Before we get started, however, it should be noted that this post is designed to eliminate many of the typical things you find in most smartphone comparisons. We wanted to place ourselves in the position of the average consumer who wants to know the differences between these three phones, so a number of similar factors (such as the fact that they all run Android 4.4 KitKat) that seem normal to all three smartphones won’t be discussed in this comparison.

Which smartphone wins this head-to-head-to-head battle? Let’s dig into the specs to find out.

Build Quality

The HTC One M8 is considered to be one of the finest smartphones on the market, particularly because it comes robed in aluminum metal. The HTC One M7 has a “raw metal” look to it, but HTC decided to clothe the M8 in brushed aluminum metal. The M8 is declared as one of the most beautiful (if not the most) Android smartphones of 2014. Not only does it look gorgeous, but it also feels gorgeous. I’ve held the M8 in my hands, and it feels sturdier and heavier than many claim. HTC’s decision to replace the 4.7-inch screen of the HTC One M7 (2013) with a 5-inch screen in the M8 results in a give-and-take situation: while you may love the brushed aluminum metal, you’re likely to regret the larger display. HTC didn’t accomplish the task of enlarging the display while keeping the device thin. Still, this may not be a deterrent for you.

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Sony’s Xperia Z2, on the other hand, features a build quality that many deem just as gorgeous as HTC’s One M8. If you prefer a different material from metal, the tempered glass Xperia Z2 may well catch your eye. It is considered to be one of the most premium-made devices in Android land right now, but the tempered glass does come with a drawback. We’ll get into the good and bad in a minute.

As for the Samsung Galaxy S5, Samsung’s known for its plastic build quality, with many upset after Samsung announced the Galaxy S5 earlier this Spring. Many consumers, reading and absorbing tech blogs, believed that Samsung would emerge with a metal design. When the company announced its plastic Galaxy S5 with water and dust-resistant design, consumers took to Facebook to express their outrage at Samsung Mobile USA regarding the matter.

Should Samsung opt for a metal smartphone and leave the plastic (even the faux leather back of the Galaxy Note 3 and TabPRO and NotePRO tablets) behind? Not at all. The reason concerns the fact that all three devices compared here have drawbacks in their build quality.

Let’s start with the Xperia Z2: it is gorgeous, no doubt, but the glass will break if it accidently hits concrete. If you purchase the metal HTC One M8, metal still gets a few dents and scratches when it falls. If you go with Samsung’s Galaxy S5, it’s likely that you’ll get some scratches and impacts, but Samsung’s GS5 is less likely to break and shatter the back cover – as compared to the HTC One M8 and the Sony Xperia Z2.

In short, you pay a price for beauty, even if you think the HTC One M8 and Sony Xperia Z2 are better choices. The most beautiful smartphones are also the most vulnerable. This may not deter your decision to purchase either HTC’s or Sony’s latest, but I’ll gladly take the Galaxy S5.

Cameras

Another distinct area in this smartphone race with the Xperia Z2, HTC One M8, and the Galaxy S5 concerns both front and rear-facing cameras. The HTC One M8 has a 5MP front-facing camera and a 4UMP (or UltraPixel) rear-facing camera. The Samsung Galaxy S5 comes with a 2.1MP front-facing camera and a 16MP rear-facing camera. The Sony Xperia Z2 comes with a 2.2MP front-facing camera and a 20.7MP rear-facing camera. If one judges camera quality based on specs alone, the HTC One M8 has an amazing front-facing camera for selfies but is bested by the Xperia Z2’s 20.7MP rear-facing camera.

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The HTC One M8 sports Dual LED, while the Galaxy S5 and Xperia Z2 have LED. The good thing with Galaxy S5 and Xperia Z2 can record 4K (3840×2160) videos. However, M8 can only record Full HD videos. Also, Galaxy S5 has fastest autofocus available in any camera. All flagships cameras are unique in their own way but the Galaxy S5 wins because it has everything that are required by common people. After all, these are smartphones not cameraphones.

Audio Quality and Speaker Design

Sony’s Xperia Z2 does provide a noise-cancelling experience for music lovers, but there seems to be no bigger sound in the tech space than the BOOMSOUND audio found in the HTC One M8.

Although I am a huge lover of Samsung smartphones, I must tip my hat here to HTC. The Galaxy S5 audio will likely do the job for those who want to watch a few movies and videos, and play games on their device at their leisure, but it doesn’t suffice for those who want to share videos, movies, and music with other individuals in the same room. Samsung’s Galaxy audio quality places the speakers at the bottom of the phone, making it easy for a gamer in landscape mode to cover up one (if not both) of the speakers when playing an intense action game. I’ve found myself covering up Samsung’s audio capacity when using my phone in landscape mode, and it’s so annoying to find yourself muffling the sound because of speaker design.

