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HTC One Google Play Edition review: Stunning design, pristine Android, nothing fancy

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The killer app, though, is how the phone software will automatically stitch together video, images, and the short 3-second movie clips (called "Zoe shorts") into video highlights. Even better, the photo gallery scores highlights to a selection of sentimental audio tracks, plus will edit these movies to match the music. It can be hit or miss, but the One has created some truly tear-jerking gems, some of which I've been compelled to share over Facebook or e-mail with family and friends.

Use the One Google Play Edition's 2-megapixel camera for vanity shots, if it pleases you. Sarah Tew/CNET

The One Google Play Edition's basic camera doesn't offer any of this kind of mushy pageantry. Many surely won't care if Zoe Share isn't here, but I mourn its absence. That said, it still boasts the 4-megapixel Ultrapixel sensor and Image Sense imaging processor. That means the phone takes pictures just as quickly, practically instantly, and performs very well under low-light conditions. Of course, as with the standard HTC One, the Google Play Edition tends to introduce distracting color noise in extremely dark environments.

Jelly Bean 4.2.2's camera software does provide a selection of shooting modes such as Party, Action, Sunset, and Night. You also get a horizontal panorama mode plus the new Sphere mode to combine photos together into 360-degree landscapes. There's also the option to edit images after they've been shot, such as cropping and adding color filters.

Create 360-degree panoramas with the camera's Sphere mode. Sarah Tew/CNET

Perhaps it's the lack of having HTC Sense layered over the operating system, but the HTC One Google Play Edition felt very quick and lively in my hands. Menus and apps popped open like greased lightning, and home screens flew by with astonishing speed. That said, it could all be smoke and mirrors caused by Jelly Bean's Project Butter, an initiative to improve Android handling.

A quick run of the Quadrant benchmark, a test that tries its best to squeeze a phone's system to the limit, revealed that the HTC One Google Play Edition is just as swift as its HTC Sense counterpart. The impressive 11,986 score I logged, though, is right in line with the performance of its predecessor. The standard HTC One scored a slightly higher 12,194 on the same test.

The HTC One Google Play Edition is just as speedy as its Sense counterpart. Brian Bennett/CNET

One nice surprise was the data performance I experienced on my One Google Play Edition device. Google claims that the unlocked GSM phone will support SIM cards from both AT&T and T-Mobile in the U.S., so I decided to give things a whirl. After sliding in my T-Mobile SIM and searching for a T-Mobile signal, I was greeted to a friendly LTE logo indicating that I was linked to T-Mobile's modern 4G infrastructure.

T-Mobile's unofficial LTE in New York is fast. Brian Bennett/CNET

Even though T-Mobile's 4G LTE service isn't officially launched in New York, I managed to pull down average download speeds of 9.7Mbps. Uploads clocked in at slightly higher average of 10.1Mbps. I'll certainly take those numbers to the bank, sanctioned by T-Mobile or not.

Standard HTC One or the Google Play Edition. It's up to you. Sarah Tew/CNET

For some reason, though equipped with the same 2,300 mAh battery, the HTC One Google Play Edition's battery life doesn't live up to its HTC Sense-running sibling. The phone hung on for 8 hours and 9 minutes on the CNET Labs video playback battery drain benchmark. That's much shorter than the longevity I observed on the standard HTC One (9 hours and 37 minutes). This result seems odd, so I plan to run further tests to confirm.

Which HTC One is for you?
I know that a lot of people out there have dreamed of the day when the HTC One's luxurious design was combined with the best Google has to offer. As the old saying goes, however, be careful what you wish for. The new $599 HTC One Google Play Edition certainly keeps the same sweet styling and design, which bowled many an Android fan over. It also packs Android software that's worthy of a Nexus-class Google flagship. Indeed in many ways this phone is what the LG Nexus 4 came so very close to being.

Unfortunately you do pay a price for Google's commitment to push regular Android updates to the One Google Play Edition, namely a lot of slick capabilities that HTC lovingly placed on the standard HTC One. OK, I couldn't give a hoot about BlinkFeed; I mean, that's what Flipboard is for. Those HTC Zoe features, cool weather, and other glance-able info have wormed their way into my heart, though, no matter how sappy that sounds. The One Google Play Edition's steep upfront price is tough to swallow, too.

So who ultimately is the HTC One Google Play Edition for? It's the perfect device for well-heeled uber geeks (I mean that in the best possible way) who know quality hardware when they see it, and can't stomach any wild alterations manufacturers bring to their beloved Android. I feel that strong pull, too, but for the ordinary customer, the standard carrier-branded HTC One makes a heck of a lot more sense.

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