Google will sell an unlocked, LTE-compatible Samsung Galaxy S4 with stock Android 4.2.2 in June… only in the U.S.

Daniel Bader

May 15, 2013 10:04 pm

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On stage during the Google I/O kickoff keynote address, Hugo Barra, VP of Android Engineering, deflected our expectant stares. “This is not a device giveaway,” he stated, before launching into a product announcement that few were expecting.

A Samsung Galaxy S4 running stock Android 4.2.2, SIM- and bootloader-unlocked, with pentaband 3G and dual-LTE support was probably unthinkable a few days ago. One of the most “bloated” devices by definition — the carrier-sold S4 has just over half of its 16GB storage available out of the box — Samsung’s acquiescence in building a pseudo-Nexus device was probably done as a favour to Google.

While it will be sold exclusively on Google Play starting June 26th for a tidy $649 sum, the emergence of an unofficial Nexus built around the same hardware as the world’s most popular Android phone bodes well for the future of stock Android as a product. Because it will only appeal to a small number of users — those who are willing to eat a price tag double that of the still-excellent Nexus 4 and need it to be running stock Android — this is likely not going to set the market on its head. But for those few who really want a Nexus-like device on the latest and greatest hardware, this is for you.

Even better is that the Galaxy S4 sold through Google Play will also receive updates directly from Google. This is one of the Nexus line’s best features, and it cannot be overstated how important this is to the developer community. It’s possible to emulate this experience by loading CyanogenMOD on to the Galaxy S4, but a carrier-branded update always needs to be vetted through its network overlords.

The existence, in an official capacity, of such a Galaxy S4 also raises the question as to whether you’re buying the device for its hardware — screen, speed, removable battery, etc. — or if the many “value-add” S-Apps are enticing to consumers on their own. The only thing I’d really miss about TouchWIZ is the excellent camera features, to which stock Android 4.2.2 doesn’t come close.

Unfortunately, the unlocked Galaxy S4 will only be available through the Play Store in the U.S., but it shouldn’t be hard to get a friend or family member to purchase it. Unlike AT&T, however, to whose customers this device is ostensibly being marketed, Canadian carriers did not lock their GS4′s bootloaders, so it’s possible to load custom software, including stock Android, with little difficulty.

The significance of this development is not in the fact that the phone is better in any way than the one sold by carriers, but rather that Google has expanded the potential reach of stock Android beyond just the Nexus line. If this device is added to AOSP like the Nexus 4, it should also help developers create more stable custom ROMs using the Snapdragon 600 SoC as a reference.

Via: Twitter

  • Guest

    Now that’s not what I wanted to hear. :(

  • Kyouya

    Wait…there wasn’t a post conference Q/A to see if this was going to be available for Canada? Great….just great….

  • Plazmic Flame

    Not surprised and not upset. The price is ridiculous compared to previous Nexus devices and the S4 still has that “slime” feeling to its back casing.

    Damn you google, all I wanted was a larger battery nexus 4. Hopefully Motorola does something good soon…? :(

  • Thomas C. Riddell

    I love my nexus 4 but hate the battery I was hoping announce what 4.3 would do .

  • Dylan D’Croix

    I don’t really see why anyone would put down $650 for it. I’d rather just save my money and go with slightly worse hardware for less than half the price.

  • jackjiarocks

    Why would u buy this when you can get Nexus 4 for almost half the price…..?

    • EvanKrosney

      Larger 1080p display, slimmer design, better cameras, faster CPU, more RAM, reliable LTE connectivity, large removable battery, micro SD, etc. Is the Nexus 4 better value? Hell yeah! But is it a better phone? Well… no.

    • Sam Wiggans

      Same amount of RAM *

  • Alex

    Better call up your Amerifriends. This phone and pure android combo is exactly what I was waiting for. Definitely picking one up, no matter how many hoops I have to jump through to get it.

  • Rich

    In general, this seems so odd.

  • Michael Aston

    Wrong about the camera software on Nexus 4…it’s pretty close and arguably better than sammsungs touch piss…imjo

    • Nadefrenzy

      Hell no. My brother’s nexus 4s camera app is so lacklustre compared to my note 2s let alone the s4.

