The HTC One is arguably the best Android smartphone you can get. But what if you want all of the great aspects of the One's hardware without HTC's custom interface? Well, you're in luck, because Google has released the HTC One Google Play Edition. Running stock Android 4.2.2 and available for $599 through the Google Play store, this unlocked device gives you immediate access to Google's latest Android updates and the ability to customize the One to your exact needs. But does that make the HTC One Google Play Edition worth the price of admission?
It's been said before, but it's well worth repeating; the One is the most beautiful Android smartphone yet. The all-aluminum handset features polished chamfered edges and a spun-metal volume rocker. It's a device you'll be proud to pull out of your pocket, rather than just another piece of plastic. We're looking at you, Samsung.
Along the top, HTC combined the One's power button with an IR blaster for controlling your cable or satellite box or TV. (Of course, without HTC's Sense TV app installed, you'll have to find your own app.) To the right of the power button is the handset's 3.5mm headphone jack.
We have two minor complaints about the design. First, the Home button is to the right of the HTC logo beneath the screen; we found ourselves reaching for the logo until we adjusted. Second, the power button is a little too recessed for our liking.
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Weighing 5.1 ounces and measuring 5.4 x 2.7 x 0.36 inches, the One is larger and heavier than Samsung's Galaxy S4, which weighs 4.6 ounces and measures 5.31 x 2.69 x 0.25 inches. However, we'll gladly deal with the One's heftier chassis given its more premium feel.
Sporting a razor sharp 4.7-inch 1080p Super LCD 3 display with 468 pixels per inch, the One offers some of the most impressive visuals of any smartphone on the market. Text on websites such as NYTimes.com and Laptopmag.com was quite crisp, and high-resolution images looked spectacular.
While watching a 1080p trailer for "Pacific Rim," the fine details of the movie's giant robots and monsters were easily visible. Scenes inside the robots' neon-drenched cockpits that appeared too dark on other handsets looked absolutely amazing on the One's display. Viewing angles were especially wide, though glare was an occasional issue.
The One has one of the brighter smartphone displays, registering 455 lux. That's far better than the smartphone category average of 294 lux. However, the Galaxy S4 Google Play Edition came in at 461 lux and the iPhone 5 is still tops at 525 lux.
What more can be said about the HTC One's dual front-facing BoomSound speakers? This is the best sound you're going to get out of a smartphone, period. And while the HTC One Google Play Edition provides the purest Android experience around, it still comes with Beats Audio, so everything sounds spectacular.
While listening to Kanye West's "Blood on the Leaves," we could easily make out every note from the synthesizer. Bass hits were deep and pounding, too, ensuring the song's menacing tone came through loud and clear. With Beats Audio switched off, songs were still loud, but sounded slightly distorted.
Some of the HTC One's best features are built into its Sense 5.0 interface, namely its BlinkFeed home screen, Sense TV app and Power Saver function. There's also the ability to swipe to unlock to your app of choice. Sense 5.0 also throws useful little nuances into the mix, such as the ability to resize app icons in the apps menu. If you buy the Google Play Edition, you get none of these goodies.
Instead, this version of the HTC One offers Google's Android 4.2.2 interface. From the main home screen, you get an analog clock widget, a Google folder complete with all of Google's first-party apps and a link to the Google Play store. At the top of the screen is a persistent Google Now search bar, while the bottom is home to the omnipresent apps drawer and its Camera, Chrome, Apps Menu, Messages and Dialer apps. The notifications bar isn't the least bit cluttered, offering only the time and date, any notifications and a quick setting button.
While the lack of features may drive away some users, those who want to customize their handset to their heart's content will be happy with Google's blank slate. Plus, HTC One Google Play Edition owners will always be the first to receive the newest Android OS updates. No more waiting months for your carrier.
No surprises here. The HTC One Google Play Edition comes with the standard Android keyboard. You get features such as auto-capitalization, voice input and gesture typing. And the new Google keyboard offers next-word suggestions and current word completions.
With its 1.7-GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 processor and 2GB of RAM, the HTC One Google Play Edition is one of the most powerful smartphones around. Apps opened and closed instantly and games such as "Super Monsters Ate My Condo" ran flawlessly. In fact, we didn't notice a single hiccup during our time with the One.
