31
Jul
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I really like the HTC One. I also really like the Galaxy S4. And the Optimus G Pro. And that's because there are a lot of great Android smartphones out there right now, and really, none of the very best ones are actually bad (nor are any of them perfect). And if I were to ask you, our readers, what would be the first thing you could change about any of them - if it could be just one thing - a few months ago the consensus likely would have emerged as "give them stock Android."

Well, we're two out of three - the HTC One and Galaxy S4 are both available in stock Android iterations, aka Google Play Editions, and are yours for the buying (if you're in the United States - admittedly a major caveat). A Google Play Edition is sort of an almost Nexus. Google promises to work "closely" with HTC and Samsung on providing quick Android OS updates, while HTC and Samsung still bear much of the responsibility for optimization, drivers, and developer resource policy. Eg., you probably won't be seeing the GPE devices showing up in AOSP (Android Open Source Project) any time soon.

Still, the One and S4 GPE are as close as you can get to a Nexus without actually buying a Nexus phone. This isn't a hacked-together custom ROM, and it isn't just stock Android - this is a Google-backed endeavor, sold by Google, with the promise of support (whether you choose to attach meaning to that promise is your own prerogative, of course).

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I've used a standard HTC One as my daily driver for some time now, and I quite like it. When I was given a chance to try out the One Google Play Edition, I obviously was curious. Would I like it more? Less? Would I be utterly ambivalent? For the last two weeks I have carried both of these phones everywhere with me and I think I've come up with a conclusion, albeit one I don't think everyone is going to sympathize with.

The One GPE is a very good phone. I could easily and happily live with it. But given the choice? Right now, I have to pick the Sense version. That could change in the future, but it's inherently uncertain - a change of opinion would rely heavily on just how much improving certain aspects of Android and the One GPE's firmware get. That's not exactly a place most people want to be with a phone, unless it's for the sake of being on the bleeding edge of Android - and that is what you're supposedly getting here.

This isn't going to be a normal review. I'm going to hammer on points of distinction - not similarity. This is a comparison. If you want to know about the HTC One more generally, check out our review of it.

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Comparisons of actual things

Hardware, design, and build quality

It's the same freaking phone.

Camera

Some reviewers have been lenient with the One GPE's camera. I am not going to be one of them. The camera is not outright bad, per se, but in comparison to the standard One, it is utterly inferior.

First, there's image quality. The One GPE softens the ever-loving God out of every single image it captures. The amount of detail lost in photos is staggering, and only made worse by the Ultrapixel sensor's 4MP resolution, which does not lend itself to much cropping. These pictures are usable for social media and the like, but at anything above 50% scale they just don't look very good. Here are a few photos I cropped to demonstrate this - Sense One on the left, GPE One on the right.

IMAG0115 IMG_20130707_142229

IMAG0119 IMG_20130707_143209

IMAG0120 IMG_20130707_144037

This must be intentional. I know many people hate the way photos look at full crop after going through HTC's digital processing (sharp, noisy), and I'm guessing Google wasn't a fan. So, to reduce this effect, they cranked up the softness, big time. I suppose there's an aesthetic preference argument to be made here, but I just can't get over the loss of detail, especially in complex textures like the brick wall in the first pair of examples.

The One GPE also tends to overexpose shots, has difficulty deciding on that exposure in the first place, and suffers from the same autofocus problems Nexus phone users have been stuck with for years. I rarely ever get an out of focus shot on my normal One - the first shot is in focus 90% of the time (without tapping to focus), and if it isn't, the second one is. On the first shot of a scene, I'd say roughly 30% of the One GPEs photos were in focus, with the 2nd and 3rd shots tending to get with the program if I hadn't already become frustrated and just used tap-to-focus.

I asked HTC about this, and their response was basically "we tried our best." In other words, the blame here is getting punted back to stock Android - something I fear will become a trend should other issues with GPE phones arise.

Could any of this be fixed in updates? Maybe. The autofocus problem is one that has plagued stock Android for years, though, and as a result, many OEMs have licensed or developed their own AF software. HTC uses a DxO Labs library in Sense devices that works very well. Whatever is in the One GPE does not, and I can only assume that's because Google wanted to use the built-in Android solution to keep things simple.

Then there's the stock Android camera app. It's just not very good. No ISO settings, no contrast / saturation / sharpness adjustments, no filters, very few video settings, limited scene modes, no burst shooting, and a craptastic UI for adjusting what few features are there. But hey, you can take photo spheres, so there's that. Supposedly the Android 4.3 camera interface will be a lot more usable, let's hope it also gets a lot more powerful generally.

