Mobile Phones' Main Competitors May Be Earlier Models

Consumers who are consciously coupled to a competing product — be it an Apple iPhone 5s or an rival Android — might be excused if they think about drawing up uncoupling papers upon reading Samsung’s newspaper ad for the new Galaxy S5 this morning on the back page of the New York Times’ “Business Day” section. 

The ad cheekily compares 14 cherry-picked features of the Galaxy S5 with the iPhone 5S, starting with the Samsung’s “5.1-inch Super AMOLED display” vs. “Apple’s 4-inch display” and ending with the former’s “Built-in TV remote with WatchON” versus the latter’s “I have no clue.”

Talk about continuing to give Apple a bite of its own snark.

But forget the opposition for a moment. Lately, as mobile devices get costlier to buy with less breakthrough differentiation from previous iterations, consumers are asking questions like that posed by CNET’s Marguerite Reardon in her “Ask Maggie” feature: “Is it worth it to get the newer Galaxy S5, or could I get a good deal on the Galaxy S4 and still be happy?” The S4, after all, is about a hundred dollars cheaper through Verizon, whether you go without a contract ($550 vs. $650 for the S5 at retail) or sign one for a two-year commitment ($200 vs. $100).  

Reardon cites her CNET colleague Jessica Dolcourt’s gushing review for the Galaxy S5, which asserts, in part: “It looks good, it performs very well, and it has everything you need to become a fixture in nearly every aspect of your life.” But then Dolcourt writes: “The S5 is more of a Galaxy S4 Plus than it is a slam-the-brakes, next-generation device; it makes everything just a little smoother and faster.”

And that, Reardon concludes, really isn’t enough motivation to spend the extra bucks unless the consumer is particularly enamored of one of the new feature sets — such as what, after some investigation, sounds like a somewhat lacking heartbeat monitor — or qualify for the twofer that Verizon is offering to new customers only.

“Samsung is emphasizing fitness activities,” writes the Sydney Morning Herald’s Anick Jesdanun, such as the heart rate sensor. But it “doesn't measure your pulse continuously. Rather, you have to hold your finger on the sensor for about five seconds before and after your activity.” For the sort of continuous tracking offered by, for example, dedicated devices such as FitBit, Samsung has three wrist devices for sale that “sync with the S5 and other Samsung phones to give you a broader snapshot of your activities.”

Meanwhile, the HTC One M8 has also rolled out at all four major U.S. carriers and reviews have been very positive. CNET wrote: “The HTC One M8 must compete head-to-head against its arch-rival's freshest mobile machine, the Samsung Galaxy S5, and compete it does” — from aesthetics to features. 

It “runs rings around the GS5 with its elegant and intuitive Sense interface” and although it “may lack every bell and whistle that Samsung packs into its phones, it matches the GS5 on almost every feature that really matters,” the review said.

After a head-to-head price and spec comparison, AlphaWired’s Ivan Ivanoff concludes: “Even though at first glance the Samsung Galaxy S5 comes off as a clear winner because of its powerful camera, the HTC One (M8) is nonetheless a worthy competitor. With both smartphones having remarkable displays, powerful hardware and decent battery life, the real choice lies between which design and which manufacturer you like better.”

“HTC delivers what, by reputation, Apple should: A truly compelling smartphone rife with useful, contextual benefits,” writes Joe Wilcox on BetaNews.com. “The One clearly is a labor of love.”

We’ll check back after the debut of the iPhone 6 this fall to see if HTC’s love, Samsung’s snark or Apple’s mojo is ruling the day.

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