HTC One max vs Samsung Galaxy S4
Out of the box, the HTC One max runs Android 4.3 Jelly Bean, with a promise from HTC that a 4.4 KitKat update will be released by mid-December. On the Samsung Galaxy S4 we find Android 4.3 as well, yet currently, we aren't sure when exactly the handset will be treated to an update to KitKat.
Unsurprisingly, the Android builds loaded onto these two smartphones have undergone some serious modification. On the HTC One max we have the company's custom Sense 5.5 interface – it is simple, stylish, and quite good-looking as a whole. What's more, it is extremely consistent, meaning that all menus, UI elements, and native apps follow the same design principles and color schemes. When it comes to personalization, one has the freedom to add shortcuts and widgets to both their home and their lock screen. Those who are addicted to social networking, or simply love to be in the know, might like the HTC BlinkFeed feature. Basically, it acts as a home screen where up-to-date information from hundreds of online news sources is curated and mixed together with the user's social network feed. Thankfully, it can be switched off if not needed.
Samsung's approach to UI design is quite different. First of all, there's a bit more eye-candy found in TouchWiz UI, which we find loaded onto the Galaxy S4 – think transition effects, colorful icons and wallpapers, transparent UI elements, and the likes. And while the interface looks quite cartoonish in our opinion, we're sure that a great fraction of users won't have anything against that. Another peculiarity about TouchWiz is that it is loaded to the brim with extra features, some of which are found only on Galaxy smartphones. Most of them, such as S Translator, S Health, and the option to split the screen in half for two apps to run side by side, can be quite useful.
All in all, Sense and TouchWiz both have their strengths and weaknesses. And it is up to the user to decide which one they prefer – HTC's Sense 5.5 is for people who are into simpler, more elegant UIs, while TouchWiz in its latest form is for those who want a fully loaded handset, with goodies other phones likely won't have.
Processor and memory
Just like the HTC One, the One max has a Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 SoC ticking under the hood, with a quad-core Krait 300 CPU arrangement and a 1.7GHz maximum clock speed. Given the fact that the faster Snapdragon 800 is already powering a number of devices, we find it strange that HTC would stick to the weaker silicon for a handset of this caliber. The same Snapdragon 600 chip is outfitted inside the Samsung Galaxy S4 as well, or at least that is the case with the variant we are using for this comparison. That we don't mind since the Snapdragon 600 was the best Qualcomm had to offer at the time of the S4's launch. (Note that in select markets, the Galaxy S4 is sold with an Exynos 5 Octa 5410 instead.) However, Samsung has clocked the CPU higher, at 1.9GHz, which gives the Galaxy S4 the upper hand when it comes to raw power.
But despite the slight difference in CPU clock speed, both the HTC One max and the Samsung Galaxy S4 are, more or less, equally fast and responsive when performing every-day tasks – their UIs are rendered smoothly, with lags occurring only on some very rare occasions. As a matter of fact, the HTC One max is often speedier when we launch or switch between apps. Both smartphones perform well while playing heavy games and have no troubles running all of the newest titles at the Play Store.
With the HTC One max you get 16GB of storage, out of which 10.4GB are available to the user – not much, but not terrible either. This can be expanded with the help of a microSD card of up to 64GB, where photos, music, and even some apps' data can be stored. Alternatively, you can just wait for the launch of the upcoming 32GB model instead, should you require the extra space. The case with the Galaxy S4 is not much different – there are 16GB on board, with about 9.5GB of them user-available, and a microSD card slot making storage expansion possible. Again, one is free to get a 32GB model instead, and for those who find even that insufficient, a 64GB version can be found as well after a little digging online. Extra cloud storage is provided with both devices – 50 gigs on Dropbox for the Galaxy S4 and “up to” 65GB on Google Drive for the HTC One max.
Dialer and messaging
Launching the Phone app on the HTC One max brings forth a virtual keypad for dialing numbers and searching through contacts. A swipe to the side takes us to the contacts list, where we can quickly browse through them using a 2-finger swiping gesture. Call history, favorite contacts, and contact groups have their own tabs as well. What we like about HTC's Phone app is that specific contacts can be blocked and that it works with a pre-loaded widget listing a contacts group that we pick – our favorites or most frequently contacted people, for example. What we aren't happy with, on the other hand, is that switching between tabs can be a bit tedious since we have to flick through them in order instead of just jumping to the one we need with a single touch. The Phone app on the Samsung Galaxy S4 isn't paired with a widget like that, but it has a trick or two up its sleeve to stand out with. For example, calling or shooting a message to a contact can be as simple as swiping right or left respectively on their entry in the contacts list. Moreover, specific vibration patterns can be assigned to each contact, allowing one to know who's calling before they even look at their phone.
The messaging apps on both smartphones are straightforward to use and don't lack any of the features that an application of this kind must have. Images, videos, locations, contact information and calendar entries can be attached to a message, which can be very useful. Their keyboards support word prediction and auto-correct, which might speed up your typing to some extent. Keyboard layouts and dictionaries for a great number of languages can be configured.
Thanks to its size and spacious button layout, the keyboard on the HTC One max is ideal for typing with two thumbs. Efficient single-handed typing is impossible, of course, and we see no single-hand UI optimizations, such as the ones found on the Galaxy Note 3. The virtual keys on the Samsung Galaxy S4 are somewhat smaller, but after a little practice, its keyboard does not feel any less usable. In fact, we can comfortably type on it with either one or two thumbs at a time.
S Planner – that's the name of Samsung's calendar app, found on the Galaxy S4. And we can confirm that it is a very functional, well-made piece of software that busy folks will appreciate having at their disposal. It gives us a sneak preview of our appointments and has a built-in to-do list manager as well. On the HTC One max we find a Calendar application that is pretty simple to get the hang of, but not as versatile as Samsung's.
Scribble is a pre-loaded app on the HTC One max, used to take down simple and not-so-simple notes. Text, finger-painted doodles, clip art, photos, and audio recordings can be compiled into document, which can later be shared online or attached to a message. The S Memo application on the Samsung Galaxy S4 is pretty similar in terms of functionality. Again, it is used to put media together into a note that may be shared or exported. Both apps are pretty easy to use as their UIs have been optimized well for touchscreen input.
Internet and connectivity
There's a number of reasons why we'd pick the HTC One max for web browsing instead of the Samsung Galaxy S4. First and foremost, it has a bigger screen and its browser application can occupy the entire area of the display for a true full-screen experience. Also, the app is slightly faster and less choppy when rendering heavy web pages. But don't get us wrong – the Samsung Galaxy S4 is also great for surfing the internet. In fact, it has a cool trick or two up its sleeve, such as the built-in Reader mode. When available, it clears the entire web page from all unessential content, leaving just the paragraphs of text for easier reading. Also, the S4 inflates the size of text automatically, thus making it easier to read.
When it comes to connectivity, there's pretty much nothing essential that the HTC One doesn't offer. LTE and 4G HSPA+ are on board, along with the mandatory Wi-Fi radio, which is 802.11ac compatible, and Bluetooth 4.0 with AptX support. You also get NFC and GPS with GLONASS compatibility for improved accuracy. Even the humble FM radio with RDS has not been omitted, which we appreciate. As for the Samsung Galaxy S4, all of these, save for the FM Radio, are present on it as well. That is, unless you have the Exynos model, which has no LTE.