HTC, Samsung, Sony and LG have each now unveiled their flagship handsets for 2014, plus we've seen some outside competition from startup OnePlus. But which is the best Android phone 2014? We compare the S5, Z2, G3, One M8 and OnePlus One spec for spec.
The Samsung, Sony and HTC are all available to buy now, at SIM-free prices of £495, £538 and £506 respectively, which are already some way down on each phone's RRP of £599 (£549 for the Sony Xperia Z2). The OnePlus One is initially available to purchase by invitation only, in 16GB ($299/€269) and 64GB ($349/€299) varieties. Meanwhile, the LG G3, which launched last night, is expected to hit UK shops by the end of June. LG has yet to confirm a UK price for the G3, but Clove is listing it at £499, undercutting both the HTC One M8 and Sony Xperia Z2. If you are going to buy the smartphone outright, check out our Best SIM only deals.
By controlling the number of handsets available OnePlus One aims to ensure all those with invites will actually be able to get their hands on the device. Invitations will become easier to get hold of over time. Initially, invitations to buy the OnePlus One smartphone will be handed out through competitions , OnePlus' forums and friends who have already purchased the phone. Each invite lasts 24 hours, after which time it is returned to the sender, who has a period of one- to two weeks in order to find someone who wants to take advantage.
If you can get hold of one then the OnePlus One offers the best value in this group. It's less than half the price of the Samsung, Sony, LG and HTC. Despite the OnePlus One's low price, there are very few compromises in its spec.
Both the new LG G3 and the OnePlus One come with 5.5in screens, yet LG has done a better job of squeezing its screen into a chassis that's still comfortable to use in one hand. The OnePlus One is a sleek, stylish smartphone, but the largest in this group at 152.9x75.9x8.9mm and 162g, while the similarly big-screened LG G3 measures 146.3x74.6x8.9mm and weighs just 149g.
The Sony Xperia Z2 is a gram heavier than the OnePlus One, but smaller, at 146.8x73.3x8.2mm. The Samsung Galaxy S5 is the smallest, slimmest and lightest smartphone here, at 142x72.5x8.1mm and 145g, while the HTC One M8 is the chunkiest, at 9.35mm, but sits in the middle at 146.36x70.6mm and 160g.
Design-wise there are only a few differences between each of these smartphones and their predecessors. The Samsung Galaxy S5 has the same design as the S4, but with a perforated case that makes it feel less like a premium device. New here, though, is a fingerprint scanner built into the Home button, and a heart-rate monitor on the rear.
The Sony Xperia Z2 is almost identical to the Z1, but with a new (almost hidden) earpiece and microphone at top and bottom. It's slightly larger than the Z1 to incorporate the larger screen, and Sony says it has improved the screen-to-chassis ratio. The Z2 does feel smaller, but it's still a little unwieldy.
HTC has extended its metal design to the front of the handset, machining the chassis from a single piece of aluminium and treating it to a glossy finish. It's also snuck in improved front-facing BoomSound speakers that benefit from larger chambers and a redesigned amplifier.
The LG G3 is thinner than the LG G2, but slightly larger and heavier to accommodate that 5.5in screen. The display is the key difference, now a quad-HD panel. Like its predecessor, the G3 features a 'Rear Key' - power and volume buttons at the rear rather than side of the handset - and you'll also now find here a dual-LED flash and 4K video-compatible 13Mp camera. The LG G3 is still a plastic phone, but now has an anti-scratch, fingerprint-resistant metal-effect finish.
Both the Sony and Samsung are certified dust- and waterproof. However, whereas you'll need to ensure the Galaxy S5's case is clipped on tightly with its ports properly covered before jumping into a large puddle, the Xperia Z2's IP55 and IP58 ratings mean you can dive headfirst into the nearest swimming pool and even take photos underwater. The Sony is waterproof in freshwater to 1.5m and for up to 30 minutes.
The OnePlus One is a brand-new design from the startup company, featuring subtle curves and clean lines. The display is slightly raised, and there's a chrome rim on the handset.
Various colours are available for each of the handsets. The Samsung comes in black, white, gold and blue. The Sony is available in black, white and purple. HTC offers the One M8 in grey, silver or gold, as does LG with its G3, and OnePlus' One phone comes in black and white.
