Samsung Galaxy Note 4 vs HTC One (M8)
Interface and Functionality
TouchWiz in the Note 4 is another small step in the right direction for Samsung, and the S Pen is better than ever, while Sense in the M8 is lean and clean, but lacks some features.
Both the Note 4 and One (M8) come with the latest version of Android, 4.4 KitKat, on board, but the looks of the platform differ due to the two vastly different custom skins on top of it. TouchWiz on the Note 4 is modernized, but still retains a lot of its familiar colorfulness and some of cartoonish style. Samsung has moved in a slow, but consistent tempo with TouchWiz, and comparing it with the version we saw last in the S5, it is a slightly rehashed take on the familiar Samsung skin, brightening it up a bit with a new white-toned backgrounds, and cleaning it of clutter. The new set of fresh Quad HD wallpapers also looks great on the Note 4. While we did notice less of that typical TouchWiz lag, it was still there, and the difference could be felt when comparing with the snappy Sense skin on the M8.
HTC’s Sense user interface, on its part, feels lean and clean. Animations are fast and to the point, icons have a mature, modern look, and things are well optimized for touch throughout, while on TouchWiz, even core apps like the phonebook - annoyingly - do not support swiping to change between tabs.
Apart from that, basic functionality is as rich of an experience as you’d expect from these top-shelf devices. Typing on the built-in keyboard of the Note 4 is fairly fast as you have the convenience of a separate, fifth row for the numbers, but the One (M8) despite its 0.7-inch smaller display, features one of our favorite keyboard solutions, filled with large keys from one edge to the other, and typing on it is equally fast, if not even faster.
With the Note 4, Samsung introduces a few new functionalities, some of which, are absent on the One (M8).
The first one is health tracking, an area where the M8 lags noticeably behind as it features no single app hub. The Note 4 with its updated S Health and new blood oximetry and UV radiation sensors brings more to the table.
Then, there is the fingerprint sensor that is not to be found on the M8. On the Note 4, the fingerprint reader is of the same swipe type as in the Galaxy S5 - it requires you to swipe from slightly above the button (actually, starting from the bottom part of the screen itself) and through the key.
Accuracy seems to have improved slightly over the original finger reader in the S5 and we find it decent, though, not great.
Finally, the S Pen signature feature of the Note series is improved on the Note 4. It’s a bit easier to take out the pen in comparison with the Note 3, where you had to literally chop it out vigorously.
The S Pen is powered by Wacom and it uses a digitiser. The new S Pen comes with double the sensitivity: it now detect 2,048 levels of pressure, compared to 1,024 on the Note 3.
The big question for most users, however, would really be a very simple one: can I use this to take notes as I usually do on paper? The answer is ‘not quite’. Despite being more accurate, for handwriting the S Pen still draws with an annoying lag, and if you want to actually be able to read what you’ve written, you need to switch to a gargantuan font, so that your notes end up looking like a kid’s first attempts at writing (especially if you jot down quickly, on the move).
Processor and Memory
The Snapdragon 805 on the Note 4 does a good job coping with the load of the Quad HD resolution, but the M8 - despite its Snapdragon 801 - often feels snappier.
The Galaxy Note 4 arrives nearly half a year after the HTC One (M8) hit store shelves, and it takes full advantage of this as quietly humming under its hood is the latest and most powerful Qualcomm SoC: the Snapdragon 805. The M8, in comparison, also runs on a Snapdragon 800-series chip, but in its earlier iteration - the 801.
In daily usage the difference in speed is perceptible, but interestingly, it’s in HTC One (M8)’s favor. The M8 runs faster, and we’d attribute this to two things - the optimizations in the Sense UI, and the lower resolution. The Note 4 is not a slouch by any means (we actually think it runs slightly faster than the Note 3), but there is this noticeable pause between after you hit a button and you see the result of that action taking place.
Looking at pure specifications, both the Snapdragon 805 and 801 are quad-core chips, but the Krait 450 CPU in the 805 runs at slightly higher clock speeds of up to 2.7GHz, while the Krait 400 processor in the 801 - at up to 2.5GHz. The Note 4 also features 3GB of RAM, while the M8 has slightly less - 2GB.
While the difference in CPU compute is not huge, the Adreno 420 in the Note 4 is a big step forward from the Adreno 330. The new GPU allows the Note 4 to run practically on par with its predecessor, the Note 3, despite the huge bump in screen resolution. In practical terms, this means that games will run at similar frame rates on the Note 4 and the M8, and the benchmarks below prove that.
We should also point out that - while most Western markets will get a Snapdragon 805-equipped Galaxy Note 4 - other markets, mostly in Asia, will get a different version of the Note 4, powered by Samsung’s own Exynos 5433 chip. Unlike the Snapdragon 805, the Exynos 5433 is a 64-bit chip that ensures compatibility with all the 64-bit optimizations coming with Android L and the ART runtime. The Exynos 5433 itself is an octa-core chip with four low-power Cortex A53 cores and four performance-driven Cortex A57s in a big.LITTLE configuration.
The Galaxy Note 4 and One (M8) both feature 32GB of internal storage on board, ampler than most other smartphones that are offered with only 16 gigs of built-in storage. You can also expand on that initial storage allowance via microSD cards of up to 128GB on both.
Internet and Connectivity
You have a choice of two pre-installed browsers to surf the web on both the Galaxy Note 4 and the HTC One (M8): a custom solution, and Google’s mobile Chrome. Chrome features the familiar card-based interface, while the custom browsers in each one differ in their look, but are otherwise identical in functionality and both load webpages quickly (the HTC is a bit faster), and scrolling as well as zooming in and out is snappy.
In terms of connectivity, you have 4G LTE on both, but theoretical max on the Note 4 reach 300Mbps for downloads (on the Snapdragon model, that is, the Exynos model is equipped with a 150Mbps modem), while the One (M8) maxes out at 150Mbps. Other connectivity options include Bluetooth 4.1 on the Note 4 versus 4.0 on the M8, dual-channel Wi-Fi on both, GPS, and NFC. Both devices also have an infra-red beamers with an accompanying app, so that you can use your phone as a remote for, say, your TV.