Ask LH: When Will We See Google Selling Samsung And HTC Phones In Australia?

I was wondering if and when will Australia be getting the Google Play editions of the Samsung Galaxy S4 and the HTC One? All this waiting is killing me! Thanks, Stock Impatience

Dear Stock Impatience,

In May, Google announced plans to begin selling its own version of the Galaxy S4 phone via the Google Play store. Similar plans for the HTC One were announced shortly afterwards, and both phones went on sale in the US Play Store in late June. In both cases, Google sells the phone as an outright buy, and include the stock version of Android 4.2.2, rather than including the manufacturer enhancements. Good news for US customers (Gizmodo has compared how the phones run here), but that goodness hasn't as yet extended to the Australian store.

The short answer to your question: we don't know when or if these phones will hit the Australian Play Store. Google hasn't yet confirmed any plans for local releases.

The longer answer: it has often been the case that when Google sells hardware, we see it arrive later in Australia than in other markets, and in different configurations. With the original Google-branded Nexus phone, Google sold it through carriers in Australia, but directly in the US. With the Nexus 4, it was offered online initially, but also sold through retail stores.

Why the different approach? One reason is that if Google is selling the phone, it has to test it and certify that it meets Australian standards, including the ability to make emergency calls on local networks. When a phone sells through carriers, the responsibility for that testing is largely taken by the network operators.

The US phone market is also somewhat different in structure to Australia. "Carrier exclusives" (where you can only purchase a phone running on a plan with a given telco) are much more common in America than here. That means there's less likely to be pent-up demand for a phone because it's not available on a given network. (I can't think of a single major phone in the last year that wasn't available on both Telstra and Optus; exclusives tend to be limited only to the colours available. Vodafone also gets the majority of phones, though some models do seem to pass it by).

Payment models also vary. Contract phones also often require an upfront payment (of $200-$300 dollars) as well as a monthly fee. In Australia, those costs are typically divided up and added to the monthly payment over the life of a contract, and if your monthly plan charge is $60 or more there's usually no additional handset charge. If you don't want to do that, you generally can buy outright as soon as a phone launches (or even before that if you're happy with an imported phone). The smaller size of the local market also means that there's a bigger risk of offending major retail players if you don't let them sell the phone too.

The practical consequence of that market structure is that it's easier and cheaper to sign up for a contract phone if you want one, and easier to acquire an outright buy device if you don't. That means it might not make commercial sense for Google to also dive into the fray in the Australian market.

None of that means that we won't see these phones eventually, but there's no news to share at this precise moment. If you're really keen for either device, buying it outright and then installing your own custom ROM remains the easiest way to own a phone without manufacturer enhancements.

Cheers Lifehacker

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    There are rumours floating around that Mobicity will start importing the GE S4/HTC One, but they are waiting to see if it will run on Australian networks.

    I have flashed my GS4 with one of the Google Edition firmwares from XDA. Running beautifully.

      Does flashing a new ROM void the warranty? Assuming the phone doesn't get bricked, can it just be flashed back to the carrier edition if something does go wrong under warranty?

        This is a really murky question. Short answer is, yes unlocking your bootloader and flashing a ROM will void your warranty. Long answer is, there are means to restore your device back to factory default - but there's often a few caveats involved to make sure the device isn't flagged as warranty voided.

      Runs well? I assume you used it before switching to GE, keen to hear a review.

    Can't speak from experience with the SGS4; but so far I've ran 4 different ROMs on my HTC One:
    - Factory ROM, Jelly Bean 4.1 with Sense 5
    - Google Play Edition, Jelly Bean 4.2.2
    - Android Revolution HD (currently on v12), Jelly Bean 4.2.2 - my current ROM
    - CyanogenMod 10.1 nightlies

    In my experience the Google Play Edition wasn't that flash. While the aesthetics of vanilla Android is nice, it loses out on a lot of functionality provided by Sense 5 - especially on the newer 4.2.2 based ROMs.

    Ideally I'd very happily be using CM10.1 as my daily driver - but it's just not stable enough yet in IMO.

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