HTC One Google Play edition review [VIDEO]

HTC One Google Play Edition DSC01018

When the HTC One debuted back in March/April, it was met with stellar reviews from media outlets virtually across the board. In our own in-depth review, we had mostly great things to say about the device, raving about its full HD display, UltraPixel camera, BoomSound front facing speakers, and yes, even Beats audio.

Now that we know everything there is to know about the One, HTC threw the mobile world for a loop when they announced the “HTC One Google Play edition,” a skinless version of the device now available from the Google Play Store. Is it possible an already great smartphone could be made even better, simply slapping a “stock” Android experience onto it?

After putting the HTC One GPe through its paces, let’s find out how the One GPe stacks up against the reigning champion of the Google Play Store — the Nexus 4 — as well as its Sense 5 counterpart in our HTC One Google Play edition review.

So, uhhh.. What’s the difference?

HTC One Google Edition vs Sense

Going over the hardware, you’re looking at 2 identical devices. Same awesome front facing speakers, gorgeous 1920×1080 display, premium aluminum build materials, UltraPixel 4MP camera, and odd capacitive button placement. It’s all the same. Heck, even Beats audio managed to make the cut.

The biggest, and only real difference between the HTC One bought from the Play Store and the carrier branded HTC One you can find at your local retail store is the software. The HTC One GPe offers a pure “stock” Android experience, while the carrier models offer the latest version of HTC’s custom UI dubbed Sense 5. Think of the GPe like a scoop of plain vanilla ice cream, while the Sense version throws on loads of peanuts, hot fudge, whip cream, and anything else you’d normally add to your favorite sundae.

Why would anyone want the HTC One GPe?

HTC One Google Play Edition DSC01014

2 words: speedy updates. And, well…. because it’s not the Nexus 4. Android is great. I think we can all agree on that. Part of what makes Android so great is that it’s open source. This means manufactures can take the software and do with it as they please, typically baking in new features, adding their own apps, and making it “theirs” with a slick custom user interface.

It can be argued that having these options are what’s always made Android so great (and differentiated it from other mobile OSs). Still, there were those that opposed manufacturer UI’s. Typically known for bogging down devices and contributing to Android’s growing fragmentation “problem” and the painfully slow firmware update process.

With the introduction of “stock” Android on HTC’s flagship device, (this is a loose term as none of the current “Google Play edition” devices are technically running pure AOSP like the Nexus 4) owners of the HTC One GPe can look forward to updates directly from HTC/Google, without the usual carrier middleman getting in the way.

Originally, the only device to receive speedy stock Android updates from the Google mothership was the Nexus. Those of you that have been around, know well my complaints with the current Nexus 4: terrible display quality, fragile build, lack of LTE, not-so-great camera, and low internal storage. The HTC One GPe makes a great alternative for those wanting something a little more premium and don’t mind paying out the extra cash to get it.

Does “stock Android” make the HTC One better?

Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean stock.jpg

For many, the clear benefit the HTC One Google Play edition has over the HTC One Sense edition is that it’s running stock Android 4.2.2. Users with the GPe device can expect all the latest Jelly Bean goodies you’d find on the Nexus-line of devices, with the exception of Google Wallet (this has something to do with the secure element found on the HTC One). So, does stock Android 4.2.2 really add anything to the HTC One? Not really. In fact, you actually lose some features.

One of the GPe’s biggest advantages is that it’s running a newer Android firmware (4.2.2). But it’s a short live advantage once HTC One Sense versions begin receiving their own Android 4.2.2 update (already rolling out across Europe, and coming soon to the US). Once that finally takes place, the HTC One unlocked/carrier model actually pulls ahead thanks to improved quick notification toggles, and other HTC additions (with the exception of PhotoSphere, which can simply be sideloaded by another app).

HTC One GPe vs Sense quick toggles

Not only that, many of Android 4.2’s shortcomings are also evident in the HTC One GPe, like Bluetooth 4.0’s high quality aptX streaming which can only be found in Sense version. Of course, Android 4.3 will help with this and at the same time, showcase the GPe’s single greatest strength: quick and timely updates from HTC/Google.