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The HTC One M8, on the other hand, captures audio sound perfectly. The dual front-facing speakers provide a quality sound that every music lover will enjoy. Samsung, on the other hand, needs to improve in this space – dramatically. One lowly speaker on the back of the phone won’t suffice. Samsung did the same thing with its Galaxy Note 3, and this has got to change in the Galaxy S6 and Note 4 smartphones.

Thus, the HTC One M8 wins the audio quality and speaker design round due to its stellar BOOMSOUND feature that gives you a surround sound audio experience.

Water and Dust Resistance

Sony’s commitment to waterproofing its smartphones has awakened Samsung from its manufacturing slumber and made the Korean manufacturer take notice of what its Japanese competitor is doing. While it’s true that there are other smartphones that have come with some water resistance in the past (such as the Motorola Quantico), Sony has revolutionized waterproof technology for smartphones in an era where many individuals assume that smartphones without water protection is just “normal.” Sony, we thank you for this innovation.

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Some have said that they don’t need water and dust resistance in their smartphone because “I’m not accident-prone,” but it doesn’t take multiple drops and spills to kill your smartphone – just one. The person who ends up in a car accident likely never told themselves that they would ever get in one, but it sure helps to have car insurance and health insurance in case the worst ever happens. A person who believes that water and dust resistance are “gimmicks” that they’ll never need is a person who likes to gamble. In every bet, you can either 1) win or 2) lose. The same can be said for the individual who carries his or her smartphone around without water protection (and smartphone insurance as well).

In this race, then, there are two contenders: Sony’s Xperia Z2 and Samsung’s Galaxy S5. The Xperia Z2 comes with an Ingress Protection rating of 55/58, as opposed to the IP67 rating of the Galaxy S5. Sony’s lower IP rating indicates that it is truly waterproof, as opposed to the Galaxy S5 that is only “water-resistant.” Sony’s smartphone can go for quite a longer swim than the Galaxy S5, so Sony’s Xperia Z2 wins the day here if you’re looking for the most durable phone at the beach or in the backyard swimming pool.

With that said, a word must be given about the HTC One M8. Here is where we see the compromise of HTC in the manufacturing of its 2014 flagship. The phone is beautiful, no doubt, but what happens if you drop it in a small puddle of water?

In this category, the Sony Xperia Z wins with the Samsung Galaxy S5 taking second place.

Final Analysis

There are a number of factors that aren’t covered in this comparison, such as cloud storage/microSD storage, OS (Android 4.4.2 KitKat), price (which appears to be similar with both HTC and Samsung), as well as screen resolution and display sizes (Sony’s 5.2-inch Xperia Z2 is a little wider than Samsung’s Galaxy S5 at 5.1 inches and the HTC One M8 at 5.0 inches). The purpose of the comparison is to see which smartphone is the best overall for consumers – that is, which smartphone provides the most features and functionality for a price consumers can live with.

It is because of the array of factors above that consumers need not suffer through hours of research in order to make an intelligent decision about which smartphone offers the best package for their money. Does water and dust resistance matter? Yes, for the accidents of life in which a smartphone is subjected to the elements. Does durability matter? Yes, since you don’t want your new smartphone to smash on concrete or hard surfaces. Does it matter whether or not a smartphone has an excellent camera? Yes, since your smartphone camera is the only one you’ll have with you on the go.

When it comes down to the end of the matter, build quality, camera, carrier availability, and water and dust resistance are top priorities for most consumers. While the Xperia Z2 has water and dust resistance (the top of the class) as well as a decent camera (at least for low-light photos), it suffers from terrible carrier availability in the United States and comes with a fragile build quality made of tempered glass. The HTC One M8, the phone that’s got everyone talking this year, comes with excellent carrier availability but lacks a quality back camera, water and dust resistance, and build quality – despite its metal good looks. Metal takes an impact when it collides with hard surfaces.

The Galaxy S5 may come with lots of bloatware, a smaller amount of on-phone memory storage than the Xperia Z2 or HTC One M8, features that some people deem “superfluous” (such as the heartrate monitor), and a plastic build quality, but the Galaxy S5 has the best camera in this contest, not to mention widespread carrier availability (no matter the country), water and dust resistance, as well as a build quality that will sustain the smartphone upon collision with hard surfaces. When you’re looking for everything that counts for a decent price, the Galaxy S5 is the smartphone to beat this year.

In short, to choose from these three smartphones, as with all phones, requires accepting both the good and the bad. For me, the Galaxy S5 has everything I want, and I can live with the things I don’t.

What about you? Do you think that consumers care about whether or not they purchase a metal smartphone? Does it matter whether or not a smartphone is water-resistant? Do you have any personal stories about phones you’ve lost to water damage? If so, feel free to toss your ideas around in the comments below.