Google Play edition HTC One and Samsung Galaxy S4 wont be receiving updates directly from Google


HTC One Google Play edition

When Samsung and HTC announced the “Google Play editions” of their latest smartphones, many were elated, throwing their hands up in the air, screaming “THANK YOU!” to the Google Gods — but wait. Something still wasn’t quite adding up. Why were these devices, which supposedly offer a pure Android experience, still not classified as “Nexus” devices?

Prior to the announcement of the Google Edition One and S4, there was one clear factor that made a Nexus a Nexus. It had nothing to do with offering a stock Android experience, it has (and always will be) the fact that a Nexus receives updates directly from the Google mothership, without carriers or OEMs getting in the way. Well, nothings changed.

Anandtech Google Play Edition HTC One Galaxy S4 screenshot

In his review of the Google Play edition HTC One and Galaxy S4 for Anandtech, Brian Klug discovered that both devices are running kernels supplied by their respective OEMs, meaning that neither the HTC One, nor the Galaxy S4 Google Editions will see updates directly from Google. The Verge was also noted this in their review as well. This means that, despite running a near-stock Android experience, both devices will still have a middleman involved.

Really, it only makes sense. These manufacturers know their hardware better than anyone (even Google), and know exactly how to tweak Android to run properly on it. This is why you can still find Beats audio available in the Google Play edition HTC One, and other small tweaks made to Android 4.2.2 only available on these “GPe” devices.

So, what exactly what makes these devices “Google Play editions?” Well, the fact that they’re running a near-stock version of Android — but still not 100% pure AOSP — and that they’re being sold on Google Play unlocked. That’s about it.

You may remember back in the day when HTC offered a stock Android experience on the T-Mobile G2. Believe it or not, but the HTC EVO actually received Gingerbread before the G2, something that threw many Android users for a loop. Now, we’re not going to go as far as saying these Google Play Edition devices will suffer the same fate, a lot has changed since 2010.

HTC and Samsung seem more committed than ever to provide their users with timely Android updates. With the slowest middleman removed from the equation (carriers), we expect updates will still get pushed out much quicker than carrier branded, custom UI infused variants. But like everything else in life, nothing is guaranteed.

At the end of the day, Nexus users still have reason to gloat. They may not have the best hardware, but as so often is the case with Nexus devices, they still get the quickest, more pure version of Android before anyone else, and completely untouched by anyone than the creator.

UPDATE: Just as we suspected, AOSP engineer Jean-Baptiste Queru chimed in on the issue after he was asked, “Are there plans to release binary images, like those at https://developers.google.com/android/nexus/images ?”

JBQ: “There are no such plans. If anything happens in that domain, that’ll be handled directly by HTC and Samsung.” [Emphasis ours]

Chris Chavez
I've been obsessed with consumer technology for about as long as I can remember, be it video games, photography, or mobile devices. If you can plug it in, I have to own it. Preparing for the day when Android finally becomes self-aware and I get to welcome our new robot overlords.

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  1. Derp. Saw that one coming as soon as it was mentioned Beats was still baked in.

  2. Well, can we hope that they have included battery and camera optimization of some kind? Those are the two horrible factors of stock Android. :P

    1. From what I saw in some reviews, battery life is suffering as a result of stock Android. I can attest to this with CyanogenMod 10.1 on my HTC One.

      1. That contradicts what The Verge has to say. However, when it comes to battery life, reviews often disagree with each other.

        1. You’re right, battery life is always subjective. Just look at the reviews of the normal HTC One a few months back. Nobody could agree on battery life.

          1. I agree. Every one has different usage, due to amount of apps running in background, what paeticular app is running, settings, etc.

        2. Didn’t the Verge say better battery life by an hour or so?

      2. Yes, but you’re running CM, these phones are running stock Android supplied by the manufacturers, so I’m guessing they have added some optimization, as @Bizzle9 notes in the comment below from the Verge’s review. But I find it fishy that the battery is outperforming the skinned phones, though I guess that could be because of optimization + no manufacturer crap running in the background.

        Let’s see though, interesting this is.

      3. Everyone else is saying battery is better on these Google Play devices (especially the One).

      4. Really? I am at 49% after being off the charger for more than 11 hours on my M7 running CM10.1. That is with everything on and streaming Google Music over bluetooth via LTE for an hour and a half today.

  3. Wow, then what is the point?

    1. To give people what they’ve been demanding all these years: (almost) stock Android with no manufacturer UI’s.

      1. And I can understand that, but what is the difference between this and the developer edition? (other than the dev edition actually being available on VZW)

        1. Don’t the developer editions still ship with the custom UI?

          1. ah, you’re right. They just have an unlocked bootloader. Oh well, I am planning on running AOKP anyway.

        2. The developer editions are unlocked with TW or Sense. However, you could still run vanilla Android on them. ;-)

  4. Talk about bait and switch.

  5. “Prior to the announcement of the Google Edition One and S4, there was one clear factor that made a Nexus a Nexus. It had nothing to do with offering a stock Android experience, it has (and always will be) the fact that a Nexus receives updates directly from the Google mothership, without carriers or OEMs getting in the way.”

