HTC One M9 vs. Samsung Galaxy S6: Which flagship phone will you want?

Two top-tier flagship phones were just announced within hours of each other: the HTC One M9 and Samsung Galaxy S6. Which is the one you’ll want to carry in your pocket? Obviously, there are still some important details we don’t know yet (like price). But ahead of our final reviews, and having spent hands-on time with each of them, I’m ready to make a very early judgment, and it’s not good news for HTC fans.

Industrial design

HTC had a great design with the One M8. Yes, it was a little too tall, but the all-aluminum body with no gaps or seams was really nice. The M9 is a refinement of that. The curved back is slightly flatter and it’s easier to grip. It’s a handsome phone that feels good in the hand. But it’s still a little too tall and heavy.

galaxy s6 design

Finally: In the Galaxy S6, Samsung has a premium look and feel.

After years of flagship phones with a cheap plastic feel, Samsung needed a new design with the Galaxy S6. And they knocked it out of the park. The phone is beautiful, lightweight, and feels great in the hand. The protruding camera on the back is a bit of an annoyance, but both aesthetically and ergonomically, I give the edge to Samsung.

Advantage: Galaxy S6


The One M9 uses the new Snapdragon 810, while the Galaxy S6 uses Samsung’s own Exynos 7420. Until we run some benchmarks, it’s going to be difficult to declare a winner. Samsung is also employing lightnight-fast UFS 2.0 flash storage in its phone, which could really help speed up application loading.

one m9 performance

Will the Snapdragon 810 in the One M9 beat Samsung's home-grown chip? We can't call this battle yet.

Both phones feel like real powerhouses during real-world use. The stuttering and lag that plagued the Galaxy S5’s interface appears to be completely gone. HTC already had a lightning-quick interface with the One M8, and it’s still buttery smooth on the M9. I was able to quickly launch and switch between applications on both phones, and touch response was snappy.

Advantage: too early to tell


This one’s not even close. I’m not a fan of the One M8’s Ultrapixel/DuoCam design, and I’m glad HTC dropped it for a single high-resolution camera on the M9. But the test shots I took were… not great. They were average, really. There’s still a bit too much shutter and focus lag, and low light shots still aren't as good as they should be. I won’t know for sure until I examine lab photos more closely, but it seems like there’s a lot of post-process sharpening combined with over-aggressive noise reduction.

galaxy s6 camera

The Galaxy S6's camera may be the phone's best feature, that protruding camera body nothwithstanding.

The Galaxy S6’s camera is, in my admittedly limited first-hand experience, very impressive. The camera app pops up instantly with a double-tap of the home button, no matter what you’re doing with the phone. Focus and shutter latency is greatly diminished—his thing is fast. Like, iPhone 6 fast. The lighting was pretty good where I was testing, but there didn’t appear to be any major problems with the images being over-processed. The camera software is clean, intuitive, and has just the right amount of features to satisfy both casual shooters and more serious photo fans.

Advantage: Galaxy S6


I’m thrilled to see Samsung move the speaker from the back of the phone to the bottom, but that’s still not good enough. It needs to be on the front, and really, flagship phones shouldn’t still ship with mono speakers. I see no reason to believe it’s going to be an especially great-sounding phone.

htc one m9 speakers

The HTC One M9 may very well have the best sound of any flagship phone. Dig the front-mounted speaker grilles.

In the audio department, the One M9 delivers. It has a pair of nice clear, loud (for a phone) speakers with Dolby Audio technology above and below the screen. It might be the best-sounding phone ever.

Advantage: One M9


HTC’s new Sense 7 looks a lot like Sense 6. Sure, it’s built on Android Lollipop, but you’d never know it, as many of the interface elements look largely the same. For example, the multitasking screen is still a grid of thumbnails instead of the Rolodex-style flipbook introduced in the new Android OS. It’s a good interface, clear and readable, but I wish HTC had done more to make it follow Google’s new design. The custom themes stuff is a nice touch, but I’m not greatly impressed by the widget that shows different apps when at home, work, or away. There are lots of existing solutions for that sort of thing in the Google Play store.

galaxy s6 touchwiz

It's still busy, but Samsung's TouchWiz interface has gotten better.

I can’t believe I’m about to say this, but I think Samsung’s TouchWiz is…better. That annoying bright blue color abounds, but with new theme support, you can download a palette that appeals to you more. Samsung has a tendency to use abstract and obtuse icons for its apps, but the new TouchWiz replaces most of that with clear text. Everything is flatter, cleaner, and less busy. Samsung follows more closely to the new Android design guidelines, too.

Advantage: Galaxy S6


I don’t think 5-inch phones necessarily need a Quad HD display, so I’m not worried about the fact that the One M9’s LCD screen is “only” 1080p. It looks sharp, clear, and bright.

galaxy s6 display

In the Galaxy S6, Samsung has quite possibly the best phone display on the market.

But Samsung has shown great prowess with its SuperAMOLED technology, and the 5.1-inch Quad HD display is gorgeous. It’s really bright, too. If Samsung calibrates colors as well as it did in the Note 4, it’ll be the best phone display on the market. This is a case where, after some limited use, I’m impressed with the display on both phones. But I still have to say…

Advantage: Galaxy S6

Other technology

If there’s a fault with the One M9, it’s that it doesn’t really bring anything new to the table. It’s got a faster processor and higher-res camera, but there’s nothing cutting-edge in there, really. It seems like “only” a really good phone.

The Galaxy S6, on the other hand, promises everything but the kitchen sink. The fingerprint sensor works like Apple’s, only requiring you to hold your finger on the home button (at any angle) instead of swiping carefully downward. Samsung Pay uses technology from recently-acquired LoopPay to work with any credit card reader that takes magnetic stripe cards. It has wireless charging built right in, and it supports both PMA and WPC standards. That means it’ll work with both the Duracell Powermat / Starbucks chargers and the very popular Qi wireless charging stations.

galaxy s6 charging

The Galaxy S6 promises super-fast charging—on a charging mat no less.

Yes, the heartbeat sensor is still there on the back, and this time it actually has a decent use: You can tap it to act as the shutter button when taking a selfie with the front camera.

Advantage: Galaxy S6

We still don’t have the whole picture, but after spending a little time with pre-release versions of both phones, I find myself far more impressed with Galaxy S6. That's a complete reversal from my opinion of last year’s flagships from these two companies.

But there's still a lot we don’t know. Those cameras need to be tested under real, controlled conditions. We need to see if there’s a substantial difference in wireless reception. We need to see how long the batteries really last. We need to check out the displays in a variety of lighting conditions. And of course, we need to know what they cost: If the One M9 is a couple hundred dollars less expensive than the Galaxy S6, it would be a lot easier to swallow its comparative lack of features.

Stay tuned for final reviews.

View Comments
Join the discussion
Be the first to comment on this article. Our Commenting Policies