    • qu3becker

      IMO Feature-wise, the camera software is lacking on the Nexus 4 compared to the S4 but the interface better on the Nexus 4. If they could mix both, that’d be the best of both world.

    • Tom

      I love CM and would never use a stock rom but I have to admit the Touchwiz camera has far more impressive features than my nexus 4 camera.

      I’m not complaining because I just want my photos to be clear and to have minimal shutter lag, but there are those who are more nitpicky about their photo quality and the Touchwiz camera suits their needs better.

      It’s like saying my $30 headphones are just as good as my friend’s $200 headphones that have all sorts of fancy mumbo jumbo. Yes, if you’re like me and don’t have sensitive discerning ears you’d say the same but audiophiles would rage if I said that to them.

  • Rhiney Maceachern

    So all the tricks and kewl gagets from the s4 will be gone? If so whats with the “Full Price” price tag?

    • Sam Wiggans

      The fact that it’s made from more expensive components

  • ruaman

    Does this mean no more Nexus phones from now on?

  • Chizom Wali

    *aheemmm* CyanogenMOD, Paranoid Android, AOKP…if there’s an officially supported S4, that means that there will be plenty, plenty of mods for the regular S4′s. Never fear my fellow Canadians.

  • Julius

    This is silly, random and quite pointless. One of the biggest selling points of the S4 is all the crazy software that was packed in it. Sure call it bloatware or gimmicky but a lot of it is amazing…especially the camera app. People could easily go on a two year contract (US) and then root their phone if they truly felt bloated. Most rooters don’t care about warranty anyway.

    I’m sure we all would’ve preferred the next Nexus 7 or a Nexus 4 with LTE over this announcement…

    • SS

      The thing is flashing a custom ROM such as Cyanogenmod, you lose some of the additional things. Such as APT-X, a proprietary (licensed) bluetooth codec….something I use daily. So someone like me who is forced to stick with stock, to discover I won’t have to deal with Touchwiz, is awesome. I’ll definitely be upgrading from my HTC One V (which I also bought for APT-X, so I’m stuck on the Sense crap)

    • Tom

      The Google version of the S4 will likely support these things and the blobs (even if closed source) can be ported over to the Canadian S4s without issue, which should solve those issues with CM.

    • SS2

      Well the thing is, no CM dev wants to do it, because they are closed source blobs. Last I checked, atleast for the HTC One V implementation of APT-X, is it is a bluez/proprietary hybrid, because bluez alone doesn’t support APT-X. CM uses bluez so it would be interesting to see what happens if it does happen.

      Then again maybe the S4 “Nexus” won’t have apt-x….

  • EvanKrosney

    Would’ve preferred to see a One running stock Android, but this is still cool. It doesn’t matter anyways, it’s for ‘Murica only.

    • FuzzyFish6

      Ding ding ding, we have a winner!

  • sonny

    the beauty of this announcement is that people with a carrier s4 has the option to use the nexus s4 Rom as long as they are willing to root their phones

  • Matthew Wargarbalton

    Doesn’t this mean we will be getting super stock ROMss for the S4 in Canada as well? Everyone I know that wants one, has one.

    • blk_jack

      Yes. All the advantages of having AOSP builds for the Google S4 will be available for all GSM unlocked S4s, regardless of if they came with touchwiz. Just buy a S4 your Canadian carrier of choice. They’re unlocked and there will be AOSP images available to flash.

      All custom roms will incorporate the blobs and libraries available from AOSP, making them effectively as solid and bugless as any ROM on Nexus devices. That said, CM and SlimBean for the Canadian S4 are already almost 100% functional, with only Bluetooth in-call audio and NFC not working.

    • Matthew Wargarbalton

      Love SlimBean on My GS1, but I have moved on to the Optimus G. Love my phone.

  • windwindwind

    Will it work on Wind?

    • random

      why wouldn’t it

    • Dana Mahar

      The GSM version won’t work as far as I know. You’ll need the AWS version for it to work properly on Wind.

    • G0d5hand

      it would if it was pentaband. Any one know if this is penta band ?

    • Tom

      An AWS phone is a GSM phone (and it can be an LTE phone too), just correcting some terminology here. All AWS phones are GSM phones, but not all GSM phones are AWS-compatible.