The Camera on the One GPE is enough to keep me reaching for the normal One most of the time. I want a phone with a great camera. The One GPE's camera, as it works now, is not great. It's decidedly mediocre.

Display

Oddly, the One GPE's display appears to be calibrated differently than the standard One. Colors are noticeably cooler, and thus, a bit more accurate. The color shift also appears to lean a bit more toward the blue end of the spectrum, but only just. These pictures illustrate the difference pretty well, though keep in mind that the GPE One is also a little dimmer, so the contrast on the Sense One (left) is a bit exaggerated.

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Auto-brightness on the One GPE adjusts much more gradually than the standard One, and appears to be just a bit darker in most situations. It is usually not too dim when to set to auto, however, a problem even high-end phones like the Galaxy S4 have apparently yet to figure out.

It also doesn't seem to get as bright. HTC uses some kind of active white / color balance adjustment witchcraft on the standard One, allowing it to appear to have greater contrast in certain situations, and the GPE doesn't exhibit this behavior as far as I can tell, but it also seems like the One GPE simply doesn't crank up as far. Take a look at the pictures below, and you'll see what I mean. Maybe this explains the GPE's superior battery life? I reached out to HTC on this, and I'll update if I hear back.

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Battery life

It's a little better on the One GPE in most circumstances. Granted, my GPE review unit has slightly fewer apps than my personal phone, but the most power-hungry services are still being synced, and I find the One GPE consistently ends up with more juice remaining by the day's end. The difference is not earthshaking, but it is definitely noticeable, and obviously quite welcome.

Storage, wireless, and call quality

There's about 26GB of free storage available on the One GPE, which is about 1GB more than the comparable Sense One, so you aren't really getting much more on the gee-bees front with stock Android.

Data and signal reliability on the One GPE has been spottier than my normal One. Both are on AT&T, support the same bands and have the same radio hardware, and both live in my pockets, so signal conditions for both devices are damn near identical. The One GPE seems to lose data connectivity at times (still shows a connection, just won't load anything), though the frequency of such incidents is on the order of once every couple days, and after 30 seconds or so it seems like it manages to fix itself. I will say this isn't a problem I've had on the standard One.

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Tethering just seems flat out broken at times, though. It works, but I constantly have problems on my tethered devices. Either no data is moving, or the connection is actually just lost and has to be re-acquired. Like, every 45 seconds. I tried multiple tether apps. My normal One does not have this problem. It is irritating. It doesn't happen all the time on the One GPE, but it's definitely been an issue.

Data speeds are also consistently higher according to Speedtest.net on the GPE phone, especially for LTE. I have no idea why this is - my APN settings are identical, but the results consistently show the One GPE edging out ahead by 5-10%.

Call quality is about the same as it is on the normal One. It's a cell phone. It sounds pretty crappy. But it's decently loud and certainly no worse than any other smartphone I've used.

Audio and speaker

I tested Bluetooth audio on the One GPE and the standard One with a pretty decent set of Bluetooth on-ear headphones, and didn't notice any difference in quality or reliability of streaming. Android 4.2's switch to Google's in-house Bluetooth software stack has been maligned from day one - rightly so on some devices, like the Nexus 7 - but here it seems to be working A-OK.

There is a Beats Audio mode switch in the One GPE under sound in the settings menu. It does exactly what the other One's switch does.

Performance

I'd say the One GPE is often noticeably quicker just moving around through the OS than the standard One. Running apps and the like, though, it feels pretty much the same. The difference really isn't material to liking one phone over the other, though - they're so close in this respect that it's not a big deal.

Comparison of experience

This part of the review is much more subjective. You've been warned. As far as what I've noticed that matters to me in choosing one device over the other, there have been some things I've noticed. I'll keep it short.

