The end of 2014 is quickly approaching, so this is a great time to look back at the year that was in Windows Phone, and give our recommendation on the best Windows Phones for various price ranges. 2014 saw some change in the Windows Phone market, with the dominant player Nokia being purchased by Microsoft earlier this year. Microsoft also made some changes to the platform to make it easier to build a Windows Phone from scratch with the Qualcomm reference platform, and they changed the hardware requirements of the software to allow device makers to port their Android based smartphones over to Microsoft’s platform.

The former Nokia smartphone division is now Microsoft Mobile, and they have continued to churn out many different devices this year. This new division has focused mainly on the lower cost devices where they have seen the most traction. But the new hardware requirements have allowed a larger array of devices and manufacturers to come on-board in 2014. This has changed the landscape with competitive offerings from many manufacturers over a wide price range.

Flagship Phone: HTC One (M8) for Windows

Phones called flagships are going to need to earn it, with shortcomings more harshly criticized when the average selling price can be north of $600. The HTC One (M8) for Windows is the winner in this category. The combination of a sleek aluminum design, light weight, good battery life, microSD support, Boomsound speakers, and the fastest SoC available in any Windows Phone puts it over the top. Performance is important on all platforms, and the Snapdragon 801 is a potent choice for Windows Phone. Battery Life is another key, and here the HTC has a great showing as well. The 5 inch LCD has a 1080p resolution for 440 pixels per inch, and with a RGB subpixel arrangement.

  HTC One (M8) for Windows
SoC MSM8974ABv3 2.3 GHz Snapdragon 801
Display 5.0” 1920x1080 IPS LCD
Network 2G / 3G / 4G LTE (Qualcomm MDM9x25 UE Category 4 LTE) up to 150 Mbps
Dimensions 146.36 x 70.6 x 9.35 (mm)
Weight 160 grams
Rear Camera 4.0 MP (2688 × 1520) Rear Facing with 2.0 µm pixels, 1/3" CMOS size, F/2.0, 28mm (35mm effective) and rear depth camera
Front Camera 5MP f/2.0
Battery 2600 mAh, 3.8 V, 9.88 Wh
OS Windows Phone 8.1
Connectivity 802.11a/b/g/n/ac + BT 4.0, USB2.0, DLNA, NFC
Location Technologies Qualcomm IZat Gen8B
SIM Size Nano SIM

The one shortcoming on the HTC One M8 is the camera. The 4 Ultrapixel duo cam rear shooter cannot compete against the likes of the Lumia 930’s 20 megapixel 1/2.5” sensor, but it still gives good low light performance although at the expense of resolution.

The HTC One (M8) for Windows also supports the funky dot view case which allows Cortana integration through the case. People who purchase the HTC One (M8) for Windows in the USA can now get the limited edition green Xbox dot view case until January 31st 2015, and the device is now available from AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile for around $600.

Overall, the HTC One (M8) for Windows is the more complete package, and camera aside, checks all the flagship boxes. If you value camera performance above battery life, the Lumia 930 would be runner up.

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  • JoBalz - Wednesday, January 7, 2015 - link

    I just purchased my first smartphone, a Nokia Lumia 635 (wanted to see first if I liked WP and that a smartphone would be useful before I plunked out a lot more money on a phone). Well, I love it! Sound quality, connection, wireless Internet, the apps, and CORTANA! Back to the point, I wanted to say I also noticed that there was a distinct gulf between low end and high end Windows Phones with little in the mid-range ($200-$375) range, after which there were quite a few phones to choose from at $400 and above. I admit the HTC M8 looked interesting but I just wasn't as familiar with the brand as I was with Nokia and a few others. I'm very happy with what I got, for now it's a good introduction to Windows Phone, and I feel certain I'll be replacing it in the future with another Windows Phone. Just hope Microsoft and other companies will develop more hardware in the mid-level price range.
  • craighamilton - Saturday, December 6, 2014 - link

    Agree...M8 is truly amazing. Receive high review rating at based on consumer satisfaction.
  • LarsBars - Tuesday, December 9, 2014 - link

    Brett, I really appreciate the Windows Phone coverage here at AT.
  • Bobs_Your_Uncle - Tuesday, December 16, 2014 - link

    Second this. The inexplicable, self-imposed long-term embargo of WinPhone on Anandtech was a most unfortunate circumstance.

