HTC Desire vs. Samsung Galaxy S

In one of our toughest tech battles yet, we pit the HTC Desire against the Samsung Galaxy S to see which Android reigns supreme.

Joseph Hanlon
Joe capitalises on a life-long love of blinking lights and upbeat MIDI soundtracks covering the latest developments in smartphones and tablet computers. When not ruining his eyesight staring at small screens, Joe ruins his eyesight playing video games and watching movies.
Joseph Hanlon
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Physical comparison

You have explored all of your options and you've decided Android is the operating system for you, but now you don't know which of the top-shelf handsets to spend your money on.

We've seen stacks of exciting new smartphones this year, but the two handsets that definitely stand out are the HTC Desire and Samsung Galaxy S. Both phones run Android version 2.1, access the Android Market for app downloads and ship with the full suite of Google apps. So which of these beasts is right for you? Get the fire department standing by, this showdown is going to get hot.

When you clap eyes on the Desire and \Galaxy sitting side by side, one thing is immediately obvious: one of these phones looks just like an iPhone and the other one doesn't. For some, the Galaxy's iPhone likeness will be a selling point, as it will be a deal-breaker for others.

Shallow preferences aside, the Galaxy S has a few strong points in its favour. Its screen is a 4-inch Super AMOLED monster; larger and more colourful than the Desire's 3.7-inch AMOLED display. It's also marginally thinner and lighter than the Desire, with thanks to its plastic exterior.

If there's one drawback to these factors, the Galaxy S lacks the premium feel of the Desire. HTC's phone feels sturdier and its two-tone metal-look chassis looks a step above the body of the Samsung.

We're going to give this round to Samsung. Our inner geeks are furiously reminding us that we'd prefer the Galaxy's brighter, larger screen over the Desire's sleeker, more finished build quality. That said, we totally understand if you disagree on this particular point.

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HTC Sense vs. Samsung TouchWiz

Though both phones run on the same version of Google's Android, the user experience is actually quite different between these two phones, thanks to the customised user interface skins applied by both HTC and Samsung.

HTC calls its modified user interface (UI) Sense, which consists of seven customisable home screens, a bunch of HTC designed widgets including very cool combined clock/weather widget, as well as customisations to a range of core applications like the address book and call log. HTC Sense also offers Facebook integration for the contacts in your address book, which links your SIM contacts with your Facebook contacts and drags in details like their profile picture and places their birthdays in your calendar.

Samsung TouchWiz shares some of the same features, but is a little more customisable. It features a maximum of seven screens, but using an edit function in the home screen menu options it allows you to delete screens you're not using and perhaps speed up the system a little. Samsung has also built a range of widgets to apply to the home screen of your phone, but to be honest, these widgets are uniformly terrible. The design of the widgets are gaudy, and the pay-off for having them draining resources on your home screen isn't matched with having fantastic functionality.

Of the two approaches to home screens we prefer Sense, but one area the TouchWiz UI clearly wins in our opinion is its side-scrolling app drawer. The Desire's app drawer is nearly identical to the stock Android drawer where all of your apps live in one long vertical grid. TouchWiz arranges them 16 to page, much like the iPhone, and it makes finding the apps you want to use so much more manageable.

Though we do like the side-scrolling app drawer, we're going to give this round to HTC's Sense UI. This modified user interface has already sold millions of phones worldwide with thanks to its attractive design and functional widget pack.

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Spec-sheet showdown

Specs HTC DesireSamsung Galaxy S
Screen size 3.7-inch 4.0-inch
Processor 1GHz 1GHz
RAM 576MB 512MB
Storage 512MB 16GB
Android OS 2.1 2.1
HDSPA 7.2Mbps 7.2Mbps
HSUPA 2Mbps 5.76Mbps
Wi-Fi 802.11b/g 802.11b/g/n
A-GPS Yes Yes
Camera 5MP 5MP
LED flash Yes No
Video WVGA 15fps 720p 30fps
FM radio Yes Yes
DivX/XviD playback No Yes
FLAC audio No Yes

The Galaxy S is a clear winner on paper. On each spec it matches the Desire or betters it. If you were shopping on lists of specs alone, you would have a clear choice, but of course, it's never that simple.

