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“Be careful what you wish for,” is a saying I often heard growing up. And I heard it again in the back of my mind when Google(s goog) announced in May that a Galaxy S 4 with plain Android software would arrive on June 26. That $649 phone is now available in the Google Play store — shipping before July 9 if you order now — and so is its companion: the $599 HTC One in the same Google Play Edition.
Why my concern? Neither of these phones were designed for a pure Android experience and both in their original state offer excellent software features over and above Android.
I haven’t had a chance to use either of these phones with Google’s pure Android software but I have used both extensively with their own custom code from Samsung and HTC. Either is a great option if you’re considering a new Android device now. I recommend the Galaxy S 4 if you prefer expandable storage and a removable battery, but if you want a superbly built metal-cased phone, less cluttered experience and low-light camera performance, I’d lean towards the One.
Since I don’t have the Google Play Editions of these devices, I turned to a respected peer that does. JR Raphael has already tried both and shares his experiences at ComputerWorld. If you’re considering either of these Google Play Editions, I recommend the read because Raphael’s usage confirms some of the nuances I was concerned about: Namely, hardware button use and placement presents challenges, software differences in menus, and the loss of some great add-on features.
A few key quotes illustrate just a few of this little niggles:
“I’m finding that photos taken on the original devices and the Google Play Edition models do not always look the same. The difference is particularly pronounced with the One — and particularly with images taken with the two models in low-light conditions.”
“The HTC One Google Play Edition doesn’t come with Google Wallet — and the app also isn’t available for installation on the device via the Play Store. (Wallet is installed on the GS4 Play Edition.)”
“When you use apps properly designed for Android 4.x on the GS4, the on-screen overflow menu icon — which is typically built into the app’s action bar — is randomly missing (even though the action bar itself and all of its other icons are there)”
If nothing else, Raphael’s experiences indicate that the best pure Android is experience is likely to continue in the form of Google Nexus devices; not with currently available handsets that install the base Android software. Hardware design is important in how the software works, so I don’t see Google’s Nexus program going away any time soon.
On the flip side, Google could learn a thing or two from its Android partners here. Some of the best and innovative features in these phones come in the form of manufacturer software. It would be great if Google took a cue and improved or added features its camera software, for instance. Or maybe it adds some of the better gesture functions that use sensors already available for Nexus phones.
There’s actually a ray of hope that some of the manufacturer software removed from the devices could actually be installed. Turns out the HTC One Google Play Edition still has the HTC-specific software such as Sense and the Camera app.
Regardless, getting a Galaxy S 4 or HTC One with a Nexus-like experience may be something many have wished for but the experience will leave a few things to be desired.