“We have to temper our enthusiasm,” warns Stephen Schenck, “lest we get ahead of ourselves.”
It’s sage advice. The news piece broadcasting that warning also contained a rumor as tantalizing as it was familiar: some folks over at WPDang had heard through the grapevine that HTC intended to follow up its new One M8 with a Windows-powered variant of the same hardware. We’d heard tell of a similar rumor when the One M7 launched last year, only to spend the next twelve months buried under a wave of Nokia Lumia devices, punctuated by the occasional Samsung rehash. Rather than the Live Tile-packing M7 we were led to expect, the only Windows Phone out of HTC last year turned out to be the decidedly unremarkable 8XT.
But while it’s prudent to keep our hopes firmly anchored in reality this time around, it’s also tough to resist the urge to speculate about a Windows Phone with hardware as beautiful as that of the One M8. That may seem strange coming from someone who appreciates Nokia’s design and build prowess as much as I do, but an HTC One M8 Windows Phone would bring more to the landscape than just another check in the “well-built phone” box. It would also bring sorely-needed variety, and the kind of good press that only a well-regarded manufacturer can inject into a platform. Plus, it would serve as an excellent vehicle for Cortana.
I’ve long considered Windows Phone’s device selection one of the highlights of the platform. Nokia’s handsets are some of the best-built on the market, their material superiority matched beautifully by their color selection. Where other handset lineups are a dull, predictable parade of black, white and silver slabs, Nokia phones are an electric parade of cyans, yellows, and reds – all sheathed in the company’s customary chic minimalism. It’s partly this vibrant hardware portfolio that’s kept Windows Phone in my daily driver list for such a long time.
But in a world so accustomed to choice that not even the iPhone could stand alone as a one-device lineup, Windows Phone needs more. As beautiful as Nokia’s trademark polycarbonate is, it’s not enough to keep Microsoft’s platform as fresh as it needs to be from a hardware perspective. And highly-ranked though it may have been, Samsung’s ATIV S –with its traditional lines and mediocre industrial design– wasn’t the shake-up the family needed. Based on Samsung’s track record, it seems likely the rumored ATIV SE will bring much of the same.
What about a Windows Phone made of real metal, then? With a wraparound shell made of 90% aluminum, a 5-inch SLCD3 panel at 1080p, BoomSound speakers, a MicroSD card slot and some of the highest-end processing hardware around? Some of those components already exist in various Windows Phone devices, but bundled together in one casing, they represent a very powerful package of possibility for a platform still much in need of visibility.
Speaking of visibility: take a gander at the branding on that sucker. The big, bold “HTC” on the back cover and the smaller chrome stamp below the display. You might think the latter out of place without physical buttons flanking it, and you may find the former too ostentatious – and you may be right. I’m not here to talk you into liking the logos. But I think fans of Windows Phone, confronted with a device like this, would very much like the statement those logos represent: namely, that a well-regarded manufacturer is once again investing in Windows Phone in a big way.
Microsoft’s platform isn’t hurting for hardware partners: the company recently announced a bevy of new Windows Phone OEMs, after all. But though the list was voluminous, it wasn’t necessarily star-studded: smaller outfits comprised the bulk of the rundown, with the two largest “new” partners in the list (LG and ZTE) already having built Windows Phone devices in the past.
Regardless of HTC’s financial woes or its relative size, the company is well-respected for its design – both in hardware and software. Even the firm’s Windows Phone 8X and 8S models were praised from an aesthetic standpoint. Something like the One M8, with design elements a generation more advanced than what we saw from those earlier offerings, would be exactly the kind of shakeup the Microsoft handset landscape needs.
(More) Voice Command
If you followed today’s string of announcements from Microsoft Build, you know that Cortana just crossed the gap from fantasy to reality. Windows Phone is now in possession of its very own virtual assistant ala Siri and Google Now, and it offers a few features that even give those services a run for their money. Given Cortana’s focus on voice input and output, a smartphone that offers a top-shelf audio experience would only serve to enhance the experience. HTC BoomSound not only fits the bill – it shreds it and blows it across the table with its sheer amplitude.
There’s always a but.
The Windows Phone lineup is the most photo-centric smartphone portfolio ever. Nokia and Microsoft shrewdly leveraged their combined expertise to make buzzwords like “PureView” mean something: devices like the Lumia Icon and Lumia 1520 take some of the best pictures we’ve seen from a smartphone. The Lumia 1020 does take the best pictures we’ve ever seen from a smartphone (808 PureView excepted):
The HTC One M8 … does not. At least not always:
That’s not an automatic disqualifier. The One M8′s camera is by no means the worst shooter we’ve seen, and it would be interesting to see what Windows Phone’s Lenses could do with its Duo Camera hardware. There’s a small chance that those who’ve come to automatically equate Windows Phone with excellent camera quality might be put off by HTC’s “UltraPixel” shooter, but considering the device’s very good low-light performance, and the inability of even enthusiast audiences to tell the difference between major smartphone cameras, it’s unlikely the much-put-upon One M8′s camera would lose it many sales. Particularly given its other strengths, and the sheer novelty of its aluminum design in a world of plastic.
To us, it all adds up to a win: Windows Phone gets added cred and quality, while HTC gets another avenue to try to drive up its sales volume. Assuming the effort and cost of shoehorning Windows Phone 8.1 into the One M8′s shell isn’t too burdensome, it’s tough to come up with a reason a WP8 HTC One M8 wouldn’t happen – unless HTC doesn’t think it can move enough units to justify the effort. On the advertising side, the company’s hands are pretty full with the relaunch of the One brand, so maybe it’ll take a cross-marketing deal with Microsoft to make this happen. Were that to come to pass (and soon), the M8 might become HTC’s best selling Windows Phone ever – just as the M7 was HTC’s best-selling Android phone ever.
Check out our review video below if you haven’t already seen it, and then drop a comment down below with your thoughts on whether an HTC One M8 Windows Phone makes sense.