Two of the leading, top-tier Android smartphones are now available for preorder as "Google Play” editions on the search giant’s online store. The beautifully designed HTC One is $599 and the Galaxy S4 $649. As explained last month, hardware-wise these are the same devices sold through a number of carriers around the world, but they’ll ship with clean versions of Android devoid of any widgets and other third party software.
For Google, this means giving users an option to experience Android (4.2.2) as it was intended, with their apps and features front and center, by taking advantage of flagship smartphone hardware rather than releasing new Nexus devices. Buyers on the other hand are guaranteed timely updates -- which aren’t always forthcoming when it comes to Android -- and lower monthly bills with no long-term commitments to a carrier.
The Google Play devices will work out of the box on AT&T and T-Mobile’s networks. Unfortunately, neither will work on Sprint or Verizon’s networks as the radio chips inside them don’t support their CDMA/LTE bands.
Both are available right now through Google's Play Store and will ship on July 9.
Interest in out-of-contract smartphones has been on the rise as of late, partly due to Google’s inexpensive Nexus 4, and partly due to a handful of companies attempting to shake up the wireless industry with more flexible and consumer-friendly plans -- from startups like Republic Wireless and Zact to established carriers like T-Mobile.
The market is still tiny compared to subsidized options, which generally require $200 upfront and two years of cellular bills. The Nexus 4 might have been an odd example given it was priced at $300, roughly half of what a last generation unsubsidized smartphone costs. But Google believes Google Play edition devices will appeal to “purists and enthusiasts” who are willing to pay more upfront for an uncluttered, bootlocker unlocked device.