Samsung Galaxy S vs HTC Desire

It’s about time another mobile manufacturer had a go at challenging for Android smartphone supremacy. For the last nearly 2 years HTC has had it all its own way. The Taiwanese company was the first to bring out a Google phone with the G1. It was then responsible for the first Android big hit in the shape of the Hero and now it’s got a model right up there challenging the iPhone for top spot in the shape of the HTC Desire. However, when Samsung’s on your trail, you can never really relax.

Whether it's TVs, media players, cameras or mobile phones, Samsung has a history of swinging its full might at a product area and not stopping 'till it’s got it right. Its first Android shot, the Galaxy, didn’t have the reviewers won over, but this latest version has brought a different story. So, the question Android users have to ask themselves now is whether the Samsung Galaxy S is better than the HTC Desire? Time for a showdown.

Form Factor

Winner: Desire
119 x 60 x 11.9mm; 135g

Loser: Galaxy S
122 x 64 x 9.9mm; 118g


The first thing that’s going to hit you when you make the spend is what your new phone looks and feels like. It’s important to you and, let’s face it, it’s important to all the friends you want to impress. While the Galaxy S certainly has a larger surface area, through the use of plastic over metal and glass, it’s actually considerably lighter than the Desire. It’s also much thinner. On the down side, what that means is the Galaxy has a less premium feel.

There’s a strange connection in the human gadget brain that says “nice and heavy equals quality item”, and there is the danger that the feather-light plastic Samsung won’t hit that spot. So, given that the Desire is no bother in your pocket as it stands, we’re handing this category over to HTC. Your personal preferences may beg to differ, but give these two mobiles to the unknowing observer and they’ll tell you that the Desire is the better phone according to their forms.

Display

Winner: Galaxy S
4”, 800x480px Super AMOLED

Loser: Desire
3.7”, 800x480px AMOLED


Very tight category to judge, this one, and, again, rather contentious. Both phones have superbly crisp, colourful AMOLED screens with a lovely contrast that’ll make video watching enjoyable. Samsung is claiming its Super AMOLED is 20% brighter, has 20% less power consumption and is 80% less sunlight reflective than before. In practice both screens appeared equally good with neither that great in bright sunlight.

The next difference is the size of the displays and also, therefore, the pixel density. One might argue that the higher pixel density on the Desire makes for better resolution, however, there’s not much use in super fine detail when it’s too small for your eye to make out in the first place. So, at this level, it’s really screen size that's of higher importance, and the fact is that the one on the Samsung is just bigger and therefore better for consuming content. If that’s not enough for you, the icing on the cake is the huge range of codec support you get on the Galaxy S. In our testing, there was just never an issue with any video type that we threw at it.

Finally, it seems that the capacitive touchscreen on the Galaxy S is more responsive than on that of the Desire (thanks @Amir) firmly cementing the win for Samsung in this category.

 

Engine Room

TiE: Desire
1GHz CPU, 576MB RAM

Tie: Galaxy S
1GHz CPU, 512MB RAM


Just a hair separating this category as well. Both phones have what feels like a rather benchmark 1GHz processor that all superphones in this day and age should have. That said, there is a difference in choice. While HTC has gone for the Qualcomm Snapdragon platform, it's of little surprise that Samsung has gone in house by using one of its own Hummingbird S5PC110 models.

We'll leave it to the silicon experts to argue over the difference there, but what is worth mentioning is that the Desire comes with more memory. It’s not a lot more, but crucially it is enough of a kick to help keep the Sense UI running on top of the already RAM-hungry Android platform. There isn’t that extra oomph with the Galaxy S and that might be one reason why our review found the occasional software performance issue.

Update: After quite a bit of research into the performance of the two chipsets, it seems that the Hummingbird gives far better results at graphics processing than Snapdragon can muster. That given, we're now calling this round a tie at the very least.

Storage

Winner: Galaxy S
8/16GB microSD expandable

Loser: Desire
521MB microSD expandable


Easy one here. The Galaxy S wins hands down. Not only can you total 48GB of storage to the Desire’s 32GB, but also handset flash memory is doubly important on Android phones. Although the 2.2 Froyo update means that you can switch apps from the phone’s memory to the microSD card, the fact is that 99 per cent of the apps themselves don’t let you do it - at least, for now. What this means is that you end up running out of space a lot quicker than you should. So, Samsung all the way here.

