When you pick up an Android phone or tablet, do you wish manufacturers would drop their unnecessary custom software skins? Do you fantasize about a world where more mobile hardware runs plain ol' vanilla Android ? If so, then Google Play has a couple of holiday surprises waiting for you, in the form of stock Android-running Google Play Editions of the LG G Pad 8.3 and Sony Xperia Z Ultra.
You might remember that earlier this year Google joined forces with Samsung and HTC to bring Nexus-like Google Play Editions of the Galaxy S4 and HTC One to the Play Store. Today LG's tablet and Sony's phablet join the fray, marking the first non-Nexus devices of their kind that run Nexus-like software.
Like the other Google Play Edition phones, the stock Android-running version of the Sony Z Ultra is only available off-contract, ringing up for a hefty US$650. Its enormous 6.4-in screen is only 16 percent smaller than 7-in tablets like the Nexus 7, making it one of the biggest phablets you can buy today.
The G Pad 8.3, meanwhile, marries the device's vaguely iPad mini-esque design and sharp display to "pure Google" Android. Its Google Play Edition rings up for the same $350 as the LG-skinned original.
Pure GoogleWhy Google Play Editions? Well, for starters, they ship with the latest version of Android, Android 4.4 KitKat. They should also get updates to future versions of Android soon after they release. They're essentially Nexus devices, minus the hardware design collaboration with Google.
Maybe even more importantly, we find that Android devices that run stock Android give you a smoother overall experience. Those custom manufacturer skins can sometimes add value to the customer (like Samsung's stylus-based software for the Galaxy Note), but more often they're only there for market differentiation. Google has improved Android's UI and responsiveness in the last couple of years, and we welcome more hardware-makers getting out of the way and letting that software shine.
Both devices are available today from Google Play. At least for now, though, they're unfortunately limited to the US.