Mid March is an interesting time of year in 2013. Now that the Galaxy S4 has been announced, there are really three major contenders for my itchy spending finger. Well, technically there are four, but one of them doesn’t really count, for reasons I’ll expound upon shortly.

Google Nexus IV

This is the phone that doesn’t count. One major benefit it has over all of the others, is that it gets updates directly from Google. Any Android advances are adopted in very short order, without any of the usual US carrier shenanigans. Unfortunately Google seems to believe 16GB ought be enough for anybody. Not only is 16GB the largest amount of memory in this particular phone, but since it doesn’t have an SD-card slot, it’s the most anyone will ever have.

Google believes The Cloud can supplant the need for large amounts of storage. It is wrong. Not only are some games on Google Play over 2GB in size, but carrier reception is hardly ubiquitous, and bandwidth is anything but generous. Anyone depending entirely on The Cloud for their entertainment will quickly find themselves tune-less or over their (likely 2GB) bandwidth cap in short order.

In a few years this may no longer be an issue, but now, in 2013, it is very much relevant and a limiting factor. Phones need at least 32GB of storage, and the ability to add more is often appreciated.

There are many—possibly millions—of people that can ignore this shortcoming, and the sales of the Nexus 4 have been booming. I however, do not count among their number. The other relative strengths or weaknesses of this device are heavily outweighed by this one missing feature, so I won’t even mention them. This phone doesn’t count in my list, and it’s a shame.

Sorry Google.

Sony Xperia Z

Sony? What? When did Sony make a good smart phone? Apparently they’ve woken up and decided they want to actually compete in the arena, and delivered what many agree is a very strong entry. 1080p screen, quad-core Snapdragon, 13 megapixel camera, a big 2330 mAh battery, SD-card slot, NFC chip, it’s mostly all there. Amusingly, they also made it waterproof, which is a big plus for all those accidental drops into puddles and the occasional toilet.

What’s not so great is that they didn’t include wireless charging, a strange thing to omit in a waterproof device. Needlessly opening up the USB port cover for charging could eventually wear it out. And though they actually have an SD-card slot, the phone itself only includes 16GB; there are no 32GB or 64GB versions. Oddly, it’s also only compatible with SD-cards up to 32GB. Again, 64GB cards are old news these days, and a strange thing to leave out.

The phone is also hilariously expensive at $850 off contract, and for all that, most reviews ding the screen for its relatively bad viewing angles. Anyone who watches media on the 5-inch screen while it’s on a kickstand may find that unacceptable. The battery life is also reportedly on the low end.

Yet a few gripes are what anyone would expect. All in all, it’s a device I could live with. That’s more than I could say about the Nexus 4.

HTC One

Go home HTC, you’re drunk. You’ve already had a One S, a One X, and possibly everything in between. Whoever is in charge of your marketing and branding division should be dragged out into the street and shot. Why?

Because this phone is fucking beautiful, that’s why. It is hands-down the best looking Android phone I have ever laid eyes upon. The 4.7 inch-screen isn’t quite as large as Sony’s 5-inches, but it’s still 1080p. The two-tone machined aluminum shell with black accents is breathtaking, but it’s also functional. The top speaker grill obscures the notification LED so it isn’t so obtrusive. The stereo speakers are prominently on the front of the phone, and reviewers have gushed at how amazing they sound.

The power button on top? Ok, that’s somewhat odd. But it also doubles as an IR-blaster. Finally, a phone I could use as a TV remote! Jesus, why has it taken this long to add this? A couple well-designed universal remote apps could render remote juggling a thing of the past. It also has 802.11ac, the newest (draft) standard in wireless. Not really essential until compatible routers are more ubiquitous, but it’s a nice touch. They also opted for a larger camera sensor instead of simply higher resolution. The pictures totally blow away those from other recent phones. That said, they probably went too low with 4MP. What looks great on a phone may not look so well when printed or zoomed for editing. Anything larger than a 3×5 print will look grainy. Not really a problem for me, but some might be unpleasantly surprised when at the copy shop.

Like the Sony Xperia it has no wireless charging. No induction coil will really work effectively through the aluminum shell. And while it comes in a 32GB flavor, unlike the Nexus 4, it has no expandable storage. What may be worse: it can’t be disassembled to replace the battery if it goes bad. That aluminum shell with polycarbonate injection molding is effectively a beautiful, inaccessible slab.