    To merely have had the blackout lifted marked a definite editorial improvement. That this void was filled with a voice such as yours, Brett, is distinctly positive & is very much appreciated!
  • theKai007 - Thursday, December 11, 2014 - link

    it seems that Acer is preparing to present at least one new smartphones based on Microsoft’s platform. According to Focus Taiwan and sources close to the project, the Taiwanese company will unveil its return in 2015 with Acer Windows Phone, a device that could be mid-range or an entry-level, therefore cheap.
  • Ananke - Tuesday, December 16, 2014 - link

    I have all Windows phones on TMobile, but I am close to giving up and get most likely iPhones for the family. It is just a matter of cost - in US if I am to pay so much for a phone, it is going to be the most popular for applications, resell value and trendy device.

    Microsoft have the US market abandoned, there is no price choices, just very expensive devices that are competing with iPhone or S5 and have zero resell value, aka they are all overpriced with at least $200 a piece. Hence, MS phones are destined to oblivion, as of now.
  • trivor - Thursday, December 18, 2014 - link

    I picked up a couple of ATT 520s during a sale ($50 each) to use as cheap MP3 players and also to become familiar with Windows Phone. My main complaints about it are very slow to task switch (penalty of 512 MB RAM) and 3.7" is too small. Otherwise a good value. Recently upgraded to a 635 (ATT) and nice 4.5" screen but on screen buttons makes it more like a 4.3 inch and the 840x480 resolution doesn't bother me. The app situation hasn't gotten any better than it was 2 years ago (you could argue about the top 50 or top 100 doesn't matter) because there are way too many categories that just arent' available - regional banking/credit unions, dedicated sports apps (Hockey, Football, Baseball, Basketball), limited choice for e-mail. calendar, todo lists, minimal support of Google services (MS has excellent support of their services on both iOS and Android and in many cases better than their WP counterparts), mediocre keyboard, no flagship or choice of multiple flagships (Android has Galaxy Note, GS5, LG G3, Moto X (2014), HTC One (M8), Sony Experia line (Z3 compact @ 4.3") up to a 6.0" phablet, Nexus 6. I think WP is going to bounce along the bottom at around 3-4% until MS gives it up. MS needs to be in mobile and 3-4% isn't enough for smaller organizations (like regional credit unions) to support the platform. IT's hard to see what would jump start WP in the US/Canada. There is no killer app or expansive eco system and saying WP is "better" than iOS or Android is a very subjective reason especially with Google upping the ante with KitKat and now Lollipop. Android is a mature, stable OS that has excellent phones at every price point (from the Moto E at $100 to the Galaxy Note at $700). There are a ton of MVNOs and the major carriers all have their own prepaid plans in addition to MVNOs for lower rates/better value. There are plenty of good phones under $300 that you can buy outright to get away from subsidized phones and higher monthly costs. Personally, while I find Windows Phone to be a decent OS it is missing too much (especially since I live about 50/50 in the Google/MS universe) for me to ever consider a WP for my daily driver.
  • JoBalz - Wednesday, January 7, 2015 - link

    I bought my first smartphone, a Nokia Lumia 635 right after Christmas. Absolutely love the Windows Phone 8.1 OS on it. I haven't been a big Windows 8 fan (at least as far as using Metro) but I'm finding my way around quite easily and only a couple of quick looks at the users manual to figure how to do something. The little guy is responses and recoption & sound quality is great. Around the house use wi-fi instead of my 4G data plan for anything involving the Internet. And Cortana is the jewel of the package. So far I haven't been able to ask for anything that has thrown it, that it's misunderstood. I can see that Cortana and I are going to become good buddies! After using WP 8.1, I find it hard to believe that people won't give this OS the time of day, other than from personal animus against Microsoft.

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