When rumors of a fullHD 5-inch phone from HTC first surfaced, the web was abuzz with anticipation of what it could bring to the table. Here you have a device you could hold in your hand, which had the same resolution as the 50-inch TV in your living room - it sounded almost incredulous.
But soon the place was ablaze with other manufacturers looking to capitalize on the latest smartphone trend. 441ppi started to get thrown around in almost every new flagship announcement or rumor, and in only a matter of weeks, it became apparent what the new gold standard of smartphones would be.
Despite all of the hype, the Butterfly (initially released as the DROID DNA in the US) just wasn't able to get off the ground in a big way. Many (including HTC itself) blame poor marketing and availability for the lack of big sales numbers - a mistake it is keen to correct with their new flagship, the HTC One. Whether it will be successful this time around, however, is likely a story for another shootout.
When it comes to what you can expect if you are able to get your hands on a Butterfly, however, is very fast quad-core Krait performance, a high quality display - not only in terms of sharpness, but also in regards to color rendering and contrast - and a fully-featured Android interface with HTC's own Sense UI 4+.
Recently, Sony has been rather late to the party when it comes to releasing flagships, but it was dead set on not missing the boat this time around. The Sony Xperia Z hit the ground running with its sharp design and super powerful spec sheet, coupled with market deployment that a tech giant like Sony can easily manage.
On paper, the two devices offer so many of the same features that it requires a serious shootout like this one to really see what's what. In terms of the user interface, both run Android 4.1.1 Jelly Bean out of box, with a planned upgrade to 4.2 (Sony has historically been less consistent with its updates than HTC). While the Android version is the same, the individual software packages have strengths in different areas.
On the Xperia Z, you get a more functional UI and richer multimedia experience with Album, and the Gracenote-enhanced video player and the Walkman music player. On the other hand, we've found HTC's UI to be more customizable than the one provided by Sony, giving you the ability to make your phone cater to you individual needs more effectively. Finally, with connectivity features more or less on equal footing between the two, the overall Android experience comes down to personal preference.
From a hardware standpoint, the two devices again have different strengths. The 1080p display of the Butterfly is great, especially considering it's one of the first around. It gives good viewing angles, contrast, and nicely saturated colors. The Xperia Z can match the sharpness and even better the sunlight legibility of its competitor, but is still a distant second in terms of overall image quality.
Benchmarks and battery performance are very similar (although both slightly favor the Xperia Z), while the Butterfly gives you better loudspeaker performance, the best audio output we've seen recently, and superior video recording. Still imaging on the other hand is where the Xperia Z get the upper hand.
When all's said and done, the current crop of Android flagships are a huge improvement from what we've seen in the past, even when compared to just a generation ago. If you're willing to look beyond their few flaws - the Xperia Z's less than stellar screen and the Butterfly's limited availability - the HTC and Sony 1080p offerings are both pinnacles of great technology. Here's hoping that what's next is even better.