Google Play edition Galaxy S4 and HTC One.

Here they are, folks. The "Stock Android" HTC One and Samsung Galaxy S4. otherwise known as the new "Google Play edition" devices. Two phones we know quite well, seeing as how they've been available for weeks, if not months. But these are different. They are, more or less, Google's.

Gone is HTC's custom software, Sense 5. Gone is Samsung's TouchWiz. Instead, we've got Android 4.2.2 (which Samsung has on its stock GS4, but HTC doesn't on its One) and Google's own svelte user interface. We've also got easily unlockable bootloaders, for those who like to tinker. 

And we've got hefty price tags, at $599 for the HTC One, and $649 for the Galaxy S4.

We've only had these phones for about 24 hours now. Not long enough for a full review, but certainly long enough for some initial impressions, especially since we're already intimately familiar with the hardware. If you're on the fence about ordering and curious about what you'll be getting, read on.

Google Play edition HTC One and Samsung Galaxy S4 video walkthrough

Hardware-wise, nothing's really changed

Google Play edition Galaxy S4 and HTC One.

The tl;dr is this: This is the HTC One. And the Galaxy S4. Period. Same shape, same size. Same hardware. The HTC One's got 32GB of storage (with about 24.5GB actually usable), and the Galaxy S4 comes with 16GB (11.3GB useable).

As far as the radios are concerned, we've got full AT&T LTE connectivity, and if you're on T-Mobile and are lucky to live in one of its LTE launch cities, you'll get it there, too. Just pop in your SIM card and go. APNs all work just fine.

The cameras are the same as they ever were as well — 4-megapixel total resolution for the HTC One, and just under 13 megapixels for the Galaxy S4. 

What's different in software — a couple tweaks, and an updated camera app

The Google Play editions are running Android 4.2.2 (Build JDQ39). Home screens and launchers and notifications are unchanged from what we're used to in Jelly Bean, so far as we can tell in the first 24 hours. (Update: Ah. The app drawer has moved to a 4-by-5 configuration, same as the Galaxy Nexus. Hat tip to JR Raphael.)

Google Play edition HTC One.

The HTC One has Beats Audio on board. You won't see the Beats logo in the notification bar when it's active, but it's on. There's an option in the audio settings if you prefer to not use Beats.

Google Play edition Galaxy S4.

For its part, the Galaxy S4 has modified code so that it works with the Samsung Flip Cover, protecting the display while giving you a quick glance at the time, date, signal strength and battery life. That's a holdover from Samsung's own software. And while it's not "stock" Android, it's cool to see here. It also affects how the clock looks on the lock screen. You can kill off the light-face one and put in the stock bold-light Google clock (we wouldn't, but whatever), but the light-face one will return, automagically.

Android 4.2.2 updated camera app

Google has sneaked in a new camera app here. It's still part of the Gallery app, which is up to version 1.1.40012. From a user-facing perspective, the big difference is that when you tap and hold for options, they're displayed in a half circle instead of a full ring, making them much easier to get to. There's also smoother animation as you scroll through the options. As you drill down through the options, the nested options are also displayed in a half-moon. It's a nice update.

Also, and this should go without saying, but we'll say it anyway — you lose out on Samsung's and HTC's camera software. No Zoes. No Video Highlights. None of Samsung's excellent camera app. On the other hand, you get Photophere in return.

There also is a new boot animation. If you had any thoughts about these phones being Nexus devices, that should be a clear giveaway that they're not. (And I kinda like this new boot animation. It's very Google in its design.)

It's worth noting that Google still considers the HTC One's camera an "UltraPixel" camera.

Also: The Galaxy S4 has Google Wallet and Google Earth preinstalled. The HTC One does not.

And since folks are asking: Yes, the black menu bar is still on the HTC One. You have to put that functionality somewhere. And lacking on-screen buttons (like the Nexus 4) or a dedicated menu button like the Galaxy S4, the bar is how it's being done.

Basic use

Google Play edition Galaxy S4 and HTC One.

