When the HTC One (M8) for Windows was announced, there was something of a cheer. It's no secret that we think the HTC One is one of the best handsets of the year thanks in no small part to its solid design, now available to a Windows Phone 8.1 market that, typically, has otherwise been restricted to chunky, brightly coloured Lumia devices. The M8 adds a touch of class.
The HTC One M8 is already a great Android handset, and now with Windows Phone 8.1 at the core, our first impressions remain very good. However, for many of our readers there's a caveat: it's a Verizon exclusive, only available in the US. However, once you get it to the UK, it's unlocked, so after punching in the APN details for our UK network, it was plain sailing.
Should the HTC One M8 for Windows ever land in the UK, will it be "the one" for Windows Phone users to wait for? Read on and find out.
The importance of design
We've been big fans of the work that Nokia/Microsoft Devices/Microsoft Lumia has been doing with devices. The Lumia 930 is a great handset, but pick up the HTC One (M8) for Windows and that rush of excitement hits you once again.
The feel of the cool metal in the hand, the same delicate curves that we find so comfortable on the Android edition, both help impart the same premium experience - but now for Windows Phone. Out is polycarbonate, in is the zero gap construction.
Lumia handsets might be well built, and we can't fault the drive towards affordable quality from the Lumia family, but the HTC One feels like a phone that Windows Phone has been waiting for. If you've been put off by the Lumia design - we can't imagine why - then you do at least have a lovely alternative at last.
READ: Nokia Lumia 930 review
The fact that this offers the same hardware as the Android version is good news, as the differentiation lies in the operating system and nothing else. Sure, there's the Windows branding on the rear, but otherwise this is the same device.
If being critical of the design and materials, you could say that the M8 is a little slippery. If your hands are dry, for example, you might find you don't have as much grip on it as you would on some of the more tactile devices, but that's about the only negative we can muster. And as evidenced below, the M8 will show its battle scars with use, but what phone doesn't?
The other important point about using the same design is that accessories work across different devices. In this case, HTC's Dot View cover works on both devices, but in the bigger picture any third-party case, cover or dock would work too.
Hardware that shines
Being the same phone means you get a great quality display. It measures 5-inches on the diagonal, with a 1920 x 1080 pixel resolution, delivering a 440ppi density.
Side-by-side we can't see much of a difference in the presentation of colours from the Android device - photos look almost the same, as do websites and videos. The whites are as white and the blacks are as blacks across both devices and, to our eyes, the displays are pretty much matched. Which is a great thing.
The viewing angles are good and there's plenty of brightness, although we have found that the auto-brightness adjustment doesn't seem to do anything on the Windows device, unless it is imperceivably subtle. That means that outdoors we always have it set to High and that undoubtedly has an impact on the battery life across an average day.
Sitting inside the HTC One M8 for Windows is a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 chipset, clocked at 2.3GHz, along with 2GB of RAM. That's a nice loadout for Android and a great loadout for Windows Phone.
You get 32GB of internal storage, as well as support for microSD if you want more storage on the side, or just want to add all the photos from your previous phone. You'll want to download Microsoft's Files app to dig around your card too.
There's plenty of power in the M8 for Windows. It's a slick handset and everything happens pretty much effortlessly, although Windows Phone is a little slower to get navigate, especially when compared to Android, because of the animations. Some apps also seem to drag their heels when side-by-side with Android equivalents, the Windows Phone device spending longer thinking about what you've asked it to do.
READ: Windows Phone 8.1 review
If you're a Windows Phone user and happy with the pace of life it offers, then you'll find it's nicely delivered on the M8 for Windows.
Then you have those BoomSound speakers top and bottom of the display on the front. They add a fair amount of height to the M8's design, but we think that's more than compensated for with the enhancement they bring to the experience of music, video and gaming - if you're the type to play things out loud.
Crank the volume up and BoomSound rings out. The audio quality is very good and even at top volume the M8 will give you clear and loud music without distortion.
Thanks to WP 8.1 it's now easier to change the volume than previously on Windows Phone (where calls and app volume were tied as one), so the main media volume is just a tap away.
Software and apps
The HTC One M8 for Windows doesn't just come with Windows Phone 8.1, it comes with Windows Phone 8.1 Update, making it one of the most up-to-date phones out there.
The position with Windows Phone is interesting. For the past few years it has been entirely dominated by Nokia, and each major software version was bundled together with a Lumia package. You might recognise those names - Black, Cyan and Denim - the latter of which was announced in September at IFA 2014.
In Windows Phone 8.1 Update (or Update 1 as some call it), you get a number of additions that current Nokia owners will see appear with the Lumia Denim update. You get native Start screen folders, for example, which is one of the headline additions.
With Nokia's devices now part of Microsoft there will be some Lumia exclusivity - Windows Phone doesn't get everything that Nokia developed. Microsoft summed it up nicely at the launch of the Lumia 830 and 735, saying those devices had the "latest from Microsoft with the best differentiations from Lumia".
Because of this take-over you'll lose some of the fun camera elements though - there's no Lumia Selfie app, no Lumia Cinemagram, and so forth. However, HTC doesn't just leave you hanging, it does add some of its own stuff like HTC Camera and the BlinkFeed app.
When HTC launched devices with Windows Phone 7 - back in the day - it had an app to take you to a sort-of HTC-like area, where you found animated weather and not much else. That was all the differentiation that was allowed at the time. Things are much more open now.