LG's G3 has - on paper - by far the best screen. Unlike all its full-HD rivals here, its panel features a 1440x2560 Quad HD display for true-to-life pictures. This means the pixel density is a staggering 534ppi. It's an IPS panel, too, so expect great viewing angles and excellent colour reproduction. This screen is also larger than all the competition bar the OnePlus One, at 5.5in. A super-slim bezel means LG has been able to squeeze this huge screen into a handset similar in size to that with a 5in screen. With a screen this large and powerful, the only concern is its effect on battery life.
The OnePlus One matches the LG G3's 5.5in panel, but its display stretches to a full-HD resolution of 1920x1080. The HTC has the smallest screen, at 5in, the Samsung's panel is slightly larger at 5.1in, and the Sony's a little larger again at 5.2in. Each offers a full-HD (1920x1080) resolution, which means the HTC's smaller screen offers the second-highest pixel density at 441ppi. Meanwhile, the Samsung Galaxy S5 offers 432ppi, the Sony 423ppi and the OnePlus One 401ppi. At this level you really won't be able to tell the difference between them, however.
Samsung employs a Super AMOLED panel in its Galaxy S5, which it says can automatically adjust to lighting, thereby optimising the display for whatever the conditions. Sony uses a 'Triluminous' display, and its X-Reality mobile picture engine and Live Colour LED technology (which is said to increase colour depth and gradation) result in a gorgeous-looking screen that is sharp, colourful, vibrant and immersive. HTC has increased the size of its super-sharp panel and moved the navigation buttons onscreen, allowing for a handset that's only slightly chunkier than the original HTC One. Lastly, OnePlus One uses a slightly raised IPS panel that looks great switched on, and just as good off, a solid pane of jet black glass.
There's very little to separate these phones on paper. All five sport Adreno 330 graphics. All five run Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 quad-core processors. The differences lie only in the clock speed of the processor - Samsung, LG OnePlus push this chip the hardest, at 2.5GHz versus its rivals' 2.3GHz - and the amount of RAM. Whereas the S5 and HTC come with 2GB of memory, Sony and OnePlus slap 3GB into their handsets. The LG G3 has 2GB of RAM in the 16GB model and 3GB in the 32GB version.
Given its faster-clocked processor and generous amount of RAM, the OnePlus One and 32GB LG G3 *should* be the fastest smartphones in this group. Except it's almost impossible to tell, with various smartphone manufacturers known to employ benchmark-boosting software. Indeed, while the HTC One *should* be the slowest of the group, it scored the highest performance score we've ever seen in Geekbench. Of course, the processor, graphics and RAM are only half the story, and the software can also affect performance.
We've yet to run the OnePlus One and LG G3 through our benchmarks, but of the remaining smartphones here the HTC One M8 is the clear winner. It scored a remarkable 4171 points in Geekbench 2, 2781 in Geekbench 3, 583ms in SunSpider and 30fps in GFXBench 3.0's T-Rex test. In terms of raw processor performance that's faster than anything we've seen before, although the iPhone 5s still tops the league tables in web browsing and graphics.
By comparison, the Samsung Galaxy S5 saw 926- and 2869 points in Geekbench 3's single- and multi-core tests respectively, 824ms in SunSpider and 28fps in GFXBench's T-Rex test. The Sony Xperia Z2 recorded 933 points in the single-core Geekbench 3 test, and 2796 in the multicore test. The Z2 also recorded 861ms in SunSpider and 29fps in GFXBench's T-Rex test.
The Samsung, Sony, HTC and OnePlus are each available with 16GB of internal storage for your apps, music, video and more. The Galaxy S5 is reportedly also available in a 32GB model, but history tells us you'll be hard-pushed to find one. The LG G3 also comes in 16- and 32GB versions, and the amount of RAM inside depend on which version you choose. OnePlus One will offer a 64GB version, which pleasingly doesn't cost the earth. There's no expansion slot on the OnePlus One, but the Sony, HTC, LG and Samsung each come with a microSDXC slot that lets you plug in a further 128GB of storage. The HTC also comes with 65GB of free Google Drive cloud storage.
At last we have an area where these Android phones are less evenly matched. On paper you might be tricked into thinking the 20.7Mp Sony Xperia Z2 is the best suited to the amateur photographer, while the 4.1Mp HTC One M8 is about as useful for taking photos as an envelope, and the 16Mp Galaxy S5 and 13Mp OnePlus One and LG G3 sit somewhere in the middle. But achieving decent photographs depends on a lot more than the number of megapixels offered by a sensor, and each of these phones offers some interesting technologies in this department.