Again, we're still getting our feet wet here. We're going to load these things up like we would our daily drivers and see what's what. Battery life needs more than 24 hours to determine, especially given that we're talking about swapping out HTC's and Samsung's optimizations for "stock" Android.

But data acts as data should. Wifi so far as shown no problems. And the home screens and app drawer are as snappy as you'd expect the "stock" home screens and app drawer to be. And, yes, you can unlock the bootloader using the usual fastboot oem unlock command.

If you can imagine running "stock" Android on the HTC One or Galaxy S4 — or if you've had basically the same experience with a custom ROM — that's what we're dealing with here, and that's what you'll get if you purchase these phones from Google Play.

Stay tuned for a more in-depth look after we've got more than a day of use under our belts.

 

Reader comments

First look: Google Play edition HTC One and Samsung Galaxy S4

146 Comments

If somebody could upload the red phase beam live wallpaper from these diveces, i would be sooooooooooo happy…

I don't know if that's a stock wallpaper or someone just took the "IceCream Sandwich" live wallpaper pack and modified the color pallet on phase beam to produce it - I got mine to look like that in under a minute.

Hopefully this new orange wallpaper shows android's shift towards brighter colors instead of a dark/tron oriented theme.

Posted from the AC app

That's a real bummer. Despite all those who say Google's mobile payment services have been an utter failure, it still is a serious interest to me. I'm wondering if it's just AT&T that's blocking it?

I have it on my Sprint HTC One so I do not see why you would not be able to get on the GE other than the carrier blocking it.

Only magnetic metals (steel, iron, cobalt and nickel) would interfere with NFC (which is in the HTC One and works fine). The HTC One is aluminium or some light alloy.

I just want to know if Google Wallet will work on these devices after they're rooted.

When I sideload it on my rooted GS3 it does a device check.

From the DARK AC App!

How about the IR blaster on the HTC One ("TV" app)? I know the app itself is part of Sense, so it probably doesn't exist on the GE, but I was curious as to the status of the blaster itself in stock Android.

I don't know if you could give me an answer, but wouldn't you be able to just go into Odin, or something else to flash over the Google Play Edition software? I mean since no Hardware changes were done it seems logical right?

Would be very grateful if HTC/Samsung or Google provides us the ROM or the option to install stock Android on our Ones and S4s that we've purchased long ago.

Phil, I'm assuming that the factory ROM images for these phones is (or will be) available for download from Google. If the hardware is indeed identical (at least US-GSM versions) from the non-Play Editition devices, then flashing that software on an existing carrier phone should be fairly simple with an unlocked bootloader, correct?

I wouldn't assume that. These are not Nexus devices.

That said, I'm sure you'll be able to flash onto other devices. And so is this guy, who's smarter than me about such stuff:

All i can say is both phones look really amazing and with stock google either phone is great although I'm leaning towards htc one even though i love samsung.

Ordered my HTC One GE can't wait for July 9th. Also looking forward for the in-depth review on both phones. Great work.

Where did you order it from, I'm in los angeles and Google Play web site is still not showing either phone.
I'm dying here from anticipation.
Please post if there is any news on what time will they be available.
thank you

How about the camera app? Is it stock Android camera app on both or does it have the special features? Also on the samsung, will you be able to have photos on to the memory card?

Thanks

What model is the Google S4? Is it the TMobileUSA one? So could I get a TMobileUSA S4 and flash the Google S4 ROM?

Its not specifically for T-Mobile or att. It is just supported by by their frequencies so you can use it on their networks. Now software wise, who know if that will be released.

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I've read at several places that the Google Edition does NOT support T-Mobile AWS HSPA+ so doesn't that make this NOT the T-Mobile version? Or does the T-Mobile version also not support that? Basically, most places say it's going to be better for AT&T than it will be for T-Mobile in the HSPA+ market

Just ordered my SGS4 GE. So glad they kept the flip cover homescreen where I can see who is calling me and things like that. Soon Samsung market will downloadable and then we could still use watch on and everything. Love It. Also good memory space such a difference!

