HTC One M8 for Windows Review

HTC One M8 for Windows Review

A true flagship but a tough decision

Working closely with Microsoft, HTC ported its best-ever Android handset to Windows Phone and created a credible flagship from a company not formerly named Nokia. The HTC One M8 for Windows is the ultimate stealth product, a smart phone that won't get confused looks from your friends, even though it runs an alien mobile platform. Is it good enough to dethrone the Lumia Icon?

To be clear, the HTC One M8 for Windows is as gorgeous as its name is awkward. And it offers some real differentiation and advantages over rival Nokia Lumia devices, especially the Lumia Icon with which it most closely competes. (Both are sold on Verizon Wireless here in the USA.) As a reviewer, I'm always looking for the "right" devices, those that I can recommend for various types of users. And as technology enthusiast, I'm always looking for the next big thing, the PC, tablet, PC or whatever that is so good I have to replace whatever I'm using in that space.

The HTC One M8 for Windows—which I'll call the M8 from here on out—qualifies in in both regards. To understand what I mean, consider the following comparisons between this handset and the Lumia Icon, which debuted back in the spring. (And be sure to check out my Nokia Lumia Icon Review, HTC One M8 for Windows Preview and HTC One M8 for Windows: First Impressions and Photos articles for reference.)

Design/form factor. With its bulky, squared-off, thick and heavy body, the Lumia Icon is no aesthetic match for the slim, curved and attractive M8. The Icon compared favorably to its predecessor, the Lumia 920, but that's an unfair comparison as the 920 was a pig of a phone. The M8 is prettier to look at, less dense-feeling in the hand, and easier to hold. Winner: M8

Screen. Both handsets feature a 5-inch 1080p (1920 x 1080) screen, which I think is the sweet spot today. However, the M8 uses a software-based navigation bar (with onscreen Back, Start and Search buttons), meaning that some of this onscreen real estate is sometimes hidden. Windows Phone 8.1 with Update 1 includes an elegant interface for controlling this, though, so I don't see this as a minus. And that leaves us with the objective task of comparing the same things on both screens, side-by-side, at the same brightness levels. The differences are striking: The Icon's AMOLED screen is appreciably brighter, and the colors, inexplicably are a little off on each device. Winner: Icon

Basic specs: Processor, RAM, storage. Here, we see comparable devices, which makes sense since both actually debuted around the same time in early 2014 (with the M8 being an Android device at the time). The Icon boasts a quad-core 2.2 GHz Snapdragon 800 processor, vs. the M8's quad-core 2.3 GHz Snapdragon 801, which I believe to be comparable. (I've certainly not noticed any performance differences between the two devices.) Both come with 2 GB of RAM, which is incredible for Windows Phone. And both come with 32 GB of internal storage, which is typical for flagship Windows Phone handsets today. Winner: TIE

Expansion. Both devices support micro-USB 2.0 for connectivity and charging, of course, and both support Miracast wireless display. But only the M8 supports storage expansion courtesy of a microSD slot that can provide up to 128 GB of additional storage. This is a huge advantage. Winner: M8

Camera. This one is no contest. The Icon features the same stunning 20 megapixel PureView camera that debuted in the Lumia 1520. The M8 features a strange 4 megapixel camera but offers post-processing functionality thanks to its dual lenses. In extensive tests of these cameras, I have very rarely taken a better shot with the M8, and that is both notable and damning. If the camera matters, the Icon is your only logical choice, though I do find HTC's quirky software interesting, as it lets you alter images after the fact by adding time shift and various filters and effects. Winner: Icon

Networking. Very similar as you'd expect: Both offer LTE capabilities on Verizon, Bluetooth 4.0, and Wi-Fi 801.11a/b/g/n/ac (though HTC notes that there is both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz; not sure about the Icon). Both feature a nano SIM. Winner: TIE

Sensors. Both devices include an ambient light sensor, accelerometer, proximity sensor and gyroscope. The Icon adds a magnetometer, but the M8 has a compass. Both feature A-GPS and A-GLONASS. And both have NFC. Winner: TIE

Software. Since it shipped back in the first quarter, the Icon comes with Windows Phone 8.0, not the newer Windows Phone 8.1. You can upgrade the Icon for free with the Developer Preview, and since the M8 can't take advantage of the Lumia Cyan features that Icon users are still waiting for on Verizon, this one is a wash. Winner: TIE

Unique hardware capabilities. You can double-tap the M8 screen to wake it up, but the Icon, which does not support Nokia's unique Glance functionality, does not support this useful feature; instead you have to fumble for the hardware Power button. Winner: M8

Unique software capabilities. Here, we see the Icon run away with it. Backed by dozens of amazing Lumia (formerly Nokia) apps, including many that can take advantage of this device's incredible camera, the Icon offers a better software experience then the M8, which comes with its own camera app, yet another news reader called HTC Blinkfeed, and a few others. This one, like the camera, is no contest. Winner: Icon

Battery. The Lumia battery has a capacity of 2420 mAh, compared to 2600 mAh for the M8. The two companies don't offer a lot of other ways to compare battery life, though the Icon gets a rated 16.4 hours of talk time on 3G, vs. up to 22 hours for the M8. And maximum standby time is 18 days for the Icon and 22 days for the M8. So this seems like a slight advantage for the M8, and you might think the M8's dimmer screen would help as well. I didn't do any formal tests, but I really didn't see a big difference here. So I will turn to Laptop Magazine, which I trust. They give the Icon 7:09 hours of battery life vs. 10:28 for the M8. Winner: TIE (or M8 if you want to go with the third-party tests)

Audio. I wouldn't normally rate this per se, but the M8 features a unique set of stereo speakers that are backed by what HTC calls BoomSound. And they do sound great. The Icon, by comparison, features a single mono speaker. But when you play music or movies at the same volume level, the sound is surprisingly comparable, though the M8 is obviously in stereo. But you use headphones, right? Winner: TIE

Now, if you count up the scores noted above, you'll arrive at a tie. But I mentioned that I'm always looking to see whether a particular product meets the news of general users—i.e. the point of any review—and whether it meets my own needs (i.e. just being selfish here). And when I consider the general needs of the potential Windows Phone user, choosing the M8 over the Icon requires that you give more weight to that device's unique strengths—the elegant form factor, its storage expansion capabilities, and double-tap to wake up. Likewise, choosing the Icon requires you to give more weight to its superior camera, superior collection of Lumia software titles, and its brighter screen.

For me, the choice is simple: The Icon wins hands down, because 32 GB of storage is enough and the camera and software are in a league of their own.

With that out of the way, you should consider your own needs and, if possible, compare both devices side by side in person. I don't think that AT&T customers should switch to Verizon to adopt either phone, as the Lumia 1020 and 1520, though last year's models, are both worthy alternatives in their own rights. But both the Icon and M8 are likewise better than any Windows Phone on T-Mobile or Sprint. (Are there even Windows Phones on Sprint? No matter.)

If you already own an Icon, your conscience should be clear. The Icon is a spectacular device with a superior camera and Lumia software library. Enjoy life, you're done here.

But if you are on Verizon and are ready for an upgrade, and are not sure about the M8 vs. the Icon, consider those pros and cons noted above. Both phones are unique and lust-worthy in their own rights. It all depends on which features matter most to you.

The HTC One M8 for Windows is recommended, assuming you can live without the Icon's killer camera and those superior Lumia apps. Beyond that, it's almost perfect. Welcome back to Windows Phone, HTC. We missed you.

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