With the announcement of the two leading-edge Android smartphones, the HTC One and Galaxy S4, in new "Nexus User Experience" editions, there really is only one remaining question: are you going to buy one?
The Nexified software experience has been something I've seen internet commenters clamoring for since the day I started writing for Android Police. And yet, somehow I feel pretty confident saying that these phones will fail to gain much traction outside a small, hardcore group of enthusiasts.
For years now, there has been basically non-stop negativity from Android fans about the proliferation of OEM software skins. They're ugly. They compromise performance. They ruin battery life. They make babies cry. Unfortunately for those who complain most loudly, though, many of those things are simply not true anymore, or are much less true than they were two years ago. Sense 5 and TouchWiz Nature UX 2.0 are arguably the most refined OEM software skins out there, and both of them are surprisingly enjoyable to use. In fact, I prefer either to the stock Android experience, personally. Both skins offer more features than stock Android, a gap that continues to widen with each passing iteration.
This, frankly, is what turns me off the Nexus User Experience devices. They don't add anything (well, more usable storage - that much is true). They actually just take a lot of stuff away. The HTC One NUE, for example, will lose the following: all HTC camera features (which is many), FM radio, the ability to toggle Beats Audio mode (it's just stuck on), IR blaster functionality, BlinkFeed (which I personally quite like), and all of the numerous Sense-specific settings and configuration options. Many of these things are a given, of course, for a device that runs stock Android. I'm not saying they're surprises, either - far from it. They're inherent consequences.
But it really is far from clear that these compromises are actually worth enduring. And those compromises will be even greater for the Galaxy S4, a device whose most ardent fans cling to its arsenal of software features as its defining triumph.
The one real benefit? Google controls the OS updates, meaning they'll come much faster. There's an unlocked bootloader, though, you say - that means ROMs, kernels, and all sorts of flashing galore! Well, HTC will happily sell you a One with Sense that has an unlocked bootloader already. For the same price. And Samsung will be offering developer editions of the Galaxy S4 that will ship with unlocked bootloaders as well.
So, after years of waiting for what many have proclaimed the holy grail of Android hardware - true high-end phones running stock Android, are you actually prepared to drop over $600 for the privilege? Or has the landscape changed enough now that the vanilla experience has lost its allure? Let your feelings be known in the poll, and the comments below.