HTC One Google Play Edition vs. the regular HTC One: Camera shootout!

HTC One Google Play Edition Camera

HTC took an unusual approach to smartphone imaging with its low-megapixel but low-light-friendly HTC One "UltraPixel" camera -- and for the most part, the gamble paid off. The One is widely regarded as one of the best smartphone cameras you can get your hands on today.

So what happens when you strip out the company's custom software and slap stock Android in its place? I'm talking, of course, about the new HTC One Google Play Edition. While the phone benefits from Google's clean and intuitive pure Android UI, it also loses out on HTC's camera-specific software modifications -- and that has the potential to change how images turn out on the device.

I put the new HTC One Google Play Edition up against the regular HTC One in a side-by-side camera shootout. I took the same pictures with one device and then the other, using each phone's default settings for a base-level comparison.

As you'll see, in some scenarios, there's a very noticeable difference between the two. Check out these side-by-side samples.

Click on any image to view a larger (and optionally full-resolution) version.

HTC One Play Edition Camera (1)
Regular HTC One Camera (1)

HTC One Google Play Edition at left (or top), regular HTC One at right (or bottom). Lots more light coming through in the regular One's photo; if you zoom into the full-resolution version, you'll also notice it has more consistent clarity and less noise.

HTC One Play Edition Camera (2)
Regular HTC One Camera (2)

HTC One Google Play Edition at left (or top), regular HTC One at right (or bottom). In this comparison, the Play Edition appears overexposed and loses out on much of the natural, real-life coloring. The difference in noise is also quite noticeable at the full-res level.

HTC One Play Edition Camera (3)
Regular HTC One Camera (3)

HTC One Google Play Edition at left (or top), regular HTC One at right (or bottom). Less of a dramatic difference in this direct sunlight, more muted-color scene.

HTC One Play Edition Camera (4)
Regular HTC One Camera (4)

HTC One Google Play Edition at left (or top), regular HTC One at right (or bottom). At a glance, these two images look similar -- but open the full-res versions and zoom in, and you'll see that the regular One once again has greater clarity and less noise, particularly if you look at the trees in the distance.

HTC One Play Edition Camera (5)
HTC One Play Edition Camera (5)

HTC One Google Play Edition at left (or top), regular HTC One at right (or bottom). A close call in this comparison with no clear winner.

HTC One Play Edition Camera (6)
Regular HTC One Camera (6)

HTC One Google Play Edition at left (or top), regular HTC One at right (or bottom). Indoors with a combination of natural light and fixture-provided light. It's subtle, but to my eyes, the coloring is slightly warmer and more true to life in the regular One's image.

HTC One Play Edition Camera (7)
Regular HTC One Camera (7)

HTC One Google Play Edition at left (or top), regular HTC One at right (or bottom). A dangerous gathering of minds -- and another one that's too close to call.

HTC One Play Edition Camera (9)
HTC One Play Edition Camera (9)

HTC One Google Play Edition at left (or top), regular HTC One at right (or bottom). Here's where the differences get particularly meaningful: Look at the low-light performance of the Play Edition One and the regular One in this dimly lit garage shot.

Both Galaxy S4 models, by the way, captured nothing in this same shot -- so while the Play Edition One may not be at the same level as the regular One, it's still way ahead of the GS4 and Play Edition GS4 in low-light terrain.

HTC One Play Edition Camera (10)
Regular HTC One Camera (10)

HTC One Google Play Edition at left (or top), regular HTC One at right (or bottom). Low-light test #2. The Play Edition One holds its own but can't hold a candle to the regular version of the device.

HTC One Play Edition Camera (13)
Regular HTC One Camera (13)

HTC One Google Play Edition at left (or top), regular HTC One at right (or bottom). I beg of you -- don't violate the damn city ordiance.

HTC One Play Edition Camera (15)
Regular HTC One Camera (15)

HTC One Google Play Edition at left (or top), regular HTC One at right (or bottom). This one's interesting: At a glance, it appears the Play Edition captured a lighter-looking image -- but when you look closely, you can see that it washed out the sky to a weird white color while the regular One picked up the realistic blue hues. Neither image is perfect, but I think the regular One has the better overall shot.

HTC One Play Edition Camera (21)
Regular HTC One Camera (21)

HTC One Google Play Edition at left (or top), regular HTC One at right (or bottom). Inside a brightly lit store. Zoom into the full-res images and you'll see that the regular One captured more detail on the box's texture.

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So, all combined, it appears the loss of HTC's custom-tailored camera software does indeed have an effect on the phone's camera performance. The Play Edition's images aren't bad, by any means -- but they're up against a high standard, and in many cases, they don't quite reach the level of what the regular One can do.

To see how the Galaxy S4 Play Edition compares -- both to the One and to the regular Galaxy S4 model -- check out its camera shootout in the links below.

Galaxy S4 Google Play Edition vs. the regular GS4: Camera shootout!

What the GS4 and HTC One Google Play Editions are actually like to use

The verdict: Should you buy the GS4 and/or HTC One Google Play Edition?

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