With everyone screaming “stock Android,” many seemed to have overlooked that in many ways, Sense 5 improves on Android. And that’s not a bad thing. Many custom AOSP ROMs like CyanogenMod do the exact same thing. Of course, looking ahead towards Key Lime Pie and the countless small updates sure to come inside that firmware update, the GPe still has the potential to pull ahead. Well, providing KLP can add better features than those already found on the HTC One carrier/unlocked models.

What’s missing?

HTC One Sense 5 Zoe Share montage

Comparing the HTC One GPe to the Sense version, what’s missing? A lot. For one, the IR blaster is dead on the GPe, along with the Sense TV app that went along with it. In fact, all of HTC’s exclusive apps are gone. Everything from Sense 5, the Calendar, Car Home, Blinkfeed, etc. — nowhere to be found in the GPe. While some would see this as a “good thing,” I missed the increased functionality that these apps brought. The ones in particular that hit me the hardest were HTC’s awesome camera and gallery app.

HTC One GPe vs Sense camera

The gallery app allowed users to create “Highlights,” HTC’s easy to create n’ share home videos, while the Sense camera app featured a robust set of settings and even behind the scenes special imaging tweaks. The results are images on the GPe that simply look a bit more flat and dull compared to their Sense 5 counterparts.

While having only the bare bones camera software on the GPe might not sound like too much of a downside, it’s the video that really suffers thanks to mono-only audio recording. Also, pictures while recording video aren’t full 4MP image resolution, merely screengrabs from the recorded video.

Performance

HTC One Google Play edition GFXBench

While the question of whether or not stock Android software actually makes the HTC One GPe better than the original is a purely subjective one, there are some areas we can look at and compare objectively, like performance. Back in the day, manufacturer UI’s like Sense and TouchWiz featured slow and heavy interfaces that seemed to bog down the system, with Sense being the biggest offender. The resulting lag was most evident, not just in the opening of apps, but the bootup time of these devices as well.

Boot times

When comparing the HTC One Google Play edition and the unlocked Sense 5 version, I found that the GPe was able to boot about 3-5 seconds quicker than Sense 5 from a cold start. One thing to consider is the fact that I have almost double the amount of apps, games, and media stored on my Sense version as the GPe one. Even then, it was never anything too noticeable, and for those that feel like this might be an issue, the HTC One Sense edition features a nifty fastboot/shutdown option that can power up the device in half the time as the GPe. You know, if boot times concern you.

Benchmarks

For some, benchmarks weigh heavy in their decision to buy a new device in which we found similar results for both the HTC One GPe and Sense version. Neither device clearly dominated the other and this can largely be attributed to the fact that the HTC One GPe and Sense version run on the same HTC kernel and feature the same underlying framework. A real difference in end user speed is negligible, and in most cases, nothing more than placebo (although I swear Sense version feels snappier). Here are the benchmark results:

Antutu – GPe: 24345, Sense: 20624
Quadrant – GPe: 12846, Sense: 11872
GFXBench (GLBenchmark 2.7) T-Rex – GPe: 15, Sense: 15
GFXBench (GLBenchmark 2.7) Egypt – GPe: 41, Sense: 41
Vellamo (HTML5/Metal) – GPe: 2399/775, Sense: 2394/768

What did I find interesting was how much cooler the HTC One GPe ran, even while running these high-performance benchmarks. While a little heat from a device running graphically intensive applications is never cause for concern, the HTC One carrier/unlocked model got alarmingly hot in some instances, while the GPe only ran warm. Strange.

Battery life

HTC One Google Play edition Battery life

Battery life on both devices was nearly identical (remember, both devices feature the same software kernel) but I did notice a slight advantage on the Google Play edition (if only an extra hour) during normal use. Because the Sense 5 version actually features a “Power saver” mode, when enabled, gave it a slight advantage or bigger one with further PowerSaving mode tweaking (at a loss of functionality). All in all, we’ll give the HTC One GPe the win on this one thanks to its no fuss great battery life.

Is the HTC One GPe the right device for you?

