I’ve never given a Windows Phone a good review.
Even though it’s been nearly four years since Microsoft introduced its operating system to compete with iPhone and Android, the software’s features have still lagged behind. And the hardware, most of it made by Nokia, has been chunky and unattractive compared to the competition.
But with one big exception, Windows Phones have finally caught up. It all starts with HTC’s new phone, the HTC One M8 For Windows. (What a mouthful!)
Clunky name aside, the One is the best phone running Windows you can buy. It’s only available on Verizon for now ($100 with a two-year contract), but AT&T will have it soon too.
What Is It?
Hardware-wise, this is the same flagship phone HTC launched earlier this year. That device ran Android, and is still the best Android phone you can buy. In fact, it’s one of the best phones, period. The only difference this time is that the new One is running the latest version of Windows Phone, 8.1.
The phone is gorgeous. While most of Nokia’s phones are thick, plasticky, and unappealing, the HTC One is made from mostly metal. Its only rival design-wise is the iPhone. It also has a sharp, 5-inch HD screen and dual rear cameras that let you take photos and readjust the focus later.
Windows Phone 8.1 has a lot of improvements too. It now has a drop-down notification center, similar to what you see on Android and iPhone. It also has Cortana, Microsoft’s answer to digital assistants like Siri and Google Now.
What Can It Do?
With the latest 8.1 update, Windows Phone has finally caught up to iPhone and Android. (If you have an older Windows Phone, you’ll be getting the update soon if you haven’t already.) Between Cortana, the notification menu, and the ability to group apps into folders, there’s almost nothing Windows Phones can’t do that other smartphones can. It took Microsoft a long time, but it eventually caught up.
My favourite new feature is Cortana, which is smarter and more capable than Siri. When you launch Cortana, it gives you a snapshot of your calendar along with some headlines and other stuff you might be interested in reading. Cortana handles search a lot better too, giving you the one answer you’re looking for instead of a list of search results like Siri often does. For example, you can ask Cortana how tall San Francisco’s Coit Tower is and get the right answer. And you can even follow up with something like, “Where is it?” to get directions. Siri simply isn’t smart enough to do that. (Google Now, the digital assistant for Android devices, is though.)
Most Windows Phones work the same way, but the One does have a few special tricks. The most important one is the dual camera system that lets you snap a photo and readjust the focus later. You can create some nifty photos with that feature, but the overall image quality isn’t as good as photos taken with the iPhone 5S, Samsung Galaxy S5, or Nokia’s flagship Windows Phones.
Another benefit to Windows Phone 8.1 is battery life. Even though the One running Windows has the same battery as the Android version, I was able to get much more usage out of it. In fact, it lasted well over a day, which is a dream considering I usually have to charge my iPhone about twice a day.
What’s The Downside?
There’s one thing that hasn’t changed with Windows Phone: App selection.
Yes, you can get apps like Facebook, Twitter, and Spotify on Windows Phone, but there’s a wide range of other apps that aren’t available. No Gmail. No Google Maps. No YouTube. No Snapchat. The list goes on and on.
Even though there are many popular apps in the Windows Phone app store, many still lack the features their Android and iPhone counterparts do. Plus, the latest and greatest apps and games rarely launch on Windows Phone first.
That’s probably going to be a dealbreaker for most people. Apps are the portal to online content on smartphones, and if you’re using an OS like Windows Phone that doesn’t carry the apps you need, you’re going to miss a lot.
If you don’t mind missing out on the best apps, or you just like using Microsoft’s services like Bing, Outlook, and Office exclusively, then the HTC One is the first Windows Phone you should consider buying. But I suspect that’s a minuscule slice of the smartphone market.
While the HTC One running Windows is a fantastic phone, most people shouldn’t buy it.
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