Google Experience phones: What's the big deal and are they worth it?

The Samsung Galaxy S4 Google Edition and HTC One Google Edition are on their way.   We now have more than one device coming that will run Android in its native form, with no OEM changes in sight.  No Sense, no Touchwiz, for better or worse.  What does this mean?  Should one of them be your next device?  These are questions that have been asked by many, but don't have a definitive answer. The discussion has been happening in the forums, though, with many members weighing in on the issues.

New Forum Moderator Jennifer Stough had this to say, which probably echoes what a lot of us are thinking:

"I think it's good for the smart phone industry and good for the consumers to have variety, and now you aren't limited to the Nexus line for a stock Android experience. However, I feel like putting stock Android on phones that are so feature rich is a bit of a waste. The S4 will lose most of its features and gestures that are Touchwiz dependent, and the ONE will lose Zoes/Picture Highlights, and will most likely suffer in the camera department without it's Sense counterparts. I see these phones being marketed more towards developers as opposed to people who really want the Vanilla Android experience. For a lesser price, you could get a carrier version, unlock and root, and flash AOSP."

Solid points for sure, and definitely something to consider.  What about those features though?  Are they worth losing just to get superior hardware compared to the Nexus 4?  For some, it boils down to just that, the hardware.  I'll let forum member thebizz explain it:

"This phone is absolutely worth the money in my mind.  I didn't purchase the regular S4 due to Touchwiz, but I like the S4 hardware. The addition of LTE, an SD card, 1080p screen, larger battery, etc all make up for the extra cost over the  Nexus 4 and keep in mind the Nexus 4 is still a 500 dollar device.  Google is just subsidizing the phone. I just need to figure out were I'm going to cone up with the 700 bucks to buy it now."

What do you guys think?  We want these devices to do well enough to justify doing them again, but also know that they aren't for everyone.  Jump into the discussion and let us know how you feel about them.

  • My wife recently got the regular HTC One on T-Mobile and while I like it, I would still prefer it to not have all the extra stuff on it. I'm personally using a GNexus and wish I had her phone with my setup. I think all the "extra" stuff is just fluff that I will use once and ignore. Stock Android has 90% of what I want and the other 10% is easily obtainable from the store. By the time my current contract is up on Verizon in December I'm hoping the next Nexus device is out. I want a highly powered device but I want the latest updates as well. If no Nexus is out by then, I will definitely be getting the stock One or S4.
  • Didn't Verizon more or less get kicked out of the Nexus program? I just sort of assumed with how poorly they handled their Nexus and issues with how stock android handles CDMA that the days of hoping to see any more Nexus devices on Verizon were over. It didn't surprise me to see HTC or Samsung not release the Google Editions on Verizon for that reason so wouldn't that imply we likely aren't seeing any Nexus on Verizon either going forward?
  • "I just sort of assumed" Clearly.
  • I'd like to get an S4 or One nexus, preferably the One with boom sound, even though the camera is gonna suck ass, its a decent trade off. Just to bad they won't be on verizon, missing out on 100 million people on one carrier is stupid, and I wouldn't be surprised if verizon passed on it. I really hate verizon, but i'm grandfathered in unlimited data for $30 a month.
  • Some of the extra manufacturer software is what makes the phone interesting. Unless Google comes out with all the bells and whistles that the carriers throw on the phone I don't think just a pure Google device is worth it. After all you can just root your device and possibly get a better experience.
  • Root and get buggy ROMs missing features and slow updates? No thanks.
  • My thoughts exactly. You get pure Android, with none of the bloat. TouchWiz is so much bloat, so much wasted, precious storage space.
  • I rooted my S3 and install a custom rom (Jellybam 9.2.0) and I don't have any problems, so not quiet sure what you mean by buggy roms. Running 4.2.2 and it didn't cost me 650.00 dollars. been running it for 2 months and i don't miss touch wiz. Maybe you can't swipe the phone down the crack of your butt and get your body temp, or it won't read my mind by just looking at the screen, but once you try a good AOSP Rom, you'll never go back to touch wiz with all its bloat and gimmicks that you never use in everyday life.
