Blog Post

Surprise! Why the HTC One Google Experience may be my next phone

Stay on Top of Enterprise Technology Trends

Get updates impacting your industry from our GigaOm Research Community
Join the Community!

HTC One Google Edition boxAs someone who has used mainly Samsung devices since 2010, I surprised many with a tweet yesterday that suggested I like the HTC One Google Edition more than I expected. I received a loaner device less than 48 hours ago, but I’m already seriously considering a purchase.

Perhaps this really shouldn’t be surprise though: I’ve generally gravitated towards Google’s(s goog) Nexus line of devices with the fast software updates and I like well designed hardware. In some sense — no pun intended — the HTC One Google Edition meets both requirements.

In the short time I’ve had the HTC One in hand, I’ve really come to appreciate the hardware. Samsung’s Galaxy S 4 uses most of the same hardware components but the One has a more premium look and feel.

There’s nothing wrong with the Galaxy S 4; again, I’ve happily used a bunch of Samsung phones and tablets in the past. Samsung says it uses plastics and polycarbonate to allow for consumer-requested features such as a microSD card slot and removable battery. I just don’t need those features.

Nexus 4 in handHow do I know this? There’s no memory expansion the Samsung-built Galaxy Nexus that I used for more than year. Currently, I’m carrying a Nexus 4 which has neither a microSD card slot nor a removable battery. The HTC One then, isn’t a “step back” in these two aspects; at least not for me. And having a relatively pure version of Android on the HTC One is exactly the setup I’ve used on the two prior Nexus devices, so I get the software environment I like.

Performance on the One is noticeably better than the Nexus 4; unsurprising since the new handset has a nice bump in processor and GPU. There’s plenty of RAM memory to keep the apps moving. And unlike the Nexus 4, the HTC One works on AT&T’s(s t) LTE network (with HSPA+ fallback), so I get a mobile broadband boost as well. I like the dual, front-facing speakers and the screen is outstanding.

It’s not a perfect experience though. As we’ve noted before, the HTC One hardware was designed to run HTC Sense on top of Android, not stock Android. So there are few minor inconsistencies in the user experience: Occasionally, I’ll see an overflow menu button taking up valuable screen space unnecessarily, for example. And I can’t use Google Wallet with the HTC One; something I often do with my Nexus devices.

While I generally don’t mind losing the HTC Sense software, some of it is actually better than Google’s. The HTC camera app and its many modes would be nice to see on this phone, but alas: It’s “pure” Google, which is a little more limited. Still, I’m getting nice quality shots with the HTC camera hardware, even if it is using Google’s imaging software.

Citizens Bank Park

There’s also hope to mix and match between the two software versions: Paul O’Brien of MoDaCo is working on a custom ROM to switch between HTC and Google’s software for this phone, perhaps even bringing some HTC bits to the Google Experience version.

Even if that doesn’t happen, I have no qualms about tweaking my Android phone or using other custom ROMs on the handset to get the experience exactly the way I want to. With the Google Edition of the HTC One, HTC has already done most of the heavy lifting in that aspect: Right out of the box, I have a phone that works the way I want it to. And I can’t say enough about the hardware; it’s superb.

So much so that my wife — who has an iPhone 4S(s aapl) and is due for early upgrade pricing next month — is even considering this device. All of the main apps she uses on her iPhone are available for Android; she already checked. She’d likely opt for the standard HTC One with Sense but it wouldn’t take much effort for me to get a stock Android ROM on there if she would prefer it.

Of course, she’d get her handset at the subsidized, lower price. I’ll have to pony up $599 for a Google Edition handset. Unless the HTC One loses its luster over the next few days, I think I’ll be doing just that.

On a related side-note, there’s some irony worth pointing out here. In the earlier days of Android, I used to put custom ROMs on my Nexus One in order to get the Sense hardware on the device. I did that because, at the time, I felt Sense brought a better experience. And for some, it still does. I think it speaks volumes, however, that I now prefer stock Android: Google has vastly improved the base software for its mobile platform since the Nexus One.

60 Responses to “Surprise! Why the HTC One Google Experience may be my next phone”

  1. No HTC ONE !!!! I have it and it is a great phone but get limitied because of ATT monopoly. No Google Wallet. That makes NFC a farce and the Phone a joke.
    Put mine on ebay to get a rid of this limited ATT trash

  2. ndennis

    Gotta agree with Kary. I feel like I HAVE to have a removable battery precisely because I keep my phones a long time. They look new when I do pass them on because I’m pretty careful. I love an SD card too. Currently carrying an HTC Thunderbolt, before that an HTC Incredible, before that an HTC Mogul.

    Really REALLY want an HTC One Mega when it comes out, but not having a removable battery will probably be a deal-breaker for me if that’s so. Have been holding out for a Note 3 but then news of the Mega came out. Will just have to see on the battery situation before I make a final decision.

    And the main reason I buy HTC is because of the “premium” feel.

