The design of the Sony Xperia Z sets it apart from other flagship phones on the market. It's relatively comfortable to hold, has good ergonomics and the completely flat surface on the back gives it a distinctive look and feel. However, the edges of the phone can be a little sharp and often dig into your fingers.
The Xperia Z is dust and water resistant, rated to IP55 and IP57 standards. The water resistant capabilities mean all ports are covered with flaps, but this is something we can live with as the Xperia Z can be submerged in water for up to 30 minutes without damage.
Sony says it conducted research and took feedback on board from consumers which suggested that water resistance is a requested feature in a smartphone. We feel the water resistant capabilities will be welcome news to many Aussies. It's a feature that's not normally seen on high-end flagship devices so it could be a huge ace up Sony's sleeve. The Xperia Z's glass design is different to the HTC One, which has a full metal body with what the company calls a "zero gap" construction. This means there's no visible gaps or slits in the case design. While the front is completely flat, the back of the device is curved and the edges taper inwards in order to try and provide better ergonomics. The handset is 9.3mm thin and weighs 143g.
One of the most distinctive design features of the HTC One is the inclusion of dual-stereo speakers that sit above and below the display. The speakers and audio system, which the company has trademarked the tacky 'BoomSound' name, promise louder and clearer sound and include integrated amplifiers. HTC says the speakers will push out up to 93 decibels of sound, which is significantly more than most other smartphones. Another nifty feature is a built-in IR sensor, which allows the HTC One to act as a universal remote controls for devices around your home. It's something not seen in many smartphones.
Aside from its water resistant capabilities, the standout feature of the Sony Xperia Z is its 5in screen. It's a full HD display with a resolution of 1920x1080. Full HD screens are set to become the norm in 2013 and while Sony isn't the first to market with this technology (the HTC Butterfly and Oppo Find 5 came first), the Xperia Z will be one of the first to officially land on Australian shores.
The full HD resolution of the Xperia Z gives its display a pixel density of 441ppi. It displays ultra crisp text with minimal, visible aberrations but viewing angles are lacklustre compared to many rival models. We don't consider this a critical issue as most people who use their smartphone will be looking at the display directly front on. However, other potential users may disagree.
The HTC One on the other hand has a 4.7in, super LCD 3 display with a full HD resolution of 1920x1080 pixels. The display is optically bonded to the screen in order to minimise the space between layers. The screen itself has a pixel density of 468ppi, making it the highest on the market. The colour reproduction, brightness and viewing angles on the HTC One are almost unrivaled. It's a display that has to be seen yourself in order to be fully appreciated.
Unlike the Xperia Z, which uses Android's stock on-screen button combination, HTC has stuck with capacitive buttons that sit below the display. However, the One only has two capacitive shortcut buttons, a back button on the left and a home button on the right. Double tapping the home button will open the multitasking menu in the absence of a multitasking button and a longer press will open the Google Now assistant.
The Xperia Z will initially come with Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean) but the company has promised it will be upgraded to the latest 4.2 version "shortly after launch". Perhaps the most interesting software addition is what Sony calls "Battery Stamina mode". The feature prevents applications from running when the screen is locked, therefore saving power of the 2330mAh battery and improving standby time. You can individually select apps to bypass this feature if you wish, so there's an element of personalisation.
The software on the Xperia Z is very similar to the stock version of Android. Sony has a poor track record with timely Android updates to its smartphones, so we remain hopeful that the light UI skin may mean the update process of the Xperia Z can be more timely than previous models.
HTC on the other hand is sticking with its Sense UI. The biggest addition is a redesigned home screen called 'BlinkFeed'. It looks like a cross between Windows Phone 8 and the Flipboard media aggregation app and pulls in content from a variety of pre-selected sources including your social media accounts. In what may prove to be an annoyance, BlinkFeed can't be completely removed from the HTC One. It must be one of your home screens, but doesn't have to be the primary one.
HTC also says it has slimmed the Sense package down. Critical UI elements like the app drawer, the notifications panel and the home screens have been toned down in order to provide a simpler and more effective user experience. The look itself is quite different to stock Android, but we can only hope it is much more consistent than previous versions of HTC Sense.
The Xperia Z has a 13-megapixel camera that features an Exmor RS image sensor. Sony claims it's the world's first smartphone image sensor with HDR (High Dynamic Range) video. The camera takes good quality images with notable detail levels and reasonable, but sometimes oversaturated colours. Contrast is excellent and detail is notable for a camera phone, but still photos aren't significantly better than many other flagship devices on the market.
Other features of the camera include a superior auto setting that claims to capture photos with "optimal" settings, a sweep panorama mode and the ability to capture still photos while simultaneously recording video. The latter isn't a new feature — HTC has used it on a number of its phones including the popular One X and One XL. Curiously, the Xperia Z can also capture video underwater.
HTC is clearly betting on a new camera technology to win over consumers. The One has a 4-megapixel sensor dubbed the 'UltraPixel' camera. The custom image sensor uses enlarged pixels that the company says can absorb up to three times more light than those inside "most leading 13-megapixel phone cameras."
HTC promises that the use of UltraPixels make for an improvement in low-light performance and there's also optical image stabilization (OIS) and an f2.0 aperture, the largest available on a smartphone camera. In addition, the 2.1-megapixel front facing camera uses an ultra-wide angle lens, the same seen on the HTC Windows Phone 8X.
The UltraPixel sensor also allows HTC to introduce a new media called "Zoe". It enables users to capture up to 20 photos and a three second video simultaneously. The feature looks similar to Twitter's Vine videos or the Cinemagraphs used on the Nokia Lumia 920 but you can only share the files through YouTube and Facebook, or on HTC's servers for a limit of 180 days.
Naturally, both of these handsets boast impressive specifications. The Sony Xperia Z is powered by a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro 1.5GHz Krait processor, has 2GB RAM and comes with 16GB of internal memory. There's also a microSD card slot, which will be welcome news to many ardent Android fans. A theoretical maximum 48GB of memory will keep most potential users satisfied.
The HTC One on the other hand is powered by a 1.7GHz quad-core Snapdragon 600 processor, has either 32GB or 64GB of internal memory and comes with 2GB of RAM. Unfortunately, there is no microSD card slot, which means you can't expand the memory.
Neither of these phones have a removable battery, but both are 4G capable in Australia and come with a built-in Near Field Communications (NFC) chip.
The Sony Xperia Z will launch in Australia in March on Telstra, Optus and Vodafone. HTC has confirmed the One will be available through multiple carriers in Australia when it launches in March or April. Telstra, Optus, Vodafone Australia and Virgin Mobile are identified among a total of 183 global carriers that will sell the device.