For example, the M8 for Windows uses on-screen navigation controls and this can be minimised to get rid of it. In fact, we like this better than the solution on Android that just dims. In some cases on Windows Phone you're getting more screen space back, regardless of whether the app developer has optimised for full-screen use or not.
BlinkFeed lives to serve you compiled information in a digestible format, but as an app in Windows Phone it's not as well integrated as the swipe-to Android version. You also don't get the same range of options for content, but if it's a news digest you're after, then BlinkFeed offers you plenty to customise. As we've mentioned you get HTC Camera - which we'll talk about in the camera section of this review, along with HTC Photo Edit.
You also get HTC Sense TV, which takes advantage of the IR blaster on the top of the phone, as well as pulling in information about what's on TV. This works through your location and cable/TV provider, much like the Android version does. Setting up your the entertainment devices so you get IR control from the M8 is simple enough.
In terms of maps, the M8 for Windows comes with Microsoft's maps, but Here Maps and Here Drive+ can be downloaded, again bringing that experience back to what had become the norm with Nokia. The default mapping service isn't great, and we still find ourselves missing Google Maps, but Here is a better alternative.
Overall, Window Phone is getting stronger all the time. There's still an app gap, with some developers not yet embracing the platform, but many of the mainstream apps and services are available on Windows Phone. Then you have Cortana voice-activated control, which works through the HTC Dot View case if you want it to.
On the software front we'd love to see Windows Phone make it possible to lessen the animations, add third-party apps to the swipe-down shortcuts, and join some of the dots like the camera and gallery, to result in a better overall experience. Because we think Android is slicker and faster by comparison.
Based on the spec sheet the HTC One (M8) arguably betters the Nokia Lumia 930 when it comes to hardware. When you get to the camera, however, things aren't so well balanced in the HTC's favour.
The M8 for Windows has the Duo Camera arrangement on the rear, with the UltraPixel sensor supported by a second sensor designed to capture depth information.
That leads to some nice effects, like being able to refocus a picture after shooting. You'd have to shoot this using the Lumia Refocus lens on a Nokia to get the same results, whereas HTC lets you do this to pretty much everything you photograph.
The failing of the camera, arguably, comes down to resolution. Not because you want to shoot huge pictures, but the 4-megapixel UltraPixel sensor doesn't give much scope for reframing and cropping. There's also no optical image stabilisation, which is becoming the norm for high-end phones. The results aren't as solid as those from Nokia's 20-megapixel PureView camera on the Lumia 930.
What the M8 does offer, however, is speed. Fast focusing, burst capture and a fuss-free interface work in the HTC's favour, as does the dual-tone flash. Although we're slightly critical of resolution, the HTC One M8 for Windows will give you great results in good light, which should keep most happy.
The lack of resolution means that the M8 will never capture 4K video as there aren't enough pixels on the sensor. That's something that Microsoft announced for the Lumia 930 back at IFA 2014.
You'll have to use the HTC Photo Edit to access the Duo Camera changes - Foregrounder, Ufocus and Dimension Plus. To access this you have to return to the Start screen and open it, whereas Android gives you access directly from the Gallery. Android also gives a shortcut back to the camera from the Gallery, tying the two sides of imaging together much better than the Windows Phone equivalent. Again, this gives the impression that things aren't quite as joined up as they should be.
Taking some of the sting out of the Lumia 735 "selfie phone" announcement, the M8 for Windows has a 5-megapixel front-facing camera. You don't get the Lumia Selfie app, but it's still a great camera for selfies (if that's your thing) and easily accessed with the swipe across the HTC Camera app to switch from rear camera to front.
Overall, if you're after the best camera experience on Windows Phone, it's difficult to argue against the good work that has come from Nokia. HTC offers something a little different, but this is a relative weakness of the M8 for Windows.
There's a 2600mAh battery powering the M8. On Android we're used to this device giving us a full day with some ease. You might expect Windows Phone to be similar, but our usage so far hasn't proven it to be quite as long on the endurance front.
As we alluded to in the display section, that might come down to having the screen on high most of the time, and not bothering to knock it down when stepping indoors. But it seems to be more than that. On heavy days with intensive use, we found that the M8 for Windows didn't last as long as we'd expect from its Android cousin. It will still get you through most of the day, so it's nothing too serious.
On light days, however, the M8 for Windows seemed to win out: sitting at just under 60 per cent battery after 14 hours with intermittent light use during the writing of this review isn't too shabby.
$149 on contract
There's a lot to love about the HTC One M8 for Windows - it's the device that proves the importance of a premium build and construction, irrelevant of software platform. We love the M8 design because it enhances the overall experience.
The things that work really well on the Android device from a hardware perspective work well in the Windows device too: the M8 offers a great display and the best mobile sound experience around. However, the Windows Phone 8.1 software experience is a little slower than Android - largely because of animations and some arrangement issues - so you might have to wait a little longer for some apps.
Opting to step away from Lumia devices means that you don't get some of those exclusive apps either, but exactly how this differentiation will pan out over the next 12 months and beyond remains to be seen due to the Microsoft takeover of the brand. The lack of some camera apps and decent mapping can be overcome by downloading alternatives. However, we do still think there's a Lumia advantage from an imaging and software perspective as HTC's camera offers some interesting features - but it can't be said to be better than the Lumia 930's camera.
Overall if you're not looking to go with a Lumia then the HTC One (M8) for Windows isn't just a solid choice, it's the best designed Windows Phone 8.1 device we've seen. It's a welcome addition to Windows Phone, which is a platform growing stronger all the time. The only problem is you can't yet buy it in the UK. Here's hoping that changes.