  • I like BlinkFeed to be there: If I'm stuck in line somewhere or for whatever reason occupying myself by aimlessly digging around my phone, BlinkFeed is a nice way to kill time. However, I'm not a big RSS user, and I never used Google Reader. The GPE One obviously doesn't have BlinkFeed, so that's a point off in my book.
  • A less good camera is a bad camera: More than anything, the One GPE's subpar camera performance made me hesitant to grab it at any given moment. It really bummed me out when I only had the GPE with me and found something I wanted to snap a photo of, because I knew the normal One would take a much better picture. I also missed Zoe and Sense's many camera tweaks and settings.
  • HTC's home button behavior is dumb: On the Sense One, if you launch an app from the app drawer, or multi-task away from the app drawer, hitting the home button thereafter sends you back to the app drawer. You have to tap it again to actually go home. This wasn't a good idea, HTC. I get the logic, but the result is so annoying. +1 for the GPE, which obviously does not do this.
  • Double-tap to multi-task is also dumb: I constantly screw this up when I try to do it on either device. I will say I have grown to prefer HTC's multi-tasking UI, though - you see your 9 most recent apps all at once, no scrolling. Just tap.
  • Sense 5 is pretty: I prefer the look of Sense 5 to stock Android hands down. Not even a contest in my eyes. Your mileage may vary.
  • Power saver mode: Yes, you can get apps that emulate - to an extent - HTC's power saver mode that comes on when you reach a certain battery threshold, but having it built into the OS is convenient, and I never understood why stock Android doesn't have an equivalent feature. Everyone else does.
  • I couldn't care less about the IR blaster: Even if I had a big home entertainment setup, I wouldn't use the IR blaster, so its functional absence on the GPE really didn't bother me. This feature is still pretty nascent on phones, and the IR app ecosystem is still catching up. Not having it isn't a big deal, at least for now.
  • I prefer the Sense keyboard: Prediction is better and accuracy is pretty much on par with the stock Android keyboard. It's a bit less responsive at times, but otherwise, my favored text entry tool. I will say the stock Android keyboard has gotten a lot better over the years, though.
  • No notification bar power controls is annoying and makes no sense: I don't like that Sense 5 doesn't have power control toggles in the notification bar. Easily my favorite TouchWiz feature (yes, I know it's in other phones, too). I also don't like Google's half-ass solution with the secondary notification pane. I will never, ever use it. So, I use the old Android power control widget instead, which is less than ideal.
  • HTC's Sense dialer is bad and they should feel bad: Sense 4 leftovers to the max. HTC's dialer will erase the phone number you have dialed if you multitask out of the app or even switch tabs in the app. That's just laziness, and there's no excuse for it. Stock Android's dialer is clean, simple, and friendly. HTC's is an ugly, cluttered mess.

Conclusion

Generally speaking, after a few weeks with the GPE One, I still find myself reaching for my regular One instead. It has a few things that matter to me - a better camera, BlinkFeed, a great keyboard - and those things are enough to keep me firmly planted in the Sense camp.

I'm not you, though. The GPE One is geared at an audience looking for a stock Android experience on an unlocked high-end phone. It's a hell of a niche, but the niche does exist (apparently), and obviously the One GPE will please those individuals more than the Sense-ified handset.

While I cannot quite understand those persons who unrelentingly demand a "pure Android" experience, there is one legitimate trump card that the One GPE may yet play against its Sense sibling - the next major version of Android. The big "K" release. Maybe it's coming this fall. Maybe it's not. But if it is, it would all but certainly mean that the One GPE would be getting a taste of a big revision to Android many months before the Sense version. That is, if this whole quick update thing goes according to plan. That could certainly change things, particularly if the "K" release comes jam-packed with new features.

All in all, if you're considering the One GPE, there aren't any big red "do not buy" flags, aside from the camera. Which may get fixed, or it may not. Personally, I'm not overly confident on that  - Google's always had a hard time with cameras in Android. But if you don't care about the camera, or BlinkFeed, or just have a burning hatred for Sense generally, the One GPE is a perfectly serviceable phone. It's actually a great phone (again, aside from the camera).

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But now I'm going to take this opportunity to rant a bit.

If you're expecting buttbows and candy and unicorns to burst fourth from the One's vibrant S-LCD3 simply because it's stock Android, it may be time to for a bit of a reality check. Custom UI skins did, at one point, suck. I know. I was there. I hated them too. Really. MOTOBLUR. Early TouchWiz. Whatever the hell LG's thing was. I remember Sense 3.5 getting completely out of control with toggles and switches and menus. It really was an era of malaise for Android smartphones. If that's the kind of mentality you have about skins today, though, I'm sorry - you are living in the past. That's just not the state of affairs anymore. Sense, TouchWiz, and even LG... thing are no longer bloated branding exercises that serve only to drain your battery and kill your frame rate. Yes, they do slow down updates a bit, but at this point the features and functions they add are probably going to weigh favorably against what is for most people a near-meaningless Android version number.

