Google Play Edition phones

Google has sold devices under the Nexus brand for the last few years. The Nexus program serves as a proving ground for competitively priced smartphones and tablets, but also as a means to show off the latest and greatest in Android technologies. This has driven the industry to include the new features (NFC, barometer, etc.) in their own handsets, and helps keep prices down. Like it or not, manufacturers inevitably replace much of the Google-ish UI with their own user interface. This may add features and functionality, but it can also add overhead and lag — and ultimately, the user experience (though similar) varies significantly between devices from the several OEMs. That’s why I’ve been an advocate of Google Play Edition phones.

Long before the Google Play editions were announced hoped Google might open up the Nexus program to anyone. Essentially, any manufacturer would be able to submit their “flagship” for sale as a Nexus device. It would have the “stock” Android experience, be sold “unlocked” for use on any carrier, and have an easily unlockable bootloader. Ultimately that’s not what we got. Instead, Google introduced “Google Play edition” phones, which it sells through the Play Store.

Google Play edition phones work on virtually every GSM carrier, run stock Android, and feature fairly easy unlockable bootloaders. Updates come from the OEM, not from Google, and they come at a premium price — unlike the Nexus devices which are quite affordably priced.

No, I didn’t get exactly what I’d hoped for with my “every flagship device is a Nexus” program, but what we got is pretty close. Close enough, in fact, that whenever someone asks about getting a high-end smartphone, I make sure to tell them to “buy it straight from Google” rather than through their carrier.  I also keep an eye out when I see a Galaxy S 4 or HTC One in public to see if it’s a Google Play edition or not.

I haven’t seen a single one! Why?!

Google has finally liberated us from bloaty OEM versions of Android with features that typically add more overhead than functionality. It’s liberated us from having to get updates through our carriers. It’s allowed us a means to get off our contract-based plans and go month-to-month so switches as easy as replacing a SIM. It’s given us flexibility and freedom! So why haven’t I seen people using Google Play editions of the two flagship phones?

Has anyone actually purchased a Google Play edition Galaxy S 4 or HTC One? Have you seen any “in the wild”? Do you own one of these smartphones, and if so, why did you buy it from Google versus your carrier (or vice versa)? Will your next device be a Nexus or Google Play edition? Why, or why not?

Head down to the comments and share your comments and thoughts!

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