  • It's about choice. Some want the Google experience and until now that had been the Nexus phones only (still my own preference)
    Some like the latest hardware, S4, HTC One etc but are not fans of manufacturers UI and would like, out of the box, the Google Experience without the need to Root. We all can choose what we would like to do
  • I think it's funny that so many people used to post something like "If they only provided the kick-ass hardware but with Vanilla Android I'd buy it in a heartbeat". Yet, when the manufactures do just that the tune changes. Now it's "But, this is too expensive" and "But now I won't get all those cool features like Zoes and Air View". It just proves that people just like to complain, period. It doesn't matter what you give them. Build it and they will bitch.
  • You just summed up my thoughts perfectly, except I probably would've cursed more.
  • haha Yeah exactly. I'm also wondering if the gimmicky Senses and TouchWizs of old are gone and that the broader market is now valuing the efforts put into them. Admittedly, today's Sense and TouchWiz are not your gramma's Sense and TouchWiz. They provide actual value now. I love those features, but I like the organization of stock Android. So Apex Launcher gets my vote.
  • i cant say for sense but touchwiz is def not dead and gone. look at the success of the S3. people like it. i dont personally but touchwiz is gonna be here a whileee
  • I apologize - my wording was unclear. I meant that the gimmicky *aspects* of Sense and TouchWiz are gone. Meaning: Sense and TouchWiz don't suck anymore. They're good. They add great value. They have features that I love. The older versions were gimmicky and people threw them out as soon as they had the hardware in their hands.
  • I call bs on that. People are pissed because no one wants to buy a 700 dollar phone when they get no break on the monthly carrier charges. You might as well bank the money you save from subsidizing. Get the regular phone and root. Anyone in this site reading this should be familiar with root. These phones should be available in store for similar pricing. That is the only way to sell them and be competitive.
  • They do with T-Mobile
  • T-Mobile.
  • I excluded T-Mobile on purpose. Home of no lte and nothing worth while. Oh cool, I just got my new $700 Google edition phone. Let me go to T-Mobile and get 3g speeds from 5 years ago! Yaaày!
  • Your comment seems like it's from 5 years ago. In case you haven't noticed, T-Mobile has LTE, and it's not uncommon to get over 25 Mbps on HSPA+. Meanwhile, Sprint's "LTE" is slower than T-Mobile's 3G.
  • This.
  • I can get 30Mbps on Sprint LTE.... not always, and not everywhere though.
  • You actually didn't "exclude" anything either.  Your wording wasn't specific at all.
  • This.
  • "These phones should be available in store for similar pricing." I'm assuming you mean available to be subsidized on contract. There's probably some red-tape involved there with the Carriers and updating. But they *are* technically the same price, just without the subsidies. When I got my Note 2 last November, I was not eligible for an upgrade, so I paid $750 after tax. The hardware in these things is not cheap. My phone has more processing power than the laptop I bought a few years ago. Actually, I can think of a couple of older full-sized PC's I've got running at home right now that technically have less processing power than my phone. One is a P4 3Ghz that is my media center. The other is a dual P3 1.2Ghz server that I use as a domain controller and my development application server. Granted, those are older machines, but both run fine for what I need and I still use them all the time. And the Note 2 has more processing power than both of those. In a device small enough to carry around in my pocket. Think about that for a sec...
  • "You might as well bank the money you save from subsidizing. Get the regular phone and root." That idea only works for the ones adventurous to root. Yes, it's easy, and yes it can be reversed, but to non-techie types who just want a phone that works well and doesn't want a bunch of bloat on it, a "Google Experience" phone would be their solution.
  • This. And then some. The whole "Get the regular phone and root" idea is great to a techy person like myself, who isn't scared of doing so at all. However, I'm sick of having to root my phone at all. I'm sick of having to watch for updates and apply them manually (even CM's new system just doesn't compare to the real deal). Especially when the only reason I rooted my Verizon Galaxy Nexus is because I got sick of waiting for updates that my friend with a Galaxy Nexus on T-Mobile has been using for a few weeks already. (I also started using CM again, but more and more, there's like 1-2 things I even bother with CM for, and they're only marginally better than what Google's already got on AOSP.) From someone with a Galaxy Nexus on Verizon, rooted and running CM, "Get the regular phone and root" is not acceptable any more. When my contract ends in December, I'm switching carriers and going to a phone that Google deals with the upgrades and does so well. If these 2 phones prove to be in that category by then, they will definitely be on the option. Because I'm sick of rooting my phone and manually updating just because I want AOSP (or very close to it) and I want it upgraded to the newest AOSP as soon as it's realistically available (I do realize there's a gap and a wait, hence "realistically").
