Samsung Galaxy S6 vs. HTC One M9: Which should you buy?

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Credit: Jason Cross

In the world of tech, everything seems to devolve into a rivalry. Uber vs. Lyft. Mac vs. PC. Playstation vs. Xbox. 

Despite the fact that brand loyalty does more for corporations than it does for consumers, we seem to want “our team” to win. We want our brand of gadget to be better than, and sell more than, its competitor. Among Android fans, HTC and Samsung have squared off in the high-end phone market for years.

This year in particular, the flagship phones from these two companies are pit directly against each other. The HTC One M9 and Samsung Galaxy S6 were both announced at the same time (Mobile World Congress), went on sale online on the same date (March 27), and will be in stores on the same date (April 10). They even share nearly the same price ($649 for the One M9 and $679 for the Galaxy S6).

We’ve used both extensively, and are ready to tell you, once and for all, which is the better phone.

Design and build quality

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Which one is more appealing to you overall? We liked the Galaxy S6 the best.

Jason: The One M9 is a good-looking phone, just like the One M8 was. If anything, it’s a little more refined. The Galaxy S6 takes a giant leap forward for Samsung, with premium metal-and-glass materials.

This one is too close to call for me. I like the thinness and light weight of the Galaxy S6, but I like the all-metal back of the One M9. I’m not a fan of the M9’s height, but I don’t like how far the Galaxy S6’s camera module protrudes from the back. I have to call it a tie: they’re both excellent designs, flawed in their own small ways.

Flo: I’m impressed with what Samsung managed to drum up this year with the Galaxy S6. It’s a complete overhaul compared to what we experienced with the Galaxy S4 and Galaxy S5. It’s also Samsung’s way of saying, “We’ve heard your cries and we’re really, really sorry about all that plastic.”

I don’t deny that the One M9 is just a tad more durable than the all-glass and metal Galaxy S6, but I think Samsung wins this round, even if it does kind of look like the iPhone 6. 

Winner: Samsung Galaxy S6

Performance and battery life

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The Galaxy S6 is faster than the One M9 in every test we threw at it.

Jason: Galaxy S6 is the winner; it’s faster in almost every way. And despite the smaller battery (2550 mAh in the GS6, 2840 mAh in the One M9), it lasts longer on a single charge, and charges faster, too.

In practice, both phones feel really fast and fluid, and that’s what matters most. But the Snapdragon 810 runs into some thermal throttling issues to keep the One M9 from getting too hot, and the battery life isn’t as good as it should be. 

Flo: I’m having a tough time choosing between the two. I want to see what each phone will act like six months from now before I’m truly convinced about one’s performance over the other. I’m always complaining after a while that I’ve been tricked after spending months with a flagship device. The HTC One M8, for instance, began throwing a tantrum about halfway through its first year with me. Apps would randomly quit on me, and I’d constantly have to turn cellular data on and off to keep the phone on 4G LTE. 

For now, I agree with Jason: both phones feel really fast and fluid, but the Galaxy S6 has thus far had a better track record with its battery life than the HTC One M9.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy S6

Display quality

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Although both displays are bright and vibrant, you can tell that the Galaxy S6’s display is just a bit brighter with better contrast and color accuracy than the One M9’s.

Jason: There’s nothing wrong with a 1080p display on a 5-inch phone. So when I say I think the Galaxy S6’s display is better, it’s not because it’s quad HD (2560 x 1440) while the One M9 is only full HD (1920 x 1080). It’s because the GS6 has better contrast, more accurate colors, and seems to get brighter in bright daylight. I think the GS6 wins this one, but you’ll be plenty happy with the quality of the display on the One M9.

Flo: Samsung’s Super AMOLED displays take the cake here. They’re just so much more vibrant and fun to look at—even DisplayMate’s Dr. Raymond Soneira said that the Galaxy S6’s display “breaks new records in smartphone display performance.” There’s nothing inherently wrong with the HTC One M9’s display, but it doesn’t really have the same “wow” factor. Things just look better on the Galaxy S6.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy S6

Sound quality

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The Galaxy S6 has one very loud speaker, while the One M9 utilizes stereo speakers.

Jason: If there’s on area where I can unconditionally claim the One M9 is superior to the Galaxy S6, it’s sound quality. Both phones do a good job with headphones, but the Galaxy S6’s bottom-firing speaker is no match for the front-facing stereo BoomSound speakers on HTC’s phone. Samsung’s phone sounds way better than past Galaxy phones, and it actually gets pretty loud, but loud isn’t everything.

