Sony Xperia Z2 0.39 454 1313
Sony Xperia Z1 0.38 580 1513
LG G Pro 2 0.11 130 1132 0.48 533 1113
LG G2 0.10 149 1522 0.45 667 1495
HTC One (M8) 0.20 245 1219 0.46 577 1256
HTC One 0.13 205 1580 0.42 647 1541
Samsung Galaxy S5 0 274 0 529
Apple iPhone 5/5c/5s 0.13 200 1490 0.48 640 1320

As said, the AMOLED display of the S5 has infinite contrast and the deepest blacks (by virtue of AMOLED’s ability to turn off individual pixels). However the brightest display goes to the HTC One (M8). The Z2, while last, still has decent contrast.

Sunlight Contrast

Under the sun though, the M8 falls behind and contrast suffers the most compared to the other two. Still, it is not too shabby but the S5 and Z2 are far ahead.

Overall, in a Singapore context, where using the device in bright daylight is often required, I’d have to give this to the Galaxy S5. Sure, oversaturated colours are not realistic, but I’ll take them over relatively dimmer, contrast compressed colours that the other two alternatives offer.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy S5

USER INTERFACE, APPS AND AUDIO

All three devices come running Android 4.4 KitKat out of the box, but each has wildly differing user interfaces. While both Sony and HTC have made efforts to keep their user interfaces lean (they only occupy 4 GB storage and 1.2 GB of RAM), Samsung has once again gone all in with a UI that takes up nearly 8 GB of storage and 1.4 GB of the available 1.8 GB of RAM.

As such, while the Z2 and M8 feel extremely snappy, the S5 felt like it is struggling to keep up. Scrolling through the pages is smooth, but just barely, and the chock-load of widgets that cram your home screen, take quite a while to initialize. HTC’s BlinkFeed loads in a blink, as it name suggests, but Samsung’s Magazine run by Flipboard, loads only after you’ve done a few flips.

Coming to the aesthetics, we found that immediately there is one loser – Samsung’s TouchWiz Nature UX. While it has certainly been improved greatly over the previous version featured in the Galaxy S4, it still misses in many aspects where the Z2 and M8 shine.

It still has a skeumorphic and somewhat gaudy icon pack, and while colours are more subdued, they still struggle to mix all the time. Furthermore, Samsung insists on locking the app drawer to the right-most portion of the dock, and keeps the task switcher button on the left unlike Google design guidelines.

Still, all is not lost. We liked the Flipboard integration in the S5, called My Magazine. To get to it, you simply have to swipe to the left-most home pane. We also found it neat that you could re-colour the folders on your homescreen.

The HTC One (M8) on the other hand, has a eye-pleasing, well-defined Sense 6 user interface. It is blazing fast, utilising every single period of processor operation to power the device, and this improves user experience immensely.

It also has flat icon pack with the stock Android font, Roboto Condensed, being utilised. The colour palette tends to the darker side of the spectrum, which improved looks by a huge amount. It had its fair share of quirks though – the app drawer is vertically operated, and the task switcher only display 9 recent apps.

We also really liked BlinkFeed. It aggregates content from your social networks, as well as from over a thousand news sources, which will grow, as now third-party apps can include themselves in the repository. Best part is, you can remove it if you wish, unlike My Magazine in the S5.

As for the audio, BoomSound is truly amazing. It is amazingly loud, and I failed to find a situation where I could not hear any song regardless of background noise. However, at maximum volume, every song had tremendous distortion.

Coming finally, to the Sony Xperia Z2, you immediately see the hard, clean edged design that formed the Z2’s design permeate the UI as well, and it looks brilliant. Functionality is also the closest to stock Android, which we are big fans of.

The so-called “small apps” are also available in the Xperia Z2 and are accessible via the task manager. They pop up tiny widget-like applications on your homescreen, which you can move around and use without having to open the full-fledged app. While they are similar to Samsung’s Mini Apps, the implementation is cleaner and more user-friendly.

The audio of the Z2 is also really impressive. There are two front-facing stereo speakers that are loud and really clear even at maximum volume. The best part is, even when face down the audio is not muffled at all.

User Interface is a hugely important part of your smartphone experience – it may seem insignificant, but it can make the difference between feeling ‘meh’ when using your device, and enjoying the experience. As such, functionality and aesthetics is key, and we feel the Z2 performs the best in this regard.

