HTC One (M8) With Windows Phone 8.1: Hands On - InformationWeek

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9/8/2014
01:51 PM
Michael Endler
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HTC One (M8) With Windows Phone 8.1: Hands On

Windows Phone fans finally have flagship variety with HTC's One (M8). But it probably won't tempt Android or iOS users to Windows Phone 8.1.

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Many commentators have called HTC's One (M8) one of the best Windows Phone 8.1 options currently available. That may well be true. After using the device for two weeks, I've been impressed by the improved OS and the snappy performance driven by the smartphone's class-leading internals.

But overall, the One (M8) simply isn't that exciting. It's a nice Windows Phone option and nothing more.

When Microsoft and HTC sent me a demo unit, I was eager to try it out. For the last six years, I've used mostly iPhones, but the screen on my current model has an epic spider web of cracked glass growing out of the top right corner. I'm also getting sick of its less-than-stellar battery life. I hadn't been overly impressed with my previous Windows Phone experience, on an HTC 8x, but I knew the 8.1 update would be better, and that the One (M8) hardware had charmed many reviewers.

Though I wasn't blown away, there's much to like about the device. Previously, if you wanted a flagship Windows Phone, you were basically stuck with bright-colored, plastic-encased Nokia models. Many of them are fine phones, but compared to the cornucopia of styles available to Android users, the Windows Phone catalogue has lacked variety, especially at the premium end. With a sophisticated, brushed aluminum frame, a powerful Qulacomm processor, and a five-inch, full HD display, the One (M8) gives Windows Phone fans a much-needed hardware alternative.

[Look back at iPhone's path to popularity. See Apple iPhone: 12 Pivotal Moments.]

The screen boasts rich, vibrant colors and excellent viewing angles. Images and text are clear and sharp, thanks to its 441-ppi resolution, which is even more pixel-dense than the iPhone's Retina display. The device's BoomSound stereo speakers offer a satisfyingly rich sound compared to many other smartphone speakers. The One (M8) also easily makes it through the day on a single battery charge.

Though the One (M8) was originally released as an Android handset, HTC and Microsoft have gracefully switched the device to Windows Phone 8.1. It lacks the physical home and arrow keys found on most Windows Phone handsets, but thanks to 8.1's support for soft keys, the OS's distinct navigation remains intact. Compared to the original version, Windows Phone 8.1 is livelier and exudes more personality. Small additions, such as the ability to set a background image, make the OS significantly more customizable. Organization is better due to support for folders. Everything runs without a hitch thanks to the 2.3-GHz Snapdragon 801 processor and 2 GB of RAM inside. The swipe keyboard, which lets you swipe through words instead of tapping out each letter, is surprisingly accurate, though not perfect. The phone synced with my other Microsoft accounts almost automatically -- quite satisfying, since I use Office 365.

Cortana, Windows Phone 8.1's virtual assistant, is useful and fun; whether the feature is better than the iPhone's Siri depends from task to task, but Microsoft's version has already noticeably improved since its introduction last April, with better responses to spoken queries, and a growing list of sassy personality traits. Microsoft also does a good job balancing Cortana's geolocation services and privacy. Even if such services are enabled, Cortana still makes sure you understand what and how it learns. For example, when it inferred where I live and asked for confirmation, Cortana explained that my phone was often in that location in the evenings.

The device works with HTC's Dot View cases, which allow you to wake the device, check notifications, and invoke Cortana without opening the cover. Also, HTC translated some of its Android devices' unique software features over to Windows. BlinkFeed, the company's social media and news aggregator, is offered as a Live Tile, for instance. The new One (M8) includes the earlier version's Duo Camera, which allows you to create a 3D parallax effect from a still image.

But in many ways, the phone is a mixed bag. While nice, the screen is

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Michael Endler joined InformationWeek as an associate editor in 2012. He previously worked in talent representation in the entertainment industry, as a freelance copywriter and photojournalist, and as a teacher. Michael earned a BA in English from Stanford University in 2005 ... View Full Bio
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Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
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9/16/2014 | 3:11:03 PM
Re: Questions for the author.
Hi Greg,


Have a look at the Lumia Icon, which a lot of people seem to like, and which has a nice 20 MP camera. That said, if you don't need to upgrade immediately, there are some rumblings and rumors that Microsoft will debut new phones relatively soon. If photography is your main focus, Panasonic just introduced an Android smartphone with a 1-inch sensor in its camera, which I suspect is the same one Sony and Canon are putting in their high-end compacts. This should give the Panasonic an image quality edge, based on pure physics, compared to most smartphones.
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
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9/9/2014 | 9:46:12 AM
Re: Another review complaining it's not an iPhone
Thanks rradina.


And no, I'm not "all Apple." I used Windows 7 and 8 PCs 85%+ of the time, prefer Office to iWork, think Win 8.1's bad reputaton is overblown, etc. 


I think you bring up a great point about older iPhones becoming "turtles" when Apple releases newer versions of iOS-- it's definitely happened to me too, and it's aggravating.

I also think you're right about the Windows Phone app problem-- it's not just about quantity, but also quality. That's one of the points I tried to highlight in the article. Even when a popular app is available (e.g. Instagram), it's often much less functional than it is on other platforms. There are a strong Windows Phone apps, too, but even if people are sick of hearing about the app gap, it's still a factor in sales and adoption.
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
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9/9/2014 | 9:39:18 AM
Re: Obviously
That's a neat trick, anon: you admit I can probably defend myself with "objective and unbiased reasons," yet you automatically discount whatever those reasons might be. Seem a little close-minded? Were there actually any points in the article that you disagree with? Or do you just like to toss around ad hominems?
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
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9/9/2014 | 9:34:27 AM
Re: Another review complaining it's not an iPhone
@manmuffy

*sigh*

"I have been using my Lumia 925 dark-coloured steel phone for 2 years now." Does a 2-year-old model still count as a flagship for those looking for a Windows Phone today? Taken in context (rather than filtered through indignation), there is nothing factually inaccurate about what I wrote.

"personally I have all the apps I need (about 40) and have never paid for one in my life ... Ooh, only 300,000 to choose from, how will I manage?" Great! For you, then, apps are a non-issue. But your perspective seems to imply that just because you don't care about this point, others won't care. I can appreciate that as a Windows Phone fan, you might be tired of hearing people complain about app selection, which has been an ongoing criticism. But even if you're sick of hearing about it, the app issue is still a valid criticism.

"Most iPhone users haven't tried WP handsets - living with them, not just for 2 weeks - but still criticize them because of iPhone reviewers basically complaining that it's not an iPhone." I've used this particular phone for two weeks, but I used the HTC 8x exclusively for six months after the iPhone I had at the time got dropped in water. I mentioned in the article that I had previous Windows Phone experience, though I didn't belabor the point. In any event, I included the note about the iPhone to be transparent about how my experiences might have shaped my perspective. Evidently it's better for reviewers to feign complete objectivity, rather than admitting that their perspective is shaped by experience and perspective?

"The bit about the feeling comfortable - very subjective - if you're used to one size any other will feel too large/small." The article is listed as commentary and described in the headline as a "hands on" review-- isn't it obvious that aspects of this are subjective? Moreover, the article said that unfamiliarity with the new size was a certainly a factor.


But, hey, you seem to live in a world in which people are either iOS-loving sheep, or free thinkers who shun Apple. I tend to think we live in a slightly more complicated world in which there's room for more than one device to be appealing, and in which it isn't anathema for a single reporter to subjectively explain why he prefers one type of one to another, while still praising aspects of both phones.
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