HTC Desire HD vs Samsung Galaxy S

Introduction and Design

The HTC Desire HD and the Samsung Galaxy S are quite a fertile ground for comparison, due to the fact that both phones employ huge screens, coupled to latest generation chipsets. We ought to stage a cage fight to check how the powerful silicon fares at feeding the monstrous displays with visuals, and if there are any actual battery life advantages from the allegedly power-sipping chipsets - big screen phones are notorious for sucking the life out of the battery faster than your toddler finishes a juice box.

Both handsets are running Android, but that's where most of the similarities end, as HTC's and Samsung's approaches to design and software are indeed very different. Who will come out ahead in what department? Glimpse through this comparison to find out...


When the first smartphones with big screens hit the market, they were considered niche gadgets. Lugging around a 4“ or 4.3“ screen in your pocket is not for the faint of heart, especially when you sit down, after all. HTC was the company behind the first smartphones with big screens of high resolution – with the HTC Touch HD, and the outstanding HTC HD2. Too bad those were running WinMo, and didn't get mainstream. We can pretty much pencil in these feelings towards the pre-EVO era, as the HTC EVO 4G ushered us in times where phones with big screens are hip and desirable.

The HTC Desire HD might have been referred to as an EVO 4G for the rest of the world, but the differences are too significant to call it that. It runs a second generation 1GHz Snapdragon chipset, has a solid aluminum unibody, and the newest version of the HTC Sense UI, which brings significant functionality changes.

Samsung Galaxy S, on the other hand, introduced the Super AMOLED screen technology to Android handsets, has a 1GHz Hummingbird SoC with theoretically the fastest graphics processing on a phone, and an all-plastic, thin and light design. Being made entirely of plastic has its positives - plastic is lighter and less rigid thаn metal, and this may actually help the precious Super AMOLED screen survive drops and other rough handling.

Those different approaches towards the design make for the entirely opposite feel of the two handsets when held. The HTC Desire HD is wider and thicker than the Galaxy S, which is explicable considering the slightly larger screen and aluminum casing, but the metal also makes it a third heavier at 5.78 oz (164 g), than the 4.16 oz (118 g) Samsung Galaxy S, which feels almost eerily thin and light for a handset with a 4“ screen. A huge solid slab versus featherly feeling – we have to give the handling round to the Samsung Galaxy S, although the Desire HD is just beautiful in its aluminum unibody with soft-touch plastic elements.

Speaking of screens, this one will be a tough call – the 4.3“ Super LCD on the HTC Desire HD is only a tad larger than the 4“ Super AMOLED one on the Galaxy S, but looks quite bigger, thanks to the visual effect of the larger, solid body of HTC's phone. Both screens are of the same resolution - 480x800 pixels and are able to show more than 16 million colors. Even though the pixel density on the Samsung Galaxy S should be a bit higher, the picture when browsing looks slightly more pixelated than the one on the Desire HD, thanks to the specifics of the PenTile matrix used in the production of the Super AMOLED screens. These are nitpicking differences, though, and the resolution is high enough for some gorgeous visuals on both phones.

Now off to the juicy stuff - Super AMOLED is 20% brighter, has 20% less power consumption and is 80% less sunlight reflective than regular AMOLED screens. Super LCD, on the other hand, is the way HTC handles the AMOLED display supply shortages that plagued some of its handsets this year. It is a big leap forward for the LCD technology, as it is characterized by higher brightness and contrast, wider viewing angles, and, most importantly, up to five times better power management than previous generation LCD screens. For a more detailed overview of the two technologies, you can read our article on the topic. The take from the article is that they are good in different things – the Super AMOLED is better for watching videos, thanks to its saturated colors, wide viewing angles, and less power drain when showing colorful images. However, it eats up to three times more battery when showing white – when browsing or reading, for example - thus almost neutering the natural avantage of AMOLED screens, which don't require power-hungry backlighting to function. The Super LCD is practically brighter than the Super AMOLED, which helps in direct sunlight, but the screen on the Galaxy S has a special coating that decreases the light reflectance to the extremely low 4%. This evened things out outside, and when we add the saturated colors, low reflectance and wide viewing angles of the screen on the Samsung Galaxy S, we'd even give it a slight advantage in sunlight visibility.

