Google-ized HTC One Gains, Loses in Translation: Rich Jaroslovsky
I like the pure-Android interface Google puts on its Nexus and Google Play Edition smartphones. And I like the HTC One, which is arguably the best of the current crop of Android devices.
By rights, then, I should be delighted with the new Google Play Edition HTC One. But I'm just mild about it. While the Google-ized One has a lot to praise, it also loses something in the translation, particularly in its camera functions.
Google Play phones differ from standard editions in their software, and in how they're priced and sold (directly from Google, not through a carrier). In the case of the One, Google has dispensed with the custom Sense skin that HTC layers on top of the current "Jelly Bean" version of Android.
Thus, you lose features like the infrared sensor that lets you use the One as a TV remote. You also lose BlinkFeed, which on the stock One allows you to populate your home screen with information from a customizable list of news, social-media and other sources.
I liked BlinkFeed when I reviewed the One -- it's much less intrusive than, for example, the first version of Facebook Home -- but didn't mourn its absence from the Google Play version.
What I did miss were a number of functions associated with one of the One's strongest features: its camera.
The camera is only rated at four megapixels, which sounds puny compared to other phones. But its image quality and low-light performance rivals or exceeds many eight- or 13-megapixel shooters.
Make no mistake, the Google Play version is still pretty awesome, with optical image stabilization and full 1080p high-definition video on both front- and rear-facing cameras. But you give up a lot, including a feature that automatically adjusts the flash based on the distance to your subject; HDR video, which compensates for scenes in which there's a wide variation in lighting; and editing tools designed to remove unwanted objects and make sure everyone is smiling.
You also lose the ability to shoot what HTC calls a Zoe, a shareable three-second video. No great loss to me, though some may disagree.
The Google version of the One is sold through the Google Play store and comes unlocked and contract-free. It costs $599 for a model with 32 gigabytes of internal storage. It's capable of running on the LTE networks of AT&T and T-Mobile US, though not on the "4G" network T-Mobile uses in the many places where it doesn't have LTE.
So there's your calculus: Do you go for the cleaner interface and carrier flexibility? Or for the slicker and more potent camera software? Either way, it's good to have a choice.