Early last year, we had the pleasure of being introduced to a new concept when it comes to Android. During Google I/O 2013, an announcement was made that the popular flagship device from Samsung, the Samsung Galaxy S4, would come in a new variant called the Google Play edition. The Google Play edition variant of the Galaxy S4 brought one major asset to the table that caused TouchWiz hating hearts to beat: The device would practically serve as a Nexus device with Galaxy S4 hardware, as the device would be running stock Android out of the box. No TouchWiz, no bloatware, just Android. It was an idea that struck a pretty good chord with people.
That was, until it was revealed that although the Galaxy S4 shared nearly the same principles as a Nexus device, and ran the same stock software like a Nexus device, it was not priced like a Nexus device - or really anywhere in that same ballpark. At the time, the Nexus 4 was selling for $299 on the Google Play store. The Samsung Galaxy S4 Google Play edition, on the other hand, would sell for a whopping $649. While this price is to be expected of a normal Galaxy S4, the price of the Galaxy S4 Google Play edition came as a surprise to many people. Although on the surface it was only a mere software change, underneath that software change was a very stripped down version of the Galaxy S4. A lot of the elements that made the Galaxy S4 so attractive to people was the software that accompanied TouchWiz. The same can be said about the HTC One Google Play edition, which also had a high price tag. I won't get into whether stock is better than TouchWiz (or Sense) or not, because that's really an opinion-based thing, but there is truth in that while you're likely getting a bit of a performance boost, you're still missing out on features - sometimes features that did a lot of good for the device.
That being said, running stock Android on hardware other than Nexus devices is something that a lot of people would still rather have, despite losing features. But is it worth paying that much more for? In my humble opinion, no. However, this also might be because I know that if I want stock Android on a device, I always have the option of rooting and flashing a stock Android ROM. I find that it's more valuable seeking out the knowledge on how to root and flash ROMs rather than paying extra for something I could have for free. The ROMs might not be official releases, which is a benefit of going with the Google Play edition, but I have yet to come across any major problems with a stock ROM install. Plus, you can take the knowledge of how to root/flash with you in the future if you plan to keep using Android devices. For the most part, the process of rooting and flashing is similar for devices across the board.
Given that most people still go for the 2-year contract discount, you could be saving around $450 by going with the original and learning how to root and flash if simply going stock is your main priority. Alternatively, if specs aren't your thing either you could save a few hundred by simply going with a Nexus (with the added benefit of not being locked into a contract at all).
But when it comes down to whether you should or shouldn't buy a Google Play edition device over the original, the decision to root and flash over paying the extra cash is dependant on whether you're a patient Padawan or not. If you're the type of person who just can't wait to get your hands on the latest Android version but want the premium hardware of a flagship phone, then going with the Google Play edition might be the better option for you. The risk you take by choosing the regular edition and going the root/flash route is that you never know when that stock ROM will appear on the market, if ever. I haven't owned a phone yet that hasn't had a developer release a stock ROM for it, including some rinky dink models that nobody even remembers at this point, but it's still a potential risk none-the-less. Plus, with the ROMs not being official releases from Google you also risk running into more bugs and glitches here and there. Or bricking your phone, but most of the time your phone won't truly be bricked.
I still think there is a reason to have Google Play edition devices, but I think that the price is still considerably high for a phone that doesn't offer any option of an "on contract" model with individual carriers. Perhaps I would be whistling a different tune if Google Play editions were an option for hefty discounts, but since that hasn't been the case yet I have to say that I really hope, if they go the same route again this year, that there is some sort of price drop in the amount one pays for a Google Play edition device. Comparitively speaking, the Nexus 5 had some pretty impressive specs last year compared to the HTC One and the Galaxy S4, and it was priced $300 cheaper. Not for one second do I think that the Galaxy S4 or the HTC One has $300 worth of better specs.
Readers, what are your thoughts regarding Google Play editions these days? If you bought one, was it worth the extra money? If not, are you planning on buying one this year if flagships continue to come out with them? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!