There's something magical about owning a Nexus phone. It's akin to belonging to an elite inner circle or cabal, one that's privy to the most up-to-date software straight from Google's top-secret labs. The benefits of running on pure Android unfettered by carrier bloatware, shady third-party apps, and manufacturer skins go beyond feeling special, though. The biggest is that accessories and apps simply run properly when not tripped up by glitzy yet proprietary add-ons.
Unless you void your warranty and root your handset, then flash it with custom Android builds, however, phones with stock Android are hard to come by. But don't give up hope. If you're willing to pay higher unsubsidized prices up front, HTC and Samsung offer an enticing selection of true Nexus devices. Here's a list of pristine Android phones sure to tempt your inner Android purist.
Quite possibly the current king of stock Android smartphones and the heir to the Google Nexus empire, the HTC One Google Play Edition combines seductive all-aluminum style with Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean. Its 1.7GHz quad-core processor, 2GB of RAM, big 4.7-inch screen, and powerful speakers are icing on the cake.
Samsung Galaxy S4 Google Play Edition
The Samsung Galaxy S4 Google Play Edition offers the most powerful hardware specs of any Android phone without any carrier bloatware, and with an elegantly simple Jelly Bean UI. The phone also packs a removable battery and SD card slot for extra expansion, things the HTC One lacks. Read the full review of the Samsung Galaxy S4 Google Play Edition.
LG Nexus 4 (T-Mobile)
An officially sanctioned Nexus handset, the LG Nexus 4 flaunts both a lovely glass design and an elegant Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean user interface. Running the most recent version of Android available, the Nexus 4 is driven by a 1.5GHz quad-core Snapdragon CPU. The handset will be first in line to receive fresh Android updates, along with the HTC One Google Play Edition and Samsung Galaxy S4 Google Play Edition, of course. One caveat though is the Nexus 4's lack of 4G LTE support. Read the full review of the LG Nexus 4.
You can't deny that the Samsung Galaxy Nexus is getting long in the tooth. Still, back when it was released in 2011, it was one of the hottest Android smartphones money could buy. The phone that launched Ice Cream Sandwich, it can still be found for sale unlocked for a fraction of its original price.
Looking for specs and pricing? Compare these pure Android phones head-to-head.