  • +1000 to Crazycheetah
  • You definitely hit the nail on the head. I'm already planning my exit from Verizon.
  • Yeah, buddy. Keep it real.
  • Just goes to show you that you can't please everyone. Everyone wants a different experience, and that's what great about Android: you get that. You make it what you want. Plus I think it's human nature to see the downside of something and quickly bitch about it. Not everyone has the ability to look something and view multiple view points, or understand where someone else is coming from.
  • You pretty much answered yourself. There weren't many features before in manufacturer skins, but since Samsung/HTC have been doing a lot that enhance Android recently, people don't mind them or actually prefer them.
  • Took the words right out of my mouth. I actually like touchwiz. People now realize that the days of skins slowing down your phone are gone.
  • +1 a THOUSAND times! My thoughts exactly.
  • This. +9000.
  • I don't think it's that they like to complain, but that they have a short memory. ICS/Jellybean have been on the table so long that people have forgotten why they wanted Vanilla in the first place: Manufacturers were taking WAY too long to release OS updates. As soon as there is another major revision of Android on the table and Google Experience/Nexus phones get the update right away while everyone else is left waiting months and months just to get a timeline much less an update, they'll all be right back to preferring the Google Experience devices.
  • Exactly!
  • After years of using skinned phones I just got a Nexus 4. Yes, it is totally worth it. Everything is fast and smooth and consistent and pretty.
  • If we don't support them, by voting with dollars, we'll lose the option. This is a huge move in the right direction, although the execution was less than flawless from a nerd's perspective, having more of a variety of options is of course a good thing. Consumers won here, maybe we can help steer them further into our way of thinking about these devices, their features, etc.
  • This is what I think the Google Experience is all about. Just because you don't agree with this program or are going to participate by buying one, you have to commend Google and the supporting manufacturers for it.
  • I couldn't agree more
  • Well put +1
  • If the manufactures would upgrade their phones, I don't think most of us would care. You can always put Nova Launcher or some other app on it if you want to customize the interface to a Google looking launcher and less like touchwiz/sense without rooting or loosing any of the features. My reason for even caring about these phones is upgrades...I want the upgrades and I am disappointed that my GS3 still doesn't have 4.2, 6 months later. Give me upgrades and my next phone will likely not be the Nexus
  • #realtalk this guy knows what he's talking about
  • Exactly this. Give us timely upgrades, and most of the complaints about non-vanilla Android would vanish.
  • Nail on the head right here!
  • That is exactly how I feel. I like my GS3 but wish I could get the updates a little faster. How do we not have 4.2.2 by now?
  • the carrier, usually a giant corporation is not that concerned about your bragging rights about moving from 4.1.2 to 4.2.2.
  • It's not about bragging rights. It's about incredible features like Google Now and Project Butter instead of gimmicks like air view and video pause. It's about having a free wifi hot spot. It's about timely security updates and app compatibility. It's also about not having carrier bloat ware and branding on the phone slowing it down. Lastly, it's also about having having all of this without having to hack your phone.
    When Key Lime Pie comes out, you'll see what it's all about too.
  • Funny, my S3 has google now and butter, even without rooting. Frankly, I find vanilla Android amazingly limited, and boring. Half of what makes my GS3 better than phones with iOS and WP are Samsung add-ons, not Google features. I find the entire "Vanilla Android or Die" crowd to be startlingly reminiscent of the "iOS uber alles" fanboys.
  • Wishful thinking, but the OEMs and Carriers have never been interested in what you're asking for simply because their primary interest is in getting you to upgrade to their newest hardware as frequently as they can. Take note of the recent rising hostility of carriers internationally towards Apple's specific demands to be free of carrier influence as part of their sales agreements as an example of where carrier interests really lay.
    Otherwise, I more or less agree with what Jennifer S. had to say.
  • Carriers don't want you to upgrade your device. Every time you do they're eating hundreds of dollars in subsidies. They would much rather you keep your existing phone until it refuses to function. The OEMs, yes, they want you to keep buying new phones, and thus have no incentive to continue to update old ones. I don't see avoiding phone upgrades as the reason people buy Nexus phones anyway. Nexus buyers, if anything, seem even more prone to updating to every new Nexus device as soon as Google offers it (assuming Google actually has them to sell, something they don't seem to be very good at).