    Except for the Verizon Galaxy Nexus….rat bastards

  6. Gotta love samoled

    1. SAMOLED 1080p, yes. :P

      1. lol. i was like can people tell the difference in the screen shot? Samoled is pitch black because it not lighting up the black pixels whereas it is on the One. Im just talking blacks here but didnt samoled 1080p also win the best mobile screen to date? not sure.

        1. Yeah but… these are screenshots taken from like, inside the phone. Not taken with another camera :P

          1. Good point Chris, it seems even in screenshot mode though software the blacks are not true blacks for lcd. wonder why?? Im really curious lol

            edit: I think the only explanation is the way the roms are skinned. For samsung, black would not require another “black layer” Because you just have to turn the pixels off. But for HTC, all their blacks are overrlaid with “black layer” thus not a true black? idk, i think that makes most sense to me.

    2. Tru dat! :D

      That’s the single thing I miss the most going from my former GS3 to N4.

  7. Hmmm that means no AOSP support. But hey it’s the stock experience everybody seem to want so thats a good thing.

  8. Hi. Developer here.
    This article is pretty misleading.
    The kernels come from the OEMs because the kernels have drivers specific to manufacturer hardware. It has nothing to do with the “factory images” that Google provides for Nexus devices.
    I was at I/O when this phone was announced. I distinctly recall them saying it would receive the same OTA OS updates that the Nexus hardware receives.

    1. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9pmPa_KxsAM
      I went and found where Hugo was talking about it in the keynote.
      49:40 in this video, if anyone is curious.

      1. “and it will receive system updates promptly with every Android platform update.”

        Nothing there about it receiving the SAME update as Nexus devices.

        Yes, they’ll be receive updates “promptly,” because theres no carriers getting in the way but it still appears as if it’s up to Samsung/HTC to update.

        I’ve already reached out to HTC for comment and will update the post once they do.

        1. Chris,
          I spoke with several Googlers at I/O about this device specifically. It’s sold unlocked on the Play Store to appeal to developers who need to develop on their platform. They made it very clear that we would be seeing updates as they come, and that we would be able to purchase this device and use it to help us in developing.
          Just because the kernels have manufacturer names on them does not, in any way, imply that Google can’t still directly OTA new Android versions for us.

          1. Sounds like this might only apply to the Samsung version of the device (that was actually announced at I/O).

            HTC followed suit later to stay competitive with Samsung, and perhaps they’re going about it a different way (take Beats audio backed into the OS for instance).

            Either way, I think the manufacturers would know best and I’ve reached out to them to see if we can’t get an official statement.

          2. Fair point, I was just talking about the S4 edition, yes.

            Looking forward to what HTC has to say to you.

          3. Will update the post once they do! :)

          4. Saw this from C-NET,stating the HTC ONE would be getting the NEXUS treatment,per GOOGLE.


            This could be an assumption though,as no direct quote from a particular individual w/GOOGLE was given.

            Wonder if 3rd party apps would/could make use of the I/R blaster,as support for it on this model has been dropped.

          5. lol u GOT PWNED SON!

          6. http://blog.htc.com/htc-one-google-nexus-experience

            “… software updates provided by Google.”

          7. Strange, Google is saying otherwise in regard to releasing binary images:

            “There are no such plans. If anything happens in that domain, that’ll be handled directly by HTC and Samsung.”


            I’d be more inclined to believe the guys handling AOSP than an HTC blog post. :p

          8. JBQ is talking about hosting binaries and GPL compliance there – that’s a separate issue.

            IOW – we knew all along that Beats modules, proprietary, were required and going to be a part of the phone. That won’t go into the AOSP repository – HTC has those protected, same for Samsung intellectual property.

            That discussion is referring to full releases of binary images – and maybe not updates.

            The HTC blog post amounts to a marketing promise to customers.

            Big thing to get wrong, saying that Google is liable for update support.

          9. And something we will most certainly make a note of.

    2. in the Nexus 4, the kernals come from LG because the kernals have drivers specific to the manufacturer hardware of LG…….. hmmm wait, that’s wrong, they don’t…. they come directly from Google

      1. I understand you really want to feel like you know what you’re saying, but you just don’t. Google can bundle the kernel (it’s spelled kernel, by the way) with the LG phone because they were part of the phone’s design from the ground up, it was a joint-venture. The “Google Edition” phones are not the same, so this is new territory. So, as of now, the manufacturers are supplying the kernels, and Google is supplying the image dumps.

        This does not mean that we can’t get the OS updates as they come out. The system and the kernel are two different pieces here, you have no idea how they will update moving forward. What we do know, is that having a Sammy kernel or a HTC kernel doesn’t rule anything out (like this article implies), and we know that Hugo told a room filled with 4,000 developers that this device will receive prompt updates like the Nexus devices get.