    And Kevin, you rock on, buddy. Your opinion means a helluva lot. Thanks!

  3. I see no reason why this is surprising. The HTC One is a fantastic phone. It’s the only phone I pick up in the store that makes me crave it. I’m sure the pluses of the Google Edition outweigh the minuses, though I found Sense pretty reasonable when I last owned an HTC (a while ago).

    • I don’t see it as surprising because the two best phones right now are seemingly clearly the One and the S4. It would be surprising if he were going for a free phone.

  4. Hi Kevin

    Can you try out the Miracast feature soon and let us know how it performs? The Google Edition of the HTC One is supposed to have it (in version Android 4.2.2 jellybean).


  5. guest

    Hi Kevin. I’m curious… How does the signal strength measure up to your plastic phone? Settings -> About Phone -> Status -> Signal Strength. I assume you’re using the same network with your new phone, so I’m curious how much the metal body of the HTC interferes with reception.

    Also, do you have any trouble hearing it ring in your pocket? I assume you put it in your pocket with the screen facing your leg. I like the idea of the front facing speakers a lot, but it seems that might muffle the phone when in the pocket. I suppose I could pocket it screen out, but then I’ll be concerned about bumping a table and cracking the glass screen.


    • I’ve checked signal strength on the One, Nexus 4 and iPhone 5 with the same AT&T nano SIM card (I use an adapter as needed) and really don’t see much difference. Basically the same signal, give or take 2 to 3 db, in the same locations.

      Interesting question the phone in a pocket. I generally never think about how I put it in my pocket but realized I do put the screen facing my leg since the back of the phone is rounded. No problems hearing it though; notifications / ringing sounds are very loud on this device with the volume setting in the second half of its range.

  6. I like Gigaom articles, but could you please refrain from amateur writings like ‘no pun intended’? If you fear that people will intend it like a pun, then change your formulation.

  7. ses21

    You should blame AT&T for not being able to use Google Wallet; the HW is in there to support it but they just want to force you to use their inferior ISIS wallet app instead.

    • Sorry, there’s no basis for that comment at all. I haven’t been compensated by HTC to write a thing; it’s standard industry practice for companies to loan devices for review purposes. Those devices then get returned. If I want my own HTC One (or any other phone for that matter), I have to buy it, the same as you.

  8. Oliver G

    “Unless the HTC One loses its luster over the next few days, I think I’ll be doing just that.”

    Sounds like you are stuck in a hamster wheel. Keep running.

  9. Rupesh Kumar Badam

    I have an AT&T version and I want to turn it into a stock version… How do I do that? This is in reference to the comment you made.. can you forward the instructions?

  10. Prosthetic Lips

    My first smartphone was an HTC Aria. I loved the phone, eventually upgrading to get a bigger screen (Samsung Galaxy S2). The Aria was well-built, I never had any problems I would attribute to hardware. The small screen and correspondingly small battery were what did it in for me, but I seriously considered just getting another battery to swap out.

    I’d get another HTC; I’m due for an upgrade in just over a month, I’ll put this one in the running. Thanks!

  11. Marvin

    Actually, @philo, the AT&T version is the BEST version to get.

    – it’s GSM
    – it has LTE
    – it is the same hardware as the international versions & the U.S. developer edition phones

    What does that mean?

    1. Unlock bootloader
    2. Flash recovery
    3. Root
    4. Make a backup (because is always prudent to do so)
    5. Obtain S-Off
    6. Change CID to SuperCID
    7. Flash ROM of choice
    8. Depending upon the particular ROM flashed, change CID again to relevant carrier to allow OTAs.
    9. Profit!
    And the above is not complicated at all.

    So, for me, I took my contract bought, AT&T branded HTC One and “converted“ it into a U.S. Developer Edition HTC One. Technically, it is NOT a carrier branded phone anymore but a phone that just uses AT&T for voice & data. Yes, LTE works and I do get official OTAs – sooner than I would if I had kept the AT&T ROM installed.

    … and I can, if I want, still install the Google Edition ROM if I choose.

    Why is this bad?

  12. I get that Google is trying to promote it’s ‘pure’ Android experience because it recognizes Apple’s advantage of complete control over the hardware and software experience. What surprises me is that your review found its way onto my Google News homepage. Is it a slow news day or is Google now biasing it’s news page features to promote it’s own products?

    I just don’t think your article on another niche Android product deserves such promotion. There hasn’t been a product launch or major change to the product that’s generated noticeable buzz. I dread the day when Google biases it’s entire user experience to promote advertising it’s own interests.

  13. mudge

    I don’t know why “look and feel” are so important to people. Has it occurred to anyone that the “premium” metallic case has disadvantages? No removable battery. No micro-SD slot. But most important of all — a metallic case will partially block Wi-fi, GPS and cell signals, reducing the phone’s ability to grab signal in marginal situations.

