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HTC One versus Sony Xperia Z: Smartphone flagship showdown

Hands on with HTC and Sony's high end smartphones; which one will have the edge?

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1 of 6 Ben Woods/ZDNet

Pitting the Xperia Z against the HTC One is a particularly good comparison for me – but have a historic liking for both at one time or another.

In my role as a reporter covering the mobile beat, on any given day I have a choice from around six to nine phones. That means if I'm going to pick it up and use a handset day after day, it'll need to be good.

HTC hasn't been on that list for a while. I actually hadn't spent that long using any of the Xperia devices released in 2012, but was pleased to get a proper amount of time with the middle-of-the-pack Xperia T, which pleasantly surprised me and earned it a place as one of my back-up handsets.

 

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2 of 6 Ben Woods/ZDNet

The Xperia Z is, as advertised, waterproof up to certain depths for submersion of up to 30 minutes.

On paper the hardware of the two devices measure up well. The Xperia Z has a 5-inch (1920x1080 pixels) water and dust resistant display, 1.5GHz quad core Qualcomm processor and 13-megapixel camera on the rear. There's also 2GB RAM and 16GB of internal storage, which can be expanded through use of a microSD card.

In the other corner is the HTC One, which, while it isn't water or dust resistant, is still no slouch in the hardware department.

Under-the-bonnet, the HTC One has a 1.7GHz quad-core processor, 2GB RAM and is available in 32GB or 64GB storage variants. Unlike almost every other smartphone on the market, the One eschews the usual high megapixel count for its rear camera in favour of a 4-megapixel sensor specifically designed to give better low-light and all-round performance than your average snapper. Unfortunately, the design of the phone also means that HTC skipped over including a microSD slot for expanding that on board storage.

It’s a similar story for the displays, too. Both are full HD and with PPI counts in the mid 400s, although the HTC One does pip the Xperia Z to the post in terms of overall screen quality. But then, it's not waterproof.

 

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3 of 6 Ben Woods/ZDNet

While Sony has done a good job of creating an ultra-thin 7.9mm depth on the Xperia Z, it pairs it with somewhat strange design choices, like making the power button on the side of the phone a large silver button that protrudes from the side of the device. I'm not really a fan of that (or the small flaps you need to open to access the SIM, microSD and charger sockets which are required to ensure it stays water and dust resistant) but it does at least provide minor differentiation from other handsets and also ensures the button remains accessible when it's being used in a case.

Still, I prefer the narrower and slightly shorter chassis on the HTC One, which makes for a slightly more comfortable holding position. It's not that the Xperia Z is particularly wide, it just has very square edges which don't make for the most comfortable holding position.

The One's official depth is 9.3mm and it weighs 143g, making it 3 grams lighter than the Xperia Z. The One isn't perfect though, I did repeatedly keep tapping the HTC logo at the bottom of the screen expecting me to take me to the homescreen.

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4 of 6 Ben Woods/ZDNet

HTC's BlinkFeed app which populates the homescreen with info from websites, the weather app, and social media sources.

As both handsets run the Jelly Bean version of Android the feature lists are very similar, but both manufacturers are known for making modifications to some of the core apps and features. For example, the Sony Xperia  Z comes with the Walkman application in addition to the standard music player which provides a better interface and brings features like the Infinity button linking straight to info related to the artist or track that is playing, for example.

Likewise, the HTC One also puts some emphasis on the music, continuing HTC's long tradition of integrating Beats Audio software into its phones.

In a side-by-side comparison, my preference was for the sound produced by the HTC One, which was clearer and louder all round, likely helped by the speakers being placed on the front of the device.

The other major difference between the two devices is software tweaks, with HTC using to populate the homescreen with updates from things such as Facebook, Twitter, messages, TV favourites currently showing and weather.

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5 of 6 Ben Woods/ZDNet

The flaps on the Xperia Z

In contrast, the Xperia Z's homescreen feels less personal, or populated, which some people may prefer. Both have included a 'driving mode', which groups together relevant driving-related apps and displays them with oversized icons to make it easier to operate.

Most of the user experience of the rest of the  two devices is comparably similar, but I preferred the feel of the HTC One; the screen just seemed that bit more responsive and the design of the handset appeals to me just a little more.

Overall, for me it's a close call between these two handsets: I hadn't been particularly impressed by either brand in recent years and now along come two great devices at once.

Both are also around about the same price – premium Android territory around the £500 mark.

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6 of 6 Ben Woods/ZDNet

The HTC One's display helped to push the handset just ahead of the Xperia Z, illustrated nicely by a marmot in the picture above.

For me, the HTC One pips the Xperia Z to the post, I prefer the slightly smaller chassis that results from the slightly smaller screen size. The screen also provides a slightly better quality in terms of brightness and colours.

On the down side, it's not the slimmest handset in town and the lack of a microSD expansion slot also riles me a bit, but in comparison to the overall design of the Xperia Z, I'd sacrifice a microSD slot rather than deal with the flappy covers on the SIM, microSD, and other ports on the Xperia Z. I’m also a bit of a sucker for the new BlinkFeed software too, unlike some others I find it as useful a way to fill the homescreen as any.

Coming into this test off the back of a recent good experience with a Sony Xperia device and little good to say about recent HTC handsets, I half-expected the Sony to best the HTC for me, but it just didn’t happen. Both are great phones and neither should leave people feeling disappointed, but if I had to choose one, it'd be the HTC One.

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