The Android device story has followed a predictable pattern for the past few years: Samsung, HTC, LG, and Sony release top-tier hardware to carriers the world over, with their own proprietary software layered over Android. Google, meanwhile, partners with one of those companies to release a Nexus phone running “pure” Android software, usually without carrier support and usually on hardware that doesn’t feel quite up to snuff.

This year, two flagship phones, the Galaxy S4 and the HTC One, represent the pinnacle of Android hardware. They seem to have everything you could ask for: fast processors, gigantic and beautiful screens, LTE, and (mostly) great hardware design. But like their predecessors, they also come with a lot of extra software you probably didn’t ask for.

But this year, Google found a way to get HTC and Samsung to offer those same phones without their so-called “skins.” Both the Samsung Galaxy S4 and the HTC One can now be purchased without their respective manufacturer customizations for $649 and $599, respectively. Offered unsubsidized, unbranded, and unbesmirched by carrier software directly from Google, together they represent something we haven’t seen in a very, very long time: the best available hardware paired with Google’s vision of Android.

On top of all that, for the first time we can compare a customized version of Android directly against stock software running on the same device with manufacturer support. Do Samsung’s TouchWiz and HTC’s Sense really detract from the “true” Google experience?