HTC One vs Sony Xperia Z (video)

April 18, 2013
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The HTC One and the Sony Xperia Z are two of the best Android smartphones out there, so we just had to do a full-on comparison between them. So let’s see what we have here.

In one corner we have the HTC One, the successor to the critically acclaimed HTC One X, launched back in March 2012. The Taiwanese manufacturer has great hopes for the commercial success of the One, at a time when quarterly reports paint an ever darker image of the company’s decline. Is the HTC One enough to avoid bankruptcy?

In the other corner, Sony is probably the Android manufacturer that made the best progress over the past year, beginning with the moment when the Japanese company bought out Ericsson’s stake in Sony-Ericsson. The evolution culminated with the launch of Sony’s latest Android trio: the Xperia Z, the Xperia ZL, and the Xperia Tablet Z. Out of the trio, the Xperia Z is often regarded as the flagship device, though in all honesty, the Xperia ZL is not that far off either.

Now that we have a little background, let’s start pitting the HTC One vs the Xperia Z heads-on in our usual categories: display, design and build quality, hardware, and Android implementation.

For a video comparison between the Sony Xperia Z and the HTC One, jump to the end of this post.

Display

The 4.7-inch 1080p Super LCD 3 display on the HTC One might just be the best display that’s currently commercially available. At a 469 ppi density, it surely is the crispest around, but at a closer inspection, you’ll find that the brightness, contrast, and color accuracy are also top-notch. These are all areas where the HTC One outshines the Sony Xperia Z.

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While the 5-inch 1080p panel on the Sony Xperia Z is very crisp (441 ppi), it was received with intense criticism (from both media and regular Android users) over the TFT technology it’s based on. The older TFT is no match for the more recent IPS LCD, Super LCD (HTC’s brand) or even Super AMOLED, as it generally offers bad viewing angles and sub-par contrast and color accuracy.

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Verdict: The display section is a clear win for the HTC One (the Sony Xperia Z rarely wins in this area anyway).

Design and build quality

The squarish Sony Xperia Z features scratch resistant glass on the front and the back, for an instant slab-like look and feel. The Xperia Z is also the only high-end Android smartphone that can be safely used in the tub, thanks to its dust and water resistance.

Button design and placement is an aspect where Sony engineers really did a great job with the Xperia Z, with the three on-screen navigational buttons and volume rocker on the lower right side being perfectly complemented by a large silver power button.

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The Xperia Z measures 139 x 71 x 7.9 mm (5.47 x 2.80 x 0.31 in) and weighs 146 g (5.15 oz), so it is not one of the most compact 5-inch Android smartphones out there. Another downside of the Xperia Z is the fact that it only has a tiny speaker that really doesn’t perform well, especially when playing video content without headphones.

In the other corner, the HTC One lacks any sharp angles by using rounded corners and a rounded back. The aluminum body gives off a premium feel, while also making the phone seem a bit more durable than the Sony Xperia Z.

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As far as buttons go, HTC has opted for two navigational on-screen buttons instead of the usual three. The volume rocker is on the right side, while the power button is located on the left top side of the device.

Despite the fact that the HTC One has a smaller display, it is not proportionally more compact. The One measures 137.4 x 68.2 x 9.3 mm (5.41 x 2.69 x 0.37 in) and weighs 143 g (5.04 oz).

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HTC One’s larger-than-expected footprint is due to the fact that the Taiwanese manufacturer has equipped its latest flagship with two stereo speakers at the bottom and the top of the display (a system that’s marketed as BoomSound). While audiophiles are not likely to be impressed, BoomSound does pump out more decibels than the tiny speakers on the Sony Xperia Z. For the matter, the HTC One has some of the loudest and best sounding speakers on any smartphone.

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Verdict: Both the HTC One and the Sony Xperia Z boast a premium design and excellent build quality. Tie!

Internal hardware

CPU, GPU and RAM

The Sony Xperia Z is powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro SoC, a chipset that can be found at the heart of some amazing smartphones (the Nexus 4 and the Droid DNA are just a couple of examples). Inside, you’ll find a 1.5 GHz quad-core Krait processor, an Adreno 320 GPU, and 2 GB of RAM, and that’s more than enough for most Android users.

The HTC One uses the Qualcomm Snadpragon 600 SoC, basically an upgraded version of the S4 Pro. Alongside 2 GB of RAM memory, the Snapdragon 600 uses an overclocked Adreno 320 GPU, and a 1.7GHz quad-core GPU.

Benchmark numbers tell the story accordingly: the HTC One scores notably higher than the Sony Xperia Z.

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Storage

The HTC One lacks a microSD card slot, but comes in two variants of internal storage space: 32 and 64 GB.

The Sony Xperia Z comes with just 16GB of internal storage, but that can be expanded via microSD cards of up to 64 GB in size.

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Cameras

For the trigger-happy amateur photographer in you, both the Sony Xperia Z and the HTC One are great choices.

The primary camera used on the Sony Xperia Z is a Sony Exmor RS sensor, which, paired with Sony’s Superior Auto mode, can take pictures that are appropriately balanced to the subject and lighting conditions.

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At a first look, the 4 MP camera on the HTC One may seem like a joke for 2013, but that’s only because we were accustomed to judge the quality of a camera by the size of the photos it takes. Which is wrong! Four megapixels (or better said ultrapixels in the One’s case) actually translate into 2312 x 1736 photos, which is more than most displays can show without downsizing.

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Unless you want to print the photos you take (in which case you’re going to need a DSLR and not a smartphone), the HTC One generally provides better pictures than the Sony Xperia Z, especially in low-light environments.

Battery

Our contenders are equally matched in the battery department: the HTC One comes with a 2300 mAh unity, while the Sony Xperia Z features a 2300 mAh unit. Neither is removable, but they do provide enough energy to get users through a day of moderate use.

Verdict: The HTC One wins this round thanks to its faster processor and better camera.

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Android implementation

While both the HTC One and the Sony Xperia Z run Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, the custom Android UIs that were implemented by each manufacturer are quite different.

On the Xperia Z, the design seems to be inspired by Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, although all the functionality of Jelly Bean is there. Sony’s media-centered apps are placed front and center in a decent, although unimpressive, proprietary Android UI.

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In the other corner, the HTC One comes with a new version of HTC Sense that, along a cleaner design, comes with an interesting feature called BlinkScreen. What BlinkScreen does is take FlipBoard to your home screen, meaning that all your news and social updates will be just a swipe away on your homescreen. Some will dislike having a constantly changing wall of news as a homescreen, but we’re sure many will love it.

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Verdict: In my opinion, the new HTC Sense is better looking and more feature-rich than Sony’s Xperia UI, and thus wins this round.

Hands-on video

Wrap up

So at the end of the day, what can be said about these two smartphones? Which one is preferable in which situation?

If you’re looking for the best full HD display out there, the fastest processor around, a better than average camera, and an interesting user interface, the HTC One is the sure pick.

On the other hand, if you just can’t live without a microSD card slot, or are impressed by the dust and water resistance that the Sony Xperia Z features, the latter is still a well rounded package on its own.

But what do you think? Which one is the better 1080p smartphone? The Sony Xperia Z or the HTC One? Let us know which way you swing in the comment section below!

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Joshua Vergara contributed to this review.

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