What’s the Difference Between Android One and Android Go?

In 2014, Google announced a lineup of low-cost, low-spec phones called Android One. In 2017, they announced Android Go, specifically designed for low-cost, low-spec phones. So…what’s the difference?

What Exactly Is Android One?

To put it as simply as possible, Android One is a hardware spec designed for emerging markets by Google. Low-cost, low-spec hardware is the very heart of Android One.

But it’s not just simply hardware—there’s also a specific set of “rules” in place for Android One’s key ideas. Google wants three things for Android One handsets:

  • Unmodified, stock Android: Any manufacturer that wanted to release a handset as part of the Android One program couldn’t modify the operating system with things like custom skins.
  • Regular security updates: Any manufacturer building a handset for Android One had to commit to regular security updates.
  • Strict hardware requirements: Google essentially specific a maximum hardware spec for Android One handsets, and manufacturers have to go with that.

Basically, Google wants control with Android One—everything from the hardware to software updates are set by the company, and manufacturers just have to agree. Think of it as a sort of low-cost Pixel or Nexus.

While Android One was originally released with the intention of bringing usable, affordable mobile devices to third-world countries and other emerging markets, we’ve recently started to see a shift in this idea as One devices become available in other parts of the world. For example, Project Fi has an Android One version of the Moto X4 available for purchase in the US, and the Xiaomi MI A1 is available globally.

Okay, So What’s Android Go?

Android Go, on the other hand, is purely defined in the software experience. It’s essentially a custom version of Android Oreo designed to run on hardware with as little as half a gigabyte of RAM, with three key points defining what Go is all about:

  • A “custom” operating system: It’s still Android Oreo, but it’s somewhat modified for lower-end hardware.
  • A specific set of apps built for Go: Google released a slew of “Go” apps for limited hardware, including YouTube Go, Files Go, and more.
  • A curated Play Store: The Play Store on Android Go isn’t technically different from the Play Store on other Android devices, but it does highlight apps that will work best on limited hardware—like Facebook Lite, for example.

Since Android Go is designed for low-spec, low-cost hardware, it also features improved data management tools—both for internal storage and mobile data. Android Go is nearly half the size of “stock” Android, leaving more room available on as little as eight gigabytes of internal storage. Similarly, Go apps are have 50 percent of the size of their full-size counterparts.

So, to put it plainly: Android One is a line of phones—hardware, defined and managed by Google—and Android Go is pure software that can run on any hardware. There aren’t specific hardware requirements on Go like on One, though the former is designed explicitly for lower-end hardware.

If a manufacturer plans on releasing a budget handset, Google really wants them to do so using Android Go as its operating system. That’s what it’s designed for. Go really seems to be picking up the torch that was originally designed for Android One—it seems to be a mobile OS designed for emerging markets and third-world countries.

That said, it’s never explicitly stated that Go is designed for emerging markets (just “low-end devices”), but this seems to be heavily suggested. Most of the Go apps—like YouTube Go and Google Go—are geo-restricted and not available in the US, and while Google itself advertises Android Go as available “around the world,” it’s unclear whether we’ll ever see it become widely available in the US or not.

It’s also unclear whether or not Android One handsets will eventually run Android Go—it really makes sense that they should…but this is Google we’re talking about here. Sometimes “because it makes sense” isn’t a reason to do something, so who knows.

Cameron Summerson is a die-hard Android fan, Chicago Bulls fanatic, metalhead, and cyclist. When he's not pounding keys here at HTG, you can find him spending time with his wife and kids, spinning legs on the bike, chugging away on the 6-string, or being disappointed in the Bulls.