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
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.