Sony Xperia Z, LG Optimus G Pro, HTC One, Samsung Galaxy S4 : A preview

The annual Mobile World Congress in Barcelona closed its doors last week, but many manufacturers had already unveiled their high-end models for 2013 prior to the event.

Sony, HTC and LG have been showing off their flagship models to the media in recent weeks. We've already had first looks (and hands-on or reviews) of the Sony Xperia Z, HTC One and LG Optimus G Pro so far, and Sony’s Xperia Z is even available already for less than £500. Samsung has been holding off so far, but on 14 March, the Galaxy S4 will be officially introduced at an event in New York.

This year's crop of high-end smartphones have a couple things in common. They all feature Full HD or 1,920 x 1,080 displays, and all of them appear to use Qualcomm hardware. Sony, LG and HTC are definitely using quad-core processors from this manufacturer, and if we're to believe the latest rumors, Samsung is planning to use a Snapdragon 600 SoC instead of one of its own Exynos 5 SoCs.

The hardware in the different flagship models isn't identical, however. In the Xperia Z, Sony is putting a Snapdragon S4 quad-core SoC which runs at 1.5 GHz. We've seen this chip already in the LG Nexus 4, and it's a quick one. The integrated Adreno 320 GPU is one of the most powerful ones on the market. LG, HTC, and possibly Samsung have chosen the newer Snapdragon 600 SoC.

That chip contains slightly improved Krait 300 cores, and should be slightly faster at the same clock speeds compared to the Snapdragon S4. In LG's Optimus G Pro and HTC's One, the new chip runs at 1.7 GHz, giving these phones a bit more power than the Sony Xperia Z. Rumor has it that the Samsung Galaxy S4 runs even faster at 1.9 GHz.

Another trend we are seeing is that the new high-end smartphones are equipped with 2GB of RAM and 32GB of internal storage. Sony is the exception here, with only 16GB of internal storage in the Xperia Z (but with a microSD card slot).

We are seeing two trends regarding smartphone cameras. The Sony Xperia Z and LG Optimus G Pro feature a 13 megapixel sensor, the highest resolution we've seen so far on mainstream smartphones. HTC chose a different approach for the HTC One with a 4.1 MP sensor. That seems a like a very low resolution, but the size of each individual pixel is significantly larger, which should improve performance in low-light conditions.

We're interested to see how that pans out in practice. Experience has shown that the transition from 8 to 12 MP generally has a negative impact on light-sensitivity and the quality of photos taken with little light. To read the rest of this analysis, head over to Hardware.info