The HTC One M8 is the best-looking Android smartphone ever made. From its sleek all-aluminum chassis to its gorgeous 5-inch, high-def display, it’s the Android phone all others are compared to.
But look what we have here: It’s the HTC One, running Microsoft’s Windows Phone 8.1. Same HTC One M8. Different software. And the most compelling reason yet to give Windows Phone a chance.
Read more: David Pogue’s HTC One M8 review
Available for $99 with a two-year contract through Verizon Wireless, the One M8 for Windows is essentially a carbon copy of the Android-powered HTC One M8 that I fell in love with earlier this year. The Windows Phone edition features all the things that made the original One so great, but swaps out Google’s Android operating system for Microsoft’s mobile OS.
Windows Phone, as you may know, is in a distant third place behind Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS in the smartphone market. Chances are you’ve never thought to buy a phone using this OS. So will this HTC be the phone that finally changes your mind?
Same good looks
I’ve already said this, but it bears repeating: The One M8 is a beautiful smartphone. And the HTC One for Windows has no aesthetic differences from the Android version. (OK, there is one difference: the Windows Phone logo on the back.)
From its metal chassis to its rounded edges, the One M8 is in a design class that only Apple’s iPhone has occupied until now. The fact that it’s made of metal gives the One M8 a more solid, premium feel than its plastic-clad competitors from the likes of Samsung and LG.
Unfortunately, the One’s design prohibits you from removing its battery, which will make it a nonstarter for some. And while I love the One M8’s design, the fact that it’s made of metal means it’s heavier than a plastic phone.
At 5.6 ounces, the One M8 is certainly beefier than the 5.1-ounce Samsung Galaxy S5. The One M8 is also a little bigger than the already-large Galaxy S5, though not by much.
A phone for media lovers
The One M8 for Windows’ display is every bit as clear and crisp as its Android-powered sibling’s. Colors absolutely pop when viewed on the One, and text is razor sharp.
Still, like its Android-powered stablemate, the One M8 for Windows’ display appears dim when compared with the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S5, which offers the best smartphone screen on the market.
Situated above and below the One M8’s display are its dual BoomSound front-mounted speakers. Though they add to the phone’s overall size, they are the best-sounding smartphone speakers you’ll ever listen to, with bumping bass and exquisite highs.
Next to the iPhone 5s and the Galaxy S5, the One M8’s speakers sound like a full-on stereo system.
The HTC One M8 for Windows runs Microsoft’s highly underrated Windows Phone 8.1. Unlike Apple’s iOS, which features home screens with app grids, and Google’s Android, which sports various widgets and apps, Windows Phone features what’s called a Live Tile interface.
Live Tiles are customizable app icons that receive and display updates from things like your social media networks, email, breaking news, weather, and myriad other sources.
The Windows Phone People app, for example, has a Live Tile with continuously updated squares that show photos of all your contacts from sources like Facebook and Twitter. The News app displays images and text from the day’s biggest stories.
Not all apps support the Live Tile interface, but enough do to make your home screen an ever-changing mosaic that’s genuinely fun to use.
Of the three big mobile operating systems, Windows Phone has the most distinct design and styling. And after an initial launch that saw the OS lacking a variety of features and functions, Microsoft has updated Windows Phone to the point that it now offers everything its rivals’ operating systems provide and more.
There are, however, a few kinks that still need to be worked out.
My single biggest complaint about the operating system is that it takes forever to start. I put the HTC One M8 with Android and the HTC One for Windows next to each other and timed them to see how long it took to get them up and running. By the time the Windows Phone version turned on, the Android-powered One M8 had already come to life and gone into sleep mode.
Since both phones have the same internal components, the only thing that could cause such a drastic difference in boot time is their operating systems.
Move over, Siri
Siri, Apple’s talkative voice assistant, isn’t the only talking phone assistant anymore. Microsoft has fired back at Apple with a voice assistant of its own. And Cortana, named after a character from Microsoft’s Halo video game series, isn’t pulling any punches, offering more features than Siri could even hope to.
The app not only lets you places calls and open apps, it can also be programmed to do things like remind you to pick up milk when you’re near a store. It also provides you with weather and news updates and can even tell you how your favorite sports team did last night, not to mention provide you with directions.
And if you’re trying to figure out what song is playing on the radio, Cortana can listen and tell you.
Cortana takes the best of both Apple’s Siri and Android’s Google Now and puts them together to create an impressive voice assistant that’s responsive and talkative. Microsoft also programmed Cortana to tell jokes, lame though they might be, and reply to questions about Steve Jobs, Steve Ballmer, and Bill Gates.
The app problem
At this point, you might be asking yourself, “If Microsoft’s Windows Phone has such a slick interface and quality features, why don’t more people use it?” To put it simply, there just aren’t enough apps for the OS.
Whereas Apple’s App Store and Google’s Play store each boast more than 1 million apps, Microsoft’s Windows Phone Store offers just north of 300,000 apps. And though Microsoft has worked hard to ensure that some of today’s most popular apps are available on its mobile platform, there are still some major omissions, including Candy Crush, RunKeeper, Snapchat, Tinder, and a host of others.
What’s more, Windows Phone apps are known to receive updates later than their Android and iOS counterparts. Worse still, apps tend to debut for Android and iOS first and make their way to the Windows Phone Store much later.
Popular smartphone accessories like the Jawbone UP don’t even support Windows Phone, so you won’t be able to access the fitness tracker’s app from your handset.
The original One M8’s camera took some critical hits for being unable to match the color quality and clarity of the Samsung Galaxy S5’s rear camera, and since the One M8 for Windows has the same camera, those criticisms still hold true. Shots taken with the One M8, though sharp, had a distinctly yellowish hue to them.
When compared with photos taken with the Samsung Galaxy S5, the HTC One’s photos looked dull. An image shot with the One M8 of the New York Public Library caused the building’s marble white pillars to look gray, while the S5’s images were able to capture the structure’s beautiful coloring.
And here’s photo of the lawn at Bryant Park, which on the One looked as though it was browning rather than bright green as it did in real life.
Color issues aside, the One M8’s camera does have some neat tricks. Above the phone’s main lens is a secondary camera that captures depth. HTC calls the combo its Duo Camera, and it can do things like let you change the point of focus of your photos after you’ve taken them. The Galaxy S5 offers a similar feature.
Sure, these are nothing more than gimmicks, but they’re pretty fun to use and can add some nice artistic accents to your photos.
Time to move to Windows Phone?
The HTC One M8 for Windows is a beautiful smartphone with a uniquely sleek interface that offers a host of wonderful features. Its camera could certainly be better when it comes to handling photos, but it’s not a complete deal-breaker.
Unfortunately, there simply aren’t enough apps available for Windows Phone. If you can’t do without the latest and greatest apps as soon as they come out, or you want to be able to pair your newest accessories with your handset, you’ll want to skip this phone.
If apps aren’t your top priority, though, and you’re looking for an alternative to the iPhone and Android wrapped in a beautiful package, it doesn’t get much better than the HTC One M8 for Windows.