HTC One with stock Android: $599 to cut your carrier’s control

After originally denying it would do so, HTC is indeed going to offer what it calls a “Nexus Experience” edition of its HTC One handset, confirming rumors of such a move. The unlocked phone running a plain version of Android 4.2.2 goes on sale June 26 for $599 without contract, according to Google’s Sundar Pichai, speaking at the D11 conference on Thursday. Google(s GOOG) will sell the phone directly through its Google Play store, just as it will do for a Samsung Galaxy S 4 “Google Edition” phone.

When rumors of this phone made the rounds, I liked the idea and I still do. Google can help HTC in one area it sorely lacks compared to Samsung: marketing. HTC is helping itself as well with a price that’s $50 lower than Samsung’s Google Edition smartphone. While I don’t mind Samsung’s plastic-based hardware — it helps allow for a removable battery and microSD card — the HTC One is indeed a well-designed and premium-quality phone with an aluminum frame.

This new HTC One model will keep the 32 GB of internal storage — a Developer Edition is available with 64 GB but uses HTC Sense software — and will be released first in the U.S. The handset uses GSM networks, so it will work on both AT&T(s t) and T-Mobile’s(s tmus) networks. Here’s a rundown of the supported frequencies and technologies:

  • HSPA/WCDMA: 850/1900/2100 MHz
  • GSM/GPRS/EDGE: 850/900/1800/1900 MHz
  • LTE: 700/850/AWS/1900 MHz (US)

Google will provide software updates directly, just as it does for its own Nexus devices. Effectively, there’s no need to wait for carriers to test and push software updates and HTC won’t be responsible either.

HTC One BlackThere is a bit of a downside to this, however. Just like Samsung’s similar Google Experience model, any software features created by HTC for the One won’t be present: this phone will run plain old Android. Sure you can skin it or add custom software to your heart’s content, but you won’t get all of the camera modes and options provided by HTC Sense, for example. Some of these make the phone a better device, so there’s a small trade-off.

It’s one I’d personally make however for either Samsung’s or HTC’s flagship because it provides total control over how the phone works and looks. So too do Nexus devices — are they going away?

I suspect the Nexus program changes but doesn’t disappear. Instead of trying to design cutting-edge phones to show handset makers how to build a great Android experience, I think Google focuses on reasonably good Nexus phones that aren’t quite flagship models. What will make them appealing however — aside from the pure Android experience — is a lower contract-free cost in the $250 to $350 price range.

Regardless of what Google does with the Nexus, I think it’s smart that HTC reversed course on this. The company has a chance to sell even more of its flagship smartphones, won’t likely have as many support costs, and gains the benefit of Google helping sell the phone.