As rumor would have it, HTC and Samsung are once again appear to be set on an Android collision course of epic proportions. This year the battle will likely be between the HTC M7 (now though to be called the HTC One) and the Samsung Galaxy S4 battling for supremacy, instead of the HTC One X and the Samsung Galaxy S3 going to battle.
Given last year’s resounding victory for the Galaxy S3, here, we look at whether or not the HTC M7 can compete with the Galaxy S4 and what it might take to do so.
Last year was not a very good year for HTC and unfortunately, the company already has a grim outlook on the new year as its sales figures are predicted to slide despite optimism from the company’s CEO Peter Chou. Despite its misfortunes though, the company has managed to put out some very good Android smartphones.
The HTC One X, the company’s flagship from last year, was arguably the best HTC phone ever made combining a stellar camera with a gorgeous LCD-2 display, all held together by a gorgeous aluminum design. The HTC One X was certainly one of the better Android phones of the year but as sales and revenue showed, the device wasn’t as big of a hit as the Samsung Galaxy S3.
While the Galaxy S3 arrived several months after the HTC One X, the phone went on to smash sales records and has sold over 40 million units around the world. HTC hasn’t disclosed specific numbers for the HTC One X, but they are likely much lower than that. The Galaxy S3’s success has pushed Samsung into the upper echelon not only in terms of sales but in terms of visibility as well. And due to great marketing and a great phone to boot, the Galaxy S series now sits on the same pedestal as the iPhone, a device that had thwarted Android challengers in the years past.
It’s these developments have made sure that all eyes are on HTC and Samsung’s products in 2013, the first of which should be the HTC M7 and the Samsung Galaxy S4. Already, both phones have leaked out to the surface, showing their prospective might to the world. But with the Galaxy S3 propelling the Galaxy S series to new heights, can HTC’s new flagship, expect to compete with the Galaxy S4?
Let’s take a look.
While the Galaxy S3 may have blown the HTC One X away in sales last year, the main reason wasn’t a difference in hardware. In fact, the HTC One X holds its own against the Galaxy S3 offering a better camera, a 4.7-inch screen that is arguably better than the Galaxy S3’s and a gorgeous design crafted out of aluminum.
That said, we expect the HTC M7 to compete on the same level as the Galaxy S3, from a hardware standpoint, once again. Already, we’ve heard that both phones will feature similarly sized displays with 1080p resolution and high pixel-per-inch markets. We’ve heard that both will have quad-core processors.
HTC is rumored to be putting a fantastic 4.3 Ultrapixel camera on the HTC M7, Samsung a 13MP camera on its Galaxy S4. Both are expected to offer improved battery life from their predecessors.
So, from a hardware standpoint, while there might be some smaller advantages like a microSD card slot or removable battery on the Galaxy S4, the HTC M7 will likely be on par with the Galaxy S4.
One of the reasons that the HTC One X may have had problems competing last year, at least in the United States, was because for whatever reason, HTC decided to only release the HTC One X on AT&T’s 4G LTE network. On the other hand, the Galaxy S3 launched on AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular and Verizon.
This not only put the One X at a disadvantage in terms of sales but it also limited customers to AT&T. And if there’s one thing that consumers love when it comes to smartphones, it’s having a choice about where to run their phone.
Fortunately, all signs point to a change this year. The HTC M7 is rumored to be heading to the 4G LTE networks of AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile with a launch on Verizon coming later.
This should help it match up much better with the Galaxy S4.
Out of Sight, But Definitely In Mind
So far, rumors suggest that the HTC M7 will be launching on February 19th, well ahead of the Galaxy S4’s rumored launch date which is thought to either be March 22nd or March 15th. If true, it will likely mean that the HTC M7 is on shelves in March, well ahead of the Galaxy S4 which isn’t thought to be touching down until April and in the the U.S., until May or June.
Indeed, this gives the HTC M7 a bit of an advantage. Consumers who don’t wish to wait are going to be giving the HTC M7 a long hard look, especially if it is available on multiple carriers. It also helps that many Verizon iPhone 4 owners and HTC ThunderBolt owners in the U.S. and Galaxy S2 owners abroad will be coming off contract in a few weeks time.
So yes, that is a nice advantage for HTC. However, just because the Galaxy S4 will be out of sight, doesn’t mean that it will be out of mind, and there temptation to wait and see what Samsung might have to offer will be strong as well.
Given the success of the Galaxy S3 – the sales, the marketing campaign, etc – interest in the Galaxy S4 has risen. And while it’s not certain, I believe many people will be willing to wait a month to see what Samsung has to offer. And at this point, it has delivered with each successive Galaxy series so there is no reason to doubt that it won’t.