Still, we'd take the Super AMOLED screen of one and the same resolution any day before an LCD one – battery life would be comparable if you don't do a lot of browsing or reading, but the vivid colors, incredibly high contrast and wide viewing angles more than make up for the higher brightness of the LCD display. On full brightness, the black on the LCD screen looks greyish and the colors appear washed out, while the pixels stay completely off on the Samsung Galaxy S when displaying black, achieving bright, contrasty image. What the 4.3” of the HTC Desire HD has going for it, of course, is that it's just bigger.

HTC Desire HD 360-degree View:

Samsung Galaxy S 360-degree View:

Interface, Messaging and Functionality:

We won't be delving into deep comparison between TouchWiz 3.0 and HTC Sense UI, since we've already covered them when they first appeared - in the Samsung Galaxy S and HTC Desire Z reviews, respectively. TouchWiz 3.0 is simpler and more app-centric, with great social networking integration in your contacts list. The new HTC Sense, on the other hand, comes with cloud-based services for remote management of your phone, with a central command place at It also includes a joint effort by HTC, TomTom and Route66 to provide offline maps for navigation in more than 90 countries in the new Locations app. Other improvements are the 5 seconds boot time, and numerous options for skinning and customizing.

Our personal preferences lean towards HTC Sense, in its newest iteration, which makes it an all encompassing experience with amazing personalization options, but it's all subjective, of course. We did a detailed overview of the new HTC Sense UI in our Desire Z review, if you want to check those new features we mention in depth.

Our Samsung Galaxy S unit was updated to Android 2.2 (Froyo), which brought on full Adobe Flash support, some eye-candy like transparent homescreen dock and flashy icon backgrounds, and also a self-portrait mode in the camera interface using the front-facing cam. The benchmarks showed performance improvement by about a third as well. While navigating the interface or firing up applications, though, the difference wasn't quite visible – Samsung's finest is already fast enough. The split-second black screen before the phone entered some applications, such as the contacts list, is almost gone now - TouchWiz 3.0 is fluid, and a pleasure to use on the Samsung Galaxy S.

The HTC Desire HD, although it scored 1700+ on the Quadrant test, which is more than we've ever seen on a handset out of the box, actually had noticeable lag in inertial scrolling in the main menu. Despite the next-gen 1GHz Snapdragon chipset, and the 768MB RAM, when we swiped briskly up and down in the menu, it stuttered to a stop. It is definitely not a horse power issue, as confirmed by the benchmark tests, just some optimization needed in the new HTC Sense UI, since anywhere else scrolling is as smooth as it gets. There is a new firmware out now, which probably takes care of the teething issues.

The graphics chip, used in Samsung's Hummingbird, is theoretically better than the one in the HTC Desire HD, but, in a year-old 3D game, we consistently saw 58-60 fps from the Snapdragon, while the Galaxy S meandered between 47 and 58 fps - once again the synthetic limits obviously don't mean much in real life, unless there is software specifically written to take advantage of this or that chipset.

Both phones allow for integrating the contacts from your social networks with your phone buddies, but we like the TouchWiz 3.0 approach slightly better, as it allows a quick glimpse at anybody's Facebook account happenings, for example, via a simple tab in the person's contact details.

Both devices have excellent text messaging and email apps, but we liked the email software on the Samsung Galaxy S more, since its settings are easier to find and more detailed. You can download all your emails for offline viewing (and searching), up to 10MB size, in HTML view, and with the attachments. The email client on the HTC Desire HD allows you to set “maximum size” to download, without HTC specifying what size would that be, plus Sense UI is just now introducing combined inbox, a feature that TouchWiz 3.0 has had for a while.

