Review

HTC One M8 for Windows review: Making a run for the top

The HTC One M8 for Windows, besides being a mouthful to say, very well may be the most highly anticipated Windows Phone of the year. While the Lumia line has had its fair share of devices released this year, none have been anything to stand out like, for example, the Lumia 1020.

The Lumia range is a mix of polycarbonate plastic and metal whereas the M8 is all metal and all gorgeous. The M8 is a stunning Windows Phone, while HTC may have had a few struggles lately, there is no doubt that they can build quality hardware. 

This is also the first phone that has identical hardware that can run both Android or Windows Phone and early results show that Windows Phone does best Android in at least one area; battery life

Another thing to consider is that this device shows that even though Microsoft bought Nokia’s smartphone business unit, HTC is not going to shy away from Windows Phone even though it now directly competes with Microsoft. Of course, Windows Phone is now free for HTC to use, so it’s not like they are funding Microsoft’s mobile efforts by building a Windows Phone.

So here we are with one of the best Android phones now running Windows Phone. So the question is this: is the One M8 for Windows better than its Android counterpart and can it best the current crop of Lumias?

Hardware

HTC has taken the Android version of the HTC One M8, cleared the memory and loaded up Windows Phone. Everything under the glass is exactly the same and while the M8 may not have bleeding-edge hardware now, it is still a high-end device and the specs reflect that. Running a Snapdragon 801 at 2.3GHz and with 2 GB of RAM, the phone does not have any performance issues.

Windows Phone has already proven that it can run on low-end hardware and these premium specs make the OS run like a hot knife through butter.

Product Codes HTC One (M8) for Windows
Display 5 inches
441 ppi
Processor Snapdragon 801
Quad Core 2.3GHz
RAM 2GB
Storage 32GB
Connectivity

A/B/G/N/AC WiFi
Bluetooth 4.0
A-GPS, A-GLONASS
LTE and NFC

Camera 4 'Ultra Pixel' rear camera
5 MP front camera
Dual flash
Ports Micro-USB
3.5 mm audio connector
Sensors

Depth Sensor
Magnetometer
Gyroscope
Light sensor
Proximity sensor

Battery 2600 mAh
Launch OS Windows Phone 8.1.1
Launch Date August, 2014
Size Length: 5.76 inches
Width: 2.78 inches
Thickness: .37 inches
Price $99 on-contract
$599 no-contract

The build quality is quite good with no noticeable squeaks or popping when torqueing on the corners. There is minimal flex on the back of the device when pressing down firmly and overall, you get the feeling that this phone is a high-end, premium smartphone.

Design

Metal, metal all over, and we love that HTC did not compromise the exterior of the device by including a plastic back plate or changing it in any way when they brought Windows Phone to it. The curved sides and gentle contours make the device feel comfortable in your hand and the brushed metal backing provides a premium feel that makes you wish every phone was made like this. Seriously, HTC did a great job with the material selections here and our only gripe is that the phone is quite slippery to hold.

The buttons along the side are tucked neatly into the metal chassis and there is a power button up top. One small quibble is that the power button at the top is not the easiest button to engage as it sits recessed into the shell of the phone.

The dual sensors (camera and depth sensor) on the back are centered vertically at the top of the device and the dual flash setup sits next to the imaging sensor.

Much like that of its Android brother, HTC opted for virtual buttons on the bottom of the screen. We can’t say that we like this as it cuts away from the useable area of the display and leaves a large bottom bezel that goes unused. But, you can hide the buttons if you want to by tapping the down arrow on the left side of the navigation bar.

Another thing to consider before buying the M8 is that it is a large device. Yes, Windows Phones are frequently pushing 5- and 6-inch displays but that doesn’t mean it’s a great size for all consumers. I consider myself to have fairly large hands and reaching all corners of the phone, with one hand, is a challenge.

Even carrying the phone in your pocket shows the true size of the device but if you are already carrying a larger Android or Windows Phone device, this won’t be anything new for you.

For us, the screen size is the upper bound of what we look for in a well rounded device and is by no means a knock against the device. If you have small hands, make sure to head to a Verizon store to try out the device before buying one.

Display 

The 5 inch display on the new HTC One is fantastic to look at and offers up a wide viewing angle. The 1080P panel has excellent color reproduction and we did not observe much in the way of color bleeding either.

Interaction with the screen is accurate and responsive. We had no issues with the device detecting our inputs and gestures worked exactly as you would expect from a modern smartphone.

Off-angle viewing is inline with our expectations and trumps that of the Nokia Lumia Icon that we recently reviewed and is dramatically better than that of the Lumia 635. The colors do tend to drop out on a vertical tilt a bit faster than a horizontal tilt but it’s really not much of an issue here.

100% ZoomCamera

The same shooter that ships with the Android M8 is present in the Windows Phone version as well. To no surprise, we have similar results.

The UltraPixel approach is an alternative to Nokia's PureView, where HTC takes a large sensor and combines it with big pixels. The lens on the main shooter is a 28mm f/2.0 that helps bring in more light and in theory, should help with low-light photography.

The UI setup is slightly different than that of Android and that’s because it must follow Microsoft’s design elements. If you have used a Windows Phone before, the control setup is the same.