    But hey, if looking good is what turns you on, more power to you. At least you’ll look good while complaining about lack of signal.

    • Pradeep Viswanathan R

      Seriously, you would need to grow up on removable battery & micro SD slot. There has also been no reports of signal blocking theory you talk about. Do you have anything better to comment?

      • What do you mean “you would need to grow up on removable battery & micro SD slot.”??????

        Those are important features for many people. Just for example, having music on a SD card can allow a smaller data plan.

  14. Your writing is horrible. You cite nothing but your own opinions and personal experiences. “Perhaps this really shouldn’t be surprise though: I’ve generally gravitated towards Google’s Nexus line of devices…” and “having a relatively pure version of Android on the HTC One is exactly the setup I’ve used on the two prior Nexus devices, so I get the software environment I like.” and WORST of all, posting a pic of your own tweet which simply summarizes this article: that you like this phone. Wow! You got two retweets!

    • Eoin, read the title of the post again. Then let me know if your comment makes sense. To me, it doesn’t. I wrote a personal blog post about a device. I’ve also gravitated heavily towards Samsung phones and tablets, having bought more than I can count on one hand. Moving to an HTC product — my first since the Nexus One — is a bit of surprise for those readers that have been following me for a few years. If you’re not one of them, perhaps that point is lost, which I understand. But a personal blog post should cite my opinions and personal experiences, no?

  15. OK, no replaceable battery. So the obvious question is – what kind of battery life does it have?

    Oh, and what’s going to happen when Verizon locks it down? I know, root root root.

    • Not sure if you’re serious, but he means the battery is not a user replaceable battery such that you can: (1) Carry around a second battery if you need extra power; or (2) Just replace an old battery that is no longer functioning well if you happen to keep devices a long time.

      A user replaceable battery is on my list of absolute requirements due to the second reason.

    • What’s it matter if it’s more expensive to manufacture if it costs consumers basically the same price?

      And I ask that as someone who just bought a couple of S4 phones. For me the battery and MicroSD were huge considerations, but if they hadn’t been (and if the One was available on Verizon), I would have considered it.

      • David Mason

        The first obvious conclusion is the price is elevated unnecessarily. (= I just find this “burnished marble with gold inlay” thing a bit tacky. When Apple does it (and I’m no huge fan in general, though they have substantially raised the design bar) there’s usually a good justification, but other companies have tended to play copycat (though they are getting better). Perhaps the environmental cost to work with metal would be higher too. I’m just that kind of consumer who likes to open up the discussion, others like to look for “premium” I guess.

        I can speak from experience when I say Samsung’s plastic is too slippery.

    • Not sure I understand your point, David. How is the device more expensive to manufacture? The comparable Samsung device is actually more expensive. And if you’re comparing to a $199 iPhone — which I think is also well built and designed — you’re not using the right price. $199 is carrier subsidized; the full price is $649.

      • David Mason

        I’m not talking about the selling price. I’m talking about the manufacturing price. $50 doesn’t matter much to me, but I’m interested in the trend realities.

          • David Mason

            I don’t know, but my point is it certainly costs more to machine an aluminium case than mold a plastic one, and with the plastic one being lighter I’m curious why people actually care about the alu case. If it’s just “prestige,” nuff said.

            • People have a perception that metal is better. Personally I prefer plastic because it doesn’t scratch and dent as easily, but in any case, most people use cases.

        • ses21

          I still don’t get why manufacturing cost matters to you, unless you’re an HTC stockholder. If you are & are concerned about profit margin, I’d suggest you actually have much bigger things to worrry about! Don’t misunderstand either…I’m a big HTC fan, currently have 2 of their phones in our family & want to see them do well.

          So, why the interest in the “trend realities?”

    • Nicholas Henseleit

      I have a galaxy s2x Hercules version (same as the T-Mobile version SGH_T989) and I ran the cyanogen 10 custom “pure” Google rom, and personally I do enjoy pure Google at times but having a skin over top just makes things feel nicer and classify it as a Samsung phone rather than a Google phone, but having instant updates would be crazy nice since I had to wait like 5 months before getting JB 4.1.2 on my phone :l

  16. Jordan

    I do use several features of the HTC one, and would not have seen this article without blink feed. I also carry a nexus as my work device and love that phone too, but still prefer the HTC one. On another note you should switch from at&t to tmobile now that they have LTE.

    • Thanks Jordan. There’s no point in me switching to T-Mobile (back actually, I used them until last year) because there’s no LTE coverage where I live and likely won’t be for a while. I’m out in the sticks of Pennsylvania. ;)

        • Yep, AT&T is the second largest cell phone company in the country because their service is so bad. Just keep telling yourself that. Someday it might be true.

          BTW, I currently have Verizon and switched from AT&T, but it wasn’t because of the experience. I just didn’t like their Apple-like policy of restricting the source of software downloads which they had at the time. That type of thing might have been what philo was commenting on.