Typing those emails and messages, on the other hand, is easier on the HTC Desire HD – add the traditionally excellent HTC virtual keyboard to a 4.3” screen, and you'll never need another keyboard. Not that it's much harder on the 4” screen, plus the update to Froyo brought Swype to our Galaxy S, so things got even better in the text input department. Oh, wait, there is some trouble in paradise – when typing in landscape mode, or when editing documents, for example – the input on both phones goes into a text box, so the only thing you see is the keyboard and the text box, instead of a split screen. A crying shame on these large screens, which needs to be addressed in the next iterations of Android - these are the only times we prefer a physical keyboard.

We'd have to say again that, since performance on these latest-gen 1GHz chipsets is not an issue, the choice of interface boils down to personal preferences. TouchWiz 3.0 is simpler, and easier to learn and use, while HTC Sense takes some getting used to, but gives back in integrated functionalities and unsurpassed customization options.

Internet, Connectivity and Software:

Both browsers are performing fantastic – scrolling, panning around, multitouch and double-tap work flawlessly, without a hint of lag. They share similar functionalities, with the main differences between the two being the more flexible text selection ability in the Sense UI browser with two waypoints, and the separate brightness setting in the browser on the Galaxy S, presumably to tone down the power drain from AMOLED displays, when showing white website backgrounds.

The only difference in performance we noticed was when we loaded the Unreal Tournament 3 site, which is Flash-based, and has an embedded video inside to boot. The browser on the Samsung Galaxy S slightly stuttered on the video, while on the HTC Desire HD things were smooth as silk, most likely due to the 256MB of RAM more that the handset possesses, and the hardware acceleration in Sense UI's browser. Also, we mentioned that the PenTile matrix used to produce the Super AMOLED display uses two subpixels for one pixel instead of three, thus making text and images appear smoother on the LCD screen.

Recommended Stories
Both browsers support text reflow, so the pages are rendered to fit the screens entirely, but the elements on the Desire HD are just bigger than on the 4.3” screen, and thus easier to read. Here we give slight advantage to the browser on the HTC Desire HD, unless you are mesmerized by those gaudy, saturated colors that the Galaxy S produces while browsing, or doing anything else, for that matter.

On the connectivity front, both devices support the full set of radios – 3G, Wi-Fi, A-GPS, Bluetooth, FM Radio and DLNA. The devil is in the details, though – the HTC Desire HD supports 14.4Mbps download speeds, while the Samsung Galaxy S makes do with 7.2Mbps. Given that there are now 29 live HSPA+ networks in Europe, this is a nice short term fix for your need for speed, until LTE is rolled out completely. On the other hand, the Galaxy S has Bluetooth 3.0, which is much faster than the 2.1 variety, but there aren't many devices supporting it as of now, so it is just a futureproof feature for the time being. The golden palm in the connectivity front here goes to the HTC Desire HD.

Moreover, the new HTC Sense UI utilizes fully the GPS chip with the pre-installed Locations app, which we examined thoroughly in our HTC Desire Z review, including its performance on video, if you need more details. It is basically a partnership between HTC, TomTom and Route 66 for offline navigation on HTC devices running Sense UI. Detailed maps and POIs of more than 90 countries, or entire regions, can be downloaded to the app and used for navigation, aided by a digital compass, without having to splurge on data or roaming charges. If you want voice-guided navigation, you can purchase it within the app for additional charge, which is pretty competitive.

The other major software difference is the cloud-based service for phone info backup, remote locking, wiping or locating your handset via, which is a new thing. That's a must have functionality, which we are sure Samsung is working to add to its handsets in some way, but the new Sense UI has these integrated throughout the interface – for example, when personalizing the looks, you can download additional scenes, skins, wallpapers and widgets from the HTC Hub, and that's within the app. HTC Likes takes the guesswork out of your application shopping experience by pre-screening them for you, and is an added-value alternative to Android Market, and so on. We give credit where it is due, and HTC has the upper hand here for seamlessly integrating a wealth of customization options and functionalities in the new Sense UI.