HTC One Google Play Edition DSC01017

The answer to this question is going to depend largely on the individual, and what they actually want from a smartphone. For one, this is a GSM-only device that will only work on AT&T or T-Mobile’s network. With AT&T, you get the benefit of LTE (something sorely lacking from the Nexus 4) and on T-Mobile, the device wont connect to their usual 3G/4G network unless you find yourself in one of T-Mo’s newly refarmed areas (but apparently, T-Mobile LTE is still looking good). So for most users on T-Mobile, it’s either 2G or LTE. Those criteria alone limit the device to only 2 networks at best (or even 1 and 1/2 if you think about it).

Ultimately, it’s only the Android enthusiast crowd that even knows what “stock Android” is, let alone why they would want it on all their devices. Once again, the benefit is more timely updates from HTC and the latest n’ greatest features Google incorporates into future Android releases.

For those that were looking for a Google supported Nexus-like device, but found the Nexus 4 lacking in terms of specs, in many ways the HTC One Google Play edition is the perfect marriage of stock Android and cutting edge smartphone hardware. Like most things, this comes at a cost. Because the HTC One Google Play edition is sold off-contract, the full MSRP applies. At $600 for the 32GB version (64GB version isn’t offered), your mother wont be rushing for her checkbook to pick up the HTC One Google Play edition when the carrier model is being offered at an easily digestible $100. Of course, this device was never meant for mainstream consumers, now was it?

It seems fairly obvious that the HTC One Google Play edition was created for one purpose: to put a sock inside the mouths of the enthusiast crowd who demanded a stock Android experience from HTC. For these Android enthusiast who don’t mind paying a premium to have the latest from Google, the HTC One Google Play edition is near-Android perfection. Everything you love about the best mobile OS on the planet, coupled with equally amazing hardware. I guess now it’s time to see if anyone will put their money where their mouths is.

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  • Greg Morgan

    My plan, when my contract with VZW is up in Sept, is to buy an unlocked One. I like sense and AOSP. So I can use Sense or flash AOKP or CM. Get the best of both.

    • egern

      I’m in the same boat, except I’m willing to look at other carriers. Love the HTC One but just not sure I can bring myself to buy a phone that will be 7 months old at the time. I realize this is mostly mental given that it’ll still be top of the line most likely. Looks like I’m probably Nexus 5 / T-Mobile bound, but we’ll see. Props to HTC for restoring my confidence in them – HTC Incredible was my first Android phone and while I loved it, I swore off HTC by the end of those two years.

    • DavidVarghese

      The MoDaCo switch is your answer! But its only for GSM H1’s for now..
      >.<

  • LUFC4LIFE

    Installing a GE ROM on a normal One gives you the same result but you don’t sacrifice anything. Apart from an update here and there I really don’t see why anybody would go for this version.

    • No_Nickname90

      It’s like an alternative to the Nexus 4. The Nexus 4 is cheaper, yes. But I see this as an alternative to the Nexus 4. The Nexus 4 doesn’t appeal to me. It’s too bland. I like the idea of these Google Edition phones. Though I think it would have been a better approach, and cheaper, to just help out with making flashable ROMs. But now that I say that, HTC could be liable if someone bricked their phone.

      So that’s why they make the Google Edition. Let the developers make the ROMs.

  • No_Nickname90

    How did you get that picture of your face? In the drop down on the Sense edition. I don’t have that. I REALLY want that. =.3

    Like I just like it there. LoL!!

    • DavidVarghese

      That’s 4.2.2

      • No_Nickname90

        Wouldn’t you think I would know that? LoL!! Here, let me post this picture of mines.

        All them downvotes. I guess I didn’t make myself clear.

        EDIT: After realizing, this is a custom ROM. Maybe I should ask the dev. if they took it off. Although this isn’t a custom theme. Hmm…

  • PooPooTron

    That was a well written review, Chris. I didn’t think that I’d be seeing one for the HTC One GPe

  • Revas

    This review was less about the merits of the One and more about what he doesn’t like about the Nexus 4.

    • http://twitter.com/gamercore Chris Chavez

      Wait- what? Every paragraph was comparing the HTC One GPe to the Sense version. It was practically all about the merits of the carrier/unlocked/Developer Edition with Sense 5.

      There was very little said about this being a better alternative to the Nexus 4 for those looking for something more high-end.

