The HTC One Got Me to Care Less About Nexus Phones

The HTC One, which runs a modified version of Android, has convinced me that the benefits of non-Nexus devices outweigh the drawbacks. After spending weeks with the phone, there are a few features I'd be reluctant to give up

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Jared Newman / TIME.com

The tech world has been buzzing lately about a potential wave of new “Nexus” phones. LG just announced a white Nexus 4 to complement the black model that’s already available. Samsung will release a Nexus-like version of its Galaxy S 4 next month, and HTC is rumored to be considering the same for its HTC One.

All of this news would have excited me a few months ago, when I considered myself somewhat of an Android purist. But my recent purchase of an HTC One has made me rethink whether Nexus phones can truly provide a better experience.

If you’re unfamiliar, devices that bear the “Nexus” label run Android exactly as Google intended, without frilly modifications from phonemakers. You won’t, for instance, find S-Voice or Smart Scroll — hallmark features of Samsung’s Galaxy S phones — on the company’s Nexus 10 tablet or Galaxy Nexus phone. Techies tend to like the Nexus concept because it represents a purer, dare I say Apple-like, approach to smartphone design. There are no gimmicks, and no “bloatware,” and the software updates come directly from Google without any delays.

The HTC One, which runs a modified version of Android dubbed Sense, has convinced me that the benefits of non-Nexus devices outweigh the drawbacks. After spending about three weeks with the HTC One, there are a few features I’d be reluctant to give up:

Killer Camera Software: On the HTC One, the camera is the killer app. I love the ability to hold down the shutter button to take photos in burst mode, and then select the best photo of the bunch to save. HDR mode is easy to access, and the ability to snap photos from a video is a nice touch. The camera software on Nexus devices isn’t as advanced, nor is it designed with any particular hardware in mind. Putting stock Android on the HTC One would make the camera worse.

Lock-Screen Shortcuts: On HTC’s phones, you can jump directly into any of your docked apps from the lock screen by swiping up on the app icon. On my phone, I have quick access to voice search, Chrome, Gmail and the camera. Nexus devices have camera and Google shortcuts on the lock screen, but that’s it.

IR Blaster: The HTC One has a built-in infrared transmitter, which allows the phone to double as a TV and stereo remote. I no longer have to juggle multiple remotes, and the TV app’s built-in channel guide is a huge help for over-the-air broadcasts since we don’t have cable. To date, no Nexus device includes an IR blaster, and Google doesn’t offer any of its own software to take advantage.

I don’t have as much experience with Samsung’s Galaxy S 4, but you could make the same case based on that phone’s features. The S 4, for instance, has its own IR blaster and a few helpful camera modes.

Meanwhile, the things that used to irk me about non-Nexus devices aren’t as problematic anymore:

nexus4

Google

Google’s Android Update Workaround: During Google’s I/O conference this month, Dustin Earley at Android and Me made the sharp observation that Google is updating Android without updating Android. New features like Google Play Music All Access and Google Play Game Services are available to a wide range of phones without the latest version of Android. Same goes for updated versions of Google Maps, Google Now and the revamped Google Hangouts app (formerly Google Talk). Essentially, Google is working around the fact that phonemakers and wireless carriers are slow to upgrade their devices. So while my HTC One runs Android 4.1, rather than the latest Android 4.2, the experience doesn’t suffer much.

Resources to Spare: In the past, you could feel the tweaks from HTC and Samsung bogging down the Android software on their phones. Animations were often sluggish or intrusive, and scrolling was choppy and laggy. But thanks to advances in smartphone hardware, as well as Google’s own work in making Android slicker, I’ve found that most new Android phones run smoothly no matter what. Phonemakers have room to add features without hogging vital resources.

There are still things I prefer about the Nexus experience. Aesthetically, Google’s software design is much slicker than anything I’ve seen from HTC, Samsung or LG, and I like how Nexus devices use software buttons instead of hardware keys for home, back and multitasking. Also, bloatware is still a nuisance on non-Nexus phones, especially on AT&T. My HTC One is larded up with all kinds of unwanted apps and services, like AT&T’s Navigator and Address Book, and some of them can’t be removed or disabled.

The Nexus program still serves a purpose beyond appealing to consumers. It’s a way for Google to show off the latest version of Android and to provide a reference device for developers and phonemakers. But Google has also tried to sell the Nexus brand to the masses by offering low-cost unlocked phones and cheap tablets. At least in the U.S., carrier-subsidized phones are cheaper and easier to acquire, so the need for Nexus phones isn’t as pronounced.

Still, in the past I’ve hoped for just the right Nexus hardware to come along, so I could finally get the best Android software experience possible. Only now, phonemakers like HTC are doing a better job at Android than Google.

