HTC One M8 vs iPhone 5s comparison review

The HTC One M8 is HTC's top smartphone for 2014. Our colleagues over at PC Advisor are convinced that the HTC One M8 beats the iPhone 5s hands down.  But here at Macworld UK we are fans of the iPhone. The HTC One M8 is clearly providing some competition to the iPhone, however, so in this article we will look at the features offered by both phones and ask whether the iPhone 5s is still the best phone.

iPhone 5S vs HTC One M8 2014: Build quality, dimensions

HTC is proud of its Apple-like all metal design. Although it's made weight trade-offs to accomplish it, and apparently encountered antenna reception issues along the way. The HTC One M8 weighs in at 160g - heavier than the plastic HTC One from 2013. The iPhone 5s weighs far less at 112g. Even the bigger Samsung S5 weighs less than the HTC One M8 at 144g. Some people consider a little bit of heft to be a good thing, and it makes the phone itself appear more sturdy. It would also be unfair to say that the HTC One M8 is at all heavy, but we'd prefer lighter any day.

The dimensions for the HTC One M8 are 146.36 x 70.6 x 9.35 mm. The iPhone 5s by contrast measures in at 123.8 x 58.6 x 7.6 mm. Apple's phone is much smaller.

The new HTC One M8 smartphone is an all-round bigger phone than the iPhone 5s, then, but is this a bad thing? It's the price you pay for a larger screen. But we find that the iPhone is a better fit, at least in a small hand. We prefer to be able to reach all the corners of the screen with our thumb while holding the iPhone in one hand, but we appreciate that not everyone feels that this is as important as a bigger screen.

The iPhone 5s comes in grey, white and gold; the HTC One M8 comes in grey, silver and rose gold. They have very similar finish and colouring.

Fios

VERDICT: As well-crafted as the new HTC One M8 is, Apple is almost untouchable when it comes to build quality, and the iPhone 5s is an exemplary example of Jony Ive's work. Dimensions, on the other hand, are a matter of taste: the larger HTC One m8 is able to include a larger screen, as we discuss in the next section, but it compromises on portability. Overall we mark this section in favour of Apple, sure Apple could do with a bigger screen on the iPhone 6, but we bet that the iPhone 6 won't be as big and heavy as the M8, and we think that's a good thing. Your opinion may differ. But hey: this is Macworld UK!

iPhone 5S vs new HTC One M8 2014: Screen

With a bigger phone naturally comes a bigger screen. The HTC One M8 has a 5-inch display, an upsize from its previous version, making it much larger than the 4-inch screen on the iPhone 5s. It has a higher screen resolution across that larger area - 1920x1080 pixels, as opposed to 1136x640 on the iPhone 5s - but even per inch that's more pixels. The new HTC One m8 has a pixel density of 441ppi (pixels per inch), compared to the iPhone's 326ppi.

Higher screen resolution might sound like it would mean a sharper picture, but it's worth mentioning that Apple's iPhones feature a Retina display, which might have fewer pixels than the HTC, but this number of pixels is meant to be the maximum number of pixels per inch that the human eye can make out. So if there are a few more pixels on the HTC, in theory there won't be a visible difference to the average human eye. In practice it simply isn't true. The whole concept of the 'Retina' display is really very good marketing by Apple. Recently LG announced a 538ppi display for the LG G3, and the difference is clear to our human eyes. Similarly, put the HTC One M8 next to the iPhone 5s and look at really dense text or a very high resolution image and you will be able to tell the difference. The iPhone 5s has a very sharp screen, the HTC One M8's is sharper.

But what really matters is the quality of the screen - something Tim Cook highlighted as a reason why Apple wasn't ready to move to a larger screen on the iPhone. Contrast ratio and viewing angles matter, and having looked at both phones we would conclude that the screen quality of both is more than sufficient.

We would say that the iPhone 16:9 aspect ratio is better for widescreen movies. Others may prefer a bigger screen when watching a movie, and the HTC One M8 offers that. If you want a massive screen the iPhone 5s might not be for you.

Personally we prefer a phone that slips into your pocket and can be used with one hand. It really is a subjective choice.

iPhone 5s

VERDICT: Many iPhone users have been requesting a larger-screen version of the device - indeed this is one of the recurring rumours about the iPhone 6 - and even though it brings compromises in terms of portability, as we have seen, screen size and sharpness is clearly a point in favour of the HTC One. (For more on this topic, see 'Why Apple should make a bigger iPhone'.)

iPhone 5S vs new HTC One M8 2014: Camera

Like Apple, HTC is promoting the fact that more pixels don't make for better pictures. The cameras on both phones offer larger pixels than the competition who are focused on cramming in more and more pixels onto the sensor - unfortunately some people are always going to think that more means more, when it doesn't.

