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BLOG: New 'Google Play Edition' phones show off subtle changes to Android OS

JR Raphael | June 27, 2013
While both phones are running Android 4.2.2,they're using a slightly newer build that shows off some small but noticeable differences.

Google Play Edition Android App Drawer

A new live wallpaper
The default wallpaper on both the Galaxy S4 and HTC One Google Play Edition is something called Sun Beam. It's basically a red- and orange-tinted version of the Phase Beam live wallpaper that's been a part of Android for a while now.

Google Play Edition Android Live Wallpaper

A new default lock screen clock
Remember how many people griped about the unusual half-bold style used in the default Android 4.2 lock screen clock widget? Sure, you can always replace it entirely with a third-party lock screen widget, but it looks like Google may be toying with the idea of revamping the clock on its own.

On the Google Play Edition Galaxy S4, the Android 4.2 lock screen clock we know and love (or loathe) is replaced with a more traditional-looking, right-aligned alternative. Oddly, the updated widget isn't currently present on the HTC One Play Edition device — the two phones do have slightly different OS builds — but one way or another, it's clearly something that Google's working on.

UPDATE: This difference may be due to the Play Edition GS4's support of Samsung's S-View flip covers, which allow the clock and other info to be displayed through a small plastic-covered window.

Google Play Edition Android Lock Screen

Google Keep as a system app
With this latest Android build, Google's new Google Keep note-taking service comes preloaded as a system-level app. That means it's there the first time you turn the phone on and, like other system-level apps, can be disabled but not uninstalled.

A different boot animation
This last one's likely something made explicitly for these Google Play Edition devices, but it's new and interesting nonetheless: a different boot animation.

It makes sense, since these aren't actually Nexus devices and thus wouldn't use the Nexus boot animation — but also aren't traditional Samsung and HTC devices and wouldn't use those companies' animations, either.

Here's what both phones show at startup instead (this video also demonstrates the aforementioned new live wallpaper and app drawer design):


When I asked a Google spokesperson about the nature of the various UI tweaks, I was told the changes are limited to the Google Play Edition devices — "for now." Boot animation aside, it'd sure seem logical to conclude that some of them will ultimately be integrated into the main Android build and delivered to Nexus devices, too, whether as part of a minor update or as part of a more robust OS upgrade. No matter how you look at it, it's certainly interesting to see subtle hints of change showing up in these phones; interpret as you will.

And rest assured: This is just the start of my coverage of the new Google Play Edition products. Stay tuned for a more detailed hands-on look at what it's like to use both devices and plenty more analysis over the next several days.


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