The Samsung Galaxy S5 has gone from 13Mp in the S4 to 16Mp here, with its 1/2.6in sensor boasting a super-fast auto focus that lets you take a shot in 0.3 seconds, a selective focus mode that blurs the background and makes your subject really stand out, and a pretty decent HDR (Rich Tone) mode. There's also a 2Mp front-facing webcam, and the Galaxy S5 is capable of shooting 4K video at 30fps.
Talking about 4K video, the Sony Xperia Z2 gets one up on the S5 with support for 4K video via MHL. This means you can watch the 4K video captured on your smartphone on your 4K TV, thereby enjoying it in its full glory. The Sony also boasts a 20.7Mp stills camera, which should allow for outstanding photography and video from your smartphone. It combines a large 1/2.3in Exmor RS sensor with Sony's G Lens and BIONZ image-processing engine for blur-free, ultra-sharp shots even in low light. There's also a Timeshift slo-mo mode that shoots at 120fps.
The LG G3 hasn't increased the number of megapixels in its camera, but this 13Mp snapper now features Laser (super-fast) auto focus, which LG claims can focus a shot faster than you can blink, and advanced optical image stablisation that should make blurry shots a thing of the past. It's also upgraded its single-LED flash to a dual-LED version. The 2.1Mp front-facing camera is primed for selfies - you can trigger an auto timer with a hand gesture, and the screen acts as a makeshift flash.
We've seen the HTC One M8's Ultrapixel camera before, and we weren't disappointed. Now HTC has upgraded its design by offering a second camera - known as the Duo Camera. While one sensor shoots a standard image, the other captures depth. This allows you to refocus a shot even after the event. HTC also boasts a 5Mp front-facing camera with a wide-angle lens for the One M8.
OnePlus One, too, offers a 5Mp front-facing camera for video chat or the ultimate selfies. Its main camera is a 13Mp Sony Exmor IMX214 model, and OnePlus says it uses six lenses to avoid distortion and colour aberration. The main camera has an aperture of f/2.0 and is paired with a dual-LED flash. It's capable of 4K resolution video, and 720p slow motion at 120fps.
Whether you buy your smartphone from HTC, OnePlus, Samsung or Sony, it's going to come with the latest connectivity technology. That means 4G LTE mobile connectivity, Bluetooth 4.0, GPS, the very latest in Wi-Fi technology - dual-band 802.11ac - and NFC.
Sony also allows the sharing of 4K content between your smartphone and TV via MHL, and boasts of one-touch sharing, listening, mirroring and backup via NFC, while Samsung specifies MIMO technology and offers a unique Download Booster that combines the power of 4G LTE and 802.11ac Wi-Fi to deliver downloads at a theoretical max of 400Mb/s. That's fast.
The Samsung, Sony, LG and HTC each run the very latest version of Google Android: KitKat 4.4.2. None is a vanilla implementation of Android, however, with the Sony Xperia Z2 perhaps the closest.
Samsung has performed a bit of a clean up of Android for its Galaxy S5, with round icons found in the notification bar and Settings menu. Similar to BlinkFeed, Samsung's Magazine interface is placed to the left of the main Home screen, and we couldn't find a way to remove it. Three extras are worthy of mention: Kids Mode offers a fun, colourful interface for children, restricting content and access to other features with a PIN; S Health is paired with the heart-rate monitor on the S5's rear to help you track your fitness; and Private Mode is a place in which to store all those naughty or embarrassing photos and videos you don't want anyone else to see (the fingerprint scanner is used to gain access to this mode).
HTC's Sense 6.0 interface debuts with the One M8. It lets you personalise BlinkFeed to a greater degree, and change the theme of the software and even the font. HTC also builds in Motion Launch Gestures - you can switch on the phone by double-tapping the screen, swiping in from the edge of screen launches BlinkFeed or the widget panel, and holding the phone in landscape mode and pressing the volume key launches the Camera app.
The LG G3 features a tweaked simple, flat interface, with light, crisp typography, colour-coded apps and various animations. LG has implemented several of its own software features, but you can delete these to free up space if you wish. KnockCode lets you wake and unlock the G3 using a custom knocking pattern, for example, while Smart Notice can learn your behaviour and then make recommendations such as erasing apps you haven't used or turning on Wi-Fi when you get to the office, and draw your attention to missed calls you've ignored. There's also a smart keyboard that is size-adjustable and should make typing faster and reduce the number of errors.
