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Premium phones compared: HTC One M8 vs Sony Xperia Z2 vs Samsung Galaxy S5 vs Moto X

We pit the four best flagship phones against one another. Which will win?

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Boasting the highest specs, latest features and best builds, flagship phones offer the most polished Android experience, but come at a high price. Retailing around £550, you want to be certain you’re getting the best deal in terms of style, power and functionality from your smartphone before you buy. To help you make your decision, we’ve vigorously compared market leaders, the Samsung Galaxy S5 and Sony Xperia Z2, along with relative newcomer the HTC One M8 and Motorola’s low-cost, but high-spec Moto X, and then crowned one the best smartphone in the world.

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Samsung Galaxy S5

Price: £520

More information: www.samsung.com

  • Operating system: 4.4.2
  • Processor: Snapdragon 801 2.5GHz quad-core
  • Memory: 2GB RAM, 16/32GB storage
  • Dimensions: 142 x 72.5 x 8.1 mm
  • Weight: 145g
  • Display size: 5.1″
  • Display resolution: 1920 x 1080 pixels

One of the biggest and best selling brands in the Android world, the Samsung Galaxy S5 is one of the few smartphones that has become a household name alongside Apple’s iPhone. While critics have called the phone’s fingerprint scanner an imitation of the iPhone 5s’ own Touch ID, it’s much less gimmicky and packed with more functionality, such as being able to use it for secure log-ins and paying online through PayPal. Between this new tech and the device’s commitment to its S Health apps, which enable you to track your fitness and biometrics, the Samsung Galaxy S5 has given itself a unique edge over Android premium phones. Screen shot 2014-08-05 at 11.12.32

Though it rarely trumps them, the Galaxy S5 can at least stand shoulder to shoulder with the other flagship phones in this group test on more conventional key features. It has a 5.1-inch Full HD Super AMOLED screen for vivid images, Snapdragon 801 processor for speed and 2GB of RAM. The Galaxy S5’s camera isn’t the most powerful in this round up at 16-MP, but it can shoot in 0.3 seconds and allows for preview HDR and post-shot focusing.

Disappointingly, despite a metal siding, the Galaxy S5 is mostly made out of plastic with a polycarbonate screen and rear coated with a rubbery, soft touch material. This gives the S5 a weight advantage, just 145g, but compared to the HTC One’s metal chassis or Xperia Z2’s glass panels, it looks and feels cheap.

With so many unique features, the Galaxy S5 often stands in a class of its own. However, though these look great in adverts and TV spots, it is not pushing the boundaries in terms of fundamental design.

Verdict: The S5 is a fantastic headset and is worthy of flagship status, but is only average in terms of specs. 4/5

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Sony Xperia Z2

Price: £569

More information: www.sonymobile.com

  • Operating system: 4.4
  • Processor: Snapdragon 801 2.3GHz quad-core
  • Memory: 3GB RAM, 16GB storage
  • Dimensions: 146.8 x 73.3 x 8.2 mm
  • Weight: 163g
  • Display size: 5.2″
  • Display resolution: 1920 x 1080 pixels

The Sony Xperia Z2 has a lot to prove. It was launched just six months after its predecessor, the Z1, prompting anger from those that had just bought the original, and suspicion from others that the Z2 was just a stop-gap for an even better phone. However, though it was only a minor upgrade, the Z2 is packed with features that prove it is a premium product that deserves to stand on its own merits. Sony Xperia Z2

Not content to boast a 20.7-MP camera, the most powerful in this group test, it also has Sony’s G-Lens and BIONZ mobile image-processing engine, plus a range of great photo apps. These can shoot 4K videos, add AR effects, capture panoramas and includes integration with Vine.

Capitalising on all that entertainment content Sony owns, the Xperia Z2 is a made for consuming media. As well as the 5.2-inch screen and two front-facing speakers, the Walkman app enables online and offline listening, while Movies is a one-stop video app. PlayStation Mobile is a killer addition for all gamers, providing cross-platform support with the handheld PS Vita.

All these features don’t cause any drag, the Xperia Z2 performed best of all in our performance tests. However, the features, in particular the screen size, have taken their toll on the Xperia Z2’s design: it’s very blocky and sits awkwardly when held in just one hand. But, Sony will claim its build has an ace in its hole in the form of military-grade dust and waterproofing. With rubber-lined flaps over all the ports that seal them tight, you can take photos underwater for half an hour and dive to a depth of 1.5 metres. This is undeniably impressive and, coupled with its life-tracking features, makes the Xperia Z2 an excellent choice for both mobile entertainment and on-the-go action. However, though Sony is keen to crow about its waterproofing in adverts, the Samsung Galaxy S5 boasts similar water resistance that has proved to be just as effective as the Xperia Z2 in tests, which makes it less of a selling point.