      • Revas

        I think a comparison to the GS4 GPe would have been more apt. I just don’t get the comparisons to the N4, it feels out of place in this review. As if I’m reading a Car and Driver shootout between a group of cars, but it isn’t; it’s a review of one specific product. Out of curiosity what what makes the One more high end? Because it’s newer? There’s too much discussion of what premium is in the mobile world these days. Word to Vertu.

        • http://twitter.com/gamercore Chris Chavez

          Well, I tried to take a different angle. Since the HTC One is already out, I wanted to discuss the differences between this and the current model. Kinda like comparing the GS4 to the previous GS3.

          That main difference I found was the fact that the One GPe was running “stock Android.” This is its main selling point.

          When the One GPe was first announced, a lot of people asked why they would pay $600 for a stock Android experience, when the Nexus 4 is being offered at half the price and offered the same. So I decided to explore that.

          When compared to the HTC One GPe the Nexus 4 has an older SoC, lower-res and lower quality display, no LTE, fragile glass backing, weak speaker, and poor camera. The HTC One trumps the Nexus 4 in just about every area aside from receiving direct updates from Google.

  • niuguy

    I find the GPe rom on my One has much better battery life that Sense.

  • yankeesrule587

    Anyone have any idea when the GPE for us regular ONE owners will be available for download ? I remember there being mention of making it available for regular ONE users.

    • Tony Witeboy Lopez

      There is already one, you need to be rooted!

      • yankeesrule587

        I dont want the ROM, I heard there would be a downloadable one directly from HTC. There was no rooting mentioned.

        • http://twitter.com/gamercore Chris Chavez

          HTC kinda said they’d look into it, but nothing official was ever said that it was in fact coming.

          I pretty much gave up hope on that and ended up rooting my HTC One Developer Edition. Was super easy with the bootloader already being unlocked.

          • yankeesrule587

            Crap ! I dont trust the ROMs online as anything but watered down versions , id only root if I knew i could get the real deal.

          • http://twitter.com/gamercore Chris Chavez

            Well, there are those (like me) that only flash STOCK ROMs with root inside. I don’t need any of that fancy heavily modified stuff. Just want something stable :)

          • yankeesrule587

            Any suggestions ?

          • http://twitter.com/gamercore Chris Chavez

            I’d go with something like Android Revolution HD or TrickDroid. Both are near-stock and use the stock kernel.

            I don’t bother flashing different kernels, or install any of the extra customization features. Can make things unstable. Android Revolution HD actually asks you during the flashing process which options you’d like to install — I skip all of ‘em. :P

  • zedthegreat

    Has Google or HTC (or Samsung for the S4 equiv) CONFIRMED that these will get faster updates? I have not seen anything. It certainly would make sense and I would hope they do, but I have been bitten too many times before for buying a product for what it might do and then being let down. I would like some form of Google / HTC communication if it has not been forthcoming.

    Cheers

    • http://twitter.com/gamercore Chris Chavez

      HTC told us specifically that the updates are supplied by them, then passed over to Google to push out to the GPe devices.

      • zedthegreat

        that’s good then. cheers!

  • Chad Vincent

    > With AT&T, you get the benefit of LTE (something sorely lacking from the Nexus 4) and on T-Mobile, the device will only connect to 3G/4G/ in one of T-Mo’s newly refarmed areas.

    The GPe One will work on AT&T and T-Mobile LTE both. It is only missing T-Mobile HSPA(+) on non-refarmed areas.

    • http://twitter.com/gamercore Chris Chavez

      Weird. Google Play lists the HTC One Google Play edition as having only AT&T 4G LTE (700 MHz, AWS), while T-Mobile operates on the 1700 / 2100 MHz AWS. Looking online and finding that the device also houses 700 / 850 / 1700 / 1900 bands as well. Will reach out to HTC for something more official.

      • Chad Vincent

        AWS is always 1700+2100, which is the only band T-Mo is using for LTE (Well, plus a MetroPCS band, but I don’t remember which that is.)

        Refarming is supposedly pretty far along, and I’m finding LTE in areas that aren’t on the map yet.

