I'm iffy about Google Editions

Anna Scantlin
Contributing Editor from  Kansas City, MO
| May 30, 2013

When Google announced the Google Edition of the Galaxy S 4, I was pretty excited about the idea. Some of my biggest issues with the Galaxy S 4 included its TouchWiz interface taking up nearly half of the internal memory on the 16GB version – but stock Android would certainly fix that. What a great idea! And what’s better than a Galaxy S 4 running stock Android? A Galaxy S 4 that’s competing with an HTC One to run stock Android, too!

Lo and behold, sometimes dreams do come true. Today we learned that the HTC One will indeed also have a Google Edition of its very own, running on stock Android and giving us another option on how we would like to live out a “Nexus experience” without actually having to own a Nexus.

Sometimes these dreams come true, and you start to think of all of the good things that come with said dream; unfortunately, with every good potentially comes the bad, and I’m starting to realize that the end might not necessarily justify the means when it comes to stock functionality vs. the price we have to pay, both in the literal and figurative sense – at least not for me.

I would first like to point out, as our own Chase Bonar pointed out earlier today, the two Google Edition devices will neither serve nor replace the Nexus line – it’s simply a Nexus-esque experience all wrapped into these flagship OEM devices that we’ve drooled over for months. The Nexus line still seems to be devoted to providing an affordable solution to a stock Android experience, and these two Google Edition devices are just here to give interested parties a Nexus experience on popular and more “premium” device models.

Now that we have that out of the way, we can discuss some of the better points about this effort to bring stock Android to flagship devices. I’ve already mentioned the fact that stock takes care of the Galaxy S 4’s internal memory issue is a bonus in itself, which makes the microSD card slot feature not seem so mundane or compensatory. Another nice benefit that really ties into that whole “Nexus experience” thing is that both devices will be the first to receive software updates straight from Google, just like a regular Nexus device does. And of course you can’t forget the fact that all that pesky bloatware that many never use has vanished, and you’re left with a relatively clean slate ready for a pure Android experience… among other things. Like mild disappointment.

My main concern isn’t really with the Galaxy S 4, but moreso the HTC One. One of the main features that made the HTC One stand out was the fact that they opted to use a 4-megapixel “Ultrapixel” camera on the back of the phone. While it doesn’t necessarily sound appealing on paper, the Ultrapixel camera actually does have some finer points about it – namely excellent low-light photos. Also, one of HTC’s ultrapixel camera modes, Zoe, is another popular feature of the flagship device. But my fear is that the quality of the Ultrapixel camera and Zoe will be two things that we won’t see on the Google Edition of the HTC One – the two things that justify HTC’s decision in going with a lower megapixel camera.

Honestly, the same concern could be applied to the Google Edition of the Galaxy S 4. Despite the fact that it has a 13-megapixel camera, many of us have learned over the past couple of years that unless you plan on blowing your photos up, the megapixel race really has no bearing on the quality of the photo. What’s more important when it comes to cameras are the lenses, sensors, and software. With a stock version of Android on these devices, you’re only guaranteed to get half of what you were promised. While I fully expect Zoe to be taken out of the equation for the HTC variant, I do hope that Google is working closely with these manufacturers to ensure that camera quality is not hindered by stock.

Falling back on HTC, one of the bigger disappointments that could definitely bite HTC in the butt on this deal is that T-Mobile’s HSPA+ on AWS isn’t supported in the Google Edition of the HTC One – but it is on the standard version. Whaaaat? Come on, now. I mean yeah, it supports T-Mobile’s LTE network but that’s just now starting to roll out in some cities across the US. I see this being one of the biggest mistakes by releasing this particular model at this point in time. At least you get to keep Beats Audio though, right?

When it comes to comparing the HTC One Google Edition with the Samsung Galaxy S 4 Google Edition, would I consider either model better than the other? Honestly, without the defining factors of TouchWiz and Sense I’m finding it difficult to come up with a good argument that isn’t tirelessly debated over already that  is about as effective as beating a dead horse (who’s up for a good ol’ game of ‘Aluminum vs. Plastic’? Anyone? I do love that game.) Even if hardware plays a big part in what phone you decide you want to use, software plays an equally huge role and there’s no way to convince the masses which of these two phones, running on identical software, is better than the other. There's just not.

Both devices compromised what made them unique in the name of Vanilla Android. Whether it will play out well for them or not is very up in the air right now. I personally think they both could have done better by offering a lower price point, even though the price is right for a full-price device, but you could use that same argument with virtually any product ever made. Ever.

In the end, if you’re the type of person whose prerogative is to be the first to receive updates straight from Google, you might want to look into this device. Otherwise, if you goal is to simply run Vanilla Android on an HTC One or a Samsung Galaxy S 4, the only advice I can give to you is that you would save a lot of money by learning the art of rooting and flashing ROMs if you don’t already know how to do so. These devices aren't for me, but that doesn't mean that they can't be for you.

Readers, what are your thoughts on the Google Editions of the HTC One and the Galaxy S 4? Do you think you’ll be going out to purchase one? Why or why not?

Images via LA Times, Tech Crunch