  • This totally depends on where you live. Many carriers charge you a hardware upgrade fee and other "fine print" fees that more than makes up for those losses. If subsidies worked against carrier interests they wouldn't be in the business of offering them.
  • Bumping up hardware is great, but it is the software that makes it great. Vanilla just doesn't cut it. The skins and added features do. We are lucky though because with have the perfect test case with the HTC One. If the camera quality is the same then I will go on to that thread and be happy to say it. I am sure that won't be my post that day though. There has to be a middle ground.
  • "Vanilla just doesn't cut it for me." There. I fixed it for you. I've always preferred stock Android and even more so in the 4.0+ era. It's clean. It's efficient. It's without unnecessary artifice. It doesn't get in my way. So what if it doesn't pause video when I look away from my Nexus 4. That's a cool feature, but not one that is useful or important to me. By the way, will the GE phones have Photosphere? I haven't heard. I really dig the feature but it doesn't get much play.
  • Love the program, love the phones, love the very idea of providing flagships without OEM fluff... Stuck on Verizon as are a ton of others, and unable to take any sort of advantage of it.
  • I think it is safe to say that most of us here want a stock google experience and quicker updates and not all the bloat. But you are losing some very nice features of the S4 and one. I wish instead of offering one extreme or the other offer a device like the htc one with stock core apps (E.G. message contacts and dialer) and then still have sense as a launcher so you can have it or shut it off and bundle the other apps or features on the device like 2 camera apps so we can truely have a choice. 3rd party launchers are extremely powerful so i cannot see why we would not be able to accomplish this. And i do not know why i did not think of this before but literally like the HTC first( i think its called) being able to turn off the the launcher would be great.
  • Exactly, strip the features out into apps that can run on AOSP, make them available only to specific devices and shave down the bloat. Touchwiz doesn't have to be ugly and laggy in order to offer you a different camera app, they made a decision to do it that way.
  • and all of the big features can be available in a launcher i mean look at action launcher it changes the way you access your app drawer the launchers are really powerful and can easily accomplish a custom ui with being part of the OS and leave them as merely a layer you can disable. But i just want at the minimum my core apps untouched, Messaging, phone, people, Calendar etc. (although i love the touchwiz calendar just hate every other one of their apps.) Some Manufacturer features are really nice but i just dont want them all forced upon me. and to interfere with my updates of core features.
  • I don't agree with giving customers two of every app, eg two camera apps but I 100% agree with giving the customer the ability to completely turn off the touchwiz/sense "launcher" at any time leaving behind a stock interface only.
  • yea that may prove cumbersome but perhaps maybe camera features as plugins such as windows phone does. but i would like to see like again on windows phone certain apps are nokia only and promote sticking with nokia and you cant download on an htc device but dont interfere with the overall UI or core apps.
  • You do realize that what you're asking for on these phones is not only impossible on these devices (because it would require HTC/Samsung to give Google proprietary code) but is also completely possible on the *standard* phones with the Sense/TouchWiz OS, right? You can download Nova, Apex, Action Launcher, etc onto a phone running TouchWiz or Sense, without doing anything other than downloading them, and you can still use any of the TouchWiz/Sense apps on the phone. That's exactly what I do with my Note 2. I run Action Launcher on top of TouchWiz and still have access to all the "standard" apps that came on the phone. You can't "shut off" a launcher, but you can replace it. The primary difference between the HTC First you mentioned and the HTC One and Samsung Galaxy S4, is that the later two have the stock launcher removed. I would guess that a lot of people, though, who get a Nexus device don't use the stock launcher anyway. And I know anyone who sees me comment on here (assuming they read my long-winded posts) is probably sick of me pointing this out, but Sense/TouchWiz are *NOT* *LAUNCHERS*. They *have* launchers as part of the package, but they also include a number of changes to the Android code itself. The term "Skin" or "Launcher" when describing Sense/TouchWiz is completely misleading. If you don't like the Sense/TouchWiz *launcher* then just download another one from the Play Store and replace it. End of story.