Just about every non-Nexus smartphone comes with a non-plain version of Android. What that means is that a manufacturer places their own user interface over the top of Android. Some companies keep it to a minimum while we’ve also seen companies like Amazon make it so Android isn’t even recognizable as the device’s operating system.
HTC and Samsung fall somewhere in between. HTC Sense, HTC’s UI, is both loved and hated by consumers. In recent releases, HTC has been slimming down the presence of its UI in an effort to boost performance as well as usefulness and HTC Sense 4+ was arguably the best UI that HTC has ever released.
With the HTC M7, HTC will likely release its Sense 5.0 UI which looks to be an extremely toned down version of the software, almost resembling Microsoft’s tiles from Windows Phone 8.
And while HTC has been toning down its software, Samsung has been beefing its TouchWiz UI up, so much so, that the company doesn’t seem to feel the need to promote the Galaxy as powered by Android.
The arrival of the Galaxy S3 saw the arrival of TouchWiz Nature UX, a piece of software from Samsung that is laid over the top of Android. And since then, the company has continued to add to its UI. For instance, the Galaxy S3 just received a Premium Suite update with Android 4.1.2 that brought the extremely useful Multi-Window View from the Galaxy Note 2 to Galaxy S3 users.
There is no word yet on what the Samsung Galaxy S4 will run, though it’s possible that Samsung will build even further on TouchWiz, potentially with Nature UX 2.0.
My fear is that the HTC M7 will feature software that might feature some useful additions but might be too much in the middle for some users. What I mean is that it may be toned down but it won’t appeal to those who want vanilla Android, it might be too much of a departure from Sense 4+ to appeal to those that liked it, and it may not offer the unique, big-time features of a UI like Nature UX which would appeal to the average consumer.
With options like the Nexus 4 out there, manufacturer UIs need to appeal to be a large group of consumers in order for the device to be successful. And it’s not clear if HTC Sense 5.0 will do that.
And The Ugly
In addition to the lack of carriers, one of the biggest disadvantages that the HTC One X had against the Galaxy S3 was its advertising. The One Series ads where nowhere close to as good as Samsung Galaxy S3 advertisements which including a mix of feature-heavy ads and those infamous ones that poked fun at Apple.
Those ads did wonders for the Galaxy S3 in the United States as they helped establish the Galaxy S3 as a leading smartphone in the eyes of average consumers. The ads for the HTC One X were just, well, to put it simply, not as good. They didn’t resonate with critics and they didn’t do anything for consumers.
HTC has admitted as much and says that it has been working on its advertising for the new year, which likely means new advertising for the HTC M7. At this point though, it’s hard to bet on them doing a better job than Samsung does with the Galaxy S4. Samsung has a formula that works and it showcased that during its ad at the Super Bowl.
It’s possible that HTC will turn things around here, but given the past, I’m not hopeful.
And finally, the last thing that HTC has working against it is a bruised reputation when it comes to software updates. Samsung has shown that its committed, like Motorola, to not only communicating with customers and delivering fast updates.
It has also updated its older phones like the Galaxy S2in a timely manner, something that should help to keep customers in the fold. We expect more of the same with the Galaxy S4.
HTC has a bit of a different story. Many of its older phones, HTC Rezound included, remain on Android 4.0 ICS rather than Jelly Bean. Its current smartphone, the HTC One X, still is without Android 4.1, months after it arrived for other users, even those in Canada.
And lest we forget the delays of both the HTC ThunderBolt and Droid Incredible 2 Android 4.0 software updates that dragged on for five months without any sort of a reasonable explanation.
In a few words, it’s absolutely terrible customer service and no way to keep loyal customers around and I think HTC will be cleaning up those messes for many months, potentially years, to come.
So now that I’ve laid it all out there on the table, do I think the HTC M7 can compete with the Samsung Galaxy S4? At this point, while the HTC M7 or HTC One looks to be a solid Android smartphone, I think Samsung is way too far ahead of it in terms of marketing, in terms of brand recognition, in terms of longevity for its phones.
As Apple has shown with the iPhone, it takes a lot more than just a nice looking smartphone to compete. You need fantastic advertising. You need unique software features. You need to treat your customers well.
HTC might turn things around this year but I just think given the past, and given the amount of steam that the Galaxy S4 has rolling into its launch, its untouchable and while the HTC M7 may do better than the HTC One X did, it won’t be able to compete with the might of Samsung.