HTC One M9 vs Samsung Galaxy S6: Focus is on design, but Samsung may have gone too far

Samsung and HTC each improved this generation of smartphone, but some design decisions may have customers choosing one over the other -- and it may not be the one you think.
Written by Matthew Miller, Contributing Writer
I've now had a couple days to think about the time I spent with both the new HTC One M9 and Samsung Galaxy S6/S6 Edge. Both devices offer improved design over previous generation models, but one gave up a few features that may end up costing customers.

See: Samsung's Galaxy S6: How it was designed

Phone design is an exercise in compromise and very few of us are every fully satisfied with the end product. I constantly hear criticism about a phone missing this or missing that and it truly is not as easy as we may think to get everything perfect.

For example, one comment I often hear about the One M8 is that HTC should just get rid of the black space below the display and above the speaker grille. There are components in this space and to get the proper BoomSound quality one needs to have an adequate air chamber for sound resonance. BoomSound is important to HTC so it keeps the space to optimize this feature over having a shorter device.

Let's take a closer look at what HTC and Samsung gave up or left out compared to what they gained with the new HTC One M9 and Samsung Galaxy S6/S6 Edge when we compare each to the previous generation handsets.

HTC One M9

When you look at the new HTC One M9, you may think it doesn't appear much different than the One M8. At first glance you would be right; the M9 is more of an evolution than a revolution in HTC design. When you have an iconic design, it makes sense to improve on that without risking everything by radically changing the device.

CNET:HTC's One M9 polishes familiar metal with fresh camera tech (hands-on)

What's lost or missing in the One M9? After spending 24 hours hands-on with the One M9 and looking through the detailed specs, it appears there is nothing lost in going from the One M8 to the M9. However, that doesn't mean the One M9 is perfect.

The new One M9 is missing a couple features I expected to see, given other high end smartphones today. First, with a focus on an improved camera I expected to see optical image stabilization. Apple, Samsung, Nokia, LG, and others were able to get OIS into today's modern smartphones and I don't understand why this wasn't a priority for HTC.

Water resistance is not easy with metal and glass designs without using doors and other elements that take away from the elegance of the smartphone. The iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, new Samsung Galaxy S6/S6 Edge, Samsung Galaxy Note 4/Note Edge, and others do not have water resistance and while this may be a priority for someone like me who runs with their phone in the rain, it obviously is not a majority opinion. I am pleased to see that HTC has an official Active case for the One M9 that provides IP68 protection. There are plenty of case options for other smartphones as well.

What did HTC improve in the One M9? There were a couple of improvements I wanted to see in the M8, in particular the rear camera and battery life. Both of these, and more, were addressed by HTC.

The rear camera is now a 20 megapixel module, while the 4 megapixel UltraPixel module was improved and moved to the front. If you are satisfied with the HTC One M8 camera or want to take photos in low light, just turn the One M9 around and use the front facing shooter to capture photos.

I performed some early tests on non-final camera software with good results. I'm sure it will get better as HTC tweaks the software before retail release. Even now, photos have more depth and detail than they did with the One M8.

Battery capacity has been increased, from 2600 mAh to 2830 mAh. With the updated Snapdragon 810 processor and increased capacity we should see improved battery life. HTC also supports Quick Charge on the One M8 and the One M9 gets this same charging technology so you can top up quickly.

You may recall that I felt the HTC One M7 was my favorite smartphone ever and I loved holding this device in my hand. The One M8 was slippery and I dropped it a lot. Thankfully, HTC went back to a better in-hand feel with the M9 and it is "edgier" like the One M7. It is a bit sharper on the sides and the back has less curvature than the One M8.

HTC Sense has always been one of my favorite Android user interfaces; with Sense 7, HTC provides more personalization that should appeal to smartphone owners who like to have a device that is different than others. The easy theming and smart launcher both function well and I'm sure many will enjoy these features.

Samsung Galaxy S6/S6 Edge

The Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge are the same device, except for the curved glass edges and additional functions provided by the edges. When I refer to the Galaxy S6, I mean both devices in this section.

CNET: Samsung Galaxy S6, Galaxy S6 Edge restyle Samsung's image with curves, metal, glass

Unlike the HTC One M9, the Samsung Galaxy S6 is quite a bit different in design than the Galaxy S5. A few design elements actually have it looking more like an iPhone 6 than the next Galaxy smartphone.

What's lost or missing in the Galaxy S6? Samsung went back to the drawing board with the S6 and made some major decisions that will likely disappoint some Samsung Galaxy fans. The removable battery and microSD expansion card were always features that set the Galaxy S line apart from other high end smartphones and gave consumers a choice. Both are now gone in the Galaxy S6.

As we look at these two missing features, I have to wonder: How useful were they really? MicroSD tends to be slower than integrated storage and on Android I have experienced corruption a few times. Samsung previously announced that 32GB Galaxy S5 devices would launch on US wireless carriers, but they never delivered so consumers were forced to use microSD if they wanted to take lots of photos and videos. The new S6 line starts at 32GB and goes up to 128GB, so that should be more than enough for most users.

A removable battery is good to swap out a couple years down the road or when you are out for more than a day. I rarely ever used a spare battery, but I know several people who do rely on them. At least in the past Samsung was the manufacturer that gave you that choice. There are plenty of battery pack options and the new quick charge capability will also help top you off quickly.

I don't understand why Samsung went with a smaller capacity battery, 2550/2600 mAh compared to the S5's 2800 mAh variant; I will be disappointed if battery life goes down. While Quick Charge is great, you still need a battery to last as long as possible to make sure your phone is good to go in all situations.

The Galaxy S5 added waterproof capability, but consumers can't pull this party trick with the S6 as it no longer has a water resistant rating. It seems the trend is for high end phones to focus on design over harsher environment utility.

What did Samsung improve in the Galaxy S6? While Samsung gave up some major features to improve the design of the Galaxy S6, they also gained quite a bit in hardware and software.

Both new Galaxy S6 smartphones have glass front panels, Gorilla Glass 4 rear panels, and metal edges. The designs clearly have a premium feel and in my opinion feel better than the previous Galaxy S models. We'll have to see how the glass back holds up when dropped; that worries me on my Sony Xperia Z3 too.

Both cameras were improved with better reported low-light performance and quality even better than the Note 4. I found the Note 4 to be as good, or better, than the iPhone 6 Plus so it looks like Samsung may soon have the best camera available in a smartphone. They have improved capture software, with quick access buttons on one screen that look like a nearly direct copy of what HTC has in its camera software.

The S6 has faster DDR4 RAM with 3GB capacity. It is reported to be noticeably faster than the 3GB of RAM in the Note 4.

Rather than forcing you pay a high price to add a wireless charging back cover accessory, Samsung integrated wireless charging in the Galaxy S6. Even better than its previous Qi charging, the S6 supports the WPC and PMA standards.

The display resolution was increased to 2560 x 1440 (577 ppi) while keeping the 5.1 inch size. Samsung already had a fantastic 1080p Super AMOLED display and I am not convinced any higher resolution is necessary on a 5 inch smartphone. I woud rather see improved battery life than improved display resolution.

The Galaxy S6 launches with Lollipop so the updated look, feel, and functionality of Material Design detailed in my S5 walkaround is present here out of the box. There are other improvements in the Samsung TouchWiz UI with bold colors still being used throughout. You will also still find a large number of settings.

We will soon get a chance to spend much more time with both devices. Both will appeal to consumers, but I personally am leaning towards the M9 as my next Android smartphone and daily driver.

Dueling smartphones: Samsung S6 vs HTC One M9

Further ZDNet HTC One M9 and Samsung Galaxy S6 coverage

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