Less memory difference than I expected..but it does tell us how much space Touchwiz takes up. What is with Samsung and these 16 GB S 4's....

On Google play it says the s4 is running a snapdragon pro, thought it was the 600.

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The pro is the chip that is in the nexus 4. The HTC one and the s4 retail models both use the 600. On Google play it clearly shows the HTC one uses the 600 and the s4 uses the pro.

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OK good, I thought it was strange it would be using older hardware than its sister devices.

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It's probably the same as the Sense version - apps that aren't coded correctly will have the black bar at the bottom with the 3 dots for a button.

I thought it was going to bother me more than it has. Out of all the apps I have, the black bar shows for 5 of them. Since the screen is such a tall form factor, losing that screen real estate isn't that big of a deal for me.

Exactly.

Its just not an issue, with most up-to-date apps the three dots move to the top, as shown in Gmail app.

That would probably bother me so much that I'd seek out apps with the same functionality and proper menu button placement.

I was kind of skeptical as well like u. I have used several android phones with menu buttons, and recently I just checked out the htc one. The 3 dot menu button actually feels pretty natural.

Not sure if the GE does this, but I have a 4.2.2 Sense-based ROM and there is an option in Settings > "Display, gestures & buttons" to change the Home button to "Swipe up for Google Now, press and hold for menu". Choosing this option removes the black software bar where apps normally display them on the HTC One.

If this, or a similar option is not built into the GE, there might be individual packages out there already that accomplish this. If not there already, I'm sure they will be arriving soon. Try a search on XDA Forums and you might find what you are looking for. If not supported on the stock GE, be prepared to root your device for this functionality.

And there it is...HTC proving that they have a slower device with a worse camera, no removable battery and no expandable storage. Bravo guys...just...bravo. I still don't get the point of releasing the One like this :*(

Jack

The ONE is not a slower device. The jury is still out on the ONE GE's camera but if it works like the regular ONE's camera it will blow the S4 away in low light and be able to compete decently in most other shots. I kind of agree with you on battery but it's not a big deal and Google has made it clear that they have moved away from expandable storage so how can we blame HTC for giving us more than double the internal storage for things like apps and Google music. Both of these devices are awesome but the ONE is a better deal at $599.

In day to day use there is no difference. With manufacturer skins the S4 was slower period. With both of these running stock I would guess they will both be lightning fast.

Spin it any way you want. The Galaxy S4 in any variant is faster than an HTC One, its got a faster clocked procrssor, faster memory...that equals faster. Touchwiz was slower than Sense (I'll give you that), but without that limitation...there's no reason that anyone should think that the two are the same speed, they are not. Daily use isn't event quantifiable without it being completely subjective, that's why there are synthetics...

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You're trolling, deal with it. The last thing we need, is for someone to start the whole "S4 vs ONE" crap again.

It's important to remember that not all "non-user" space is taken up by the ROM itself. The storage on an Android device (being Linux at heart) can be segmented and mounted in a number of different ways.

Also, HTC and Samsung have (historically) used very different storage mounting schemes for their devices: HTC gives you an "apps storage" and "file storage" spaces separately, as apposed to Samsung's model where you get the whole space to do with as you like.

There are advantages and disadvantages to both methods, but that might also explain the disparity.

seems disappointing now that snapdragon 800 is officially in the wild (east). Gonna wait a few months and pick up a 800 chipset.

They aren't really stock Android obviously. So I don't see how they would get updates straight from Google or at the same time as a Nexus 4.

All that would really be required for this to happen would be Samsung and HTC giving Google any "special" code (like for the flip cover) so that it can be integrated into the Android repo as part of Android. The updates would then come directly from Google. And I have no trouble believing Samsung or HTC would surrender these tiny little snippets.

That said, I can't help but wonder if code that only runs for a couple of certain phones will be more likely to let bugs slip through during testing of new versions of Android.

Any noticeable differences between the Boomsound on either version of the One?