The argument for the GPE experience is much weaker today than it would have been 18 months ago. The differences between Android 4.1 and 4.2, or even 4.1 and 4.3, really aren't a big deal for anyone but hardcore enthusiasts and power users. And even for those individuals, the bump in version rarely matters - it's mostly about having the latest and greatest thing as soon as possible.

Obviously, the GPE One is catering to a tiny, tiny audience that does care about such things. A niche of a niche. And I guess there's nothing wrong with that, apart from there not being a lot reason to do another round of GPE phones. Regardless, those people will probably be mostly happy with the One or Galaxy S4 GPE. As far as a second act for the GPE program goes, we'll see what happens.

From where I'm standing, though, more and more of the smartphone innovation seems to be happening on the OEM side, and not in the Android OS. Just look at Motorola, or Samsung (even if some of Samsung's innovations are of questionable utility). And even when Google does add something to Android, be it compatibility for some new standard or a new API, developers and other third parties don't really get in gear to support it until a Samsung or HTC or Motorola starts shipping a device that can make use of it. This is why Google seems to be doing more and more of its Android innovation through Google Play and Google Play Services - opening up new features to tens of millions of handsets immediately, only adding things at the core OS level when absolutely necessary.

Anyway, I don't want to get too far down this rabbit hole. I just can't help but feel the One GPE is a phone whose time has passed before it ever began. Again, there is nothing particularly wrong with it, but there isn't anything extraordinary here, either. Stock Android, at one point, really was a desirable, beneficial feature. Now it just kind of feels like a lifestyle choice.

To each their own, then, I suppose.

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David Ruddock
David's phone is whatever is currently sitting on his desk. He is an avid writer, and enjoys playing devil's advocate in editorials, and reviewing the latest phones and gadgets. He also doesn't usually write such boring sentences.

  • David Margolin

    Petition to add David Ruddock to the unapproved companies list for saying no to #holo

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ Artem Russakovskii

      Reveal your reddit username, infidel. You shall be shunned immediately. How dare you question your Holoness AP?

      • David Margolin

        Petition to add Artem Russakovskii (are you russian?) to the unapproved companies list for using holoness instead of #holoness.

  • http://ctrl.lv Elvijs Jaunzems

    "I prefer the look of Sense 5 to stock Android hands down."

    TRAITOR TO THE HOLO! MAY THE LORD MATIAS DUARTE HAVE MERCY OVER YOU.

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ David Ruddock

      I WILL NOT RELENT.

      • David Margolin

        And for that, you get a downcrapple

    • Ror

      UPDROIDS FOR YOU

  • http://www.felipeyang.com Felipe Yang

    "No notification bar power controls is annoying and makes no sense:"
    You should try Power Toggles then.

    • Nicholas Polydor

      "I also don't like Google's half-ass solution with the secondary notification pane."

      What about the double-finger swipe down, @rdr0b11:disqus? Good review, though.

      • Christopher Lee

        What about it? It's not bad, but for some people it's not a replacement. When I was using my Galaxy Nexus, the fact that I exclusively hold my phone in my left hand meant that there was no good way for me to hit the little icon in the upper right to switch to the Quick Toggles page from the shade. Yes, if your right hand is free, a two-finger swipe is easy, but if you're used to one-handed operation it can be somewhat jarring.

        The 4.2 approach has steadily grown on me, and I'm looking forward to seeing it come to my One. But I can see both sides on this one.

        • Michaelb

          Or just get Cyanogenmod - swipe down from the right (or left if changed in the settings) to go straight to quick toggles

    • carlisimo

      I, too, recommend Power Toggles.

      There are also alternative camera apps, like Camera Zoom FX or something like that. But I know what the author means about preferring Sense's aesthetic over stock's. I never thought I'd see anyone admit to it, though!

  • PhoenixPath

    Dang...

    I personally like the Sense style notification tiles *better* than stock Android (CM and AOKP fixed them so they at least make some sense). The 3-dot tiles in 4.2.2 Sense 5 simply seem more intuitive and easier to understand (and seem to follow Google's own guidelines in recent apps like the Play Store more closely than Google does.). Tap to toggle, hit the dots to go to settings. No long-press BS that does one thing on one tile and something completely different on another...Google should definitely copy this.

