HTC One M8 for Windows Phone review: A winning flagship breathes new life into Windows Phone

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CNET Editors' Rating

4 stars Excellent
  • Overall: 8.3
  • Design: 9.0
  • Features: 8.0
  • Performance: 8.0
Review Date:

The Good Verizon's HTC One M8 brings premium style to the Windows Phone franchise, has a brilliant 1080p display and excellent audio speakers, and it's powered by a robust quad-core processor.

The Bad The Windows Phone OS has a smaller app market, the handset's battery is nonremovable, and like the Android M8s before it, photos aren't as sharp as those from its competitors.

The Bottom Line While its camera isn't best-in-class and Windows Phone's underwhelming app selection still stings, the elegant and sophisticated HTC One M8 is an enticing alternative to Nokia models.

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Editors' note: Due to their similarities, sections of this review have been taken from our review of the original HTC One M8 and HTC One M8 Harman Kardon Edition.

With the latest version of its One M8, HTC brings one of Android's most celebrated smartphones to Windows Phone. The handset's premium metal design and top-end specs breathe some welcome variety into Microsoft's OS, which is now dominated by Nokia Lumia devices.

With its Snapdragon 801 processor, 1080p display, and feature-packed camera, this phone is the same as its original variant, and as such, the most powerful Windows Phone handset yet. What's more, the One M8's luxurious styling is a big threat to the Nokia's high-end aesthetics of the Lumia line.

But as a WP device, the M8 does have limits -- its OS is less customizable than Android, and it has a less robust app store. Anyone unaccustomed to the OS may see those points as a turn-off, but WP loyalists, who remain a very satisfied group, won't care. And if you're part of that latter group, this handset will undoubtedly satisfy your needs -- as only Microsoft's software and HTC's premium hardware can.

Availability

Currently, the One M8 for Windows Phone is available from Verizon for $99.99 on contract and $599.99 without. Though AT&T reported plans to carry the device too, no pricing or release date has been announced. T-Mobile also announced that it will sell the device in time for its 2014 holiday lineup.

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Though available on AT&T later, the device is currently only sold through Verizon Wireless. Josh Miller/CNET

Design

Like the HTC One, the device retains the same sophisticated all-metal, unibody chassis and a sturdy, comfortable grip. Thanks to its smoothly curved back, matte finish, and polished edges, the handset continues the One's legacy of unprecedented luxury. And though it's styled more conservatively than the original flagship, this phone still looks handsome and opulent.

For instance, the M8's bezel (where the screen and phone edge meet) is alluringly reflective and convincingly conveys that you're holding a high-end device. But it's not polished to the same eye-catching sheen as the first One was. And though the back of the M8 is lovingly minted in a classy brushed-metal motif that's smoother than its predecessor's (which had a roughness almost like a ceramic bowl), the slicker texture doesn't wick away moisture quite as effectively. The result is a slippery, more friendly canvas for grease than the previous matte back.

In other ways, however, the handset is just as beautiful as the One. It uses a gorgeous all-aluminum body that flaunts a similar curved backing, feels superbly solid and strong, and is well-constructed.

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For this One M8 variant, beauty is on both the inside and outside. Josh Miller/CNET

We admit that these are minor issues and this is nitpicking on our part since the phone brings important design improvements to the HTC One franchise. Notably, its screen is now larger -- 5 inches across diagonally (as opposed to the previous 4.7-inch display). And unlike the first One, HTC says the M8's chassis is truly built entirely from metal. By contrast, the company explained the original One's body was 70 percent aluminum, the rest being plastic.

Additionally, the device sports a pair of powerful stereo speakers that flank the display. Also branded by HTC as BoomSound, these front-firing grilles belt out a ton of sound, at least for a mobile handset. Even better, it's definitely louder and produces sound with way more presence than last year's model. This is because, HTC said, it enhanced the phone's BoomSound audio system by cranking up the volume by 25 percent, and improving its frequency range. But don't just take our word for it. Be sure to check out our deep dive into the HTC One M8's upgraded audio prowess.

Despite the larger display, the M8 remains roughly the same size, thickness, and weight. Tipping the scales at 5.4 ounces (154.2 grams), it understandably stands a little taller, and is just slightly heavier than the older One (5.04 ounces/142.9 grams). It's heavier than the LG G3 (5.28 ounces/149.69 grams) and the Samsung Galaxy S5, too (5.1 ounces/145 grams) even though it lacks the extra hardware seen in the latter, such as a heart-rate monitor and fingerprint scanner.

