Editors' note: For this review, I focused on how the HTC One Google Play Edition differs from the carrier-branded versions of the handset. For my complete assessment of the HTC One's design, features, and performance, please see the full review.
Though the HTC One is a stellar phone just as it is, I know that many Android purists would prefer that it shipped with Google’s stock OS while forsaking all of the fancy tricks and glitzy software that HTC layered upon it. Fortunately, with the new $599 HTC One Google Play Edition, that day is here.
Using the same hardware and design as the 32GB GSM HTC One model, this unlocked handset runs pure, sweet Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean, the freshest version available. Even better, Google has pledged that the HTC One Google Play Edition qualifies as a true Nexus device, so it will be first in line for future updates. It all sounds like a dream come true, but there are trade-offs for pushing HTC Sense aside. For example you can kiss goodbye all of the standard HTC One’s slick camera features, such as Zoe Share, TV remote control, and BlinkFeed. If that’s a price you’re willing to pay for Android purity, though, besides a lot of cash up front, then this phone is worth a look.
Alternatively, if you're a Samsung fan, note that Google today also released a stock Android version of the Galaxy S4.
The HTC One’s 4.7-inch LCD screen is arresting as well, offering a sharp 1080p resolution (468 ppi) along with vivid colors. The display gets awfully bright, too, and you’ll have no problem viewing it in bright sunlight.
Software and interface
As I mentioned, the real star of this HTC One show is the stock Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean operating system. If you’ve held the LG Nexus 4 recently, you’ll feel right at home. That stock Android means a couple of things: the HTC Sense interface is completely scoured away and there's no BlinkFeed, the Flipboard-style news aggregator. The latter change will come as a relief to some since you can't remove BlinkFeed on the standard HTC One (you can only banish it to a far-flung home screen).
In yet another change, the lock screen doesn't handily display upcoming calendar appointments, current weather conditions, or other info at a quick glance (a consequence of losing HTC Sense). On the other hand, plain Jelly Bean offers one additional home screen for a total of five.
Other navigation differences in the HTC One Google Play Edition include the side-scrolling application tray, which I actually prefer, as opposed to Sense’s vertical app shortcut layout. I also like being able to access widgets from within the app tray, how Jelly Bean serves things up. Sense on the HTC One separates widgets out so you must perform a long-press on a home screen to grab them.
While stock Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean brings many slight tweaks over HTC Sense, the most immediate changes I found affect how users operate the One’s camera. Indeed HTC makes a lot of noise about the One’s photo- and video-taking abilities, with its Zoe Share feature and Ultrapixel sensor. I have to admit these are bells and whistles I miss the most on this version of the HTC One. It's gimmicky, I know, but as a new parent, I love how the HTC Sense photo gallery files pictures and video I record around the date, what the application calls "events."