One of the best Android phones gets a Windows Phone 8.1 makeover (hands-on)

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With just 2.5 percent of the market, Windows Phone remains a strange, distant planet to many in the smartphone universe, but it has a unique style and a devoted fanbase of followers who swear by it. In terms of premium devices, though, those devotees have been largely restricted to Nokia phones for most of the past two years.

The new HTC One M8, then, is a back-to-the-future throwback. It's a familiar Android phone, and a really great one, that now can be had with Windows Phone 8.1 -- an option unavailable on HTC handsets since the likes of the HTC Windows Phone 8X in 2012. The HTC One M8 for Windows is available starting today in the US, exclusively on Verizon at launch, for either a promotional price of $100 with a two-year contract or $30 via Verizon Edge. AT&T also announced that it will carry the phone, but the carrier has yet to reveal pricing or an availability date.

No prices or availability for the UK and Australia are yet available, but we'll update when we know more.

I got an early look at the Verizon version of the phone, and yes, it looks as sleek as you'd imagine. Windows Phone 8.1.1, whether you like it or not, is a perfect fit on this device.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

How does it differ from the existing Android version of the HTC One M8? Its operating system is Windows Phone 8.1.1. Other than that, this is exactly the same hardware: same 1,920x1,080-pixel 5-inch OLED display, same dual-lens rear camera, same front-facing "BoomSound" stereo speakers, same fantastically sleek aluminum construction. If you're curious how it feels or what hardware it has, you can just read our review of the Android version.

If you want a quick recap here, this phone has a Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor, 32GB of storage, 2GB of RAM, a microSD card slot, NFC, 802.11ac dual-band Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0. The addition of Windows Phone 8.1.1 also means Miracast and Microsoft Project My Screen support. This is also the first Windows phone to support Verizon Messages.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

In the US, the One M8 for Windows is a Verizon-specific phone, in one configuration with 32GB of onboard storage (its microSD card slot supporting an extra 128GB if you desire). Verizon's NFL Mobile exclusivity is being leveraged for an added promotion, adding a year of NFL Mobile NFL game-streaming for those who add this phone onto their More Everything plan.

Windows Phone 8.1.1 comes installed, supporting all of Windows Phone 8.1's biggest improvements, including Cortana voice search. Microsoft approached HTC a year ago to build a Windows-oriented version of the HTC One and this is the result.

It's intended to feel exactly the same, and many of HTC's specific software apps and features have carried over here: BlinkFeed, HTC's newsfeed-slash-social Flipboard-style app, as well as HTC Sense TV, which acts as a TV guide and works a front-edge IR blaster as a universal remote.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

There's also HTC's own camera app, which works with the same two-lens multi-focus Duo Camera, and can take adjustable-focus, depth-of-field photos via UFocus. According to HTC, 90 to 95 percent of the Android HTC One M8's camera app functions have carried over, including the mock-3D Dimension Plus and art-filter Foregrounder features. (Among the omissions you won't miss: the ability to add fake seasonal flower petals and snow.)

Windows Phone actually feels organic on the One M8: it's a good aesthetic fit. But will the HTC One M8 really do anything better than what many existing Nokia phones can? The biggest problem with Windows Phone is app availability, but at least this HTC One M8 shows that more iconic phones can make it over to Windows... eventually.

Check back here for a full rated review later this week.

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Where to Buy

HTC One M8 for Windows (16GB)

Part Number: CNEThtcOneM8windows
Pricing is currently unavailable.