You might look at the specs below and consider that the Galaxy S5 has the best camera, followed by the iPhone 5s, based on the comparison of 4.1MP and 8MP and 16MP but megapixels aren't everything.

Knowing that it's the size of the pixels that count, like Apple did with the iPhone 5s, HTC has made the pixels of the M8 bigger.

- HTC One M8 has a 4.1 megapixel Ultrapixel lens, 1/3'' sensor, 2µm pixel size, ƒ/2.0 aperture

- iPhone 5s has a 8 megapixel, 1/3'' sensor, 1.5 µm pixel size, ƒ/2.2 aperture

- The Samsung Galaxy S5 offers 16 megapixels but the sensor is just 1/2.6'' and pixels are 1.12 µm, ƒ/2.2 aperture

Along with the bigger pixels, the HTC One M8 comes with a new feature called Duo Camera. The main Ultrapixel camera takes photos in the normal way, but a second sensor captures depth information. This allows users to refocus shots after they've been taken, from one subject to another. This way users can create a depth of field effect, or a fake 'bokeh' effect. Unfortunately from our tests we'd say that the effect doesn't work that well; if you really want depth of field you should get a proper camera, or use one of the many Instagram-style photo filters to create this effect yourself.

The M8 also 'borrows' the two-tone flash feature from the iPhone 5s. Apple's clever two-part LED flash system - known as True Tone flash - mixes two LED sources of different temperature to more naturally light your subject, and hopefully avoid the washed-out glare of most simple flash units. HTC has adopted a similar feature on its camera for the HTC One M8.

For selfie fans, the HTC One M8 blows the iPhone out of the water with a 5-megapixel front-facing camera. The iPhone's FaceTime camera takes 1.2-megapixel photos at a resolution of 1280x960, and offers 720p HD video recording.

iPhone 5s camera

The Duo Camera feature allows you to shift the focus for a depth of field effect:

VERDICT: We haven't yet run true photo comparisons, so we will hold back on a final decision on this one. However, we were disappointed with the flagship Duo Camera depth of field feature of the HTC One M8 camera and we definitely don't think that it is enough to give it the edge over the iPhone 5s camera. However, the HTC has a better front-facing camera. Both phones have very good smartphone cameras. Among the best.

iPhone 5S vs new HTC One M8 2014: Specs and co-processor

The HTC One M8 features the Qualcomm Snapdragon 801, 2.3GHz quad-core CPU; 2GB RAM. It also features a co-processor (like Apple) and 11ac dual-band Wi-Fi (unlike Apple).

The iPhone 5s features the 64-bit A7 chip, running at 1.3GHz, and 1GB RAM. Apple tells that a 64-bit chip future-proofs the iPhone 5s. We remain to be convinced - Samsung immediately followed suit but we don't see a lot of 64-bit smartphone software, and unless you intend to keep your iPhone 5s for many years the 64-bit issue seems like an irrelevence. What really matters is how the performance feels.

As for 802.11ac, many expected that the iPhone 5s would feature this and were disappointed that it didn't. But few have an 802.11ac router, and the standard isn't really expected to arrive in full until 2015, so maybe like 64-bit it doesn't really matter just yet.

With this new model, HTC adds its own co-processor in much the same way Apple did with the iPhone 5s. This low-power chip keeps sensors switched on for HTC's Motion Launch Gestures, which can be used to switch the phone on. Both the iPhone and the One M8 can monitor all of the sensors and measure the data coming from the accelerometer, gyroscope and compass without having to wake up the A7 chip and thereby preserving battery life.

When it came to Geekbench results the M8 edged into the lead, while in terms of SunSpider and Graphics tests the iPhone had the upper hand. (Note that benchmark testing of a phone's performance is only really a guide. Synthetic benchmarks are interesting a good guide, but not reliable for direct compariso.)

It should also be noted that while the HTC One M8 is objectively faster than the iPhone, at least according to the Geekbench results below, the iPhone 5s is as responsive as it needs to be, in our opinion. The experience of using the iPhone 5s is fast and you will get the performance you need. And so is the HTC One M8. These are both super fast smartphones.

Geekbench 2:

HTC One M8: 4171  

iPhone 5s: 2240

Geekbench 3:

HTC One M8: 2781

iPhone 5s: 1409 / 2556

SunSpider

HTC One M8: 583 milliseconds

iPhone 5s: 417 milliseconds (lower is better)

Graphics

HTC One M8 30fps in GFXBench; 12fps in Manhattan test

iPhone 5s is better 37fps in GFXBench; 21 in Manhattan test (more is better)

VERDICT: On paper the HTC might look like it has better specs, but the iPhone runs sufficiently fast. These are both powerful and fast phones.

iPhone 5S vs new HTC One M8 2014: Storage

The HTC One M8 features 16GB onboard storage - outside Europe there is also a 32GB version available. There is also a microSD card slot capable of up to 128GB and 65GB of free Google Drive space for two years.

