The physical build quality has been great across the board from HTC. They have been churning out phones that use metal heavily in the frame, and that means a phone that feels solid in the hand. HTC has toyed with both rounded and angular lines, but the trend seems to be toward sharper design now. When they choose to make a slider with a keyboard, the mechanism is usually excellent. The Z-hinge on the Desire Z/T-Mobile G2 is really an engineering marvel in our book. This attention to detail extends down to the mid-range as well. The Legend has a great unibody metal shell, and feels very high-end.
It's usually been about performance with HTC. They tend not to underclock CPUs to save battery life, and strive to present a fast phone to consumers. They have also gone all out in the display department with the Evo. Naturally, the battery life on some of their handset, like the Evo 4G, has left something to be desired. Radio performance also tends to be good on HTC phones, if maybe a little power-hungry. We do however, question their choice of touch sensors in some older phones.
Motorolafaster still, but Moto designs a little more conservatively than HTC.
A Motorola phone is easily spotted from a mile away. They all have the same sort of speaker grilles, battery doors, and scored metal accents. Motorola is going a little more angular with their designs, and we like that look. If you look back, some of it even has a vibe reminiscent of the Moto RAZR. In that same vein, Motorola likes to make things thin and light. The original Droid was a bit heavy, but subsequent phones, like the Droid X are very light for their size. We're still pleasantly surprised every time we pick up a Droid X.
Motorola has pushed the internal specs, though not as much as HTC. It wasn't until mid-summer that Motorola got around to stepping up the CPU speed in their phones. Moto is using the TI OMAP chips for their phones, which tend to offer better power management while still being fast. Motorola has also been more conservative with screen technology than others. They have stuck with high resolution LCD instead of trying to move to AMOLED or Super TFT.
Samsung uses Android as a way to showcase their own hardware. Samsung is a manufacturer of a huge number of components, so why not use them in their own phones? Sammy builds the Galaxy S phones on their Hummingbird chips, which contain a 1GHz ARM core that's actually more capable than corresponding Qualcomm cores. Samsung has an interest in iterating their chips quickly since this is a great differentiating factor.
The industrial design is a little troubling for us. Some of Samsung's phones just feel dated already. The Vibrant bears a striking resemblance to the iPhone 3GS. Samsung still seems to be obsessed with very rounded designs, and most manufacturers are moving in the opposite direction. If you look at the HTC T-Mobile G2, it's basically a squared-off Nexus One. The Droid X is also a blocky handset that still manages to look elegant. We're also not fans of the faux-carbon fiber patterns Samsung insists on using.
Is there a clear winner?It's not a clear cut scenario. None of these manufacturers can run away with the crown for best Android manufacturer. Advocates for each company would have legitimate arguments supporting their claim. Overall, we'd have to give it to HTC by a hair. This manufacturer has shown time and time again that they value design in all the phones they sell, and they use fast (sometimes trend-setting) hardware. While we would like them to work harder to optimize for battery life, the great keyboards and sturdy unibody construction puts them over the top.
That's not to say that Motorola and Samsung are far behind. We like Motorola's thoughtful design at the high-end. They have been making phones for a long time, and it shows. If they want to make a slim, attractive, fast phone, they can do it. You need look no further than the Droid X to see that. If they could step up the keyboards, wed be happier with their handsets.
Samsung has so much going for it with the specs. Super AMOLED screens are great, and the Hummingbird is a revolutionary chip. We can't help but think that getting this hardware in a housing made by Motorola or HTC would be a huge win for all involved. Some of the complaints we have about Samsung are aesthetic, so you may well disagree. But the lightness of their phones will appeal to some, despite the plasticky feel. If more of their handsets felt like the Captivate, we may think differently. Also, phones like the Continuum, with its segmented screen might seem like a questionable idea, but at least they are trying to innovate.
All these companies have things to be proud of. But we would caution them too keep innovating lest Sony or Dell comes from behind to blow them out of the water. Have you had hands on time with Android phones from these manufacturers? We want to know your experiences with them. Feel free to discuss all things build-quality in the comments.