The HTC One Google Play edition is great but is it an

first_img 1 2 With third party Android OS teams claiming over 7 million users, it’s clear that there’s at least a niche market for high end phones running the latest version of Google’s vision for Android. The new Google Play edition phones are here, giving users two more options in the ever-growing array of great phones to choose from.The big question with Google Play edition phones is how they compare to the already popular HTC One and Samsung Galaxy S4. These Google Play edition (GPe) phones are running identical hardware to their OEM-flavored counterparts, but the real question is whether or not those add-ons provide a better experience. Have we reached a point where we should be looking at these spins on Android as more than just bloatware that will slow your phone down and offer a subpar experience? Or is pure vanilla Android still the best overall experience?In order to test out the HTC One GPe, we did what any reasonable Android enthusiast would do — get their existing HTC One and loaded it with a Google Play edition ROM made from a system dump of a GPe One.User interface – what we gain and what we loseAnswering which interface is better is largely subjective, especially when it comes to the HTC One. Sense 5 does a lot of hand-holding for the user, and makes a lot of things very easy and really tries to make managing your phone a thing of the past.In the current iteration of Sense, this is an incomplete thought but well on its way to being a good idea. BlinkFeed is great for those who bother to set it up and use it, but you really have to put in the time to make this feature worthwhile. Sense UI is visually appealing and never feels slow on the HTC One, and for the average user this is a great overall experience.For the power user — the kind of person who would be interested in a Google Play edition or Nexus phone — the Sense experience can be obnoxious. Your notification bar is filled with trivialities like BeatsAudio, NFC, this utterly useless persistent power save mode button that interrupts expanded notifications… and that’s just at first glance. The (mostly) vanilla GPe variant does away with all of this, leaving you with all of the best features in Android 4.2.2. Unfettered notifications that expand on their own and quick actions are the big benefits here. This is a 100% customizable experience, perfect for the Android gearhead.Is it faster? No, not at all. There are exactly zero parts of the Android experience, from navigating the UI to running resource intensive apps, that feel any faster on either version of the HTC One. This isn’t surprising, given that the Sense HTC One already felt plenty snappy. The animations for things like closing the app drawer are different, but it takes both versions the same time to execute them. There was certainly a time where you could demonstrate that HTC’s UI decisions were slower and resource intensive, but it would appear that the days of calling HTC Sense harmful bloatware are over.What matters here is which visual experience you prefer, and since only one of these two options will give you complete customization, the deciding factor here becomes whether or not that sort of control matters to you.The HTC One’s Ultrapixel cameraAmidst the excitement over the HTC One GPe, there was only ever one real concern. The camera for the One is, hands down, one of the biggest features for the phone. HTC’s camera app is well made, and gives the user a lot of flexibility in taking photos and creating great videos. Even if you don’t care about Zoe photos or any of HTC’s other camera tools, there was still the question of whether or not the Ultrapixel camera would work as well with the Sense software gone.It turns out that there’s still a lot of the Sense framework under the hood of this Google Play edition build, but there’s just enough of a difference to see a clear winner between the two phones.The vanilla Android camera app has a few neat tricks up its sleeve that you won’t find on the Sense One, but that hardly makes up for what you lose. For starters, the camera menu is slightly different from the Nexus 4. The ring menu has been switched out for a pair of curved lines with more options than before. This added flexibility is really nice, and in general this new menu is very smooth, but ultimately only useful of you regularly tweak the settings in your camera. You get the ability to take photospheres, which means you also get a better panorama mode for this phone.You don’t lose much in the way of basic features — for example HDR still works in much the same way. You don’t have the rapid fire photo taking abilities of the Sense software, in fact you’ll find that you won’t be taking quick photos at all with the GPe One if you want them to look decent. The focus on this app, even if you tap to focus, takes a couple of seconds to do its thing. If you’ve used the Sense camera for any length of time, this app feels like a step down in many ways.Unless you’re very good at holding your hands still, or very patient, you’ll find that the GPe camera also doesn’t take photos that are quite as well. The camera will blur on the edges unless you are very careful, and if you compare photos taken on both phones you’ll see the Sense One is the winner almost every time. Overall, the experience with the GPe camera is just plain lackluster.Next page: Battery life, Bluetooth, Beats… VIEW PHOTO GALLERY IMAG0028IMAG0028HTC One Sense HDRIMG_20130701_081127HTC One GPe AutoHTC One GPe JellyBeanGPe Jelly Bean splashIMAG0027HTC One Sense AutoIMG_20130701_081136HTC One GPe HDR13 – 3Google Play edition quick actions13 – 1GPe camera app13 – 2GPe Beats AudioHTC One Sense HDRlast_img read more