    I also am rather enamored of HTC's dialer. I think it's the smaller keys...not sure I ever liked the giant squares of stock android...and I love starting a number and have it pop up with options as I type it in so I don't always have to type it all out if they are in my address-book.

    Awesome comparison though.

    • Christopher Lee

      The dialer is nice and sleek looking (minus HTC's weird scrollbar), but what may forever keep me from returning to the stock dialer is HTC's circle filter for low-resolution contact images (read: every single image from Google Contacts ever). Having some contacts from Google+ show up looking realistic in stock only makes the inevitable low-resolution images all the more jarring.

      The circle filter's not for everyone, but for me it adds a little class to a desperately silly problem.

  • Michael Panzer

    Sometimes it seems to me that David Ruddock is there to provide an outside look on Android... Isn't he also the one waiting for the new iPad mini?

    I for one like the look of stock over every skin...

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ David Ruddock

      As far as an "outside look," I guess. I was much more into ROMing and rooting when it actually allowed me to do things that made my phone objectively better / more powerful given my individual needs. I readily admit I sit on the very edge of power user / normal user threshold. I know how to get down and flash (twss) / root / tinker (to an extent) if I need to, but I rarely do anymore.

      Most high-end stock handsets now meet my needs out of the box, and honestly, plain old vanilla Android has become less and less appealing to me. I'd rather stick it out on a slightly older OS version if it means I get to keep things like the Sense camera or BlinkFeed - stuff I actually use and can't get on stock Android.

      And I might get the new regular-sized iPad when it comes out. I'm not decided.

      • David Margolin

        420 root it faggot

      • Michael Panzer

        The idea of Android is to be able to install applications to extend functionality. This is why I don't need to have everything out of the box and like the simplicity of vanilla Android.

        Since I have my Nexus devices I don't feel the need to root or mod anymore.

        But well, I guess it's a matter of taste...

        • Christopher Lee

          The "idea" of Android is that it can be what the user wants it to be. Your implication is that if you don't leverage this possibility as much (especially in the response to David), you're being somehow less "true" to the "idea of Android."

          I root every device I have, but I've decided to firmly stick with Sense on my One because by and large, it provides what I want without any fuss.

  • Mike Reid

    I'm not happy with all the proprietary stuff (such as Bluetooth) with no source code available on the GPE.

    Sense ROMs are great for the features.

    AOSP ROMs like CM are great for stock Android and their own features, while lacking some stock features.

    GPE to me is the "worst of both worlds". The main application I see for it is for more average people who want something closer to stock Android without messing with ROMs, and I think this niche is small.

    I would not recommend GPE to Android enthusiasts OR average people.

    I'd be happy to see future GPEs with all source code in AOSP, especially if Google did the builds. IE more Nexus like.

  • Ygor Vaz

    I prefer the quick-settings over anything like touch wiz.. It let the notification bar cleaner since it doesn't take the main space, letting only actually notifications on the notifications bar. The main problem with it that you can't customize it and to actually turn on the wi-fi and bluetooth you need to hold the toogle. Google could at least make an option to change this.

    • Gandalf_Teh_Gray

      Hmmm thanks for the hold it down advice, I'd given up on the stock one and had just been toggling airplane mode.
      That being said I don't see why David doesn't like it. Allows the whole notification bar to be notifications.

      • Christopher Lee

        It adds another step to get to "quick" toggles. I personally have found this implementation has grown on me a lot, but on my Sprint HTC One, the immediacy of having the Power Toggles widget pinned to the top of my shade is hard to be argued with, and I've mentally segregated it off into a separate region of the pull-down altogether.

        Anyway, in UI/UX design, never underestimate the difference an extra step can be.

        • jaduncan

          Pull down with two fingers. Voila, one step.

          • Seth Daniel

            That's amazing! I had no idea that feature existed. This makes me unreasonably happy. Thanks!

          • Christopher Lee

            I'm aware. Now do it with one hand and a larger phone.

        • Gandalf_Teh_Gray

          I Have an option to pull down from the right side of screen for quick panel

          • Ygor Vaz

            Gandalf_Teh_Gray - Unfortunaly, it's not included in stock android. This discussions is between sense and GPE. If we were to talk about custom ROMs I'd have commented that with cyanogenmod you can customize quick settings with whatever you want plus the wifi and bluetooth toogles are, indeed, toogles.

          • Gandalf_Teh_Gray

            Nexus 7 does it and mine is stock.

          • Ygor Vaz

            Yeah, stock does it, but only in tablet mode. I'll say it again, this discussions is between sense and GPE.