  • I do not see how what we are asking for being impossible? and the problem we are all facing with adding another launcher on top is that yes now it looks better but you still dont get quicker updates. And i wasn't claiming that sense or touchwiz are launchers as i understand they are not but create them as such. This would not be too hard for these companies to do as far as reducing their skins to a mere launcher layer and keep the stock launcher as well as the new launcher. And if i disable a launcher and set the stock launcher as default that is what i was referring to as far as turning it off.
  • "Most"? Speak for yourself. The market has spoken, and Nexus phones are a negligible fraction of Android phone sales. Even on Android central, the branded phone forums tend to be busier than the Nexus forums, I think.
  • Big deal to me. I have unlimited plan and don't plan on getting a 2 year deal with the Government informer Verizon. Sick of the bloatware. More phones like this is needed with Google. Big difference with my stock S3 and Nexus 7. The Xperia Z should join Google soon.
  • Which company are you going to do business with that isn't allowing free access to their data?
  • I think I am one of the few people here who do not prefer vanilla android. To me, it is very plain and lacks much of the flair TW and Sense offer.It is just dull. Worst of all, camera software is so far behind HTC and Samsung. Stock cameras are mediocre at best. With as image/video driven as our culture is today, this is a huge downfall of vanilla.
  • Maybe Google just needs to step it up and create a better Stock UI.. Key Lime is coming soon (but probably not soon enough?).
  • What you call "plain" I call "efficient and clean". I don't like artifice and "flair", especially when you are waiting for a fancy dancy animation to finish so you can access an app or a feature. Apps should be showy and flashy. The OS should just work and work as efficiently as possible.
  • I agree about the camera software, they have always lagged behind the manufacturers. I use Camera FX. BUT Touch wiz is ugly and old Gingerbread. Sense is better now, but when the new Android version comes out, you'll be stuck with the same old Sense version from before, because HTC doesn't update Sense.
  • ok Sense I can swallow. But glowing-snot Touchwiz is your idea of attractive? come on man...
  • They're making it harder and harder to root and reflash carrier devices. Given how much bloat is involved with TouchWiz and Sense, it's good to offer an option to not have it. This also by default expands Google's Nexus program, and provides an outlet for those who WANT Vanilla Android to get it without having to crack the protections they put on their more customized versions. Possibly in the hope that they will decide not to bother to crack said protections, maybe. But when you can buy a vanilla Android device, not have any warranty problems, yeah, some would be willing to pay extra for that. And maybe a carrier or two will pick them up and subsidize them if there is enough demand.
  • I like the idea of the Google Experience phones... but I feel like the S4 and the HTC One were both built to have Touchwiz and Sense running on them.
  • I have a N4 and I got it cause I wanted the updates when they come...flashing get old after ah wife just got her a N4 cause she like how easy it was to do what she wanted..I say go stock at what ever price you can pay
  • You know what, I'm going to continue to be wildly unpopular on my opinion here, I'm sorry - I"m not banging the HTC one drum with the same voracity as others...don't care about "metal" phones hang-up most people seem to have (which it's interesting to see so many iCult haters jump on that bandwagon though the years have shown those same people had been disparaging Apple for their design prowess...which is equally stupid). So at the risk of being hated for being the voice of reason here...and not caring about the tech community circling the wagons around HTC, their new beloved underdog... The only one who stands to gain anything by putting these two devices Samsung. HTC is going to have egg on their face, and intentionally...which is really strange behavior, by releasing this device. When you apply AOSP to the Galaxy S4, you're going to end up with: A really capabale device, which is faster than it's closest rival (it's already faster..but AOSP will certainly fix any of the "lag" issues generated by touchwiz), with a better raw camera, micro-sd card support and a removable battery. All of it's selling points, sans the gestures/eye tracking, will stand relatively even against the touchwiz counterpart. The only real arguments against it will be largely removed, and we'll be back arguing about the difference between Super Amoled HD versus LCD3 - which, neither is going to win any battles other than in the opinion department. The plastic versus metal argument will stand, no doubt...but I think it's safe to say that a huge number (being completely relative of course) of people who had steered clear of the Galaxy line because of Touchwiz, will have a perfect reason to convert...and I'd guess there's a fair number of them out there. HTC on the other hand, is going to produce a phone with ALL of it's notable features missing (ZOE, blink feed, the cool post processing stuff for night shots). It'll still be metal...great...but for those of us who didn't care about metal phones (which I'm guessing is a lot considering the GS2,3 and 4 sales numbers) - aren't left with a compelling reason to chose the HTC One, now with a worse camera, no removable battery and no micro-sd slot. So the question I keep coming to over and over again, is how many more people hated Touchwiz than wanted metal phones? I guess we'll find out, but I can't see this working out for HTC on any level, other than easy ports of AOSP to their current user base (same could be said of Samsung) - so either's "nice" but financially, it seems like a bad move to diversify your product line YET AGAIN, despite having a solid up front strategy to focus on ONE device.
