Despite plenty of rumors that attested to the contrary, Google didn’t show off any new Nexus phones at its I/O developer conference. Instead it trotted out a version of the Samsung Galaxy S4 that ran a largely untouched version of Android 4.2, and Google SVP Sundar Pichai followed up with an announcement about a similarly unfettered HTC One. The announcements left Android fans (myself included) slobbering in anticipation.
Well, the wait is over — the so-called Google Play Edition S4 and One are available in the Google Play Store for $649 and $599, respectively, and Google says they’ll start shipping by July 9. A bit expensive, sure, but you’re not locked into a long-term contract with a carrier (throw in a GSM SIM and you’re golden) so arguably the good outweighs the bad here.
By now, there’s been plenty of ink (digital and otherwise) spilled on the two devices — consider our lengthy GS4 and One reviews — but it’s worth noting that these devices aren’t running a strictly stock version of Android (hence the non-Nexus monikers). Sure, the overwrought skins and UI elements endemic to Samsung’s TouchWiz and HTC’s Sense are nowhere to be found, but certain tidbits from the original software had to be migrated over in order to keep some of their more compelling features intact. That means that, among other things, the Google Play Edition One retains its Beats Audio profile to keep its twin front-facing BoomSound speakers pumping out the audio, while the GS4 still plays nice with Samsung’s curious notification-revealing flip covers.
We’re still waiting to get our hands on some demo units to really put these things through their paces, but it’s heartening to see Google and its OEM partners take our pleas for (mostly) stock Android on premium hardware seriously. Of course, the fact that nearly all of the software differentiators between the two have been given the axe means that the quality of hardware may weigh more heavily in people’s purchasing decisions — maybe HTC’s One will finally find the success the company needs it to.