The pure Google experience is overrated: Five ways Samsung, LG, and HTC offer more

If you visit Android smartphone forums or discuss phones with people on social networks you will often hear that nothing beats the pure Google experience. I'm not sure that's the case today.

nexus-6-3017-024.jpg
Nexus 6 Josh Miller/CNET
I hang out with a lot of smartphone enthusiasts who wax poetic about the virtues of a pure Google experience smartphone. While I have owned a few Nexus devices in the past, they tend to bore me and I think the appeal of a pure Google experience device is overrated in today's evolving smartphone world.

The majority of US consumers purchase their smartphones from carrier stores and there are very few pure Google experience devices sold in those stores. Such devices include the Google Nexus line, Moto X, Moto G, and new ZTE Axon Pro. Google experimented with Google Play Edition smartphones a couple of years ago, but no longer sells those devices.

Pure Google experience smartphones eliminate, or significantly reduce, manufacturer and carrier bloatware, tend to be updated to the next version of Android faster, and are usually unlocked so that owners have the most flexibility in using the a carrier of their choice. However, there is also quite a bit that you give up by going with such a device.

Samsung, LG, HTC, and others spend a lot of time and money on consumer research, development, and testing in order to create smartphones that provide enhanced functions, optimal experiences, and cutting-edge technology. Here are several ways in which these brands offer more than a Nexus or Moto X:

  1. Enhanced camera & software: We have yet to see a fantastic camera on a Nexus or Motorola device, while LG and Samsung are rocking the best smartphone cameras available today. Beyond the hardware, these providers include advanced camera software that easily bests the Google camera application.
  2. Unique functions like the S Pen: The Samsung Galaxy Note series provides extra functionality with the stylus that appeals to millions of buyers. Motorola is doing a great job of providing unique functions with its Moto apps for the Moto G and Moto X, while keeping a fairly pure Google experience.
  3. Samsung Pay: Google Wallet, and soon Android Pay, provide payment support via NFC and compatible terminals. However, the new Samsung Pay will also work wherever standard magnetic strip cards are used in the US.
  4. Extra widgets: If you are an Android smartphone user, then it's likely that you use a few widgets on your home screen panel. The major manufacturers provide extra widgets beyond the standard Google ones and I personally find many of them to be very useful.
  5. Enhanced email client: I use the Gmail client on all my Android phones, but for my work Exchange account I find the enhanced email clients from Samsung, LG, and HTC to be more functional than the Google email client. I prefer HTC's Exchange client with easy custom tabs, quick filters, and more.

While timely updates are often more a factor of carrier approval in the US, manufacturers have gotten much better over the years at providing updates for a year or two after the release of a smartphone. US carriers are also moving towards eliminating contracts so that unlocking should be easier as well. Carrier bloatware remains an issue so maybe that can be the next area for manufacturers to address.

Android purists will continue to purchase the Nexus device, a Moto X, or another pure Google experience phone, but don't write off the phones from Samsung, LG, HTC, and others just yet. They appeal to the masses and are getting much better with every release.