Imaging

Winner: Galaxy S
5MP, front facing, 720p video capture

Loser: Desire
5MP + flash, WVGA video capture


Although the Desire has the LED camera flash where the Galaxy S offers nothing for low light photography, we’re still plucking for the Samsung in the imaging department. Why? Well, first of all the 720p HD video capture facility at around 30fps is excellent - as good as the iPhone 4 and as much as you’d expect from a pocket camcorder. Secondly, the Galaxy S also has a front facing VGA resolution camera for when Skype finally pulls its finger out and sticks an app on the Android Market.

Finally, the flexibility of the camera software is streets ahead of anything you get on any Android phone. There’s touch to focus, self-shot, action shot, face detection, panorama shot, smile detection, stop motion, beauty shot and other scene modes as well as the exposure compensation and white balance controls you get on the Desire. Very impressive effort from Samsung here.

Software

Winner: Desire
HTC Sense + Android 2.1

Loser: Galaxy S
Samsung TouchWiz 3.0 + Android 2.1


Both handsets currently come with Android 2.1 with each manufacturer promising updates to 2.2 this year. What separates them then is the custom UIs the companies have chosen to brand their mobiles with. Everyone knows that Sense is excellent. It adds a much liked look and social aggregation to an otherwise fairly blank Android OS in a way that other efforts from Motorola and Sony Ericsson have so far failed to do.

The surprise is that Samsung’s TouchWiz 3.0 is actually excellent as well. It nicely integrates the social side as well as bringing in some very neat graphical features to the user experience. For now though, Sense shades it for the simple reason that it’s just a bit smoother. In our review of the Galaxy S, we did find the odd issue with the way TouchWiz interacts with Android. Doubtless this’ll be sorted out with an update we expect to arrive in the coming months but, until then, the smart move is to go for the Desire on the software front.

Connectivity

Winner: Galaxy S
Wi-Fi (802.11b/g/n), Bluetooth 3.0, DLNA, hot spot creation
Loser: Desire
Wi-Fi (802.11b/g), Bluetooth 2.1


To use the HTC Desire, you wouldn’t necessarily say that there was any problem on the connectivity front. It does everything you would expect. There’s Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and high speed 3G. Despite that, Samsung has decided to up the ante. The Galaxy S doesn’t just have Wi-Fi, it has n-Wi-Fi for a better wireless reception. It doesn’t just have Bluetooth, it has Bluetooth 3.0 that’ll be just dandy as soon as there’s any Bluetooth 3.0 compatible devices out there. There’s also the ability to turn your phone into a mobile hotspot. Now, that’s something that will come to the Desire when it gets the Froyo upgrade but, until then, Samsung has got its users covered.

The pièce de résistance for the Galaxy S, though, is the inclusion of DLNA which means you can stream content back and forth between compatible devices. Now that may not sound like a big deal but, in practice, that means you can lie in bed and watch videos on your phone streamed from your home server or come in from shooting some 720p video on your phone, stick it on the coffee table and watch it back on your DLNA TV with no cables required. A lovely touch.

Price

Winner: HTC Desire
£399.95

Loser: Galaxy S
£449.95


For the moment it’s 50 quid cheaper to pick up the Desire SIM-free. It’s hard to compare the contracts but, ignoring redemption deals, it’s easier to pick up a Desire on decent tariff and the network of your choosing for £25 per month, whereas the Galaxy S is more likely a £30 deal. Take a look at our mobile comparison service for the best one to suit you.

Conclusions

Both phones come out top in 4 of the 8 categories making it hard to choose an overall winner - which is why we’re not going to. Today on Pocket-lint, the decision is yours. Would you prefer your handset to excel at imaging, consuming content, storage and connectivity or is a mobile with a more attractive form, better software and more under the hood, while being a touch cheaper what you’re really after? Bearing in mind that the odd software update can make a lot of difference to some of the categories here and there, let us know in the comments below which you think is the best and why.

Update: With the tie in the engine room department, the balance tips in favour of the Samsung Galaxy S. It may not be the world's prettiest handset, it's looking like it packs the punches in more of the important departments. If you're unsure that the Korean manufacturer has finally cracked the code, then the best advice would be to head down to your nearest mobile shop and get your hands on.