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HTC One M9 vs. Samsung Galaxy S6: Which Android Flagship Is the Best?

Re/code compares HTC's and Samsung's new Android phones. Read on to see who comes out on top.

Vjeran Pavic

If you’re in the market for a new Android phone, you’ll have no shortage of choices this spring. On April 10, three flagship devices — the HTC One M9, Samsung Galaxy S6 and Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge — will launch with all four major U.S. carriers.

But which one should you get?

I’ve been using all three phones for the past few days, and there’s a lot to cover, so I’ll get right into it.

Quick note about pricing: It varies by carrier, but in general, the HTC One M9 and Samsung Galaxy S6 (base model) are going for $200 on contract, and between $600 and $700 off contract, which you can pay outright or through your carrier’s payment installment plan. The Galaxy S6 Edge, which is like the S6 but with curved edges, starts at $300 on contract, and between $700 and $800 off contract.

Design

HTC has always made some of the best hardware in the business, and the One M9 is no exception. In fact, the company’s approach to the One M9 seems to be one of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” which is both a good and bad thing.

On the plus side, the One M9, with its all-metal finish, is a beautiful and well-crafted phone. It comes in a new dual-tone color with gold edges and silver front and back. I’m not a huge fan of mixed metals, but I still appreciated the detail that went into the design. (The phone is also available in silver or charcoal gray.)

Compared to last year’s model, the One M9 is slightly smaller and features sharper edges, after customers complained that the curvy One M8 was too slippery. The power button has also been moved from the top edge to the right side. The end result is a phone that’s easier to grip and use one-handed, though I found the volume and power buttons hard to differentiate by feel.

Vjeran Pavic

The One M9 keeps the same five-inch, 1,920 by 1,080 pixel touchscreen as the One M8. I didn’t necessarily find this to be a bad thing, since the display is sharp, and easy to read outdoors. But the lack of any major changes to the One M9 might give some upgraders a reason to pause.

Meanwhile, Samsung completely overhauled the design of the Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 Edge. Instead of plastic and other cheap-feeling materials, the phones now have a glass-and-metal body. It looks good (although, very similar to another phone). It feels good. It’s what you would expect from a device in its price range.

Even so, I preferred the One M9’s metal design because it felt sturdier. I’m afraid that with one accidental slip the glass back or front of the Galaxy S6 might crack.

The screen size on the Galaxy S6 remains the same as its predecessor, the Galaxy S5, at 5.1 inches, but the resolution has been bumped up to 2,560 by 1,440 pixels. Colors popped a bit more on the Galaxy S6 devices compared to the One M9, but it’s hard to notice a difference in terms of sharpness unless you look really, really closely.

Vjeran Pavic

The main difference between the Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 Edge is that the latter’s display has curved edges. Similar to the Galaxy Note Edge, the curved part acts as a secondary display, but it doesn’t offer as much functionality as the Note Edge. You can use it for quick access to favorite contacts and notifications, but not to launch applications.

As with the Galaxy Note Edge, I didn’t find the Galaxy S6 Edge’s curved display to be particularly useful, so even though I liked its feel and design better than the Galaxy S6, I don’t think it’s worth the extra money.

Software

All three phones run the latest version of Google’s mobile operating system, Android 5.0 Lollipop, but HTC and Samsung each run a customized interface on top of the OS.

On the One M9, you have HTC Sense, which has a couple of new features. One is a home-screen widget that’s supposed to serve up apps for work, home and play based on your location and usage habits.

 A new Themes app allows you to personalize backgrounds, color schemes and app icons. Bonnie Cha for Re/code

So, for example, when you get to your office the widget would surface apps like email, calendar or Evernote, while at home it would switch to things like Facebook, Netflix and Spotify.

But I found that it takes the software a long time to learn your habits, and manually curating the widget is harder than it should be. In the end, I disabled the widget completely and just added my favorite shortcuts to the home screen.

The other new functionality of HTC Sense is something called Themes. This allows you to customize your phone with different wallpapers, icons, sounds and more through downloadable themes. You can even build a theme around colors pulled from a photo you’ve taken. It’s a fun feature if you’re into really personalizing your phone.

On the Samsung devices, you’ll find the company’s TouchWiz software; but rather than adding more bloatware, Samsung actually toned it down. You still get a handful of extra and duplicative apps, like two Web browsers and two photo galleries, but you’ll see simplified menus and fewer pop-up messages.

I like the stock Android experience the best because it’s cleaner and simpler, but if I had to choose between HTC Sense and TouchWiz, I’d go with the HTC Sense software.

Camera

The camera is where the Galaxy S6 pulls ahead of the One M9.

Vjeran Pavic

The One M9 has a 20-megapixel camera on back and a front-facing four-megapixel camera, while both Galaxy S6 phones have a 16-megapixel rear camera and a front-facing five-megapixel camera.