Winner: Sony Xperia Z2

BATTERY LIFE

When asked about the importance of features, 89% cited battery life as “important”, with only 11% citing it as “neutral” or “not important”, according to an online panel of 1,000 Britons surveyed by research company GMI.

Briton, Singaporean or whichever nationality you are, battery life seems to be the number one ask. So, let’s see how these phones do.

Battery Life

We used the devices in the following situations:

  • 1 hour LTE web browsing
  • 1 hour WiFi web browsing
  • 1 hour WiFi YouTube video streaming (1080p)
  • 2 hour 1080p movie
  • 30 minutes light gaming (Angry Birds Rio)
  • Standby idling under STAMINA/Extreme Power Saving/Ultra Power Saving mode

Each device also has its own power saving mode. Sony has their STAMINA mode, HTC their Extreme Power Saving mode (which curtails your apps and UI), and Samsung has the grayscale Ultra Power Saving mode.

We didn’t really like the fact that the display had to be converted into a basic interface for the M8 and S5, while the Z2 just continued on – and performed the best – without any change in UI.

As can be seen, the Sony Xperia Z2 performs the best out of the three, and this is without any compromise in performance or colour as is the case for the Galaxy S5. The HTC One (M8) just couldn’t get a respectable time, performing really poorly.

Winner: Sony Xperia Z2

PERFORMANCE BENCHMARKS

AnTuTu

In AnTuTu, a comprehensive benchmark that test everything from CPU to storage speed, the Z2 finished really close behind the M8, and slightly further behind the S5.

BrowserMark 2

In BrowserMark 2 though, the Z2 edged out the M8, but fell behind the S5 considerably.

Vellamo

In Vellamo, surprisingly, the 2014 flagships fell far behind their Q4 2013 counterparts (save the Nexus 5). In between themselves though, the M8 ran away in front, and the Z2 fell just short of the S5.

In terms of real world usage, the HTC One (M8) and Sony Xperia Z2 felt much faster than the Galaxy S5. A major reason for this is that the Galaxy S5’s TouchWiz is chock-full of bloat and taxes the RAM severely, resulting in other apps slowing down considerably. Between the M8 and Z2, it’s a hard call.

Tie: HTC One (M8) and Sony Xperia Z2

CAMERA FEATURES

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From left: HTC One (M8), Samsung Galaxy S5, Sony Xperia Z2

All three of the smartphones come with different key features, which is a welcome thing for diversity.

HTC has its duo camera set-up, which seeks to achieve a 3D stereoscopic effect, however Sony has been long doing so, and recently Samsung, LG and Google have achieved this via software as well.

gsmarena_002
The various effects thanks to the duo-camera

It doesn’t take any pictures, as it’s a sort of a range-finder. Its job is to create a depth map of your scene, which allows you to add high-quality rendered effects such as background blur (faux bokeh) or refocus your images after the shot.

We also can’t help but find the duo-camera gimmicky. Once the novelty wears off you are rarely going to be using its features in day-to-day photography. In our eyes, this is a grave mistake by HTC.

The Galaxy S5 has an incredibly useful feature with the camera – live HDR. Instantaneous HDR is something of a pipe dream for photographers, and for it to appear on a phone is absolutely phenomenal.

As a result, all regions of any photo the S5 takes looks properly exposed. And it’s done completely fuss-free, just flick the HDR switch, and your photos instantly look great. I cannot see why anyone would turn it off. Its easy, quick, and good. It’s easily the S5′s best feature.

Furthermore, as with HTC, Samsung also has included selective focus just like HTC – except it’s just software based. The feature only works in very selective circumstances though, and does not rank high in usability. 6/10 times the phone will prompt you to reselect a subject in the foreground.

The Xperia Z2 has a multitude of camera features available. It has the following special modes – Background Defocus, AR effect, Info-Eye, Social Live, Vine and Evernote.

The first functions the same as selective focus and duo camera (but it works all the time) while AR effect adds an artificial reality of situations like the dinosaur era or fairytale land to your images. Info-Eye is a godsend for travelers without a guide – it can recognise landmarks and give you all the information about them, but it only works half the time.