The HTC One Google Play Edition's performance matched up evenly with the carrier version in various benchmarks. On the Quadrant benchmark, which gauges CPU, graphics and I/O performance, the Google Play Edition scored 11,783. That's neck and neck with the standard HTC One's score 12,426, and well ahead of the category average of 4,131. That's also about even with the Samsung Galaxy S4 Google Play Edition's 12,490.
On the AN3DBench graphics test, the HTC One Google Play Edition notched 7,690, while the Galaxy S4 Google Play Edition scored 7,600. The standard HTC One scored 7,724, while the standard Galaxy S4 scored 7,570. Those are all better than the category average of 7,257. On the 3DMark graphics test, the HTC One Google Play Edition registered 11,944, slightly better than the Galaxy S4 Google Play Edition's 11,719.
Camera and Camcorder
The Google Play HTC One has the same Ultrapixel camera as the standard One, including a f/2.0 aperture lens capable of capturing gorgeous low-light photos. Without HTC's Sense 5.0 interface, you don't get any of the same features, such as the ability to instantly add filters to your photos or Zoes for capturing 20 still frames along with 3 seconds of video. Apps like Vine and Instagram replicate some of these functions, but they're not integrated.
We tested the Google Play Edition of the HTC One's camera side-by-side with the Samsung Galaxy S4, and the S4's shot generally looked better. The Samsung produced more pleasing colors and had better exposure, while HTC's images looked softer (especially when we zoomed in). We were more impressed with the One's low-light performance.
The One's 2.1-MP front camera features an 88-degree wide-angle lens. While they were sharp, captured images looked somewhat distorted, giving our images an almost fish-eye lens quality.
As a pure Android device, the HTC One Google Play Edition comes loaded with a minimal number of apps. The standard unlocked version of the HTC One includes apps such as the 7digital music store, Notes and Polaris Office. Other apps include Watch for downloading movies and TV shows, Dropbox, TuneIn Radio and a Parent dashboard from Zoodles that enables the One's Kid mode.
Naturally, Google's suite of apps is front and center, including YouTube, Drive, Hangouts, Gmail and Google Currents. While we like the fact that the handset is incredibly light on bloatware, we do miss having certain preloaded options.
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4G LTE Connectivity
Using an AT&T SIM card, we saw fast LTE performance on the HTC One Google Play Edition. Download rates averaged 21.2 Mbps on Speedtest.net, while uploads averaged 7.4 Mbps. Web pages loaded fairly quickly, with ESPN.com's mobile site taking 5.8 seconds to load and NYTimes.com's mobile site taking 5.2 seconds. The image-heavy Laptopmag.com took 14.2 seconds.
The HTC One Google Play Edition supports 4G LTE connectivity on both AT&T and T-Mobile's network.
Battery Life and Call Quality
The HTC One Google Play Edition's irremovable 2,300mAh lithium polymer battery lasted a decent 5 hours and 59 minutes on the LAPTOP Battery Test (continuous Web browsing over 4G LTE on 40 percent brightness). While that endurance is shy of the 6:08 smartphone average, it was still better than the Sprint HTC One's time of 5:17. The Google Play Edition also outlasted Google's version of Samsung's Galaxy S4, which clocked in at a disappointing 5:12.
Call quality over AT&T's voice network was clear and crisp. We didn't notice much feedback or static during our calls. Our caller on the other end of the line said we sounded clear, as well.
There aren't many smartphone shoppers willing to pay $599 up front for a device, but if you want the pure Google experience, the HTC One Google Play Edition is an excellent choice. You get the same beautiful craftsmanship, gorgeous display and outstanding sound quality found on the standard version of the One, along with an unadulterated Android experience. On the other hand, you don't get any of the compelling features provided by HTC Sense 5.0, including BlinkFeed and Sense TV.
Between the Google Play Editions of the HTC One and the Galaxy S4, we give the edge to the One. While the S4 has a sharper camera and a lighter design, we prefer the build quality, aesthetics, display and speaker on the One. The HTC also lasts slightly longer on a charge. We just like the standard HTC One with Sense even more.