Flo: I love the HTC One M9’s Dolby-enhanced stereo speakers. They’re great for talk radio and mini dance sessions, and they’re just as good at speakerphone. I have to constantly plug in the Galaxy S6 to an amplifier or connect it to my Bluetooth speakers if I want to hear it over the noise of the shower, but the HTC One M9 works fine on its own at the highest volume. 

Winner: HTC One M9

Cameras and camera software

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Same shot, same settings (auto-everything, HDR off), in dim indoor light. Which camera would you rather use?

Jason: I have to give credit to HTC for realizing that the Duo Camera was a gimmick and people just want a nice high-res reliable camera. But they didn’t deliver it, while Samsung is providing one of the best camera we’ve ever seen in a phone on the Galaxy S6. HTC’s camera app is well laid out and easy to use, with good options for enthusiasts, but Samsung’s shooter just delivers vastly superior photos and videos. And it does it faster, too.

Flo: I just can’t with the One M9—not after the experience I had with the Galaxy S6. I took it around San Francisco with the iPhone 6 Plus in tow and was mesmerized at how accurate the photos were and how well it performed in various lighting situations. If someone were to ask me which Android phone they should buy for camera quality, I would suggest the Galaxy S6 without any hesitation. 

Winner: Samsung Galaxy S6

Software and User Interface

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HTC and Samsung both skin the heck out of Android. In the end, it’s up to you what you prefer. 

Jason: This is a tough one. Samsung made TouchWiz leaner, cleaner, and faster on the Galaxy S6. It’s actually pretty good now. Sense 7 is fast and intuitive, but it still looks like a skin for Android KitKat—it doesn’t mesh well with apps that use the Material Design standards. Surprisingly, Samsung is doing a better job at that.

Then there’s themes. Samsung has themes, but not many, and you can’t really modify them. The Themes app on Sense 7 is vastly superior. You have dozens of themes to choose from, and can mix and match icons, fonts, backgrounds, sounds, and colors to your heart’s content.

So, while Samsung has a slightly better default interface, HTC has a more customizeable one. I think this is a draw; it’s going to come down to your personal preference.

Flo: I agree that this is a draw as well, but for different reasons.

Samsung and HTC both offer their own versions of overbearing Android skins. They also both bundle in applications you can’t really dump unless you root your phone. Samsung’s user interface is a big improvement over previous versions, but it’s still pretty Blue in some places. HTC, on the other hand, didn’t change much, and the Sense 7 aesthetic doesn’t vibe too well with Material Design. 

In the end, you’re better off with the Google Launcher as the main launcher, and then simply stomaching the fact that you can’t do much about the app drawers and notifications shades.  

Winner: Neither

Unique features

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The Galaxy S6 and HTC One M9 both offer extra software and hardware features, but Samsung’s crams in a lot more.

Jason: The One M9 is sort of...basic. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, phones don’t need a ton of gimmicks, but it just doesn’t have a lot of new and unique technology. It’s just a solid high-end Snapdragon 810 in a high-end body, with polished software. HTC’s ”Uh Oh” protection plan is maybe the most unique thing about this phone.

The Galaxy S6, on the other hand, throws in everything but the kitchen sink. Wireless charging (supporting both PMA and Qi standards), heart rate monitor, capacitive fingerprint sensor, and after a software update this summer, wireless payments.

Flo: Samsung takes the cake for this one. In the past, I would have complained that they bundle in too much, but the Galaxy S6 has just the right amount of added features. I’m most excited about the universal wireless charging and Samsung Pay, which should go live this summer, though I also enjoy the little things, like the double-press camera launch shortcut and Multi-Window in the application switcher.

HTC’s added apps are nothing particularly special—you can find third-party variants of many of their features in the Google Play Store.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy S6


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Sorry, HTC, but Samsung wins this time.

Jason: There’s no doubt in my mind that the Galaxy S6 is the better phone. The One M9 isn’t bad, but there’s a wide gap between “not bad” and “one of the best phones we’ve used in years.” There’s only one area where I can confidently say the One M9 is better, and that’s the sound quality pumped out by the phone’s stereo speakers. For everything else, the Galaxy S6 is either hands-down better, or different but just as good. 

Flo: If a random passerby asked me which Android phone to get this year with their carrier-subsidized upgrade, I’d tell them to go with the Samsung Galaxy S6. There’s too many reasons to: it looks and feels great, and it scored top marks in its performance benchmarks, not to mention it rivals the iPhone 6 Plus in camera performance. Plus it has wireless charging and soon, wireless payments.

Overall Winner: Samsung Galaxy S6

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