Why do I care? The battery in my Galaxy S2 went bad. Not only did it not hold a charge, but the phone acted very oddly regardless of the reported power level. Eventually I returned the bloated ruin and received a replacement. With an HTC One, they’re most likely going to offer a replacement phone, and take the old one for refurbishing because it has to go back to a factory for a new battery. That, or I throw it away and buy a new phone. That kind of disposable planned obsolescence makes me exceptionally angry, especially considering how much the One is likely to cost off contract. At least the Nexus 4 is only a few screws away from a new battery.

So the awesome is tempered with some very real annoyances. And worse, even those who could forgive the permanent battery may never even know about the phone at all. HTC’s marketing budget was actually cut by 15% this year, and like I said, most people would naturally assume the One is an older version of the One X or some other HTC variant. HTC failed big-time in this regard, unless they start a new trend like what we see in the automotive industry. I mean, a Hyundai Sonata can vary greatly between model years, but its name never changes.

If that’s the direction they’re going, I wish them all the luck in the world. This endless stream of sequential numbering and nonsensical buzzword-rich names is long since tiresome and idiotic.

Samsung Galaxy S4

And finally, the most recently revealed entry in the Galaxy series. I could say a lot about Samsung, but their phone division is some kind of magical beast straight out of ancient mythology. It has every feature from all the phones I just mentioned, and then adds a few just for good measure.

Five inch screen? Yep. 1080p? Of course. 13MP camera? Why not? NFC chip? Duh. 2600 mAh battery? Holy crap! Wireless charging? It would be stupid not to. Barometer? Sure. SD-card? Is 64GB enough for ya? Internal memory? Up to 64GB, because Fuck You, every other phone. 802.11ac? No contest. A dual quad-core Exynos 5? You better believe it. 2GB RAM? Why use less. IR-blaster? Suck it, HTC. Less than 8mm thick? Anything thicker is only suitable to pave sidewalks. Replaceable battery? Only if you think a trunk is an essential feature in your car (it is).

And it goes on and on like that. The only real problem with the S4, is that it’s as ugly as balls. Seriously. I can hardly believe this is the same company that made the S2, which was as functional as it was good-looking. The S3 was a hideous Lovecraftian writhing horror by comparison. It’s sad to see Samsung continue that trend by only slightly revising that revolting design, especially after witnessing the ethereal perfection that is the HTC One. But we can’t have everything we want, and I’d rather have features I’d use than a phone to attract the drool of filthy passers-by.

It’s too soon to say how well the battery performs, but it’s bigger than what they put in the original Galaxy Note, a much larger device. And since it was just announced yesterday, there aren’t a lot of long-term reviews out there, but it looks like this is the top of the heap for people who don’t mind that it resembles regurgitated anus. While I would prefer something as classy as the HTC One, the S4 stomps all over it in terms of features. Provided it isn’t a buggy mess and the dev community provides some good ROMs, it’s very likely this will be my next device when it’s finally available in the US.

Final Thoughts

This is why Samsung sells a ton of phones and has become the top grossing Android manufacturer. It’s not just the endless buckets of cash they spend on marketing, but the fact they somehow cram every iota of functionality into their devices. People aren’t blind to that. HTC can make snide comments about it all day long, but until they can give us all the features Samsung does, they can shut the hell up.

And I’m sorry Sony, you really tried this time. I’m honestly shocked at how well the new Xperia compares to the S4. The fact they made a waterproof phone and still managed to add an SD-card slot is commendable. See that HTC and LG? It’s not impossible. But the Galaxy is just… more. Somehow, it always is. How? I have no clue. It should be impossible to be so consistently ahead of everyone else.

Honestly, HTC should be glad Samsung apparently hires drunken orangutans to design its phones. Does HTC actually want a good looking Galaxy device to compete with? Fuck no. How would HTC compete then? Still, HTC almost had me with the One. If not for the battery being firmly embedded in about five acres of aluminum, I may have even bought it despite having fewer features. It’s that enticing. Seriously, just fucking look at it. Why, Samsung?!

Oh well, the consumers are the winners here no matter what. I for one, love the competition. Come April, my S2 is going to be on Craigslist, and I’ll have to re-train my thumb for another half inch of real-estate.

Phone, Phone on the Range
Tagged on: