Talking tech since 2003

One of the highly touted features of HTC’s new $649 flagship phone, the (terribly named) One M8, was Sense 6, or “Sixth Sense,” the smartphone maker’s newest iteration of its proprietary Android OS ROM. Sense has been a mainstay of all HTC phones since 2009, making changes to the Android experience like the overall look and feel of Android, not to mention the addition of Blinkfeed and the gesture-based wake-up and camera features, among plenty other HTC-specific bells and whistles. But if you want to pay an extra fifty dollars, you can get a “Senseless” version of the One M8 directly from Google.

htc-one-m8-google-nowThat’s right: available for pre-order right now is the Google Play edition of the HTC One M8, which will set you back a cool $699. The phone is unlocked, meaning you can take it to just about any carrier that’s into that sort of thing, and that’ll give you all the cool-sounding features offered up by the phone. That includes the Duo Camera, its fancy front-facing stereo speakers, and all the rest. You’ll also get pure Android, specifically Android 4.4, AKA KitKat. As for specs, it’s got the exact same hardware under the hood as the Sense 6 version: 2 GB of RAM, a Snapdragon 801 2.3 GHz CPU, and 32 GB of internal storage with expandable microSD card slot.

For half that price tag, you can get the Nexus 5, made by LG, which boasts just as much RAM and a slightly slower processor in a Snapdragon 800, and half the internal storage at 16 GB with no expandable memory. The big selling point with the Nexus (which I own and still love) is that it’s fast, runs pure Android, and is very inexpensive for what you get.

So is it worth it? I think it might be, yes. While $699 is a hefty price tag for, well, anything, it’s about standard for high end smartphones these days. While yesterday’s reveal boasted about built-in DLNA features, I’m not sure whether or not that will survive into the nonSensical Google Play edition. It seems clear that the tap-based wake features won’t.

But as much as HTC would like us to believe that Sense 6 is fantastic, my own experience with different versions of Android tells me otherwise. I had an HTC EVO 4G LTE for a few years, and before that I owned a Samsung Galaxy Epic 4G—both great phones, filled with software instability and issues. My main diagnosis as to their usability issues was that they weren’t running regular Android, and their performances suffered as a result. And the Amazon Kindle Fire, running a forked version of Android, is a hot mess.

One of the many reasons Apple users love their mobile devices is because they get the UI experience that was built just for them. An iPad and an iPhone are built to run iOS, and iOS is built to run on an Apple-made device. Pure Android is an experience that provides users with Google’s vision for how a mobile OS should work. Using brand-specific ROMs like HTC Sense and Samsung’s TouchWiz muddies that up. For an extra fifty bucks, a Google Play edition of the otherwise amazing looking HTC One M8 is a good idea.

Besides, if you really want Blinkfeed in your life, you can download it for free—for any compatible Android phone.

As a side note, the Google Play edition of this device could be the true source of rumors surrounding an HTC-made Nexus tablet. The jury’s still out on whether or not that might be the case, but I still find it hard to believe that Google would go with HTC to make its new Nexus rather than LG or Asus, which are responsible for the company’s most recent smartphones and tablets in the Nexus line. I suppose we’ll find out more as we approach Google I/O this summer. Stay tuned.

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