We enjoyed every minute spent with the HTC One Google Play Edition. Like its Samsung Galaxy S4 counterpart, the metal-clad smartphone with stripped-down Android on board offers the pure Google experience, tucked into a vastly improved hardware compared to the Nexus 4 currently on offer.
Compared to what's currently the official Google Nexus smartphone, the HTC One Google Play Edition offers more of everything. This includes processing power, storage, display size and resolution, network speed. It does however, end with a price tag which is double what the entry-level Nexus 4 costs.
Compared to the "ordinary" HTC One though, the Google Play Edition simply offers less functionality out of the box. HTC has spent quite a few years perfecting the Sense UI, and the latest iteration packs just about everything but the kitchen sink in terms of features.
Furthermore, the HTC One with Sense on board can also be easily converted to a Pure Google device by flashing it with the applicable ROM. There's a huge developer community tinkering with the HTC flagship, so the exercise is easier than most people think it is.
With a price tag of $599 and no option to buy it subsidized, the HTC One Google Play Edition is plainly not meant to be a device for everyone. Especially considering that its Sense-d sibling can be picked up for $99 with a two-year carrier commitment.
Samsung has users scratching their heads over a similar dilemma. A natural rival to the pure-Google HTC One is the Samsung Galaxy S4 Google Play Edition. Like the Taiwanese top dog, the Google Play Galaxy S4 offers top notch hardware with stock Android to boot. However, with a larger removable battery and expandable memory, the Samsung Galaxy S4 is the phone users will buy with their head. The Korean offering though, is nowhere near as attractive as the HTC One in the flesh. Besides, the Samsung Galaxy S4 Google Play Edition is priced at $649 with no subsidies, which makes it really hard to recommend.
In fact it's hard to recommend any of the Google Pay Edition smartphones, when there's the LG Nexus 4 readily available. With a starting price tag of $299, the Nexus 4 is an attractive proposal, even if it pales in comparison to the HTC One in terms of hardware and overall design.
The HTC One Google Play Edition can be the perfect device for a narrow group of potential users. It is not going to enjoy even a fraction of the regular HTC One's popularity. It's not going to have a significant impact on the company's financial results, or even bring that much publicity considering the very limited availability.
Still, the One Google Play Edition is HTC's badge of honor. By placing it alongside the Samsung Galaxy S4 in the Play Store, Google essentially acknowledges that the HTC One is one of the top two Android smartphones, driving the platform forward this past year. As far as recognition goes, it can hardly get any better for the HTC One.