This week saw the release of two handsets Android enthusiasts have waited years to get. Perhaps not this particular pair of phones, the Galaxy S 4 and HTC One, but rather, actually flagship phones that run pure Android without any manufacturer software or skin installed. Are these Google Play Edition handsets, priced at $649 and $599, respectively, the perfect Android experience? Yes and no, it turns out.
While both phones are receiving good reviews for their overall performance and ability to be customized, just like Google’s Nexus phones, they weren’t designed to run pure Android. As a result, some of the hardware choices make for a mixed bag of experiences. And while I’m a big fan of the plain Android experience myself, I do appreciate some of the future-forward features that Samsung and HTC added to these phones on top of Android. You won’t get most of them with the Google Play Editions, however.
ComputerWorld’s JR Raphael has already spent time with both of the new phones and cautions readers on some of these now missing features. He also points out the hardware button configurations that can break up the standard Android experience and discusses the update strategy for both phones going forward. It’s not exactly clear how quickly the devices will see Android updates although Google has said “soon” after the software is released. The kernels of both phones are different because HTC and Samsung have created their own for the phones. So, right off the bat these don’t run the standard Nexus software.
Google is also working on the Moto X phone with its Motorola subsidiary and this week, more photos and information leaked about the phone. Motorola has called this a “flagship” phone that arrives in the summer, but the information so far screams mid-range phone. A 720p resolution touchscreen, 2 GB of memory, 16 GB of storage capacity and a dual-core 1.7 GHz Snapdragon chip are expected. It appears that rather than a hero device, the Moto X could be a powerhouse portable for the masses with a relatively low price, but we’ll soon find out.
Late in the week, it was reported that Google is working on an Android gaming console, media streamer and smartwatch. While the first two products will appeal to many, I’m more interested in the smartwatch, mainly because Google has all the pieces to build an outstanding wearable device.
My thought is that Google borrows heavily from the Motorola MotoACTV smartwatch, which is a good start. The device acts both as a second screen for smartphone apps or data and as a standalone device thanks to a bevy of radios. It also runs Android already.
Google Now could provide much of the contextual information on the wrist just as it does on smartphones today. The small cards offer just enough data for a small screen. And those cards are the basis for much of the Google Glass user interface. By combining it with a small touchscreen and using the simple Google Glass interface experience, I think Google can make a smartwatch that will appeal to a very wide audience.