Verdict: Boasting a range of standout features, you soon learn to see through the Z2’s bulky design to its feature-packed inner beauty. 5/5

Moto X

Price: £270

More information: www.motorola.co.uk

  • Operating system: 4.4.2
  • Processor: Snapdragon S4 Pro 1.7GHz dual-core
  • Memory: 2GB RAM, 16GB storage
  • Dimensions: 129.4 x 65.3 x 10.4 mm
  • Weight: 130g
  • Display size: 4.7″
  • Display resolution: 1280 x 720 pixels

It might be easy to consider the Moto X as out of its league in this group test, as if it was just a mid-range phone punching above its weight. Certainly its specs do little to contradict this opinion, with the smallest screen in this group, slowest of a last generation processor, and very limited memory and no micro SD slot to boost it. However, the Moto X matches its low specs with a low price and what it lacks in hardware, it makes up for with its impressive interface. Moto X

Motorola’s close relationship with Google means that not only does the Moto X run Android 4.4, its software is a near stock experience, except for a few clever tweaks. For instance, the Moto X has a higher level of speech control than any other device. Offering a near hands-free experience, saying ‘OK Google Now’ can see all sorts of commands completed, from sending text messages to setting alarms. For those actions that do have to be performed manually can be achieved with some impressively intuitive controls or can be automated through a feature called Motorola Assist. Along with its Active Display function that minimises battery usage, these features add up to an intelligent, ergonomic UX that even Samsung’s commitment to native features struggles to match.

It is disappointing that the Moto Maker system that enables American users to customise the colour of their Moto X wasn’t extended internationally, especially when the only default options available are bog standard black and white. However, the overall design is sleek thanks to a small and slender shape that fits comfortably in both the hand and the pocket.

Verdict: It doesn’t come with the bells and whistles that the others have, but in terms of simplicity, it’s a great device. 3/5

HTC One M8

Price: £529.95

More information: www.sonymobile.com

  • Operating system: 4.4.2 with HTC Sense 6
  • Processor: Snapdragon 801 2.3GHz quad-core
  • Memory: 2GB RAM, 16/32GB storage
  • Dimensions: 146.4 x 70.6 x 9.4 mm
  • Weight: 160g
  • Display size: 5″
  • Display resolution: 1920 x 1080 pixels

The original HTC One received critical acclaim and a series of high-profile awards for its design when it launched a year ago. Though these plaudits didn’t translate into the profits HTC was hoping for, it is aiming to capitalise on this goodwill with its successor. Therefore the new HTC One (M8) is less a revolution in design, but rather a steady evolution.

HTC One M8This means it has all the spec upgrades that have become standard for this generation, but still contains some impressive innovations.

First and foremost, the metal unibody that gives the HTC One its unique look and has been extended to cover 90 per cent of the smartphone. There is no denying it looks and feels great to hold and none of the other phones in this test can match that sense of a premium finish.

The two front-facing BoomSound speakers have been reportedly made 25 per cent louder. This might be a stretch, but both the volume and sound quality are notably better than the Xperia Z2’s own twin speakers. The M8’s dual-rear camera enables for some clever effects, but ultimately they are arguably no match for the impressive Galaxy S5’s 16-MP and Xperia Z2’s 20-MP cameras.

In terms of software the M8 is rather light, though its BlinkFeed homescreen widget offers a great way to view applications and all your social media feeds on one screen. Sense 6 is now a much-improved skin, a vast advancement over what came before. HTC has accomplished everything it intended with the One (M8). It’s built on the strengths of the original and created a flagship with unique flair.

Verdict: A beautiful phone that distinguishes itself both in terms of form and function, though the camera is disappointing. 4/5

 

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The winner is… the Sony Xperia Z2

Under the hood, all four premium devices in this group test are all very similar, so it is up to individual features to help us distinguish the winner in this test. On the one hand, this would suggest the Samsung Galaxy S5 should win with its fingerprint scanner, heart rate monitor and bevy of native S apps. But many of these lifestyle features are very niche and don’t get used regularly.

The HTC One (M8) deserves special mention for its gorgeous, jaw-dropping design, and attempts at really pushing boundaries with its dual-camera and twin speakers. If the Motorola Moto X had brought its Moto Maker customisation to international markets, it might have been more of a competitor, especially with its intuitive user interface. But then the Sony Xperia Z2 came along and made so much noise that it just cannot be ignored. Being able to film in 4K and play that on a 4K TV is good, but the 20.7-MP camera is what makes us stop and think here. Its large battery should ensure it keeps going for some time and its dust and waterproofing makes not only the phone but its camera capabilities that tad bit more versatile. Sony is the undeniable champion of this flagship face-off.

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