HTC’s just released a new Windows Phone, and you might recognise it… Meet the HTC One (M8) for Windows.
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it (just tweak it a little bit in order to appeal to a slightly different demographic). That’s HTC’s approach with the new HTC One (M8) for Windows; a Verizon exclusive that we’ve managed to find in our possession here in Blighty.
If you’re a fan of Windows Phone, chances are it’s one of Nokia’s colourful Lumias that you’ve got your hands on. With the exception of a handful of awkward Samsung Windows Phone handsets, nobody’s been pushing Microsoft’s mobile OS, particularly in a premium smartphone package, but then HTC came along and decided to give one of its most successful Android smartphones a makeover, sort of.
HTC One (M8) vs HTC One (M8) for Windows: Design
The ‘if it ain’t broke’ analogy is no truer than when you look at design work that’s gone into the HTC One (M8) for Windows. It’s a carbon copy of the Android-powered M8, and that’s no bad thing.
Launching in March earlier this year, the original M8 is still arguably one of the best looking smartphones on the market and HTC’s Scott Croyle, along with his design team clearly know what they’re doing. Provided you’re willing to give up the fluorescent polycarbonate bodies of the Lumia family, the brushed, milled aluminium (or aluminum as this is a Stateside-only exclusive) form of the M8 for Windows makes it one of the hottest Windows Phone alternatives out there.
If you’re not already familiar with the design, there’s a 5-inch display topped and tailed by HTC’s signature BoomSound stereo speakers. Above the display also plays host to a 5-megapixel front-facing camera and on top there’s a glossy black plastic bar which houses the power/lock key and a concealed IR blaster.
The only remaining hardware control is a volume rocker on the right-hand side and there are ports for a nanoSIM, microSD card (up to 128GB) and the USB port in the base.
On the brushed metal back is where you’ll find the only real visual difference between the Windows Phone and Android bodywork. Underneath HTC’s distinctive Duo Camera design, complete with two-tone dual-LED flash sits the Windows Phone marque and Verizon’s 4G LTE logo at the base. We’re hoping that, like it’s Android counterpart, you’ll eventually be able to pick up the M8 for Windows in colours other than Gunmetal Grey, but with the limitations of being a carrier exclusive, it’s unlikely to change its suit anytime soon.
HTC One (M8) vs HTC One (M8) for Windows: Screen
Windows Phone’s colourful tiled interface does a great job of showing off the phone’s stunning 5-inch display. Thanks to its Full HD resolution and the IPS LCD3 technology at work, the M8 for Windows offers up bright, colourful imagery, with great viewing angles, exactly like the standard M8.
Just as this display offers the same benefits as its Android counterpart, the size leaves it with the same weakness too – small hands need not apply, these are both big phones, particularly with the added height brought on by the BoomSound speakers.
HTC One (M8) vs HTC One (M8) for Windows: OS
Naturally, the most glaring difference is in the name. The newer ‘for Windows’ M8 runs the latest iteration of Microsoft’s Windows Phone OS – version 8.1, whilst the classic M8 boasts a skinned version of Android 4.4.3 KitKat, dressed in HTC Sense 6.0.
As alternative Android user experiences go, HTC’s Sense has always been one of the nicest re-skins of the operating system out there and on the HTC One (M8) it’s distinct, intuitive and offers a seamless flow from one feature to the next. BlinkFeed – the company’s social and news feed aggregator is a swipe away from the home screen. Native apps like ZOE and the calendar follow a colour-coded theme so you can quickly identify what sort of app you’re in, from a utility to a creative tool. It’s all clearly thought out and tidy’s up what can be a confusing user experience in Android.
Windows Phone is inherently more locked down: those familiar with the experience on other handsets will feel right at home on the (M8) for Windows. It’s not as unique as the Android version as a result, but that hasn’t stopped HTC from adding in all the elements that make the M8 experience its own. BlinkFeed can be found in a dedicated app, which appears on the home screen by default, the Duo Camera system can be utilised through the HTC Camera app, HTC Watch lets you make use of the IR blaster and there are even options for the Dot View case accessory in the settings menu.
