As we mentioned in our hands-on, the HTC One Google Play edition is cosmetically identical to its skinned counterparts -- you'll enjoy the same exquisite design, materials and build quality. Compared to AT&T's version, there's no carrier branding on the back, and that's the only visible difference. Spec-wise it boasts a Qualcomm 1.7GHz quad-core Snapdragon 600 processor (APQ8064T) with 2GB RAM, 32GB of built-in storage, a stunning 4.7-inch 1,920 x 1,080 (468ppi) Super LCD 3 display, an impressive UltraPixel camera (4MP) with OIS and LED flash, BoomSound stereo speakers and a sealed 2,300mAh Li-polymer battery.
The radios (unlocked, of course) match AT&T's model, with quad-band GSM / EDGE, tri-band UMTS / HSPA+ up to 21 Mbps (850 / 1900 / 2100) and quad-band LTE (700 / 850 / 1700 / 1900). Unfortunately, this means that if you're a T-Mobile customer in a non-LTE area of the US, you'll be stuck on re-farmed 1900MHz spectrum for 3G -- or possibly even 2G / EDGE -- since the phone lacks AWS support for HSPA+. Other connectivity options include dual-band 802.11a/ac/b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0 with aptX, NFC, IR and GPS / A-GPS. Since this Google Play edition is based on AT&T's version, it lacks the chip required for Google Wallet, which is disappointing. To be fair, Sprint's HTC One is currently the only model to support Google Wallet.
In terms of performance, this Google Play edition certainly feels a bit faster than its Sense 5-equipped cousins, but this is subjective, of course. As you can see in the table below, the benchmark scores are very close to what we measured on the skinned versions, except for GFXBench, which comes out slightly ahead. It's the same story with battery life -- in our standard rundown test (looping an HD video with brightness and volume set to half; email and social networks polling over LTE; WiFi and GPS enabled, but not connected; and Bluetooth turned off) the handset stayed alive for seven hours and 26 minutes, which matches what we observed with AT&T's HTC One. Calls sounded loud and clear in our tests and we enjoyed solid network performance on both AT&T and T-Mobile (both LTE and 1900MHz HSPA+) in and around San Francisco with data speeds up to 24.5 Mbps down and 18 Mbps up.
||HTC One Google Play edition
||HTC One for AT&T
||HTC One (global)
||Samsung Galaxy S 4 Google Play edition
||LG Nexus 4
|SunSpider 1.0 (ms)
|GFXBench 2.5 Egypt HD Offscreen (fps)
|SunSpider: lower scores are better
One area where stock Android typically falls short of its skinned competition is with the default camera app, which suffers from an overly simple UI and mediocre image processing. We're happy to report that both Google Play edition phones feature an updated app (1.1.40012 vs. 1.1.40001 on Nexus devices), which provides much improved imaging performance. In fact, the photos we captured with this HTC One are similar in quality to what we snapped with models running Sense 5. Video recording is decent enough (1080p / 30fps / 12Mbps), but the soundtrack is mono and often too quiet. Color balance is accurate, though we noticed an occasional bug when metering stills where the exposure is initially fine, but keeps getting progressively brighter until the app is closed. What the UltraPixel camera lacks in resolution and dynamic range it makes up for with superb low-light performance, thanks in great part to those stabilized f/2.0 optics and large 2µm pixels.
There's still room for improvement with the camera UI, which shows a cropped viewfinder regardless of the aspect ratio selected in the settings, making it difficult to compose shots. It's not a huge problem here since the sensor's native aspect ratio is 16:9, but it's an issue with other handsets. One interesting difference with stock Android is that OIS is only active while shooting, but not when looking at the viewfinder. The camera app also benefits from a new settings menu, which is laid out in an arc instead of a circle. Sadly, giving up on Sense 5 also means losing the HTC One's excellent Zoe functionality along with the ability to take full-resolution pictures while recording video. What you gain instead is Google's awesome Photo Sphere -- that's definitely something to keep in mind.
Of course, the main appeal of the HTC One Google Play edition is stock Android 4.2.2 (Jelly Bean) instead of the skinned version of Android 4.1.2 available on its Sense 5 relatives. The lack of carrier and manufacturer customizations makes for a simpler, cleaner and faster user experience -- it's quite refreshing, actually -- but also means BlinkFeed is gone and the infrared transmitter is disabled. Speaking of which, Google Play edition phones will be getting updates from the manufacturer, unlike Nexus devices, which receive them directly from Google. As such, it's possible this HTC One will regain IR support in the future -- after all, Beats is already present with a toggle in the sound settings. With two capacitive keys replacing the three on-screen buttons usually found on stock Android, there's no dedicated recent apps key. This was solved by giving the home button the same additional functionality as in Sense 5: double-tap to access the apps list and long-press for Google Now.
While the HTC One ships with one of the least obtrusive and most polished skins available today, stock Android just takes this handset in a completely new direction. Sure, you lose Zoe and the infrared transmitter (at least for the time being), but you gain Android 4.2.2, a better user experience and that smug feeling that you're enjoying something special. Why spend $599 for this Google Play edition when the Nexus 4 provides the same satisfaction for $299? The decision boils down to this: If you want LTE, a better camera and a beautiful design, pick this HTC One; if your budget is limited and Google Wallet is paramount, choose the Nexus 4. If you must have it all and can handle its cheap looks, spend a little more on Samsung's Galaxy S 4 with stock Android ($649). Ultimately, the HTC One Google Play edition is a phenomenal phone. There's only one caveat -- the lack of AWS band for HSPA+ is a major drawback if you're on T-Mobile in the US.