Looks like the kernel has samsung and htc signature in there right? That would mean Google still has to wait for them to send their respective kernels to release an OTA.

Name of wallpaper: Night Flare live wallpaper. Really good and tons of costumization

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Thats not specifically the same one. Night Flare is really cool and super customizable, but this is something different. You could probably emulate it pretty close with Night Flare though.

Why is it on the google play store, it says that the galaxy s4 google edition has a snapdragon s4 pro? not like the htc one google edition with snapdragon 600. So they downgraded the cpu of the GS4 GE?

Does the GS4 GE come in black or only white? I'm not a big fan of white. Is it weird for a guy to be using a white phone?

I returned my original One, within 3 days, because of a gap issue around the screen. I also just didn't like enjoy the phone.

I really hope they bring in the Xperia Z to the Google experience! That would be my first choice.

So will you be touching your nexus 4 ever again? Should I be glad I sold mine a few weeks ago? Have an s4, so thinking about the HTC One. Camera and Google wallet are big for me. Let us know! And thanks!

Phil, is the glass on the HTC One raised where it meets the aluminium? I have seen this on just about every One I have used. Hoping the Google batch actually is ZERO GAP!

CAN YOU TEST AND SEE IF GOOGLE WALLET WORKS ON BOTH HTC ONE AND SAMSUNG S4 GOOGLE ADDITIONS. IF IT DOES I MIGHT GET THE HTC ONE GOOGLE ADDITION. I AM A HEAVY GOOGLE WALLET USER.

I guess my biggest question(s) about the HTC One Google Edition are: 1) Can Google Wallet be flashed (if not, that's a deal breaker - but maybe why it's $50 cheaper?) and 2) How well does the camera perform (I know Phil said there was to be a post about that).

I love that there are more choices for the 'Google Experience'. Choice is always better.

With that said, I feel the GS4 Google Edition will do better for a few reasons: 1) Removable batter 2) microSD

Google wallet comes pre-loaded on the *GS4 not* HTC one. If you want to install wallet on the HTC one just download it from Play store. (check out vid at 1:38)

As for removable battery... most people don't remove their batteries. I have GS3 and I never ever once took out my battery.

And while it's nice to have extra microSD memory, it's just confusing as heck like trying to figure out where ur stuff is stored. I'd prefer the HTC one's single storage space that comes with 32GB instead of just 16GB like GS4

So pretty much the exact same as my GS4 has been since I bought it but with less tweaks.

I'll just stick with rooting and flashing ROMs myself.

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>"As far as the radios are concerned, we've got full AT&T LTE connectivity, and if you're on T-Mobile and are lucky to live in one of its LTE launch cities, you'll get it there, too"

And if you are on Verizon or Sprint, then these don't work at all.

Just confirmed with other articles that the photosphere camera feature is available on these pure google devices. Sweet!
Now, if only they would now make them available in Australia...

I'd like to know how much the picture quality suffers going from TW to AOSP. I've noticed lower quality in both my Galaxy S and Galaxy S III when going from TW to AOSP, side by side.

Phil,

Thanks for the amazing - as always - hands on.
Quick question, does the S4 still have wireless display capabilities? Do you think it's done through allshare or something else (miracast) ?

Also, when you have the flip cover (S view) on, and someone calls, can you still slide right / left to accept / refuse the call?

Thanks!

These are not ROMs this is out of the box Google Edition phones. to get something similar you'd probably have to root your device

Does anyone know if the normal S4 MHL adapter will work with the Google Edition so that I can play 1080p movies on my hdtv? Mostly Google Play movies but .mp4 would be nice too.

I use the tv remote way to much to go stock plus the whats on and whats on next I use ever day much easier to look through the guide on the phone to see whats on add that feature I would try this. Really happy with my Htc One the way it is tried stock just missing to much stuff I use

"Does it come in black?"

Seriously, is the Google Play HTC One available in black, or only in silver? (Hoping if not I can find a factory unlocked black one, with US LTE, for anywhere close to the $599 price!)