Is a 'Pure Google' experience worth the extra money to you?

Marc Flores
 from San Francisco, CA
Published: June 26, 2013

Reviews are in, and most folks think the Samsung Galaxy S4 and HTC One Google Editions are pretty sweet. Most reviewers have reiterated the way they feel about the hardware, which is the biggest differences with these Google devices, and tend to lean toward the HTC One. That was expected since that's what they all said in their reviews, including me. Moreover, many reviewers feel like the Google Editions of the Galaxy S4 and HTC One are liberating, namely because they were free of those pesky custom UIs. But here's my question: Is being free from custom interfaces and getting early access to Android updates worth the extra cash?

The Samsung Galaxy S4 will cost you $649, and the HTC One $599. They'll be unlocked, free of TouchWiz UI and Sense 5, and will get updates as soon as Google makes them available to its Nexus and Google Edition devices. But is it really worth that much to you? For the freedoms you gain, you'll be paying more than double for the hardware itself. And as much as I dislike custom UIs sometimes, you'll also be losing out on a number of features.

I'm not the biggest fan of TouchWiz, but some people might love its widgets and the camera features in the Galaxy S4. DramaShot and Dual Shot and other Samsung gimmicks are actually selling points for some people. For the HTC One, you may love BlinkFeed or HTC's own camera tricks and overall UI design. So if you're thinking of ponying up the cash to buy the Google Edition of either of these Android devices, consider the trade-offs. 

For many of you, it's going to be a no-brainer. You love the hardware, but you hate the software. You love the Google experience. Perhaps you've already forked over the money and are just waiting on the devices to come in. If that describes you perfectly, I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments and why you decided to spend the extra cash just to have the device free from the shackles of carriers and manufacturers. Many of you have been pining for the Galaxy S4 or the HTC One in a Nexus-style version, and your wishes have been answered.

Just the other day, I wrote about why the HTC One kept me from going back to the iPhone 5. I actually like Sense 5, though I think it needs some work, and the camera software and features are excellent. On the other hand, I loved the Nexus 4 when I had it for review, except the battery life, and I wouldn't mind having a "pure" Google Android experience on the HTC One. The hardware is beautiful, and that makes up for half the overall experience of owning the device. But again, I can't imagine paying $600 for the phone just to be off contract and not have to look at BlinkFeed every now and then. I'm not so antsy for infrequent Android updates that I feel like I've been left in the dust when Nexus devices get a small handful of new features. 

I also feel like the phones themselves have a kind of soul. I mean, they're lifeless slabs of metal and glass and plastic (or mostly plastic, in Samsung's case), but they do have a bit of personality to them. Part of that personality is defined by TouchWiz or Sense. Stripping the Galaxy S4 or the HTC One of those things is like stripping away a part of its soul. With stock or pure Android, or whatever you want to call and argue it, would it still be a Galaxy S4 or HTC One? Is it the hardware or the software that gives a device its identity? If you were to load iOS onto an HTC One, is it still an HTC One?

Let me know what you think, and how you feel about the cost/benefit relationship with these Google Edition devices.

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