Windows Phone doesn't get better than this. The awkwardly named HTC One M8 for Windows takes almost everything that made the original Android-powered HTC One M8 such a great business phone, and swaps in Windows Phone 8.1 as the operating system. From a hardware perspective, the two phones are identical, with fast performance; a big, sharp display; and epic battery life.
As a complete package, the One M8 blows away its Windows Phone competition, making it a no-brainer for the Microsoft faithful. And now that it's available on AT&T and T-Mobile — after several months as a Verizon exclusive — it's a solid option for a lot more people. But how does the HTC One M8 for Windows stand up to its Android and iPhone competitors?
What a difference a year can make. The One M8's predecessor, the HTC One M7, seemed pretty big when it launched in 2013 with a 4.7-inch screen. Now, with the growing popularity of phablets, the HTC One M8's 5-inch display seems positively reasonable. In fact, in terms of dimensions, I'd say that this smartphone strikes a near perfect balance between portability and productivity. One-handed usability is important to me, so I appreciate that my thumb can still reach the top of this phone's screen while I'm holding the device in my right hand.
But what's really noteworthy about the One M8 is its premium design. It's not just a handsome smartphone; it's on my shortlist of the best-looking phones ever made. The One M8's brushed aluminum frame gives it tons of premium appeal, especially compared to its chunky, plastic Windows Phone brethren. Its gently curved back fits nicely in my palm, and subtle accent lines on the back panel add a touch of sophistication. The front of the device sports dual speaker grilles that look as good as they sound, and even the gleaming HTC logo beneath the display looks great.
What's not so great is the placement of the phone's power button, which is situated right on the top edge of the device, instead of on the side. That makes it extremely difficult to turn off the display without two free hands. It's frustrating because there's no good reason for the button to be in such an inconvenient spot. Fortunately, you can wake the device just by double-tapping the screen, so it's only a problem when you want to manually shut down the display.
The One M8's 5-inch display is big, bright and beautiful to look at. The 1920 x 1080-pixel panel produces crisp, readable text and sharp images, and it's one of the brighter smartphone displays out there, which makes it easier to use outdoors in direct sunlight.
Most important, the screen is big enough to work on, without becoming unwieldy. Viewing and editing documents or spreadsheets feels more comfortable on the One M8 than on smaller devices, and so do basic tasks like managing your email inbox. Another perk is that the large display also lets you see a lot of Lives Tiles on your home screen (more on those in the next section).
Microsoft made big strides with its Windows Phone platform with the release of Windows Phone 8.1 earlier this year, helping the operating system catch up to competitors in a few key areas. The best addition is probably the new notification tray, which you can access by swiping down from the top of the screen, just like on an iPhone or Android device. It's a standard smartphone feature that's very welcome on Windows Phone. Of course, you can still see how unread emails or text messages you have just by glancing at the Live Tiles on your home screen.
If you've never used a Windows Phone device before, a Live Tile is like a mix between a regular app icon and a widget. Live tiles update in real time to provide alerts, images and other information from their corresponding apps. For example, the Calendar Live Tile provides a preview of my schedule for the day right on my home screen, while the Weather Live Tile shows me the three-day forecast at a glance. Android provides similar functionality with widgets on your home screen, but Live Tiles are better looking and far less obtrusive.
There's a lot to like about the Windows Phone interface, especially its slick and consistent visual style. Though it's not quite as polished as the latest versions of Android or iOS, it stands up pretty well next to those platforms. But it falls flat in one key area: apps.
Windows Phone's most obvious disadvantage is its relatively small app selection. While the platform has eked out a respectable library of roughly 300,000 apps, it can't compare to the more than 1 million apps available on Android or iOS. And frankly, many of the apps that are there just aren't as good as the Android or iOS versions, with fewer features and less-polished interfaces. It doesn't help that app updates are likely to be available for other platforms first. Plus, there's no support for Google apps like Maps, Gmail and Drive.
But let's not get carried away. Most people use only a handful of smartphone apps, and it's very likely that Windows Phone can meet your needs and then some. It has many of the big ones, like note-taking app Evernote, remote desktop app Splashtop and finance-tracking app Mint. And there are a ton of other great business and productivity apps to fill in the gaps.
Cortana is a voice-activated personal assistant that works a lot like Siri on the iPhone or Google Now on Android. You can activate the voice command prompt at any time by long pressing the search key, located to the right of the home button. From there, you can perform all sorts of actions hands-free. For example, say, "Set an appointment to meet Samantha tomorrow at 3:30 p.m." to have the event added to your calendar, and receive an alert when the time comes. You can also save a note, check the weather, perform a Web search or access turn-by-turn directions using Cortana.
I was annoyed when Cortana repeatedly directed me to Verizon's subscription-based VZ Navigator app whenever I asked for directions. Fortunately, Cortana started returning directions from the stock Bing Maps app as soon as I uninstalled VZ Navigator.
The One M8 for Windows supports some handy features for businesses looking to deploy the device in an enterprise environment. For starters, the Mobile Device Management console is a useful tool to help your IT department control company-owned devices by restricting which apps can be installed, or remotely wiping data from deployed phones. Meanwhile, built-in support for Information Rights Management means that signed and encrypted emails are protected automatically, and native device encryption helps keep corporate data safe.
The HTC One M8 is a really fast smartphone, with the same internal components you'll find in other flagship phones like Samsung's Galaxy S5. That includes a zippy Snapdragon 801 processor with 2GB of RAM, which allows for quick performance and snappy multitasking. Android phones like Samsung’s Galaxy Note 4 and Motorola's Droid Turbo are faster on paper, but in practice, the One M8 is more than speedy enough for daily productivity tasks.
Here's a good reason to consider the One M8 for Windows over its iPhone and Android rivals: It has better battery life than any other 5-inch device we've tested — period. In our battery test, which involves continuous Web browsing, the One M8 for Windows ran for an epic 10 hours and 28 minutes, which is more than 2 hours longer than the smartphone average of 8 hours and 7 minutes. That's a serious perk for business users who depend on their smartphone to last through the workday and beyond.
The original Android-powered One M8's 9 hours and 52 minutes of battery life is impressive, but not this good. In comparison, the Samsung Galaxy S5 ran for 9:42, and the iPhone 6 ran for 7 hours and 27 minutes, though it's a smaller smartphone with a smaller battery.
Pricing and availability
Initially a Verizon exclusive when it launched in September, the One M8 for Windows is now available on AT&T and is expected to hit T-Mobile very soon, so it's a viable option for a lot more people. It's most affordable on Verizon, where you can snag it for $99 with a two-year contract. In comparison, it costs $199 with a two-year commitment through AT&T, and pricing for T-Mobile will be available soon. Depending on your carrier, the One M8 for Windows is either on a par with or slightly more affordable than other flagships like the Galaxy S5 and the LG G3, which go for $199 with a two-year contract through the major carriers.
HTC's One M8 is without a doubt the best Windows Phone-powered device. It's fast and sleek, with a big, sharp display. And it's the longest-lasting smartphone we've tested with a screen smaller than 5.5 inches, which is a huge perk for power users. Plus, the Windows Phone platform has finally evolved enough to go head-to-head with Android and iOS, even if it's not quite as polished. If you can deal with the platform's smaller app selection, the HTC One M8 makes a great business phone for Microsoft fans.