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HTC One S VS Sony Xperia S

It’s not fair. How can we compare a flagship product like the Sony Xperia S against HTC’s second-tier One series phone – the HTC One S? Because in our world, all phones were created equal, why hold prejudice when we’re all rainbows in the end. Ok, maybe that won’t wash, but trust us, they have a lot more in common than you might think. Both phones have 4.3-inch screens, both run with the latest dual-core processors which benchmark better than any last-gen device and both cost roughly the same on a 24-month contract. Enough overlap for a comparison? We think so.

HTC One S VS Sony Xperia S: Design

You can’t call a phone sexy we hear people say. Yes. Yes you can. We do it subconsciously every time we handle an HTC One S or a Sony Xperia S. We’re doing it right now. The great thing is, in the One S and Xperia S, we’ve got two very different kinds of sexy. HTC’s S is aptly named with its slender seductive stature which exudes fragility to the eye but rigidity to the touch thanks to an all metal body. Phwoar. Jump to Sony’s Xperia S and you’ve got yourself something of an adonis. A meatier handset altogether in the Xperia, S stands for strong, sharp and sculpted.


Depending on which One S you go for, you’ll get one of two very different handsets. The black One S has been treated with a process called micro arc oxidation. This blasts the anodised aluminium chassis at a molecular level leaving an intensely tactile soft-touch finish on a metal body cold to the finger. The grey and blue HTC One S is in contrast a considerably less special device in terms of design. Slim, steel, it isn’t poorly built by any means but lacks the richness of its black brother. Both however are 7.8mm thin, feel sensational in the pocket and hand and are reassuringly solid thanks to the all-metal bodies.

Sony’s Xperia Ss don’t have the same degree of discrepancy between versions with just black and white offerings available. Without the slim appeal, Sony instead opt for classic design with strong corners, bold curvature along the backing and a striking transparent strip. All the ports bar the 3.5mm jack are concealed under flaps which make for unified flat sides, though flap longevity is a point of concern given the number of times these will need to be opened and closed.

Comparing the two are like comparing a male and female model. They have different design goals and achieve them for the most part. They do fall short in some areas: the HTC One S black version has been found to chip and erode on certain devices and the Sony Xperia S capacitive buttons are located above the corresponding symbols and can be a pain to press. Deal breakers? No. The overriding sentiment when holding both handsets is definitely this: sexy.

HTC One S VS Sony Xperia S: Screen

qHD vs 720p, AMOLED vs. LCD, about the only thing these screens have in common is their size at 4.3-inches.

An eye popping AMOLED panel resides on the HTC One S and as can be expected from AMOLEDs, it’s vibrant and punchy, offering deep blacks and high contrast. The screen makes HTC Sense 4.0 pop and pictures taken on the impressive camera look better than they usually are, however the downside is less accurate colours and whites. In addition, the use of pentile technology makes the screen less sharp than an equivalent qHD non-pentile display. It also packs Gorilla Glass 2, so can take a scuff or two. 

So while sharpness is where the One S falls short, giving way to eye-popping colours, the Sony Xperia S is the sharpest panel on the market at the moment. With a resolution of 720×1280 it packs in a pixel density of 342ppi. That’s higher than the 326ppi of the iPhone 4 / 4S and has more impact as it’s considerably larger. The result is an altogether unrivalled web and reading experience on a 4.3-inch screen. Movies look incredible and if you throw caution to the wind when it comes to battery, maxing out your brightness is blinding in a good way.

Head on therefore and we’d say overall, the Sony Xperia S wins out with its pin sharp, bright accurate LCD display though viewing angles aren’t as strong as the HTC One S. In addition, Sony’s scratch resistant glass isn’t a patch on Gorilla Glass with our unit showing minor markings after a few months.

HTC One S VS Xperia S: User Interface 

Sony and HTC skin the socks off their phones. While HTC phones have their Sense 4.0 skin on top of Ice Cream Sandwich, the Sony Xperia S powers along with Sony’s new UI atop Gingerbread, a last generation version of Google’s Android OS.

Both UIs combine custom widgets and themes which add to the user experience. Take for example HTC’s calendar widget, turning a homepage into an quick access, interactive and attractive calendar, or Sony’s power saver widget, looking small and demure but expanding with a tap to give you extensive control over your power management.

Theme-wise, HTC’s sense UI is slightly confusing. You have themes and you also have spaces. What’s the difference? We’re not entirely sure but they don’t half look pretty. There are oodles of custom wallpapers and downloadable assets such as sound profiles making Sense the most heavily customisable skin on the block without third part tweakage.

Looking at the Sony Xperia S and the themes are more unified with a smoke effect live wallpaper in the background and an altogether simpler customisation set. Without such an extensive array of widgets and skins, the Xperia S should feel lighter and smoother, and it does in principle however in practice isn’t as silky smooth as the HTC One S. Is it the fact it’s running Gingerbread? Is the live wallpaper? Is it the higher resolution screen sapping processing power? We reckon it’s all of the above.