        So, relax.

        1. Ha!

          1. I hate having to respond to people like that. But people are so unnecessarily rude in their replies, it makes no sense to be so bitter and aggressive. Chris (the author) replied above like an adult. I replied back like an adult.

            We need more “adults” in the internet. :(

          2. I don’t know if this helps, but: From google play store HTC one page, Google Play edition.
            The latest in Android.
            The Google Play edition phones automatically receive updates of the latest Android software. Optimized for the latest apps, more storage for your content and a fast, clean user experience all come standard.

          3. Read that too. But think about what was said.

            ___ phones automatically receive updates of the latest Android software.

            You can say that about just about any Android phone. Nothing about it coming from Google, or at the same time as Nexus devices.

          4. Wouldn’t their use of “automatically” suggest that when new code is pushed to AOSP it would push to these devices? If it had to go to HTC first to work on and then push out, it wouldn’t be automatically.

            Just me speculating.

        2. Who is the Alex guy? I’m a freakin’ fan. Good job sir.

    3. If anyone is still following–

      Looks like Google is handing off the delivery of the OTAs to the manufacturers and that they’ll be “working closely” to ensure prompt updates. Guess time will tell!

      1. Please see my quote above from HTC.

    4. Yeah, just like what was written in this post, Google will not be handling these updates, it’s up to the OEM. ;D

      As per JBQ: https://groups.google.com/d/msg/android-building/_F67iLDcVzQ/OoOdlaqXILsJ

      Not surprising, Google was always beating around the bush the entire time, using clever wording. It’s no wonder some were confused.

      1. For sure. I was never denying who ultimately would be providing the updates, just that evidence of the manufacturers hosting their own kernels wasn’t proof of anything. But alas, we end up at the same place in the end. Let’s hope this is a good experiment.

    5. What we need are the drivers to get into the android tree or better yet mainline Linux. So far not even Nexus devices have totally Free drivers. I guess I can keep dreaming.

  9. Answers my question about the drivers then.. I was confused if Google was taking care of that or not

  10. I remember mentioning this about how they still won’t have updates like a Nexus. I got bashed for saying that because they were Google Editions. Now I don’t feel like a dummy!!!!

  11. Its a shame you lose the stock browser from the HTC one g.e , it still has enable flash player as an option which I can’t do without

  12. Galaxy S4 has a pure black theme. Customized by Samsung for AMOLED display. Hmm.

  13. I remember my G2 and getting updates late. I was so confused. I believed, at the time, that all AOSP devices got their updates straight from Google.

    I even believed this with the LG G2X. I thought since it was an AOSP phone that the updates will come straight from Google.

  14. Today marks one week since I bought my Nexus 4 from T-Mobile. It’s my first Nexus phone, and it’s fckn amazing. Having a treasure directly from El Googs is pretty awesome, so it sucka to be in the shoes of the GE S4 and One :/

  15. “Believe it or not, but the HTC EVO actually received Gingerbread before the G2, something that through many Android users for a loop” threw* :)

  16. If this is the case, the S4 will see the next iteration 2-3 months before the One….

  17. It has official 4.2.2 unlike your Dev edition One. Don’t be bitter.

  18. this should have been communicated before the phones were up for sale. I’m sure many buyers are not too happy about this. out of principle I’d get my money back.

  19. So what’s the point then? Aside for the techno illiterate, might as well just buy the regular version subsidized and root it.

  20. Only thing I would worry about is how long would it take them to release the code for updates so the Devs can work their magic. With ROMS they have a custom ROM released with the latest update on the N4 right away. Personally I don’t care how long they take with the OTA as long as everything else is available, I’ll always be on a custom ROM anyways. If they had to wait for the manufacturer to approve everything and wait, then that would be annoying. I hope they wouldn’t advertise a prompt update with the latest software and then delay everything.

  21. “HTC and Samsung seem more committed than ever to provide their users with timely Android updates. ”

    As a Galaxy S3 (AT&T) owner not running a custom firmware, that made me laugh. Stuck on 4.1.1

    1. You are using a carrier variant device, so It’s actually AT&T who decide when you get your update, not samsung in your case. Thought I would just clarify your situation.

  22. I’m not sure what the surprise is here. Nobody actually thought these were Nexus devices, and we all know there is a difference between being stock android and nexus.

    A Nexus is always stock. Stock does not always mean a Nexus.

  23. I would love to see the ROMs release for these devices. I would be running CM 10.1 on my One except there are no Beats kernels for aosp.

    1. There is Beats support in Google Edition =)
      Just saw a video on AndroidCentral.

  24. Yes I am not a big fan of Sense5 or Touchwiz. I already own the One. So I would an AOSPish ROM with beats support.

  25. LMFAO. they lied to us. my ONE is fine

  26. I knew this was coming. Sammy and HTC didn’t get my hopes up.

  27. That just defeated the purpose then. I may as well get the carrier version, root it with a AOSP….

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