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The Galaxy S crushing the Desire in a Neocore benchmark.

Like desktops and laptops, there are a number of factors that can affect the performance of a smartphone. At the core of it, the Desire and Galaxy run on the same Android 2.1 platform (for now) and run fairly matching hardware; 1GHz processors and between 500 – 600MB of RAM. The processors aren't identical though; the Desire uses a Qualcomm Snapdragon chipset, while the Samsung runs on an ARM Cortex processor.

What's interesting is that the seemingly similar hardware configurations deliver significantly different results. We ran three benchmarks, Neocore and Linpack, which are available on the Android Market, and the BrowserMark benchmark (available online through any web browser). In all of these tests the Galaxy positively creamed the Desire, with a score 50 per cent better in the BrowserMark test and delivering almost double the frames per second in Neocore.

However, while these seem like a decisive tick for Samsung, our anecdotal testing put the Desire in front. After using both phones for an extended period of time we found that the Galaxy S lags during everyday tasks a lot more frequently than the Desire. Simple things, like opening your address book, can leave the phone with a black screen for several seconds as the Galaxy builds the list of numbers. Given its excellent test scores, we can only assume this lag has something to do with Samsung's customised firmware, and not something to do with the phone's hardware itself.

It might sound crazy to say it with the image posted above, but we're giving this round to the HTC Desire. It may not be able to pull 60 frames per second in Neocore, but it will promptly open everyday apps, like contacts and messages, and we'd take that over 3D performance any day of the week. This is definitely one section of this comparison that will change significantly after both HTC and Samsung release their Android 2.2 firmware updates.

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Multimedia is probably the Desire's Achilles' Heel and one of Samsung's strongest suits against other Android manufacturers. The stock Android media player lacks the level of polish you might expect in a top-shelf smartphone, and as such, both Samsung and HTC have applied a modified skin to put the sexy back into the pre-installed media players. On the surface, the Samsung player is way more attractive, but the difference goes even deeper than this.

More important than player aesthetics are the kinds of media the phones are capable of playing. The Desire sports a standard range of file recognition — MP3, AAC, WAV and WMA9 audio, plus MP4, H.264 and WMV video files. The Galaxy S goes a big step further adding DivX and XviD video file support and FLAC audio to its arsenal. Putting the Galaxy S even further in front, Samsung has created a DLNA file sharing app for the phone, allowing you to stream media files to and from the handset over a wireless network.

Samsung wins this section hands down, its media player is a standout and the DLNA media sharing app is a must for anyone who loves their home cinema as much as they love their phone.

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Camera test

Test images taken by the Desire and the Galaxy S with 100 per cent crop insets.

Both the Galaxy S and the Desire feature respectable shooters, but neither would seriously be considered a camera phone. Both have 5-megapixel sensors and software featuring the standard array of settings and tweaks, but neither stands out based on image quality.

If we have to pick between them, the Desire's built-in LED camera flash sways our opinion. Not only will this help you take photos in low-light situations, but with a quick search on the Android Market you can turn this into a very handy flashlight too.

We're reluctant to name either camera the winner on image quality, both are middle of the road, so we'll hand it to the Desire based on features alone.

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And the winner is...

Do we really have to choose between them? The score sheet says three-apiece, can't we just leave it at that and call it a day? Of course, it would be unfair to weigh all of these results evenly; the first two tests are purely subjective opinions, and the final camera test was a case of choosing the lesser of two evils.

When it boils right down to it, the winner depends entirely on what elements of these comparisons you value most. HTC has made a more attractive phone with a premium finish, designed an outstanding user experience and delivers solid day-to-day usability and performance. Samsung has built a powerhouse with multimedia at the fore — specs-wise, it features everything you'd expect in a smartphone and more; its 16GB of storage is excellent, and the Super AMOLED screen is a decent step up from standard AMOLED displays. However, there is something missing from Samsung's firmware implementation that will impact on your everyday use of the phone; random lag spikes will halt your productivity and after a few weeks this becomes a bit tiresome.

For the majority of users who don't want to be fussing with their phones, the HTC Desire is our pick of the two.

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