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HTC One Google Play Edition review (video)

The Samsung Galaxy S4 isn't the only device that got the Google Play Edition treatment. Indeed, HTC got a slice of the pie, too. Enter, the HTC One Google Play Edition. Curious to know more? Find out in our review.
July 10, 2013
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The Samsung Galaxy S4 wasn’t the only device that got the Google Play Edition treatment. HTC’s own One has been Google-ified, as well. So if you’re not a fan of HTC Sense and the overall software on the One, the Google Play Edition may just be something to look into. After all, it goes back to the basics — the coveted, vanilla Android.

Let’s take a look and see how the HTC One Google Play Edition performs, shall we? While nothing has changed on the outside, we’ll give you a brief refresher of what the HTC One is sporting, and then get into the stuff that’s really changed — the operating system. If you’re in a rush, jump straight to the video, otherwise, stick with us as we take a closer look at this bad boy.

As you might expect, this phone is nearly identical to the original HTC One.  So, as we mentioned, we’ll only be taking a quick look at it. If you want to find more out about the HTC One itself, be sure to check out the review done on the original device by my colleague, Kris Wouk.

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The HTC One — an aluminum clad smartphone — brought a refreshing, industrial look into the smartphone market. It has a nice metal smooth texture, and although a Stealth Black model of the original can be obtained, only the Glacier Silver model can be found in Google’s Play Store.

The standard for screen sizes on our smartphones is quickly becoming 5-inches, but this isn’t the case with the One. Instead, HTC opted for a 4.7-inch display, capable of 1080p resolution rated at 469ppi. Overall, the stock Android experience looks gorgeous on this display. Sense 5 worked really well in the original device, but the Google Play Edition’s Jelly Bean (4.2) speeds through just about everything as quickly as ever.

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Looking at the performance of this handset, we have the same, great Snapdragon 600 processor clocked at 1.7GHz, backed by the tried and true, Adreno 320 GPU and 2GB of RAM. It goes without saying, this is a premium performance package here, and it’ll be able to handle just about anything you throw at it.

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As for hardware, the HTC One doesn’t have expandable memory or a removable battery like the Galaxy S4 does. However, 32GB of onboard storage provides plenty of space for work and play. If that’s not enough, though, AT&T offers a 64GB model. While the battery can’t be replaced, it does provide a good amount of longevity.

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The main attraction here is the two front facing BoomSound speakers. They sound just as great on this version of the HTC One, and it makes sharing media straight from the handset a pleasant experience. While a lot of things did get stripped from the HTC One to make it a Nexus-like device, Beats Audio is still loaded into the package, thankfully.

With that out of the way, we get to the camera, one of the parts of the handset that made the HTC One excel.  It sports the same 4-megapixel shooter as the original device. These are HTC’s patented Ultrapixels, which is supposed to increase picture quality by focusing on good light capture, instead of the high megapixel count. It’s a nice way to make the HTC One standout in such a crowded market.

As you would expect, the camera app has been stripped of all of its features, opting for Android’s standard, stock camera. In other words, you won’t get to play around with awesome features that made the HTC One an excellent point-and-shoot camera, such as HTC Zoe and the original interface.

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The stock Android camera app is stylishly simplistic, as the whole screen becomes the viewfinder, and only a few buttons lay on the side. The settings are accessed by touch and swipe navigation through arches. As far as modes go, there are a few standard, preset scenes — HDR, and of course, Photo Sphere.

Picture quality is just as good as the original HTC One, as the optics in the camera remain unchanged. Low light performance is still good, though it seems losing the software optimizations in the original camera pp causes the photo lose a bit of fidelity. I will have a full VS that will go in more depth on the camera, but I can say that the stock Android camera performs just below the original.

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And finally, we get to where things have really been changed up — the software. At least for me, one of the best parts about the original HTC One was its upgraded Sense UI. BlinkFeed helped to make Sense 5 more attractive and useful.

Well, you lose all of that in the Google Play Edition and gain the stock Android experience that many of us pine for. And really, it is a very welcome change. The real Jelly Bean experience translates very well to the HTC One

Personally, as far as operating system experience goes, I would have fun with either stock Android or Sense 5. It made more sense to change the game with the S4, as Samsung’s TouchWiz UI is definitely getting old.

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The experience is quintessential Android — you have your homescreens, your app drawer, and the notification dropdown with the elegant shade for frequently used settings. You also get the Daydream app to make the HTC One a clock or extra display while charging.

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Lockscreen widgets are available, as well. Oh, and you can’t forget about the coveted Google Now. Jelly Bean is a well featured operating system that opts for simplicity and utility over numerous extras or, quite honestly, trying too hard. It fits right into the HTC One’s design and should please just about anyone who puts down the money to enjoy it.

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Speaking of the price, it’s quite possibly the most difficult part to swallow about the HTC One Google Play Edition. Sure, it’s gotten the Nexus treatment, but it sure didn’t get the Nexus price. Although, it does come out $50 cheaper than the Galaxy S4 Google Play Edition. That said, you can expect to shell out $599 for the fully unlocked model in the Play Store.

And so, there you have it — the HTC One with the real, Google experience. I actually think the HTC One makes even more sense to get Google-fied because much of what was included with the original handset has or can be translated over to this model. For instance, if you miss BlinkFeed, there are plenty of other, social media aggregators like Flipboard out there. Miss HTC Zoe? No problem — Quirky camera apps can be found all over the Play Store.

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When it comes to hardware, the front facing BoomSound speakers and the Ultrapixel-powered camera can still be enjoyed through the vanilla Android operating system. After all, these features really don’t have much of an effect on the software at all. So why change it?

Yes, the price point is extremely difficult to swallow, which is the reason why the expected exodus to these Google Play Editions hasn’t quite happened yet. But I do want to present a possibility — if you have ever wanted to get that stock Android experience, rooting and flashing custom ROMs is definitely a route. In fact, it’ll probably be easier than ever with the Google Play Edition’s now available to the public.

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Anyone previously skeptical about doing it can look at the GPEs and see that Google is basically saying ‘it would be okay.’ Especially if you don’t feel like you’d miss the few main extras included with the original, rest assured that the quintessential Android experience really is a great way of experiencing your HTC One. No wonder we love our stock Android.

Video review

Brad Ward contributed to this post.