Still, we’re big fans of the two, with both adding genius enhancements to Android. So by this point with stock Android lovers cowering under rocks, the rest of you can decide for yourselves, will it be heavy but smooth Sense 4.0 or simple but slightly slowed down Sony UI? We’d go for Sense 4.0.

HTC One S VS Sony Xperia S: Camera

It seems like resolution differentiates these two phones more than anything else. It started with the screens and now it’s camera time. The HTC One S keeps pixel-counts on the down low with an ample 8-megapixels while the Sony Xperia S bumps up the digits to 12-megapixels. That’s 12 million dots on a teeny tiny sensor. Mind-boggling and slightly concerning.

As far as performance goes however, both are respectable and did well in our reviews. We’ve taken four shots to give you an idea as to just how they compare in the same environments:

First off, outdoors, decent lighting on an overcast day, and the HTC One S immediately stands out with its considerably wider angle lens. This means it captures more image so you won’t have to stand as far back to get all your friends in a group shot for example. That said, looking at the picture and it hasn’t managed to capture the dynamic range of the Sony Xperia S, with the sky blowing out and a degree of over-lightening taking place.

You’ll notice detail is clearly worse on the HTC One S when we zoom in on an object, this is partly because of the pixel count, but also the wide angle lens. While it might seem like a bad thing, we’d say you’ll use the wide angle more often than crop in on a minute detail.

Disclaimers aside, moving onto picture two and we turned off the lights. Noise. That’s what’s in question and the HTC One S image contains a lot less visible noise when compared side-by-side with the Sony Xperia S which is probably thanks to a combination of lower aperture, less densly packed sensor and less aggressive noise handling. That said, the Sony Xperia S is markedly sharper for any heavy croppers out there.

As we turn on the lights the HTC One S is again visibly less noisy, but hasn’t managed to get the colours quite as spot on as the Sony Xperia S. With a macro shot win for the Xperia S too thanks to more detail and better close-up focusing, Sony’s 12-megapixel flagship with its physical camera button claims victory.

In addition to the great noise-handling and gorgeous wide-angle the HTC One S gives you, we do also find the user interface considerably simpler to use and more intuitive so while it isn’t the victor, it gets a very honourable mention.

HTC One S VS Sony Xperia S: Connectivity and Storage

In terms of connectivity, the HTC One S has everything the Xperia S does – 3G, Wi-Fi, Wi-Fi Direct, Bluetooth – however thanks to the metal body it doesn’t have NFC. What it does have however is a Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 processor which is a champion web crawler that makes mince-meat out of even the clunkiest websites. The browsing experience doesn’t fall short on the Xperia S though. In fact, the screen is so spot-on, if you squint, cock your head to the side and strain, you can read even the tiniest of text without zooming in.

As far as storage goes, the HTC One S has 16GB with about 10GB user available while the Sony Xperia S has 32GB with 25GB user available. The HTC One S also gives you 25GB of Dropbox cloud storage for 2 years. Depending on the type of user you are will dictate whether 10GB is enough for all your content. We find it a bit constricting, though would be happy to settle at 16GB user available for example. If however you’re more organised with your files and don’t tend to hub out all your mp3s from your phone, 10GB will be ample.

HTC One S VS Sony Xperia S: Performance

Two dual-core phones in 2012 – behind the times? No. Definitely not. You just need to look at our HTC One X review to see that the quad-core processor on the HTC One X coupled with the stunning giant ‘LOOK AT ME’ screen turns an incredible piece of tech into something that won’t last a day. Neither of these phones slow down excessively, neither stutter, neither need more cores.

The HTC One S feels smoother. The S4 processor on-board benchmarks better than that of the Sony Xperia S, though we’d also put some of the performance discrepancy down to the One S having Ice Cream Sandwich and the screen being lower resolution. Games played smoothy, the UI was for the most part snappy and there was absolutely no overheating.

Battery life however isn’t fantastic. You can get a day out of the Sony Xperia S, but that’s with mindful usage. The One S offers the polar opposite dilemma. If you want a day out of your One S, you’ll have to abuse the living daylights out of it. Moderate use will easily get you over a day and if you watch it, you can get about two. Yes. It’s finally here – a powerful smartphone that goes the distance.

HTC One S VS Sony Xperia S: Conclusion

Well this is a pickle – two of our favourite phones out now pitted against each other with no clear winner. On the one hand HTC’s One S is a powerful slender all-metal stunner with a slick UI and incredible battery life. It’s good at everything, but that said, the Sony Xperia S is very good at some things. The camera is fantastic, the screen is an absolute masterpiece (albeit face-on) and having the additional memory goes a long, long way. So close is this battle, we’re coming down to price. At the moment, the Sony Xperia S costs about £40 less than the HTC One S, so if you don’t need a super-skinny sex-bomb of a phone that lasts for two days non-stop, the Sony Xperia S gets our vote. If however you find them costing the same, we’d pick the HTC One S, with the clincher being its battery life.

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