Camera and Multimedia:

Both camera interfaces are touch-friendly and it's hard to pick a winner here, since the one on the Samsung Galaxy S offers more scene modes, but the interface on the Desire HD looks fantastic, and has no less than 13 color effects that can be applied to your photos and videos.

Good interfaces don't mean much if not coupled to good cameras, and we have to say that both the 5MP cam on the Galaxy S, and the 8MP one on the Desire HD can be very good, but not excellent. The photos from the Samsung Galaxy S come slightly out of focus, if not kept steady, boasting good color representation, but indoors the noise suppression algorithm kicks in, and takes away from the details, as on all handsets that can't light up the scene with a flash, or don't have a backlit sensor.

The HTC Desire HD has a dual-LED flash, but problems with metering, which returned yellow-tinted “darkness with flash” snaps. Outdoors the Desire HD was hit-and-miss. It captures details aplenty and returns accurate colors, but there is again some blurring if the phone is not held extremely steady.

With that out of the way, we must say that both handsets can produce very good photos, but it takes learning the scene modes and image adjustments for that to happen. Out of the box, the 8MP doesn't shoot better photos than the 5MP one, leaving the flash as the only advantage of the Desire HD camera for cases when it's pitch dark. Both devices shoot HD video at 30fps, but the one from the Samsung Galaxy S comes out smoother, with better image quality, and more accurate colors.

HTC Desire HD vs Samsung Galaxy S Sample Videos:

The photo and video gallery on the Samsung Galaxy S is the stock one, with nice animations and some rudimentary editing capabilities. The HTC Sense approach is a category list, and a thumbnail grid view; it also has separate tabs for Facebook and Flickr. Both handsets allow for media streaming to DLNA-enabled devices straight from their galleries.

The music players cover all track sorting basics, with the Samsung Galaxy S displaying a list, and HTC Desire HD having a Cover Flow-like approach for flipping through songs. Now, both devices are of the few that support some sort of surround sound. Samsung has this faux 5.1 channel SRS effects in headset mode in a lot of its  phones lately, and similar technology is present on the HTC Desire HD. However, HTC's handset ups the music ante with offering the surround sound effect both in headset, and in loudspeaker modes, while topping it off with Dolby Mobile technology. SRS intensifies the sound, as if the singer is breathing in your ears, while Dolby Mobile boosts the base sounds for some throbbing tunes. Both are a nice addition for the audiophile in us, but, on the flip side, the loudspeaker on the HTC Desire HD manages to produce just average volumes.

Having those huge screens at your disposal means that you will be watching plenty of videos - both handsets support a large number of formats, including DivX/Xvid, and the chipsets are powerful enough to play HD resolutions without any issues. The HTC Desire HD is a bit more capricious at what you throw at it, and DivX/Xvid played well up to about 640x480 pixels of resolution, then there was some lag and stuttering. Knowing that the bottleneck is not in the speedy chipset, we downloaded a video player off Android Market, which fixed the issue, and added the ability to loop video and subtitle support to the mix. We can still check that as a disadvantage of the video playback on the HTC Desire HD compared to the Galaxy S, though. The player supports the SRS and Dolby Mobile effects in the speaker when watching video, but you won't be noticing much difference, given that the speaker is turned away from you and barely heard then. With plugged-in handsets it does make a difference for a more immersive experience, though.

We were curious to test the battery life for video playback, so we looped an HD trailer, encoded in the popular MPEG-4 with the screen brightness to the max on both handsets, killed idle processes in the background, but left the 3G and Wi-Fi radios on to simulate more of a real-life usage.

The HTC Desire HD achieved 4 hours and 34 minutes of video playback before the battery gave up the ghost, while the Samsung Galaxy S lasted slightly more at 5 hours and 17 minutes, which can be easily explained with the bigger battery. We were actually expecting more from the Super AMOLED screen, given that it sucks the least juice in video playback, but this just proves that the new Snapdragon chipset is well optimized for video playback too. In the end it comes down to a choice between a bigger screen, and more vivid, lively colors. Our personal preferences are the saturated colors and excellent player on the Samsung Galaxy S, but having extra 0.3” of screen diagonal is nothing to sniff at either.


