I missed last week's press event for the HTC One M8 for Windows because I was out of the country. But HTC was nice enough to send a review unit, which was waiting for me when we got home late last night. Here are some first impressions of this amazing new Windows Phone flagship handset. Will it give the high-end Nokia Lumia handsets a run for your money?
To arrive at an answer to that question, I'll be comparing the HTC One M8 for Windows—M8 from here on out—to the Nokia Lumia Icon, which provides very similar specs—but an often wildly divergent feature set—and runs on the same carrier, Verizon Wireless. (The M8 will later ship on AT&T, I'm told, but I'm not sure about international availability. I would be shocked if the M8 wasn't released around the world, however.)
Nokia Lumia Icon (left) and HTC One M8 for Windows (right)
The M8 arrives in standard Verizon packaging, which is to say, something much nicer and of higher quality than your typical AT&T box. You get the expected USB charger and cable, and a SIM tool, but also what appears to be a very nice set of in-ear headphones with three separate tips, so you can find one that accommodates your own ears. The headphone quality is likely tied to the "BoomSound" functionality in the M8, an HTC replacement for the Beats sound it used to provide in its handset. I'll be testing the audio quality of the device, both from the unique stereo speakers and with the headset.
There's been a lot of discussion about the size and weight of the M8 relative to the Icon. On paper, they look very similar. But in your hand, they couldn't be more different, and here a familiar complaint about Nokia's smart phones emerges yet again. Where the HTC feels light and airy in the hand, the Icon is a dense brick. The shocker? They weigh about the same (160g for the M8 vs. the Icon's 167g). It's just that the M8's weight is better distributed.
Likewise, looking at the profile of both devices side-by-side, the M8 appears to be much thinner. And it is, really, though at its deepest point—because of its curved back—it's actually about as thick as the Icon (9.3mm for the M8 vs. 9.8 for the Icon). But the Icon is rectangular in every dimension, so it is really thicker overall, and it feels like it.
Sounds like we're heading for a win for the M8 in the form factor column, right? Let's not get ahead of ourselves. While the M8 and Icon both have 5-inch 1080p screens, the M8 cedes onscreen real estate to the navigation bar that contains the Back, Start and Search buttons. The M8 also includes a setting I've never seen, the ability to hide—automatically or manually—that navigation bar, which is interesting. But the screen still seems a bit smaller than the Icon's screen, and given my predilection for larger screens, in looking at them side-by-side, I prefer the Icon's.
Looking inside the device, so to speak, we do see a few differences when compared to the Icon. The M8 sports a quad-core 2.3 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor, a slight improvement over the Icon's 2.2 GHz 800. (My expectation, given how Windows Phone works: No difference.) Both devices include 2 GB of RAM and 32 GB of internal storage, but the M8 turns things up a notch by adding microSD expansion to 128 GB, a feature the Icon sorely lacks.
Where things are going to get interesting is the camera. The Icon features the same outstanding 20 megapixel PureView camera that debuted in the Lumia 1520, and it takes outstanding shots. But the M8 goes in a completely different and weird direction: It features 5 megapixel cameras, front and back, which is a bizarrely out-of-date unit (for the rear camera anyway) in 2014, not just compared to any flagship Lumia handset, but to any Android or iPhone flagship. That said, the rear unit has two lenses and some interesting software features that let you re-focus shots after the fact and perform a lot of other functions. I have not tested this yet, but based on what I've read, the M8 camera is not going to be good enough to use for vacation shots, as I've done over the past two years with the Lumia 1020 and 1520 (and could easily have done with the Icon as well). We'll see.
There's a lot to test here, and I'm eager to start. So I'll be using the M8 as my daily driver for the next few weeks at least and will report back when there's more to say.