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HTC One (M8) for Windows review: a novel new take on Windows Phone

Mark Hachman | Sept. 1, 2014
Lumia, Lumia, Lumia. Lest you forget that Microsoft's Windows Phone business is more than a single Nokia product line, HTC has released the One (M8) for Windows. It's just as much a flagship phone as the Android version of the One (M8), and in some ways it feels even fresher thanks to the fact it runs Windows Phone 8.1, a veritable OS curiosity.

Unfortunately, Microsoft doesn't allow its hardware partners to redesign its Live Tiles interface in the way that Google allows OEMs to reskin Android. As a result, HTC services like BlinkFeed are just like third-party apps on Windows Phone.

Even as just an app, however, BlinkFeed is a serviceable substitution for Flipboard, which hasn't yet made it to the Windows Phone platform. BlinkFeed mashes up social media updates with news stories from your favorite sources, arranging everything in a scrolling patchwork quilt of clickable images. The updated version of BlinkFeed finally lets you add your favorite RSS sources, making the service much more useful, even if it's not directly integrated into the OS.

The phone also includes an app for Sense TV, a well-designed remote control for your set-top box. It's a nice service for browsing content if your provider is still saddling you with an archaic channel guide. 

Fortunately, the One (M8) for Windows is relatively free of bloatware. I was annoyed that Verizon bundled VZ Navigator, its $5/monthly navigation service, when anyone can download the free (and superior) HERE Maps from the Windows Store. Still, I was mollified a bit when I found I could uninstall VZ Navigator from our review unit.

A contentious camera

The One (M8)'s camera features will likely polarize consumers choosing between HTC's latest model and Nokia's Lumia phones. HTC likes to trumpet how its "UltraPixel" camera sensor lets in more light, resulting in better image quality when shooting in dark environments. This rear camera also includes a second lens, enabling a wide range of perspective effects. I also found that the One (M8)'s selfie camera has a competitive edge: It captures 5-megapixel images, offering far better clarity than virtually all other front-facing smartphone cameras, period.

On the flipside, HTC's rear camera is limited to just 4 megapixels, its light-gathering prowess notwithstanding. Nokia's Lumia phones, meanwhile, prioritize megapixels; the Icon, for one, captures 16-megapixel images. The upshot is that Nokia fans will likely find it hard to let go of their Lumia cameras, if only because of their increased resolution. The One M8's camera delivers perfectly serviceable images up close, and delivers evenly lit photos in low light. The shutter lag is about half a second or less, much shorter than the Lumia cameras. But you can still notice a lack of detail in cityscapes, and in zoomed-in images and video.

A vote for novelty

The One (M8) doesn't do enough to distinguish itself to receive my unconditional recommendation for Windows Phone users. Neither BlinkFeed nor SenseTV justify the purchase, leaving the One M8's camera technology as the primary reason to buy the phone.

Still, the idealist in me hopes that there's more to come from HTC's Windows Phone vision. Microsoft recently loosened its grip on Windows Phone hardware, a policy decision that was instrumental in allowing the HTC One (M8) to come to market. That breath of fresh air makes me yearn for something more. Cloning my existing Windows Phone apps and settings onto new hardware is appealing. But I'd like to see HTC interpret Windows Phone with its Sense aesthetic, too.

The bottom line is that I still see the Lumia Icon as the premiere Windows Phone for work and productivity, while HTC's selfie camera, BoomSound speakers, and novel dual-camera approach justify a purchase for more creative types.

 

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