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15 Jun 12 Are we approaching the Android singularity?

HTC One X alongside the Samsung Galaxy S III.

HTC One X alongside the Samsung Galaxy S III.

Samsung’s Galaxy S III and HTC’s One X are strikingly similar, despite Android’s freedoms.

If you’re in the market for a killer Android superphone, right now it really comes down to choosing between the Samsung Galaxy S III and the HTC One X, or perhaps the HTC One XL if you have a thirst for LTE. Samsung is still refusing to confirm or deny whether we’ll see an LTE version of the Galaxy S III in Australia, but if you read between the lines it looks like an LTE model is on the way.

What’s striking about the Galaxy S III and HTC One X/XL is how similar they are. Similar to the point where many reviews supposedly of one handset spend a considerable amount of time talking about the other. So little separates them that it would seem to do both an injustice to talk about one in isolation.

In terms of dimensions you can barely tell them apart. The Galaxy S III is 0.3 of a millimetre thinner and its screen is 0.1 of an inch bigger, but the One X is 3 grams lighter. They rely on the same basic slimline design and both offer a razor sharp 1280×720 resolution with similarly impressive picture quality. The choice between LCD and AMOLED screens comes down to personal taste and I’ve always favoured LCD, but Samsung’s latest Super AMOLED offering can finally hold its head high alongside the Super LCD screens favoured by HTC and Apple.

Under the bonnet both phones both run Android 4.0 “Ice Cream Sandwich” on a quad-core processor (One XL is dual-core and LTE version of Galaxy S II will be the same, due to compatibility issues). Plus they have all the latest mod-cons such as NFC and Bluetooth 4.0. The Galaxy S III packs more grunt, plus it has the benefit of a micro-SD slot, but in the end what really separates them is the little ICS interface touches added by the handset makers.

Samsung’s TouchWiz skin is precociously cute out of the box. It feels like it was designed by a committee of giddy school girls to appeal to giddy urban hipsters. I much prefer HTC’s more reserved and practical Sense 4.0 skin. Yet in terms of the pre-installed apps and wider ecosystem Samsung puts HTC to shame. HTC really needs to lift its game here if it doesn’t want to become an Android also-ran.

They’re both fantastic handsets, although all things considered the Galaxy S III comes out slightly ahead and deserves to wear the Android crown for now. Yet so little separates them, unlike the last generation of Android handsets from each vendor. It really feels like we’re heading towards an Android singularity in terms of hardware. The Windows Phone 7-powered HTC Titan 4G is also moving towards a similar design and it will also be interesting to see if the iPhone 5 moves in the same direction.

The general consensus is that Samsung’s 5.3-inch Galaxy Note “phabet” has crossed the line. It has its fans, but I don’t think such a screen size could ever win mainstream acceptance as a smartphone. So if the Galaxy S III and One XL are about as big and as thin as it gets, where do we go from here? I wouldn’t go any thinner, if anything I’d say the Galaxy S III feels a tad flimsy and the One X’s extra bulk feels better in my hand.

The smartphone war has reached a turning point. Which way do you think handset designs will go? What will become the distinguishing features between smartphone rivals?

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