The iPhone 5s has 16-, 32-, or 64GB of on-board storage and 5GB of free iCloud space.

Many argue that Apple users miss out because they cannot add additional storage. If you need large amounts of storage, then the ability to add a 128GB SD card is, no doubt, going to be a point in the favour of the HTC phone. It's worth noting that adding in third-party storage can have a negative impact on performance, and that's a compromise Apple won't make. There is also the question of how much storage you really need.

Apple makes it easy to back up things like photos and video using Photostream, and users can turn to iTunes in the Cloud to grab the music they want to play - which means they don't have to cart around an entire music collection. Apple offers ways of managing things so that you don't need to cart around 128GB of content, but they rely on having a web connection. It is indisputably better to have more onboard storage.

Incidentally, most people buy the 16GB versions of phones because they are looking to spend less – and a key point here is that this 16GB storage isn't always as advertised.  After the operating system is installed, no smartphone really offers 16GB, but the iPhone is the best of the bunch – offering 12.6GB, compared to the HTC One Mini which offered 10.44GB. The S5 is even worse – just 8.56GB.

VERDICT: The HTC One M8 offers more external storage, but it needs to as there is only a 16GB version available here in the UK. The ability to add extra storage is a useful - if not a killer - feature when compared to the iPhone. The HTC also offers much more free cloud storage than Apple does, but that's only for two years. Either way, with the proviso that the 16GB iPhone has more usable storage than does the equivalent HTC One M8, and that you can always upgrade to 32GB for the iPhone, that 128GB SD slot means the HTC wins.

iPhone 5S vs new HTC One M8 2014: Miscellaneous hardware features

Anything else to cover? Well, we've already discussed the HTC One m8's flagship hardware feature - its dual-lens camera - but we've not yet mentioned the iPhone 5s and its Touch ID fingerprint sensor.

Not everyone is convinced - and the technology occasionally goes wrong - but Touch ID certainly has the potential to be useful. Unlocking your iPhone with a fingerprint (it can store up to five, so you can save both thumbs and index fingers and still give your wife access, for example) is quicker than using a passcode and less memory-diependent. And because so many people find passcodes a drag and switch them off, this small convenience is likely to help you avoid a major security vulnerability.

We love the fact that using Touch ID we can purchase apps and music from Apple's stores without having to enter our Apple ID and password.

iPhone 5S vs new HTC One M8 2014: Software

Finally, let's talk about the software operating systems and app libraries available on the iPhone 5s and HTC One m8.

The iPhone 5s, of course, is based on Apple iOS: it comes with iOS 7 preinstalled, and gets access to all of the features in that operating system. (Read our iOS 7 tips)

iPhone 5S vs new HTC One M8 2014: Software

The HTC One m8 runs Google's Android operating system - Android 4.4.2 KitKat, to be precise, with HTC's Sense 6.0 user interface overlaid. Sense brings a few additional features, such as the BlinkFeed 'news feed', but it's highly customisable.

iOS and Android have their pluses and minuses, and you will probably have made your mind up which you prefer long ago; but for our money iOS is a clear winner. We discussed this question in some detail in our article 'iPhone vs Android: Why the iPhone and iOS beat Google Android', but the short summary would be: iOS is more secure, iOS has better-curated, higher-quality apps (although the App Store isn't perfect by any means, it sets a far higher standard than Google Play) and iOS is more user-friendly and intuitive.

On the other hand, Android fans point to that OS's greater customisability and openness - being unable to delete Apple's preinstalled iOS apps is a legitimate bugbear. But overall we put iOS down as a significant plus for Apple's hardware.

Another thing to keep in mind is the fact that companies are still focusing their attention on app development for iOS first, with the other platforms being given less importance - this is despite there being a bigger market for Android than iOS. The reason why companies prioritise app development for the iPhone: it's a more profitable platform for them. Android users don't by apps, either because it's too difficult to do so, or because they don't have the cash to spare. What's this mean to you? It means that you will be more likely to find the app you need on iOS, at least for now. 

The HTC One M8 features BlinkFeed, but you can turn it off if this level of customisation is annoying for you.

VERDICT: As we said above, we're iPhone users here at Macworld, so we have made an investment in iOS Apps - moving to a different mobile operating system would not be beneficial to us. Plus, we don't like using Android - probably in a similar way to our dislike of using Windows. Some people perfer Android for its apparent customisation, we know others who find it confusing to use Android. We also know people who switched to Android and are now headed back to Apple.

OUR VERDICT

The HTC One M8 is a very nice phone. But then both phones are sleek, powerful devices with numerous technological advances on their sides. You won't be disappointed if you change from iPhone to HTC, but we'd want more to persuade us to leave behind the comforts of iOS. We're happy with our iPhone. A bigger screen would be nice, but we're confident that Apple has one in the works.

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