14 comments
letslive
letslive like.author.displayName 1 Like

really!!! u write 3 stupid features and tell us to avoid nexus phones!! man what is this world coming to? in short any literate person will get irritated by this article. 

alderran
alderran

Doesn't the fact that you can launch apps without putting in the pin kind of defeat the purpose of having a pin?

One benefit of touchwiz and sense is that the stock browsers support flash.  I also like the feature where if your phone is ringing you can place it face down and it stops ringing.  Another one is if you are on a call and place the phone face down it switches to speaker phone.  

newmanjb
newmanjb moderator like.author.displayName 1 Like

@alderran So, on the One, the PIN sequence only comes up after you've done the initial unlock gesture or try to use one of the app shortcuts. On Nexus devices, the PIN input shows up immediately when you wake the screen.

I suppose you could argue that Nexus devices are equally as fast for getting into an app if you have a PIN, since it requires the same number of steps. (Wake phone, enter PIN, open app on Nexus, vs. wake phone, open app, enter PIN on the HTC One.) In my case I don't use a PIN, so HTC's lock screen skips a step.

ukjb
ukjb

@alderran 
My nexus 7 requires you to unloc kthe phone before the app launches. so when you try to launch the app from the widget, it gets highlighted and then focuses you to the unlock button. So in my experience you still have to unlock. That's stock android though, can't say for sure for the others.

applehamiltus
applehamiltus

Nexus devices don't just have those shortcuts nowadays in the lockscreen. Android 4.2 added lockscreen widgets. Wasn't sure if you caught that

newmanjb
newmanjb moderator

@applehamiltus Yeah, I'm aware of lockscreen widgets. I use AnyDash on my Nexus 7 to show some at-a-glance info, such as weather, unread e-mail count and battery status, but that's not quite the same as jumping directly into apps. (I'm guessing there is some kind of app shortcut widget for this purpose but I haven't looked into it.) Fortunately, the One's lock screen duplicates some of what I can do with AnyDash. And I'm hoping the phone will be upgraded to include lock screen widgets eventually.

Gomerite
Gomerite like.author.displayName 1 Like

Nexus phones are just another consumer choice, but one that has by and large worked in the interest of consumers. I opted to pass on an S3 after trying it out for a couple of weeks so I could go back to my Galaxy Nexus, and I have no regrets. The razzmatazz and bloat of Samsung's Android annoyed me without giving enough benefits to justify a switch. It is interesting that "Samsung will release a Nexus-like version of its Galaxy S 4 next month, and HTC is rumored to be considering the same for its HTC One." Just because you add fluff to Android doesn't make it better, and it seems that these companies have realized as much.

luscus111
luscus111

@Gomerite I think both could coexist, Android developers are not the only ones with good ideas. I Used a S Nexus and it was great, I know have a Samsung S4 I rooted it and removed all the AT&T JUNK and also remover many Samsung apps that where mimicking a great android utility like the voice recognition. Of course when KLP comes out it will take Samsung a while before they give us that update, However it would be nice that both OS's?? could stand on their merits rather than trying to choose between them, so if you like Samsung gestures you could download them for example. and of course AT&T should keep their mediocre apps also away from phones, put them up on the play store so that if anyone whants them they could download them. I fear the would live a lonely life in the app store.

RedmondJennings
RedmondJennings

You're sure putting a lot of faith in a company that 1. might not be around in a year and 2. has gone on the record as really really really not caring what their software add-ons do to the security of your phone. 

http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2013/02/ftc-orders-htc-to-fix-its-reasonable-security-failures-on-android/

ŦheRockAlbin
ŦheRockAlbin like.author.displayName 1 Like

@RedmondJennings Google HTCPro you will see that HTC One is the first device to get a business certification in  U.S.A, IF THAT'S NOT SECURE ENOUGH I dont know what is.

gene_guarin
gene_guarin like.author.displayName 1 Like

Oh come on. The point of Android was to create a platform that would run the same apps but would let manufacturers differentiate their devices. Android that runs on Nexus devices was always bare-bones because it's meant for developers and enthusiasts to fiddle with and create their own spin on Android differentiation.

newmanjb
newmanjb moderator like.author.displayName 1 Like

@gene_guarin That was the original purpose, yes, but as we've seen with the Nexus 7, it's also become a way for Google to push the pure Android experience to a wider group of people.

I always go back to what Andy Rubin wrote when Google started selling the GNex directly on its own site for cheap: "We want to give you a place to purchase Nexus devices that work really well with your digital entertainment."

In other words, they want to sell devices where Google Play is front and center, and that isn't always the case on other hardware. Perhaps the mission has changed once again now that Rubin has stepped down from Android, but I don't buy the notion that Nexus devices are strictly for developers and are therefore infallible.

Edit: Link to Rubin's blog post below:

http://googlemobile.blogspot.com/2012/04/galaxy-nexus-now-on-sale-in-google-play.html