Galaxy S4 Google Edition

One of the announcements at Google I/O this year was somewhat unexpected. We’d heard a few scattered rumors of another Samsung-made Nexus based on their new Galaxy S 4 platform, but I don’t think anyone was ready for what we actually got: an unlocked, cross-carrier version of the Galaxy S4 — the Galaxy S4 Google Edition.

Earlier today Pocketnow’s Stephen Schenck wrote about this new but “not quite-a-Nexus” phone, and why it’s a “slightly” bad deal. His points are fair and accurate, and I can’t say that I disagree with any of them. Why is the “Google Edition” of Samsung’s latest flagship smartphone a big deal?

Galaxy S4 Samsung Edition

The Samsung version of the Galaxy S4 was announced in a somewhat peculiar way: with a Broadway production. Before Michael Fisher jumps into the comments, no, it wasn’t really a “Broadway play”, it just seemed like it. It was a stage-production showing off the features of the new phone. In retrospect, the announcement was more about features than it was about hardware. Most of us didn’t see that at the time. We were all looking for new hardware, a new phone with new specs. Samsung wanted to show off the evolution of TouchWiz and all the S-features they were including.

Galaxy S4 Google Edition

This is where things start to get a little “weird”. Google has worked with OEMs to create “showcase” pieces of hardware running the “pure” Android experience in the past. The first such device was the inaugural Android-powered smartphone, the T-Mobile G1 made by HTC. Since then we’ve seen others released without the “Nexus” name (the Motorola XOOM comes to mind).

Today, however, Google generally shows off Android updates with their Nexus family of products. These smartphones and tablets are usually fairly well spec’d, but a few corners are cut to make the price-point more attractive. These devices generally get updates within a few weeks of a new operating system having been released, and they are now starting to be carrier-agnostic (as long as that means “GSM”).

Samsung went out on a limb and was willing to sell their hardware for the sake of their hardware — without all the bloat of their otherwise built-in apps. They also unlocked it to work on any GSM/HSPA+ carrier (and kept LTE support as well). This configuration bypasses the carriers entirely. Owners are no longer reliant upon their cellular provider to “test” and “approve” updates, meaning new features as well as security patches can now be deployed much more rapidly.

Google went out on a limb, too. The SGS4 includes two things that Google seems to be moving away from: a removable battery and an sdcard slot. Both of these were features that I would have considered “mandatory” in one of my devices previous to the Nexus 4 and Nexus 7. Today, I’m living with the facts that I cannot remove my batteries, nor can I expand my storage space. I’m not happy with being forced that direction, but I’ve been able to work around the limitation.

Now that the SGS4 will be available in a “Google Edition”, I’ll have the best of both worlds. Yes, it will come at a premium cost: the price for the Samsung phone is three-hundred dollars more than Google’s own phone. Are removable storage and a replaceable battery worth it? When you throw in LTE and 1080P, I think they probably are.

What are your thoughts? Is the Galaxy S4 Google Edition important? How will it help Samsung change? Will Google make any modifications to their next Nexus to put it on the same playing field? Let us know what you think in the comments!

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