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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.

4 Responses to “HTC One with stock Android: $599 to cut your carrier’s control”

  1. John B

    I really feel horrible for expressing my opinion on a company I supported for many years, but I was turned of by HTC’s direction to eliminate removable batteries and expandable SD slots. As a service technician, removable batteries just make sense. I understand the move to make phones thinner and “prettier” , But the engineered operating design of batteries hasn’t changed all that much. They maybe larger to last longer on a charge but they only have a life span of 15-18 months on constant use. This means serious dollars are going to be spent on a device out of warranty. Also, I have experienced broken charging ports well into contract. Being able to swap batteries has saved me those dollars to get me through until the end of contract.

    I will celebrate any phone company that can use “premium” material yet keep the accessibility of key components prone to fail. Currently, I cannot endorse this direction of hermetically sealing fragile parts inside an aluminum body that excels at absorbing heat. I cringe at the thought of how many batteries will expand, overheat or even explode due to the heat build up inside the phone on a hot summer day.

    I like the idea of vanilla Android but also feel this is a geek fetish. I don’t see many mainstream users going out of their way for stock Android. They just basically want a phone to keep in touch with the world and show off to their friends.

    John B.

  2. the really great thing about the nexus 4 was the price.

    i really want see one or more updated handsets at the $300 or so price point.

    the samsung and HTC phones while really nice are double and more the price of the nexus 4.

    • i want to add that while i do like stock android, that for me is not the reason for having bought a nexus 4. see i am a person who in no way minds the extra work of rooting, installing a custom ROM and/or unlocking a bootloader.

      i base android buying decisions on hardware and price and make sure i buy a model that is going to be popular enough to be supported by the custom ROMing communities. i really do not care about what happens to be loaded at time of purchase. when it comes to a GS4 or htc one i would buy which ever is cheaper between the stock android version or the sense/touchwiz one and than unlock bootloader, root and install my ROM of choice.

      the nexus 4 retailed new for a full $400 less than the optimus G, even the galaxy nexus if i recall was around half the price of the GS3 when purchased full retail. that discount more than anything else is what many have come to expect from the play store device selection.

      google please deliver us some up to date but also affordable handsets like you did in the past.

  3. Stuart

    I don’t think sales will be increased very much by having it on the Google Play store. It will be available to developers, like the developer edition, but I don’t think it will be a huge boom to sales anymore than having it available on amazon and other sites that cater to unlocked phones. It will not be given exclusive attention like a Nexus phone and will have to compete with the less expensive Nexus 4 and the slightly more expensive Galaxy S4 on Google Play.