The OnePlus One differs in that it runs CyanogenMod 11S, which is based on Android KitKat. According to OnePlus, "CyanogenMod brings the features you love while giving you the freedom to mold your mobile domain. Options like Quiet Hours, an enhanced home screen, and a configurable Quick Settings panel are just a few ways you can control how you and your One connect."
There's much greater scope for customisation, with thousands of available themes, icons, fonts and wallpapers, plus enhanced security features with secure messaging and Privacy Guard, which helps you manage what access apps have to your data. The OnePlus One also features voice wake and search, learning the sound of your voice so you can search, track and explore even when it's asleep. The other key difference between CyanogenMod and Android are the camera and gallery apps, with live camera filters and the ability to access your local- and cloud-stored photos in a single place.
Battery life is always a bit of a sticking point for the most powerful Android phones, with few able to last more than a day without needing a recharge. So it's pleasing to see phone makers include special power-saving modes that can drastically improve the runtime. The Galaxy S5's Ultra Power Saving mode, for example, switches the display to black and white and turns off unnecessary features, allowing the Galaxy smartphone to last 24 hours with just 10 percent charge. HTC's Extreme Power Saving mode is even better, allowing 30 hours of runtime once the battery drops to 10 percent.
LG claims to reduce drain on the G3's battery through adaptive framerates, adaptive clocking and adaptive timing control. With a huge, super-high-resolution screen, we'll wait until we get the G3 into our lab to see if its been successful.
Ignoring these power-saving features, the Sony Xperia Z2 has the largest-capacity power pack at 3200mAh. By comparison, the OnePlus One offers a 3100mAh cell, the LG G3 has a 3,000mAh pack, the Samsung Galaxy S5 has a 2800mAh battery, and the HTC One M8 2600mAh. Only the Samsung and LG G3's are removable, which means you could potentially carry a spare when you're away from a mains charging point for an extended period.
Without those power-saving modes, Samsung claims its S5 lasts 10 hours when used for web browsing and 12 hours for video playback, and after a full day we found we still had two thirds of the battery capacity remaining. Sony says its Xperia Z2 can manage up to 740 hours on standby, or 120 hours for music, 19 hours for talk time, and 10 hours for video. The Sony easily lasted two days in our tests, and that's without using a power-saving mode. HTC makes no claims on its One M8's battery life, but in our real-world tests it lasted roughly 24 hours, and we got another 24 hours by turning on the Extreme Power Saving mode when the juice got down to 9 percent. We'll get back to you on the OnePlus One and LG G3 once we've had a chance to test them thoroughly.
The OnePlus One phone is almost too good to be true. Its specifications are just as good as those of the Samsung Galaxy S5, Sony Xperia Z2 and HTC One M8, yet it costs half the price. Our only concern is that the invitation-only purchasing process will confuse many would-be buyers, and the virtually unknown startup company will have a very tough job on its hands stealing market share from mega-brands Sony, Samsung, LG and HTC. That it runs CyanogenMod will appeal to enthusiasts, but it could have the opposite effect on the general buying public.
For those less concerned with value, the LG G3 has a fantastic 5.5in Quad-HD screen, and isn't overly large and cumbersome as a result. It'll be the ultimate phone on which to watch video, view photos and play games. At £499 it undercuts both the HTC One M8 and Sony Xperia Z2, and is only a few pounds more expensive than the Samsung Galaxy S5, yet matches their core hardware specifications.
On style alone the metal-clad HTC One M8 is a winner. It also offers great sound and amazing performance, plus a very nice screen. We're not so taken with its camera, mind, which is where the Sony Xperia Z2 steals the lead. With an extra gig of RAM over the competition, a promising stills- and video camera that lets you display 4K footage on your 4K TV, one-touch sharing, listening, mirroring and backup via NFC, a gorgeous screen, excellent dust- and waterproofing credentials and the largest-capacity battery prior to the existence of any power-saving mode, Sony is surely on to a winner with the Xperia Z2.
And then there's the Samsung Galaxy S5. It's a great phone, and the fingerprint scanner and heart-rate monitor will find many fans, but it just doesn't stand out in this group. Samsung has nothing to worry about, though: the S5 is already outselling the S4, and Samsung is in the great position of being able to sell products simply by attaching to them the S-series name.