      No such thing as “not working properly” when it comes to radio frequencies… either it’ll work fully or it’ll have absolutely no signal.

      Yes, Google confirmed it’s supporting both AT&T and T-Mobile (which uses AWS 1700 for 3G) so it will work on Wind. Wind also does carry a pentaband S4 minus the LTE.

    • windwindwind

      So does that mean Google will be selling only one model which will fully work on all networks (GSM / AWS), kind of like the Nexus 4? Or do you think this will mean they’ll sell two models? I really wish it was like the Nexus 4, as I’m sort of afraid about what may happen to wind in the upcoming years and shelling out all that money on a AWS phone may not be so wise…

    • Tom

      The model that Google sells directly will come with AWS support, yes. However models sold by carriers may not have it – you’ll just have to check.

      Carriers usually list all the supported bands for phones they carry anyway.

    • windwindwind

      Awesome! One phone to rule them all (the carriers). Fingers crossed it’s a gsm / aws phone like the nexus 4

  • jonny

    omg…..stock android with a sd card and removable battery!!! i want one!

  • kirilmatt

    I have a nexus 4 and I’m using it on rogers, best phone I’ve ever bought. The value is unbelievable. It replaced a galaxy s3. as for lte, while not officially supported, it rules. I flashed the old lte radio onto my nexus and it runs like a dream, late signal is for some reason even stronger then my s3! I’ve recorded up to 67mbps on the rogers lte network! While battery isn’t perfect, it still runs most of the day, I don’t complain

    • Tom

      Whoa, whereabouts do you live? I’m on Fido which is the exact same network and I haven’t been able to top 15 Mbps on LTE on my nexus 4 in the Kanata area of Ottawa (my wifi is faster than that, lol). I’d kill for 67Mbps speeds on my nexus 4, haha!

    • kirilmatt

      I live in st. Johns. Since very few people use rogers in newfoundland their speeds are unreal! Its lots of the time faster then my fiber optic internet! I average over 30mpbs generally and that’s the best I’ve ever got. In Montreal right now and I’m getting 46mbps down and 22mbps up!

    • Tom

      Man I’m jealous, lol. I just ran a speedtest and ironically H+ was faster than LTE today… 10M vs 8M. I guess Ottawa isn’t the best place to live if you desire fast mobile speeds on the Rogers network.

    • kirilmatt

      Honestly I think I got a crazy device. I’ve been traveling today, been to Montreal and now Ottawa and just did a speedtest here: 53mbps! And Rogers hspa is so slow for me, I usually only get 5mbps haha I have no idea how I get these speeds everywhere

  • Jim

    Ya…No thanks. Can not justify paying 2x’s the price of my Nexus 4. Just my thoughts, but in the end it is a phone.

  • Tom

    It wouldn’t be much work to just rip the system img out and flash it to Canadian models. Or better yet, use CyanogenMod which is exactly the same thing aesthetically but with more customizations in the settings.

    And if a replacement/repair is needed during the warranty period, a few adb commands and 5-10 minutes are all that’s needed to flash back the stock unrooted img and make it look as if it’d never been tampered with (I’ve done this before, both for warranty replacements and for resales).

    With reliable all-in-one toolkits for popular models being released all the time, rooting, flashing, and restoring has never been easier :)

  • Tom

    And patching CM10.1 will be even faster now once devs port over the blobs from the Google version of the S4.

  • Tom

    I don’t mind paying $650 outright for a phone, but I’d like to see more work done on the exterior quality… the S4, like its predecessor, just doesn’t feel premium with all the cheap plastic. Plastic isn’t a bad thing if it’s sculpted well like the Nokia Lumias or the Blackberry Z10, but on the S3 and S4 it feels the same as some budget $100 low end phone. Yes, I know the price pays for top end quad cores specs and a 1080p screen, but I wouldn’t mind stepping down a little in return for a better exterior finish. Have to admit that for all its lack of innovation at least Apple’s iPhone feels like an expensive phone in the hand due to its exterior.

    • Eugene

      Htc one should be good for you

  • Lukeiphone

    Guys, just wait for while. Someone on XDA will transfer the stock rom and make it available for all S4s.

  • GNS

    Wait… so all Canadian Galaxy S4s have an unlocked bootloader?