  • ^ This Though the One will still have those front facing speakers, so that's a pro even if it's a small one. But yes, give a choice between the two I would take the s4.
  • Good catch, I did miss that. I understand that it'll have some iteration of Beats running on it to - so that is a plus, I guess...if you don't understand how to use an EQ :)
  • You forgot the IR blaster on the S4 too - a lot of people are using that from what I've been reading.
  • it will have the speakers just not the "BEATS" settings.
  • It will indeed have Beats Audio included. "Update: Google's Hugo Barra has followed up with an official render, and says the HTC One with Nexus User Experience will come with Beats Audio. HTC's official statement on the device confirms the launch date, and the fact that it ships with Android 4.2.2 and will get updates straight from Google."
  • Plus if you use T-Mobile the S4 is a better option because it supports both bands at hspa+. The One does not and we haven't seen anything about the Sony Z yet to know. That said I also think the Sony Z will be an incredible Google Experience device. The only downsides are the screen which apparently had worse viewing angles that the One or S4 and it's using the S4 Pro vs the 600. I have no issues with the S4 Pro but I've been using it since December and it would be hard to pony up 600 bucks on the slightly older chip. Still waiting to see if it will support LTE on T-Mobile as well.
  • It doesn't come down to just the metal phone. The One comes with a lot more built-in storage. SD card slots are great, except you can't install apps on them. That's a pretty significant hitch. I've got 6 gb of apps on my phone, and that's with most of the big gaming apps having been moved to my Nexus 7 (because why game on a smaller screen if you don't have to?) which has 13gb of apps on it. But if I didn't have an N7, the app storage of something like the GS4 simply would not cut it. HTC has already come out and said Beats hardware will be on the One. Beats speakers are pretty awesome even without the software. The camera issue is one that hasn't been answered. Will it function like a 4mp shooter? Or will it function like it does now, as one of the top 2-3 cameras in the Android space? We don't know. I'm a Nexus guy, I don't have a horse in the HTC?Samsung race, but between these two Google Edition phones, I'd probably end up going with the One. It feels better in my hand (unlike most people, I don't put cases on my phones), I want 32gb of internal storage rather than 16 (expandable means jack to me), I actually don't care much about camera quality since I take an average of two pictures a month on my phone and those are for reminders, not sharing, and I think the sound quality on the One will still blow everything else out of the water (excepting the full beats experience on the stock One). But, those are my preferences. We live in the land of Android, where we have hardware choices, not the Apple gated community where you've got one choice, which is really no choice at all.
  • The camera has already been answered. Run CM 10.1 on your phone and thats what the camera will look like. All the HTC features will be gone.
  • What you get from CM10.1 isn't necessarily what we're going to get with the official One GE release. It's possible I've missed it, but HTC hasn't addressed that question specifically, just the Beats software question. Every Android install has a different relationship to the camera, there's always custom code. Will that code include the ultrapixeling or not, we don't know yet.
  • Just a quick point of clarification: it *is* still possible to move apps to the SD card, but you have to be rooted.
  • So at the risk of being hated for being the voice of reason here... Stopped reading. You're just another typical Samsung fanboy, except wordy. You are not being the voice of reason, you're just talking to talk.
  • Yeah...I provided reasons for saying what I said, youre the one that didn't bother. I'm not a fanboy of either, Ive owned just as many HTC devices as I have Samsung devices...I'm just not going to let HTC off the hook for a three year period of bad business decisions because now (miraculously) they're some perceived underdog. I take some real issues with the one...I take the same with the Galaxy S4, exasperated by the fact that I use a Galaxy S4 as my daily driver.... But I'm not going to need tucks medicated pads every time someone tells me that my device isn't perfect.