        It is only missing the HSPA on AWS, which is why I didn’t get it… Figured my burg was going to be more than 2 months out for LTE. Surprise!!!

        • http://twitter.com/gamercore Chris Chavez

          I was surprised to find that pretty much my entire area (Rancho Cucamonga) was already refarmed and has been for awhile now. Still too spotty to use an AT&T device on it (I actually tried it for a few weeks). Now I’m wondering how far along LTE is…. O_o

          • Chad Vincent

            Well, I get LTE signal in Rogers, MN and Saint Cloud, MN. I’ve not seen either in an LTE turn-on list here yet.

  • Sean

    I don’t know what you talkin about Chris, that pic from the GPe looks way better too me. We could call it a wash at best, but I definitely don’t think the sense version is a clear winner in that aspect. Plus, the camera ui itself looks to cluttered and ugly on the sense version…but that’s purely preference. Nice review though.

    • http://twitter.com/gamercore Chris Chavez

      Yeah, honestly, sometimes I like the simplicity of the GPe camera (although the settings menu is HORRIBLE). Output isn’t as nice, but it’s definitely passable, especially if you’re just going to throw a filter on the picture anyway :P

  • timmyjoe42

    I think the Nexus 4 camera is fantastic.

    • Tommy Thompson

      o.O

      • timmyjoe42

        Maybe I think it’s so good because I am coming from a history with a G2x, a Cliq2 and a Cliq… :)

    • Keith

      I have the Nexus 4 and I can’t say the camera is fantastic. The camera is no good in low light shots and even with the flash it ends up being weird.

  • toomuchgame441

    Great device, but definitely prefer the HTC One Sense 5

  • Matt

    I bought a GPE One after living with every iPhone/iOS device since day 1. Its my first android phone as ive always hated three things about android: slow updates, fast fragmentation, and spotty performance.

    Finally, I saw a device that was worth my attention in every way. And after all that, I can say I LOVE this device and is everything I want so far in android (and what iOS still isn’t offering)

    • toomuchgame441

      You made the right decision :-)

    • softbi.blogspot.com
    • RussianDroid

      That is indeed great to hear that Android fits your needs. iOS a good OS, but IMO Android is a GREAT OS. You definitely realize the shortcomings of iOS once you switch to an Android device.

    • w0by

      Hahah I’ve had every since iPhone since it came out also. I just sold off my iPhone for the HTC GPE. I was sooo bored with my iPhone, and even the new iOS 7 is boring, it’s the same thing with different icons.

  • softbi.blogspot.com
  • kc

    So Chris, you didnt say which edition you prefer.

    • http://twitter.com/gamercore Chris Chavez

      It’s tough to say, really. I like the speedy updates of the GPe, while I enjoy all the Sense 5 features and UI. There’s no easy answer :/

  • PhoenixPath

    Really finding I like the sense version.

    Amazingly, I think they beat Google at making the notifications tiles “Holo”. The 3-dot is far more intuitive and useful than the sometimes-toggle-sometimes-settings long-press/quick-press in AOSP. I’d love to see some ROM devs (CM/AOKP) incorporate this…it makes so much more, er, sense…to do it this way.

    That said, CM/AOKP have already fixed Google’s mistakes in this area to some degree; quick for toggle, long for setting (AOKP loves them some toggles)..but I still think the Sense 3-button approach makes more sense (Gah!) and is more in-line with the latest Play-store and other Google interface updates.

  • phinn

    “It seems fairly obvious that the HTC One Google Play edition was created for one purpose: to put a sock inside the mouths of the enthusiast crowd who demanded a stock Android experience…”

    Unfortunately this doesn’t put a sock in my mouth because I have zero interest in spending $600 on a phone. I typically get a new phone every 2 years and renew a contract for $199 max. I’d still like to see Google device subsidized for this price and it’s pathetic one doesn’t exist other than on T-mobile.

  • hoz590

    I prefer the nuts, hot fudge, & whipped cream version. it sounds like getting the GP edition would be like buying a car and asking for crank down instead of power windows.

  • dgarra

    Not worth 2x the cost of the excellent Nexus 4. Bring on the Moto X.

    • https://plus.google.com/108596272537415356460/posts Jason Farrell

      But… METAL…

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