As with the Android version, low light photos are ok - not as good as some of its Lumia counterparts, but for a smartphone, they will hold their own. Compared to our photos we took with the Android version, the Windows Phone images do have a bit more saturation to them and overall, that makes them look a tad better. But it does seem that some detail is lost in the images as the edges of objects can be a bit muddled with some photos. The experience is not consistent between devices and it could be that HTC spent more time with the Android version on nailing down the algorithms than the Windows Phone variant.

Test Photos

Shutter speed was well within the acceptable range and it makes it easy to capture fast moving targets and low-light performance appears to be slightly better than the Android iteration.

Overall though, we are still a bit disappointed with the performance of the sensor. Maybe it is because we are spoiled by how well Lumias take photos but this phone certainly has room for improvement.

One aspect that we do miss is that there is no dedicated camera button on the phone. Unlike most Windows Phones, you have to use the on screen buttons to capture your photos which is not ideal. Yes, it's not really that big of an issue but when most other Windows Phones have dedicated buttons, we do miss it on this device.

Battery Life

The One M8 for Windows sports a 2600 mAh battery and, for the most part, you should have no issues getting through an entire day of use out of the device. Unless your day involves watching HD video every hour, even with heavy usage, we still had a bit of juice left in our device when we finally plugged it in at night.

As with every modern smartphone, you'll still need to charge the phone at night to make sure that it will be good to last the entire next day. From our point of view, battery life will meet your needs. It is on the same level as nearly every other phone on the market and is not a weakness of the device.

Audio

As with any cell phone, call quality is an important aspect to any device. With the HTC One M8 for Windows, call quality is on par with any modern smartphone. Nothing really exciting to talk about here as we had no trouble hearing our conversation and the microphones picked up our conversation with ease. 

The 'BoomSound' on the phone is alright, although it's nothing spectacular in our opinion. The front facing speakers do make the phone get quite loud but do that many people really use the speakers that much? We get that you may use them to watch a video or two when your headphones are not nearby - but if you are looking for higher quality audio, we still recommend a decent set of cans over the built-in speakers.

Performance

We have seen Windows Phone run on all types of hardware from the low end to the premium and each time it has had no issue returning a pleasurable user experience. The HTC One M8 for Windows (still an awful name) delivers on all fronts. Moving around the OS feels swift, transitions are fluid and opening and closing apps is all done without any strain on the device.

Video playback had no issues either; throw HD videos at this phone, and it will tackle them with ease, but like many other devices, it does chew through your battery life as you stream the content. But the playback offers clear video with no pixilation; gameplay is the same, with no dropped frames or stuttering.

The specs from the benchmarks meet expectations for a handset that is being pushed as a premium flagship. When running MultiBench 2, the CPU gets a score of 32.223, a data transfer score of 42.956, memory bench score of 6.581 and a graphics score of 45.346.

With AnTUTU, the total score is 25910 with the memory coming in at 1279, CPU integer at 9761 and CPU float-point at 13112.

Software

One area where HTC has done a bit of work on the Android side of the equation is changing up the UI. They have their own skin called Sense and their home screen clock widgets have become legendary in the Android community. But with Windows Phone, Microsoft has much tighter control over the look and feel, which means that HTC can’t change much about how the OS operates.

The phone runs the latest version of Windows Phone, no surprise here, and if you have used any other Windows Phone, this one will feel right at home

HTC has brought over their BlinkFeed that was first debuted on Android. The app provides access to your social feeds - think of it as an aggregator of all your feeds, social, news and other content into one app. The Windows Phone version is not up to the same quality as the Android version - perhaps due to less development time - and is missing custom feeds and search options.

Another app that is brought along is Video Highlights that does exactly as the name sounds. Again, this app was available on the Android version of the phone and it takes photos and creates a “highlight reel” from them. You can apply filters, music and the like. It’s nothing outrageous but at least HTC is trying to keep its custom apps on both supported platforms.

Competition

Nokia, for the time being, has been the only major player consistently putting out new hardware with Windows Phone. While the Chinese OEMs are starting to warm up to the platform, Samsung, LG, Lenovo and others are not releasing Windows Phones with regularity yet. Microsoft's Lumia Icon is perhaps the best alternative to the HTC One M8 for Windows (have we mentioned that’s a terrible name?).

From a performance perspective, the phones are close enough that it really comes down to user preference but on the camera front, the Icon is still superior. On the design, we have to give it to the HTC One M8 for Windows, but it’s a personal choice at the end of the day.

One thing to consider if you want to participate in the Windows Phone developer program: HTCs support seems somewhat less comprehensive than Microsoft's. What we mean is that the Lumia Icon can currently receive the latest Windows Phone developer bits whereas the HTC 8X is not able to. So, if you like living on the bleeding edge of Windows Phone updates, you may need to think twice before buying this phone.

Conclusion

If you are in the market for a new phone, this is the best there is when it comes to Windows Phone. While Nokia has some great features, the hardware of the HTC makes it the best Windows Phone you can buy as long as you don’t plan on running bleeding edge software.

The phone is well rounded in performance, battery life, photography and all the other basic metrics that define a smartphone. While you can find individual devices that deliver better experiences in one or two aspects, as an entire package, this phone gets it right.

If you are looking for your first Windows Phone and want premium hardware, this is your device. You should still consider the Lumia Icon as well but if it were our money to spend, we would opt for the M8 for Windows.

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