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HTC One Review: Google Edition vs. HTC One with Sense


Review by Andrew Kameka on Tuesday July 16, 2013.

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HTC One with Sense vs. HTC One Google Edition
HTC One with Sense vs. HTC One Google Edition

The HTC One is the best Android phone. With strong unibody aluminum, a beautiful display, and an ultrapixel camera focused on better rather than bigger photos, the One is Android's most attractive option. However, you may have noticed a common theme about all of the features that I just mentioned: they're all hardware.

Google recognized that there might be people who want the stellar hardware but not the software, and those people can turn to the HTC One Google Play edition to meet those needs. The HTC One Google version manages to deliver the same enticing hardware without losing too much in the process. It's an HTC One, just without the new Sense. So how does the HTC One Google Edition compare to the genuine article?

Hardware and Performance

The HTC One Google Edition is a near clone of the original HTC One. Both phones have a 4.7-inch Super LCD3 display with 1080p resolution that looks fantastic. I noticed that the color profile on the HTC One with Sense is slightly better, however. The two phones also share a 1.7 GHz quad-core processor, a 2,300 mAh battery, dual-stereo speakers with Beats Audio, and everything else. Any hardware component present in the original HTC One is present in the Google Edition.

The difference between the two on a hardware level is how they perform. The Google HTC One is statistically ahead of the standard version, but not enough in real life to notice much of a difference. Either One is very responsive, so there's only a barely perceivable advantage to the Google edition when launching an app or loading a website. I've used an HTC One as my primary smartphone for two months now and didn't feel like the Google version was anymore than a smidgen quicker, which is to be expected considering that it doesn't have the added bulk of Sense running and requiring extra attention. On the bright side, the absence of Sense also leads to a bump in battery performance. While the HTC One with Sense typically lasts me from morning to mid afternoon, the same activities on a Google Edition would last about 30 to 50 minutes longer. The extra battery life translates to being able to listen to more music on the train ride home, take more pictures, and browse the web just a little bit longer before critical power warnings flash across the screen.

While it might be nice to have a slightly faster phone that last longer, it comes at a price. The Google Edition HTC One does not support the IR blaster, which is disappointing because I've grown accustom to using the phone as a backup remote. Google might fix that in a future update, but its momentarily lacking a niche feature the standard version supports. There's also no gain in storage because both versions only provide access to 26GB of the 32GB storage space advertised. These are clear disappointments, but they are tradeoffs worth making.

Software

As much as people love the HTC One, their enthusiasm is typically because of the physical aspect of the device, not the Android 4.1 Jelly Bean software featured in it. Plenty of people embrace HTC's Sense user interface as an engaging collection of apps and UI tweaks, but others merely tolerate it because it's doesn't get in the way of what users want to do. Google's HTC One is a nuisance-free version running Android 4.2 Jelly Bean.

HTC One Google Edition
HTC One Google Edition

The differences between the two are night and day, and Google tends to come out on top in most respects. BlinkFeed is gone, so users will actually have to launch their social networking and news apps individually rather than have them all in one place on the home screen. It also has a much better lock screen that supports widgets. Best of all, it does away with all of the preloaded carrier crap that runs rampant on the Sense version of HTC One. There's rarely a case in which someone is adversely affected by not having Sense present on the device.

HTC Sense is not a bad Android UI mod, so I won't join the chorus of people who think anything other than stock is ugly. There are a couple of instances in which Sense is actually better, which is evident when comparing the Contacts and Gallery apps. Both manage specific contact features like ringtones or setting default actions to call or text, but Sense makes those settings easier to access. It also has a nice set of contacts widgets to put on the home screen that I rather enjoy.

HTC One Google Edition
HTC One Google Edition

The Google Edition HTC One regains the lead with Android 4.2 and a far superior notification window, two things that the HTC One with Sense will get soon. And therein lies the reason that someone would want to get a Google Play Edition smartphone - faster updates. Though Google has clarified that HTC will still be the company to deliver updates to Google Edition phones, not having to conform new Android versions to Sense will theoretically accelerate the update process. Thanks to the phone being unlocked and compatible with AT&T or T-Mobile, it also cuts out the carrier middleman that leads to further delays.

Camera

One of the biggest fears related to switching to a stock Android experience with the HTC One was that the phone might not do a good job using HTC's ultrapixel photography strategy. Those fears were mostly unfounded because both devices deliver great photos thanks to the HTC ImageSense processing that is present in both. When it comes to launching the camera and snapping a picture in Auto-Mode, the results are practically the same. Sadly, that means the camera is not as good at backlit photos or capturing sunny skies in the background unless HDR mode is on. A photo I took with someone using the HTC One was unusable because the amount of sunlight behind us was overpowering, even with Backlight mode enable. My friend who took the same photo with a Samsung Galaxy S 4 managed a decent enough shot.

Though the results may be similar, the apps used to capture photos most certainly are not. The stock Android camera app relies on holding down on the screen and then moving through controls that are initially awkward but simple enough to master in time. The Sense version has a crowded list of menu options that can be overwhelming when quickly trying to adjust and take a picture. Despite that potential for confusion, I prefer the Sense camera app because it has built-in live filters and more editing options with HTC Zoe. The Google Edition has the ability to snap much better panoramic images and 3D Photospheres, but I still prefer HTC's camera. Here are a few photo samples from both devices (differences in lighting are related to positioning when switching cameras).

Conclusion

The HTC One with Sense vs. HTC One Google Edition boils down to the argument of Stock Android vs. manufacturer "skin" versions of Android. However, as much as people complain about modified calendars and messaging apps, they often forget that Google has made its stock calendar apps downloadable in Google Play. If you don't like the HTC keyboard, the standard Android version of that is also downloadable. The benefits of stock Android, from an apps perspective, can be had on any device, including the HTC One with Sense, without needing to spend $600 on an unlocked phone. With that said, why bother buying a Google Edition phone at all?

The HTC One Google Edition is appealing because it delivers the best hardware option with an unmolested version of Android that is more appealing to millions of people. There's a reason that the custom ROM scene is so busy, and that's because people want great hardware with fresh software. The Google Edition meets those needs without having to jump through hoops to install the custom software. It's also likely to be more reliable and stable because it's made by people with first hand knowledge of a device's inner workings rather than an individual or small team of talented individuals tweaking and unintentionally breaking things in the process.

HTC One Google Edition
HTC One Google Edition

I prefer the HTC One with Sense simply because I like the camera better and can satisfy my stock cravings by visiting Google Play and downloading replacement apps. But the promise of a slightly longer battery life and faster updates might be too enticing for many to pass up, which might make the Google Edition a better option. Removing the need to go through HTC's update channels and then be further delayed by the molasses-slow carrier testing cycle could be the difference between getting an update in 3 weeks or 3 months. Stock Android is a cleaner design that some might prefer, but the real benefit to it is that it's a design that can be enhanced at a much faster pace.

 
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About the author

Andrew Kameka
Andrew is based in Miami, Florida.

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