In general, the Galaxy S6’s camera produced better-looking photos in all lighting conditions. It captured more details and brighter colors. With indoor and nighttime shots, there was less noise compared to the One M9. The latter was also very slow to capture images in low-light situations, while the Galaxy S6 was super quick.

You can see some comparison shots below:

 Photo taken at dusk by HTC One M9 on left and Samsung Galaxy S6 on right
Photo taken at dusk by HTC One M9 on left and Samsung Galaxy S6 on right
Bonnie Cha
 Evening shot by One M9 (left) and Galaxy S6 (right)
Evening shot by One M9 (left) and Galaxy S6 (right)
Bonnie Cha
 Daytime shot by One M9 (left) and Galaxy S6 Edge (right)
Daytime shot by One M9 (left) and Galaxy S6 Edge (right)
Bonnie Cha
 Indoor shot by One M9 (left) and Galaxy S6 Edge (right)
Indoor shot by One M9 (left) and Galaxy S6 Edge (right)
Bonnie Cha

For me, and I suspect many others, too, my phone is now my main camera, so the camera quality is important. HTC also knows this, and when designing the One M9, one of its goals was to address the sub-par camera in the One M8. Unfortunately, it didn’t rectify the situation here, and it’s proving to be an Achilles’ heel for the company.

Features

On paper, the One M9 and Galaxy S6/Galaxy S6 Edge pretty evenly matched in the features department, but there are some differences worth pointing out.

  • While it won’t be functional at launch, the Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 Edge will work with Samsung’s new mobile payment system, called Samsung Pay. The company says the advantage Samsung Pay has over Apple Pay and Google Wallet is that its technology is supported at more pay terminals (up to 90 percent in the U.S.). We’ll have to see if that’s true when Samsung enables the feature this summer.
  • Samsung replaced the fingerprint scanner on the new Galaxy phones. You no longer have to swipe your finger. You can just place your finger over the Home button, much like the iPhone’s Touch ID. More importantly, it actually works now. The One M9 does not have a fingerprint scanner.
  • The One M9 only comes in a 32GB model but it has a microSD card expansion slot. The Galaxy S6/S6 Edge will be available in 32GB, 64GB and 128GB models, but there is no microSD card slot. Samsung also did away with the waterproof capabilities.
  • With the One M9, HTC is launching a new device-protection program called Uh-Oh. If you accidentally break your phone within the first year of purchase, the company will replace it for free. If you use the program in the first 12 months, HTC will give you $100 toward the purchase of your next HTC phone.

Performance and battery life

The One M9 is powered by Qualcomm’s latest octa-core Snapdragon processor. It was able to handle multiple tasks without problem, and playing games and watching video was a smooth experience. With some of the more power-intensive tasks, the device did get a bit warm, but not blazingly hot as some others have reported. I made several calls using T-Mobile’s network, and audio quality was clear.

The Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge use Samsung’s own Exynos octa-core processor. Again, the phones were quick, and there were no performance issues. Voice calls made over T-Mobile’s network were also fine.

Vjeran Pavic

For my harsh battery test, I set the phones’ screens to the highest brightness, left Wi-Fi on and played a downloaded video continuously. The One M9 lasted just five hours, while the Galaxy S6 lasted 9.5 hours and the Galaxy S6 Edge went dark after 10 hours and 15 minutes.

In real-world usage, the One M9 and Galaxy phones lasted a full day with moderate usage. But with more heavy use, I found that the One M9’s battery drained quicker than the Galaxy S6. After checking email and social networks, browsing a couple of websites and playing Candy Crush for about 45 minutes (I have a problem, okay?), the One M9’s battery was at about 35 percent by early afternoon, while the Galaxy S6 was around 45 percent. So battery life is another area where the Galaxy S6 beats the One M9.

None of these phones offers user-replaceable batteries, but they have technology that allows for faster charging times. The Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge also support wireless charging (both WPC and PMA standards), while the One M9 does not.

The verdict

In a perfect world, my ideal Android device would consist of HTC’s hardware, Samsung’s camera and Google’s stock Android OS. But alas, such a thing does not exist. So where does that leave us?

Like the others before it, the HTC One M9 is a solid Android device, and it’s still one of the best-designed phones, regardless of operating system. But the minor changes and sub-par camera make it hard to recommend as an upgrade to the One M8 and the new Galaxy S6 devices.

The Galaxy S6 offers a more complete package, with its new premium design, excellent camera and solid performance. Certainly, the loss of the microSD slot and user-replaceable battery will turn some people off, but it’s the better phone. If you can afford the Galaxy S6 Edge, it’s the one I’d choose over the Galaxy S6.

This article originally appeared on Recode.net.