HTC One M8 Google Play edition

Some of HTC's custom software survives in the latest member of the GPe ranks

Behold, the HTC One M8 Google Play edition. Same M8, less HTC. Look, there's not a lot here you haven't already read in our comprehensive HTC One review. Same 5-inch display. Same loud speakers. Same tall but sleek form factor. The difference here is software.

And as has been the case with other GPe devices, things get a little interesting here. While we tend to think of Google Play editions as "pure Google" devices, though that's not quite the case. There's still a little HTC code left over. That's a good thing, actually. The question is whether you want a phone stripped of some of the features that make it unique — and that explain some of the hardware peculiarities inherent to the M8.

Pique your interest yet? Let's break down this new HTC One M8 Google Play edition.

The hardware

Nothing's changed here. We've got the Glacial Silver model, which is basically the same finish as last year's M7. Looks great. Still feels great. And, yes, it's still pretty tall. Nobody's stripped out the dual cameras or anything. They're still there. More on all that in a bit.

The HTC speakers are still big, and still loud. There's no special audio enhancements that we can tell (scratch that — buried in settings), and music still sounds like music.

In the box we've got a standard HTC charger — the 1.5A variety, and remember that we're still waiting on a new charger to take advantage of Qualcomm's Quick Charge 2.0. (In fact, we'll have to see if that even works in the GPe model anyway.) There's also a pair of white earbuds, which was nice of HTC to include.

The software

This is where things start to get interesting. Standard Google Play edition/Nexus boot. Same animation, same setup process. Only you might notice that HTC Weather Service is listed. It's not surprising to see remnant code in the Google Play editions, but that (at least at first) seems like an interesting one. More on that in a minute.

As you'd expect, this phone's running Android 4.4.2 KitKat.

The launcher is the Google Now launcher. Large icons, minimal home screen mess. Pull up from the home screen to initially get to Google Now. Once you've confirmed you want to use it, you'll find Google Now as the far left home screen, and it works just like we've come to know.

HTC's Motion Launch feature is on board, sort of. This is the one that lets you double-tap a sleeping M8 to wake it. On the proper HTC model, you also can swipe on the darkened screen in different directions to wake the phone to, say, BlinkFeed, or directly to the app drawer, or to launch HTC's voice calling. On the Google Play edition, a swipe in any direction simply wakes the phone. That's it. Better than nothing, but not as good as it is on the proper M8.

The HTC One M8 Google Play edition cameras

HTC One M8 Google Play edition

This one's both hardware and software. No sense in having two lenses on a Google Play edition phone if you can't actually use them, right? You'll take pictures like normal, using the built-in Google camera app. And then you'll view the images through the Photos app. (Remember, Gallery is dead now in GPe devices.) From there, hit the edit button (either the pencil icon, or in the overflow menu) and choose "HTC Photo Edit."

And just like that, you'll have access to UFocus and filters and some other editing tools. Some of them are a little redundant to what Google has, but that's OK. Edit, save, share. Easy. (Though we'd prefer to see a more apparent link to the fancy tools, and not just hidden behind an edit button.) Missing, unsurprisingly, are Zoes and Video Highlights.

Photosphere is still on board, but HTC's implementation of it on the HTC version of the M8 is better than even Google's, we think.

The Dot View Case

HTC One M8 Google Play edition

The HTC Dot View case has quickly become one of the more sought-after HTC One M8 accessories. The small holes in the cover allow some basic information to shine through while still protecting the display — and it does all this with style. On the Google Play edition, Dot View still works. (In fact, you'll see the Dot View app update when you first sign in with your Google Account.) Only — and this is a recurring theme here, folks — Dot View loses a bit of its functionality here as well.

You can still double-tap or press the home button to see the time and the weather. (That's why the HTC Weather Service is on board, most likely.) And ... so far as we can tell, that's it. No notifications from the email app. No notifications from and the ability to accept or reject a phone call. Just time and temperature.

Again, better than nothing, but not as cool as proper Dot View.

The bottom line

As is the case with Google Play edition devices, you largely know what you're going to get. And in this case, it's some really cool hardware, minus most of the software that makes the M8 such a unique device. So long as you know that going in — and if you're researching a GPe device, chances are you do — then, cool.

It's worth mentioning as well that HTC Advantage is still in effect. If you crack your display in the first six months, HTC will replace it for free.

So if you're in the market for what some might call a monstrosity and what others call a smartphone as Matias intended, you can pick one up directly from Google Play for $699.