          • Gandalf_Teh_Gray

            Ah well thats shitty.

    • Jonathan Franklin

      Exactly. My Note 2 screen is gigantic and you pull the shade down and nearly half the screen real estate is chewed up by toggles, the brightness slider and the stupid ongoing notification/regular notification split. I'll take AOSP's implementation all day every day. Samsung's feels like it was made for old people and it's ludicrous to get 2 emails, a text and whatever other notification and actually have to scroll down to see it.

  • Trevor Beckett

    Hitting the home button on the Sense 5 One since the 4.2.2 update takes you home even if you are in an app that you've opened via the app drawer now. Just sayin'

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ David Ruddock

      Well, I'm glad they changed it. I'm still on 4.1.

      • Christopher Lee

        I was actually pretty tempted to stick with the stock launcher, but I've gotten too used to Action Launcher, so I can't say this was ever really an issue for me.

  • Rob

    I own a Nexus 4 and I have used a Galaxy S4 for a few hours and I can honestly say I prefer my phone. Touchwiz is just too slow.

    • palf91

      I own both Nexus 4 and the One. I've used it with Sense, also Cyanogenmod. I still like Nexus 4 better overall, little things like the One's button configuration and lack of LED notifications drive me nuts.

      • PhoenixPath

        LED notification is on the top left on the HTC One...in the speaker grill.

        • palf91

          Oh yes, I'm aware, I didn't clarify that I miss Nexus 4's superior full-color LED notifications. One's two colors, green and orange, just aren't enough (especially for a premium flagship).

          I use Light Flow to differentiate each app with a unique color, so I don't need to unlock my phone just to see I got junk mail. It has become more useful than I ever imagined.

  • Tinky1

    Nice, balanced editorial. Yup, editorial, since this IS biased. You do bring up many valid points. Android has finally stopped messing with UI and started to work on its bugs. Good on Google.

  • palf91

    Good thing you can install the Sense Camera on GE, huh?
    http://forum.xda-developers.com/showthread.php?t=2351965

    Note: no Zoe though, that's a part of the Sense-optimized Gallery APK.

  • jonathan3579

    I agree with most everything said in this article. I was very excited about the GPe ROM's until I loaded one up and then realized it's best served with Nexus devices. I've since restored my phone back to stock and now must wait for T-Mobile to get 4.2.2 pushed to my device...someday.

    • Promethean

      I loved your unintentional pun!

      • jonathan3579

        Hahaha, I didn't notice it until I proofread my comment. That's what happens when you start talking HTC and Sense. -_-

  • Dominic Powell

    The battery life differences will also probably be greater when 4.3 drops for the GPe, along with some performance improvements here and there.

  • wideopn11

    Well written. I have to admit that I am one of the people who still has a bias against OEM skins but I agree with you that it's much less on an issue now than it was 18 months or 2 years ago. My old Fascinate was crippled by OEM but CM gave it new life.
    I'm more concerned with having the ability to unlock my bootloader and/or have reliable root. This is why I would pick a GPE version over an OEM version. I could live with OEM skin or just install a new launcher.
    However I've pretty much decided that I will only buy Nexus devices for the foreseeable future. GPE is close but not quite IMHO.

  • Shitiz Garg

    The more I read your articles the more I feel I'll punch you if we ever meet, first Ubuntu edge and then preferring sense over stock android?! Oh may gods have mercy.

  • NexusKoolaid

    It wouldn't be accurate to say that Google cranked up the softness - they just aren't applying the same level of sharpening. Softness isn't something you add to a photo except for artistic effect, and that's generally called blurring.

    That said, the Sense version does seem to do a better job of processing and choosing the optimal exposure settings.

    Final note - the GPe shot of the brick building is made a little worse than it actually is due to a slight bit of camera shake. Not sure whether that's 100% on the photographer or perhaps due to a poor choice in shutter speed.

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ David Ruddock

      That was the best of 5 photos of that building using the GPE. There is no more shake than with the standard One. Trust me, I tried *very* hard to get the best result I could from each camera. It was difficult. The regular One got it fine on all three photos I took. Shutter speed was near identical in both shots.

      Also, sharpening does not create detail where there is none. You could not take one of those GPE images and "sharpen" it to achieve the same result as the standard One. Detail can be destroyed, but not created.