On the Samsung Galaxy S the voice quality is decent – fine clarity in the earpiece on our side, albeit a bit quiet, but the mic was sending background noise and slight voice distortion to the ears of our listeners. The HTC Desire HD has a very good microphone with active noise cancellation, so the people we called said they were hearing us very well. The earspeaker is good, without static noise, but it lacks a punch in the volume department. Overall, we liked the call quality better on the Desire HD.

Talk time with 3G on is rated at 6.5 hours time for the Samsung Galaxy S, and 5.5 hours for the HTC Desire HD. In everyday use, we could definitely declare Samsung's handset the winner here. After the Froyo update, the battery lasted almost two days with average use, while the Desire HD had to be charged every evening, even with moderate tinkering. Of course, it's a case of a bigger 4.3” screen on a smaller 1230mAh battery, compared to 4”, and 1500mAh, so even a 45nm chipset can't pull up many tricks here.


If we had to choose, we want a 4.3” Super AMOLED screen on an aluminum unibody handset, that is as thin as the Galaxy S, and carries the new HTC Sense UI on it. Any of the two chipsets will do. Just kidding, but it might happen next year. 

However, out of the HTC Desire HD and the Samsung Galaxy S, we would pick Samsung's finest, and we'll tell you why. It's not the silicon – both phones have excellent chipsets, and the theoretical advantage in the graphics department of Sammy's Hummingbird didn't translate into better frame rates in the 3D games we played. It's not the built-in 16GB of memory on the Galaxy S, and lack thereof on the HTC Desire HD. Memory cards are cheap these days, and the Desire HD beats the Galaxy S in the camera specs department with higher resolution cam and a ho-hum LED flash, which compensates the absence of in-built memory for us.

Our preference was not based on the screens either – despite that we'd personally take the Super AMOLED before an LCD of the same resolution any day, the sheer size of the one on the HTC Desire HD is also quite appealing. We have to admit that the new HTC Sense UI almost tipped the scales for us, with its fast boot, amazing personalization options, cloud-based services and offline navigation functionalities. But it will be coming on all HTC Android handsets from now on, and inventive souls are working towards porting it over to the Galaxy S as well.

It's the battery life and the design approach. In practice, when the first “wows” subside around the sleek aluminum chassis of the HTC Desire HD, you'll be seeing the black rectangle where the screen is most of the time, but notice the considerable heft of the device, and the fact that you have to use both hands to operate it more often than not. The Galaxy S might be bland looking in its all-plastic body, but it is incredibly thin, light, durable and easy to handle because of that - for a handset with a 4” screen, that is. We also know that we'll be cursing ourselves that we chose a slightly bigger screen if the battery runs out after just an average day with the device, and we have no way to charge it. Of course, you can always buy and remember to carry a spare battery, but the new side-loading way of swapping it is a nuisance thanks to the stiff slot cover on the Desire HD. Bigger screens is the way to go, but only if the handsets are kept slim and light, and battery life is worth it, which is not the case with the HTC Desire HD.

There are not many alternatives to the HTC Desire HD and the Samsung Galaxy S, considering the latest generation chipsets in both. Screenwise, there is no AMOLED like the Super AMOLED, and 4” is as large as it goes. The only other such screen is in the Samsung Omnia 7, with the fledgling Windows Phone 7. Also, devices with 4.3” LCD screens of HTC make, such as the EVO 4G, or the HTC HD7 with WP7 can do the trick for you. All of these phones are carrying first generation Snapdragon chipsets, which still run whatever you throw at them, so they could be viable alternatives to the HTC Desire HD, and the Samsung Galaxy S.

HTC Desire HD vs Samsung Galaxy S Video Comparison:

Recommended Stories

Loading Comments...
FCC OKs Cingular\'s purchase of AT&T Wireless