Display

From the moment we picked up the device, we knew its big 5-inch screen would be high-quality. While it can't produce the same deep blacks and vibrant colors conjured by the OLED displays you'll find in Samsung Galaxy handsets (such as the Note 3 and GS4), its IPS LCD screen has a lot going for it. Specifically, admirably wide viewing angles, a pleasing amount of brightness, and rich colors.

With its full-HD resolution (1,920x1,080 pixels), photos, video, and text looked crisp, even if it has a marginally lower pixel density than the original One. (Given its smaller 4.7 inch screen, the One had 469ppi compared to the current 441ppi.) All this adds up to a display that does justice to any visual content you choose to enjoy.

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To protect that vibrant display, users can use the Dot View from HTC. Josh Miller/CNET

Some words of warning, though; if you choose to view the phone's screen in the great outdoors, do so without polarized sunglasses. When one of our reviewers, Brian Bennett, did this with his pair of Ray-Bans, the screen in portrait orientation was dim to the point of being unreadable. Under landscape position, however, there weren't any problems, and the display was just as bright as usual under these conditions.

Core components

The One M8 for Windows Phone has the same hardware specs as the original M8. Tucked inside this metallic beauty are high-octane parts to match its lovely looks. Powering the device is a 2.3GHz quad-core Snapdragon 801 processor. The One M8 was the first of a new crop of flagships for 2014 to feature the Snapdragon 801; two others are the GS5 and Sony Xperia Z2. Although the GS5's CPU clocks in at 2.5GHz, users will hardly notice the difference.

Built by dominant mobile chip maker Qualcomm, the company says the 801 offers 25 percent faster graphics than the Snapdragon 800 that powers devices like the Nokia Lumia Icon and the Lumia 1520. This means speedier gameplay and swifter Web surfing. The 801 was also designed to not break a sweat when heavily editing photos after you've taken them.


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This phone boasts the same powerful specs as the original One M8. Josh Miller/CNET

Buttressing this is a healthy 2GB supply of RAM and 32GB of internal storage with the option to expand up to 128GB via a microSD card. This is great for anyone who tends to load their gadgets up with music and movies. Be advised that the handset requires a nano-size SIM card, whereas the first One used larger Micro-SIMs, so a new card (or adapter) might be in order.

Windows Phone 8.1.1 software features

Of course, what makes this One M8 unique is that it runs Microsoft Windows Phone 8.1.1. An animated, clean, and colorful OS, Windows Phone is denoted by its live tile home screen grid, and deep integration with Microsoft ventures like Skype, Xbox, Office, and Outlook. But while it has garnered a respectable number of loyal and passionate users, its app platform falls behind that of iOS and Android.

True, the Windows app store is steadily growing day by day, and Microsoft announced earlier this month that it hit 300,000 apps. In comparison, however, both the Apple App Store and Google's Play store currently have over 1 million apps each. If Windows Phone has all the apps you need and are going to need, you won't lose any sleep about these numbers. But for those considering a switch, it's an important fact to keep in mind.

Some essential apps to get you settled in are Facebook, an FM radio, the Bing Health and Fitness app, OneDrive cloud storage, Bing Maps, a weather app, OneNote, Slacker Radio, and a digital wallet app. There's also the Internet Explorer 11 Web browser, which now features a reading mode and private browsing called InPrivate.

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The three-column Live Tile home screen (left) and the pull-down notifications shade. Lynn La/CNET

Though there are several new software features with the 8.1.1 update, a few notable additions include Miracast, support for Microsoft Project My Screen, a three-column live tile homescreen, gesture typing, and a pull-down notifications shade. Click here for a full Windows Phone 8.1 rundown.

The device also has Cortana, a digital voice and search assistant that can schedule appointments, look up businesses, identify music, and much more. It can also set up reminders for you in relation to your contacts, like bidding someone happy birthday the next time they call. Irreverent and sassy at times (it can even tell you a joke if you ask it to), Cortana also has a notebook where it keeps tabs on your favorite places, restaurants, and news topics to better cater to your interests. Click here to see how it stacks up against other voice-activated assistants, like Apple's Siri and Google Now.

When it comes to the OS being integrated specifically with this handset, it has some signature HTC software, too. There's BlinkFeed, a Flipboard-esque app that combines your preferred news topics and your social media networks together. There's also HTC Sense TV, which transforms the phone into a universal remote using the IR blaster located on the top edge. The camera UI is called the HTC Camera and HTC Photo Edit is also loaded. The latter lets users apply up to 11 Instagram-esque filters to their photos, as well as quirky frames.

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HTC One M8 for Windows (16GB)

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