Motion Launch on Windows Phone isn’t as robust as on Android, but alongside the standard ‘double-tap to wake’ action, swiping down can be used to summon Cortana, Windows Phone’s voice-assistant Google Now rival. One final touch is that you have the option to hide the classic Windows Phone on-screen keys with a single tap and bring them back with a swipe up from the bottom. Windows Phone users looking for a polished user experience should apply here.
HTC One (M8) vs HTC One (M8) for Windows: Performance
It’s not just the design that makes the Android-based M8 such a killer handset; the internal hardware isn’t to be sniffed at either. A 2.3GHz Snapdragon 801 processor, 2GB of RAM and 16GB/32GB of storage make it a great all-rounder in the top-tier battle for best ‘droid.
The user experience also flies on the standard M8, despite Android’s well-documented inefficiencies and the impressive level of grunt ensures that advanced features like the Duo Camera’s Dimension Plus mode and intensive 3D gaming run smoothly and look fantastic. Battery life is also class-leading, with almost a day and a half on single charge and an extreme power saving mode to push it that much further.
Once again, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and the more Microsoft-savvy M8 apes its Android sibling with identical specs. Being a Verizon exclusive, the 4G bands it supports differ from our international Android-laden M8, with a CDMA radio thrown in for the American carrier’s network, but processor, RAM and storage all fit the same mould.
Windows Phone as an operating system is already lightning fast, but the chipset employed in the M8 for Windows actually out-classes the the quad-core Nokias currently available making it one of the most powerful Windows Phone handsets on the market. User interface navigation and multi-tasking is just as seamless between devices, not to mention graphical performance is on point too.
We called the M8’s battery-life ‘class-leading’ but the Windows Phone treatment appears to have made great battery life even better. We couldn’t test how 4G usage affects battery drain as Verizon doesn’t operate in the UK, but based on WiFi usage, we managed a solid day and a half with a snip to spare. Colour us impressed Microsoft.
HTC One (M8) vs HTC One (M8) for Windows: Camera
For all the notable hardware the HTC One (M8) platform offers, the camera is easily the most controversial inclusion. Sticking with the Ultrapixel sensor technology used by last year’s HTC One (M7), the M8 and M8 for Windows both dole out 4-megapixel stills from their respective Duo Cameras. We say ‘controversial’ as compared to the rest of the current flagship smartphone crop, 4-megapixels is a lot less to play with.
Despite the image size, both phones take great photos in all sorts of conditions. The Ultrapixel sensor actually ensures low light shots are actually usable and there are also a wealth of video options including slow and fast-motion recording modes.
Launch the standard camera app on the Android M8 or the dedicated HTC Camera app on the Windows Phone version and you’re greeted with a nearly identical UI. There are tweaks and options for scene modes and a selector to jump between stills, videos, selfies and other main camera functions.
This is where you’ll find the main differences, the Android-powered M8 trumps the Windows Phone version with HTC’s specialised ZOE shooting mode, a dual-camera mode (picture in picture) and a 360 panorama option. In its place there’s a dedicated button for a standard panorama on the M8 for Windows along with the option to browse the Lenses that all Windows Phone handsets have access to.
Picture quality is practically identical across high-contrast, macro, low-light and conventional lighting conditions and video is also pretty comparable, however the autofocus and touch-to-focus don’t seem to be possible during recording on the Windows Phone version of the camera firmware.
HTC One (M8) vs HTC One (M8) for Windows: Verdict
We’ve already chimed in numerous times about how much we love the HTC One (M8) and we can’t fault HTC for choosing it as the donor hardware to enter into a different market segment.
As with the Android iteration, the camera will divide people mulling over whether the HTC One (M8) for Windows is for them, mainly as Nokia’s Lumias are tough competition in that department.
Hardware wise it’s the most powerful Windows Phone device available right now, but as it’s locked to Verizon, only comes in a single colour option and loses out on a few key features that the Android version debuted, as much as we love this newcomer, we’re sticking with the classic M8 for now.