      • carlisimo

        I'm afraid we photography nerds will swoop down and tell you that cameras do apply sharpening to the RAW files when they convert them to JPEGs. The RAW image, before Sense's post-processing, would have been blurrier than the GPE One's final JPEG, but the Standard One applied more sharpening than the GPE One. I find it surprising how much work happens during that process.

        Not the ideal link to explain it, but I couldn't find anything better:

        http://www.cambridgeincolour.com/tutorials/image-sharpening.htm

  • Mike

    One of the best articles I have read in quite a while. Well written David!

    • Christopher Lee

      lol at whoever is running around downvoting people who agree with the article.

  • Daniele M.

    ''I hated them too. Really. MOTOBLUR. Early TouchWiz. Whatever the hell LG's thing was.''

    rotfl

  • wlmeng11

    Although the reason you cite is probably also true, I think the ulterior motive behind adding features via Google Play is to gain more control by making new features closed source, thus making it more inconvenient for people to run a purely open source installation of Android, and locking people into Google's services to generate more ad revenue.

    If they only wanted to reduce fragmentation and bring features to non-Nexus devices, then they would have released Android under the GPL long ago, forcing manufacturers to contribute upstream, and allowing users to have a consistent experience with the best-of-the-best features from all of Samsung/HTC/Moto/etc.

    Then again, profits > user experience.

  • angel_spain

    David does the One sense edition run android 4.2.2? I say this because there's a well known bug in android 4.2.2 regarding wifi connectivity (the ARP Offload issue) that has been addressed in 4.3. Phone will block all incoming data when it enters sleep mode while in wifi, so tethering or Airdroid will fail after a few minutes with screen off.

    EDIT: link to the issue https://code.google.com/p/android/issues/detail?id=42272&can=1&q=ARP&colspec=ID%20Type%20Status%20Owner%20Summary%20Stars

  • dhruva

    nexus is a good program, gpe supresses diversity in the android ecosystem..and it doesnt solve the update cycle problem.

  • nawa

    About that IR blaster: if you download a third-party app for TV onto GPE, will it work?

    • Christopher Lee

      Nope, since the problem is that AOSP lacks IR support, not that an app wasn't provided.

  • GillRigged

    Hands down, the most honest review I have read in a long time.

    • Roberto Stefanini

      I really enjoyed this article.
      "Whatever the hell LG's thing was"
      "The One GPE softens the ever-loving God out of every single image it captures"

      Haha I found it funny

      • Garrett Gregor-Splaver

        "HTC's Sense dialer is bad and they should feel bad:" Yes.

  • https://plus.google.com/106261148188435264925/about Aaron Echols

    Well, getting the latest updates, isn't just about getting the updates. Anything before 4.2 is susceptable to the master key bugs. So really, it's about features, but security as well. If the updates are coming from Google, you're going to get patched pretty quickly versus a custom skinned phone which you may NEVER get patched....

    • Christopher Lee

      Which would be the case if the One GPE were actually in Google's hands entirely, but such isn't the case. Either way, although I agree with regards to security, there's a lot to be said as well for just being careful about what you stick on your phone.

  • Greyhame

    Nice editorial David. I prefer a Nexus device (over either of these) running very close to stock. Speed and fluidity are key, along with zero bloatware. If I was going to pick up a One though, I think I'd agree with you on the non-GPE version. I would at least give Sense a shot.

    Also, thank you for calling out how awful Google's Quick Panel toggles are, and how long it takes the stock camera app to focus. Long press to toggle? And so limited in options with no customization? And how can everyone else figure out focusing on a smartphone but Google? I'm not sure if they simply don't realize how many people buy one smartphone over another simply because of the camera, or are choosing to ignore that fact and instead focus on software (I'm sure the latter, but come on!). Hell, even Nokia (run by a man of highly questionable decision making ability) has made [somewhat of] a comeback on this fact alone.

    Please Google, fix these in 5.0!

  • io53

    I moved from the Nexus 4 to the HTC one because it is simply a better phone all in all. But I couldn't get over sense, I just don't like it. No problems, had a look at XDA and fully converted my One to e HTC One GE. Couldn't be happier with the device :). (You can use sense camera on the Google Edition version)

  • The Seventh Son

    I don't think I have ever read anything this long on the internets where I literally agreed with every single word. It's like our souls were hugging for 10 minutes straight.

    I too have both the Ones - Sense and GE. You seriously nailed it David, nicely done.

    • The Seventh Son

      Err... obligatory "no homo".

