Flagship Face off – The Four Phones to Look Out For

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All four handsets are solid offerings and you’re unlikely to be disappointed with any of them. We’re really being spoilt by manufacturers in 2014. The One M8 is great for design, the Xperia Z2 boasts the best camera, the Galaxy S5 has a stunning screen and the Ascend P7 is the most affordable – there’s something for everyone here. If none of these take your fancy though fear not, for there’s the LG G3 and iPhone 6 on the horizon, and if you’re on a tighter budget you’ll want to check out the OnePlus One.

The good news when it comes to operating system is all four phones are running the latest version of Google’s platform – Android 4.4 KitKat. None of the handsets are running the stock version you find on the Nexus 5 however, with each manufacturer putting its own stamp on the software. The Galaxy S5 comes equipped with Samsung’s now familiar TouchWiz UI, which is heavy on pre-installed apps (and bloatware) while also providing a whole host of additional features.

HTC’s new Sense 6 overlay graces the One M8, and like TouchWiz it’s a heavy skin with plenty of additional features – including BlinkFeed – and applications. It’s a more attractive offering which we find easier to use. Sony’s UI doesn’t come with a fancy name and it isn’t as detailed as Samsung’s and HTC’s offerings. The lighter skin allows more of the natural Android interface to shine through and things are a lot less cluttered.

The interface which has seen the most tinkering by a manufacturer though is probably Huawei’s Emotion UI 2.3 on the Ascend P7. The Chinese firm has completely removed the app draw in favour of having all your applications on the homescreens. For those who are new to Android it is a simpler implementation which may be easier to learn, but Android stalwarts may find in frustrating. The other issue with Emotion UI is its design – everything looks a bit childish and that detracts from the overall experience. If we were to rank the overlays it would go Sense 6, Sony UI, TouchWiz, Emotion UI 2.3 – although the top three are easily interchangeable depending on preference.

It’s a real mixed bag when it comes to the cameras adorning these four flagship smartphones, with widely varying specs on the front and rear. Taking a look at the rear cameras and the Sony Xperia Z2 comes out on top in terms of megapixel count with a 20.7MP Exmor RS sensor. That’s followed by the Samsung Galaxy S5′s 16MP snapper, the 13MP camera on the Huawei Ascend P7 and then the slightly left field ultrapixel offering on the HTC One M8 which translates to 4MP.

Megapixels aren’t everything in the camera world though, and even though the M8 has a 4MP snapper – it actually has an additional depth sensor on the rear too.This allows it to capture more information on every photo you take, opening up a range of editing possibilities in post production, from background defocus to a freaky 3D parallax effect.The M8′s camera and production speed is the quickest out of the four handsets here, with HTC’s own imaging chip working alongside the imaging support on the 801 chipset from Qualcomm. For the best day to day photos the Xperia Z2 comes out on top with a high level of detail, and along with the Galaxy S5 it can also record 4K video. In general though you’ll be able to take some pretty decent photos will all four handsets – even the M8 – so we’d recommend trying them out in store first before making up your mind completely.

Turning out attention to the front facing snappers and in recent months these cameras have been given a lot more attention from manufacturers thanks to the increased popularity of video calling and the selfie craze. It’s the Huawei Ascend P7 which heads the pack here with a world-leading 8MP camera looking you dead in the face. There’s even a dedicated selfie mode as well as the option to take a panoramic selfie. Unsurprisingly the Ascend P7 is one of the best front facing cameras we’ve witnessed and it easily tops the 2.2MP Xperia Z2 and 2MP Galaxy S5. Its closest competitor is the HTC One M8 which sports a 5MP front sanpper – amusingly that’s a higher megapixel count than the rear camera – and it does a decent job of capturing your mug.