Which Nexus Phone Is Better? HTC or Samsung?

TheStreet.com

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- For the last couple of years, hardly a day has gone by without several people asking me which Android phone to buy.

The frequency of this question has only increased as Android has gotten better and the alternative operating systems have faltered.

My answer has always been the same: Buy the Android that Google's own employees use. That would be the Nexus.

Well, not always, actually. Here is the background: Until the Samsung Galaxy Nexus became available in November 2011, there wasn't really a good Android on the market, period -- Nexus or otherwise. And it wasn't until mid-2012 that the Android software became really, really good -- with the launch of 4.1, so-called Jelly Bean, which initially was available only for the Nexus.

The Samsung Galaxy Nexus was replaced in November 2012 by the LG Nexus 4. Lacking LTE and having a sensitive glass back that tended to crack, the Nexus 4 had serious hardware issues. But it was the only new Android hardware with the flagship Nexus software.

With the price of the 16-gig version of the Nexus 4 being only $349 SIM-unlocked and contract-free -- compared with $649 for the iPhone 5 -- it was relatively easy to overlook its flaws. It was the Android phone Google's own employees used, and you couldn't rationally recommend another one.

If history is any precedent, we will have to wait until November 2013 for the Nexus 5. Nobody knows anything specific about the Nexus 5, including who will make it. Perhaps it will be Samsung, perhaps HTC, perhaps ASUS -- who knows? One can safely assume it will have LTE, 1080p display and be close to 5 inches in display size, but that's about it. It would obviously be the launch device for Android 5.0, also known as Key Lime Pie.

Unlike previous years, however, 2013 is about to present itself with additional opportunities to get the Nexus experience, well ahead of the usual November switchover to a new Nexus hero device.

Specifically, HTC and Samsung agreed to make "Nexus experience" versions of their flagship smartphones available June 26.

Like the LG Nexus 4, these new "Nexus experience" devices will work on T-Mobile U.S. , AT&T and all international GSM-centric operators. Just insert any SIM card of choice, including the $30 per month data service that you can find at Wal-Mart and which runs on T-Mobile.

The Samsung will be $649 and the HTC will be $599. You also need to contrast these with the 16-gig version of the Nexus 4, which is $349. Why the premium?

First of all, don't be put off by the $649 and $599 price tags. When paired with the lower-cost plans -- because you're not amortizing the paying off of a $649 smartphone such as the iPhone 5 -- over two years, your total all-in, two-year cost will be lower than all other high-end smartphones except the LG Nexus 4. If you save $20 per month, that's $480 over two years. If you save $40 per month, that's $960 over two years.

In other words, these phones may have an initial premium of more than $400 over the typical $149 or $199 smartphone that you pay off over two years. But at the end of those two years, these two phones will actually cost less.

Compared with the $349 Nexus 4, the HTC and Samsung offer you these advantages for $250 and $300 more, respectively:

  1. Faster CPU/GPU
  2. 1080p display vs. 720p
  3. LTE
  4. Better camera

The Samsung also offers you this:

  1. Removable back
  2. Removable battery
  3. Larger battery (2,600 mAh instead of 2,100)
  4. Expandable storage

This leads us to ask which of these two new Nexus Experiences you should buy -- HTC or Samsung?

Having tested both hardware versions extensively, I can say with certainty that the Samsung phone is better. That's partly because of the removable back, larger battery and storage, but it's also because of two reasons that are arguably more important:

  1. The Samsung feels better in the hand. It's not as slippery. This is huge for those of us who don't want to obsess about dropping our phones. It's just hard to concentrate on anything else when there's something as slippery as the HTC One in your hand.
  2. If the HTC breaks, you could have a huge problem. The first unit I tested broke through no fault of my own, and I was told by my nearest operator store that it is unrepairable. If this happens outside the initial exchange period, you would have to work out a deal with HTC to repair it, and it's not clear that such a warranty would match your two-year contract. So if the HTC breaks, you may be out another $599 cold.

In the end, the Samsung feels great in the hand, it's made from durable materials, it can open to swap out the battery and a MicroSD card, and if it breaks (less likely), it has a greater probability of being repaired. Combined, this makes all the difference in the world.

My general recommendation stands: If you get Android, get the one Google's own employees use. The difference now is that they -- and you -- have more than one choice. Of these three, I recommend the Samsung Galaxy S4 if the extra $300 over the LG Nexus 4 is worth it to you.

These two new Samsung and HTC devices go on sale this Wednesday, June 26, at play.google.com and google.com/nexus, presumably.

At the time of publication, Wahlman owned shares of GOOG and AAPL.

This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.

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