The Social Live function is a neat feature that allows for live video streaming to Facebook, while Vine and Evernote allow direct uploads to your Vine and Evernote accounts.

The Xperia Z2 might definitely have a collectively greater number of features, but the S5 has the one important one that allows for a better image to be produced in a very short time.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy S5

CAMERA PERFORMANCE

From left: Samsung Galaxy S5, HTC One (M8), Sony Xperia Z2
From left: Samsung Galaxy S5, HTC One (M8), Sony Xperia Z2

All three devices also have hugely varying camera specs – the M8 has a 4 MP UltraPixel resolution camera with a 1/3 inch sensor, the S5 has a 16 MP camera with a 1/2.6 inch sensor, and the Z2 has a 20.7 MP camera with the largest 1/2.3 inch sensor.

When it comes down to the image quality itself, the results are quite different as well.

Still Image Quality:

Day Samples:

HTC One (M8):

Samsung Galaxy S5:

Sony Xperia Z2:

In the day, all three devices do well, but the M8 struggles to produced detail no thanks to the 4 MP camera, and the S5’s white balance is not always spot-on unlike the Z2.

Night Samples:

HTC One (M8):

Samsung Galaxy S5:

Sony Xperia Z2:

In the night, there is absolutely no contest. The M8 again struggles with detail, and even more so due to rampant noise levels across all images. The S5 does no better – even with its 16 MP camera, detail is sorely lacking, however the Z2 steals the show. Colour reproduction, white balance and noise reduction is perfect, thanks to its large 1/2.3 inch sensor.

Video Quality:

The HTC One (M8) loses out a great deal from the get-go itself, as it lacks 4K video recording which both the other devices have.

HTC One (M8):

Day Sample (1080p):

Night Sample (1080p):

Samsung Galaxy S5:

Day Sample (4K/2160p):

Day Sample (1080p):

Night Sample (4K/2160p):

Night Sample (1080p):

Sony Xperia Z2:

Day Sample (4K/2160p):

Day Sample (1080p):

Night Sample (4K/2160p):

Night Sample (1080p):

In terms of video recording, the M8 hemorrhages in quality – even more so than in still images. At 1080p, it already lacks detail compared to the S5 and Z2, but it gets overwhelming at 4K resolution. Between the S5 and Z2, the Z2 manages to keep abreast of the S5 in the day, but falls far behind during night.

Looking at the overall performance of the cameras though, it is obvious who the winner is.

Winner: Sony Xperia Z2

CONCLUSION

So, there you have it. You have three very capable flagships, and you have their combined analysis.

There is the Samsung Galaxy S5 with a brilliant display, you have the HTC One (M8) with the best design ever seen, and you have the Sony Xperia Z2 with a ridiculously good smartphone camera.

design

It all depends on which kind of device you prefer. If you have no qualms about plastic, and need just a decent snapper, the Galaxy S5 is a good choice. Do take note that the UI slapped onto it can give issues, so your mileage may vary.

If all the pictures you take are for Facebook and Instagram, then you won’t mind the 4 MP UltraPixel camera in the One (M8). What’s more, you’ll get an amazingly sexy body and a blazing fast user experience together with that.

If you require the absolute top camera available, then the Xperia Z2 should be your choice. Photos are jaw-dropping, and it even comes with an aluminium body as well as an extremely long battery life. Personally, I found the Z2’s UI the best, but it’s your call.

If I had to pick one, I would say the Xperia Z2. However, even though the editorial team here at Twenty First Tech agrees, the final decision is yours. All three are very capable smartphones, so it is important for you to make up your own mind alongside collect information via reviews.

From left: Sony Xperia Z2, HTC One (M8), Samsung Galaxy S5, Apple iPhone 5s
From left: Sony Xperia Z2, HTC One (M8), Samsung Galaxy S5, Apple iPhone 5s

There is always the alternative – an iPhone, which has been further improved with iOS 8, but that’s another matter entirely.

The recently launched LG G3
The recently launched LG G3

What’s more, LG recently launched their G3 flagship – the first from the big four to have a 2K resolution display. It’s slated to launch at the end of June here in Singapore, so do have a look at our first impressions and weigh all the factors before purchasing your new device.

That’s all for Droid Pack Part 1, do look out for our review of the LG G3, as well as Droid Pack Part 2 which will include the G3 in our comparisons.

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