Google Play Edition: exactly what we asked for, but maybe not what we wanted

June 27, 2013
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HTC One Google Edition

The Nexus 4: maybe not your cup of tea, but a stellar device. Nexus devices are built with the aim of setting a hardware standard for the next year of Android, and raising the bar a bit for all manufacturers. We may look back at each Nexus with a laundry list of pros and cons, but those devices are definitely responsible moving the entire Android market forward.

While LG may have been a bit of a surprise last year as the Android OEM to get the Nexus nod, they really outclassed themselves and much of the market with the Nexus 4. It remains at or near the top of the Android heap, and users are often delighted with it. There remains a vocal few who lament LG’s device, and call for a bigger name to have made the current Nexus device.

We get top-of-the-line hardware at cost with Nexus, and we now have “unskinned” landmark devices from two of the major manufacturers.

The speculation only deepened when device manufacturers like Samsung and HTC came out with their own powerhouse devices. The One is a grand slam for HTC, and the Galaxy S4 is a healthy progression for Samsung’s feature lineup. What if those were Nexus devices?! The world wondered aloud, and looked crossly in the direction of LG’s subtle buzz generator.

The Nexus 4 was a boon for LG, cementing their place as a top manufacturer, if only briefly. HTC needed similar mojo, and Samsung always commands attention. We all have our preferences, but we also love to question things. Why LG? Why only one Nexus device a year? Why can’t we get any device with stock Android?

Good questions. Why not, right? Android is there waiting to be used, so why not just give us those devices with plain ‘ol Android? Just give us the stock OS, on the devices we want, and we’ll be happy. That’s what so many of us said, right?

Google delivered. Those “Google Play Edition” devices deliver exactly what we asked for. We asked that those devices come with stock Android, but come with the hardware we all clamor for. That happened, and yet we still can’t get on board.

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Nexpensive

The OEM’s made the kernel for each of the “Google Play Edition” devices, and that makes perfect sense. They should control the kernel and updates for their devices, because — you know — they are their devices. It would be silly for Google to try and support hardware they had no hand in. Only the OEM truly knows how to best utilize the hardware for Android, stock or not. If Android with Ultrapixels is what you wanted, it’s not going to be a true Nexus device.

The point is twofold. First, we’re spoiled.

That means slower updates. With Nexus, you’re on the cutting edge. With a “Google Play Edition” device, you’ve got to get the blessing of the OEM before you get the latest and greatest. It shouldn’t delay you much, but you’re still subject to their whim. They could even stop updating the device, if they decided to stop supporting it.

As for the price, well, those the going rates for an unlocked device. Actually, the $600 for an HTC One is a pretty good deal. They could have easily charged $50-100 more and been in the right ballpark for such good hardware. That’s just a reality most don’t grasp, in part due to our current M.O. for obtaining mobile devices.

The point is twofold. First, we’re spoiled. That’s not a knock, it’s a fact. We’ve grown accustomed to spending so little out of pocket that $650 seems insane to many of us. We’ll comfortably spend $200 or so for a device, sign a contract, then lament the update cycle or coverage. It’s about the bottom line for us, and that’s exactly as it should be. We should re-examine our process, though. Many of us who are reading this would probably save quite a bit of money going with a “Google Play Edition” device and a prepaid plan, much less a Nexus 4.

Secondly, this is about compromise. We can’t have it all, but we are getting what we asked for. Neither HTC or Samsung agreed to make a Nexus device. They agreed to have stock Android on existing hardware, and sell the device for a profit, not bend over backwards for Google as Nexus manufacturers do.

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These are not the Nexus devices you’re looking for

A Nexus device is sold to us at cost because it’s really just a piece of hardware. Google accepts all the responsibility for it. They support it, and use it to drive their program forward. LG was completely hands-off when those devices left their facilities. They fulfilled an RFP for Google, nothing more. HTC and Samsung, however, still have to support these stripped down devices of theirs.

We get top-of-the-line hardware at cost with Nexus, and we now have “unskinned” landmark devices from two of the major manufacturers. Those two new devices are sold for a reasonable amount, considering fair market prices, and require minimal software support. You’re not indebted to a carrier, so you’ll get updates fairly quickly. If anything, this program will continue to highlight just how muddled carriers make device updates.

You’re on the Google Play Store device page, looking at three devices. One is half the price of the others, and you’ll get cutting edge updates. The hardware stands up nicely to any other device, and you’re not indebted to a carrier. The reviews are good, and it has the Nexus blessing.

The other two are more money than you wanted to spend. So, you go back to that first device, and start talking yourself into it. “The glass back won’t matter, I’m careful. 16GB is enough memory, I use the cloud. 4.7-inches is almost 5, I won’t notice the difference.”

It seems like we have a winner, here, and it was the champion we always had. Go figure.

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