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ David Ruddock

      Having people agree with me is weird.

      • Ricardo Kummel

        I think this is the best piece of AOSP vs Sense I've ever seen.. Being an One user I can see that you speak the truth. My friends are always saying: Install CM, install stock, install -insert your rom here-.. I like what HTC has done with Sense since the early days. Got the One because I loved my HTC One X (apart from the battery life) and I'm enjoying BlinkFeed also! Like you, I'm not an RSS reader so BlinkFeed really makes sense to me (pun intended)..

        Thanks for your rants and review. ;)

  • http://byazrov.ru/ Byazrov.com

    I love my HTC One, but if I knew that the camera is so terrible as it is I might have chosen other phone over this one. Camera is very important in smartphones. How come HTC doesn't get it is beyond understanding.

  • skaterjosh98

    Well I gotta say I was going to figure out how to root and put stock Android on my One but this article reminded me why I fell in love with the One as my first Android phone. Being on 4.1 doesnt bother me as much now.

  • simp1istic

    Couldn't disagree more. I've actually owned both. I'm actually shocked that you like, and even prefer, the HTC keyboard. I've found every single HTC keyboard to be a total joke. On the one x it couldn't even accurately provide haptic feedback. It would vibrate once for multiple presses if you typed fast. I don't know if the one had this same issue, I couldn't be bothered to use it long enough.

  • Michael Fontenot

    Let me start off by saying that I'm a nexus user and in almost all cases I prefer stock Android. In this case however, I would definitely prefer having sense on the one. It's how the phone was meant to be.

  • Samyak Ranjan

    This is a really good review. However I would like to point out that not having the Quick Toggles on the notification pane is a good thing. You get more notifications within a page.
    However since I have my One updated to 4.2, I can easily use the 2 touch swipe to access Quick Toggles.
    Of course If someone is grown used to those from Samsung, then it would be difficult switching.
    Just saying.

  • sweenish

    The One doesn't have a better camera than the GPe One, it has better software.

  • CyanogenMod User

    Yea because having a lot of shit running in the background eating up your ram and slowing down your phone is always a good thing. Sense, touchwiz and so forth may offer good features but it is ugly as fuck and detracts more from the android experience then stock android would.

  • DrM

    Can you please compare the audio output of the amplifier with regular wired headphones?
    I'm curious about that.

  • mucinch

    Beautiful comparison, wish reviews were done this way. On the case of OEM skins being better than stock, the main reason is because there haven't been any major changes in Android after 4.0. With the release of iOS7, I suppose Google will have something major in the "K" release and when Google releases that, it will be back to OEMs are crap. Google play services are good for maintaining the status quo, but with most Google apps and services available on both platforms, Google must improve Android to sustain the momentum.

  • Mike D

    MoDaCo Switch lets you run Sense or Stock with both options sharing your apps and data.

  • http://trapchan.blogspot.com trapchan

    just by looking at the dialer I would agree that Sense version looked million times better.

  • Keith Jesso

    I'm still on the fence about converting my One into a GE. Does the phone also lose it's FM radio ability? (It suddenly became my favorite feature after I bought a bicycle this summer).

  • Sergey Zolotnitsky

    "I tested Bluetooth audio on the One GPE and the standard One with a pretty decent set of Bluetooth on-ear headphones, and didn't notice any difference in quality or reliability of streaming."
    Thats a lowest point in your (otherwise great) comparison, a point where you are giving up. Sense 5 is reported to have an Apt-X stack in it, and GPE does not. So letting an unspecified "pretty decent set of Bluetooth on-air headphones" to blure the difference is IMHO a shame.
    Go get a mere Sennheiser BT-310, and push it to the limit. And at least let us know how serios was the test you put to prove or reject similarity.

  • rawdeadfish

    great comparison!! i'm waiting on the one max and galaxy note 4 and galaxy mega to be released to decide if i want something huge, otherwise the ONE might be it for me, and this comparison helped with the GPE vs OEM decision, a lot. Thanks.

  • fakegramita

    "... it's mostly about having the latest and greatest thing as soon as possible."

    Agree, except... these days it's often a lot more 'latest' and not so much 'greatest' : /

  • Lou_C

    SO BRAVE

  • gommer strike

    But you know what you can't do from GPE, that you *can*, from Sense?

    Text message(SMS) block is built right into Sense. You don't need to download another app for that. So when you've got an annoying frenemy or SMS spammer, this'll silence them nice and easy.