Look and feel
The Windows Phone 8X by HTC’s single-panel design is slim and sleek, featuring a glossy glass front and a soft-touch rear available in four colours. It feels great in the hand and looks the biz, although the battery isn’t removable.
Ease of Use
Windows Phone 8 is intuitive enough to work your way around without a manual, with well laid-out menus and a built-in help feature if you do get stuck. The HTC 8X’s spacious, responsive 4.3-inch screen is a joy to use.
Although the 8MP rear-facing camera occasionally produced dark outdoor results, it’s impressively sharp, picks out colours well and performs great in low light. The wide-angle front-facer is perfect for self-portrait group shots. You also get Beats Audio to add extra spice to your music.
The dual-core processor has no trouble handling apps, games and everything else you throw at it.
One of our sole bugbears with the HTC 8X. You’ll only get four hours of video streaming from each charge, while 24 hours of battery life is only achievable with moderated use.
Windows Phone 8 has just been launched by Microsoft, but we were fortunate enough to get an early review sample of HTC’s flagship Windows Phone 8 smartphone, catchily titled the ‘Windows Phone 8X by HTC’. Melding slick design with multimedia magnificence and the highly sociable Windows Phone 8 OS, this is a brilliant mobile for smartphone noobs and connoisseurs alike.
Out of the boxp
Our first impressions upon pulling out our brand spanking new HTC 8X were universally positive. We love the single-panel design and the way the edges taper off, giving the 8X a unique, appealing and undeniably solid look and feel. The entire front panel is covered in glossy glass and features three touch buttons (Back, Search and the instantly recognisable Windows button) beneath the screen, as well as a front-facing camera up top. Around the back, the HTC 8X boasts a matt textured finish that feels soft to the touch and comes in four different colours: black, blue, red and yellow. Thankfully, like the HTC One X, the backing doesn’t get scuffed easily and can be cleaned up quickly with a cloth and some good ol’ fashioned spit.
The edges are pleasingly free of clutter, with volume and camera buttons and a covered Micro SIM slot housed on the right side, the power button on top, and the Micro USB port on the base. The single-panel design unfortunately means you’ll never be able to remove the battery, to replace it if it fails. You get 16GB of built-in storage for your apps and media, but no memory card slot despite the fact that Windows Phone 8 now supports them. Thankfully Microsoft’s SkyDrive cloud-based storage service (which gives you 7GB of space free) means you can access more content when you’re online.
Tiles, tiles, tiles
Windows Phone 8’s interface will be immediately familiar to anyone who’s handled a Windows Phone device in the past. As before, your home screen is made up of a grid of live tiles which act as shortcuts to your apps, while also displaying live information – for instance, the mail app shows if you have any unread messages. The main difference this time around is that the tiles can be resized, so they’re either twice or half their standard size. This means you can pack more (or less) onto your desktop than before. A quick flick to the left brings up a full scrollable list of all of your apps, arranged alphabetically for quick and easy access.
Windows Phone 8's lock screen also has live data to make it a little more exciting. As well as the usual message notifications, you can set up the likes of Twitter and Facebook so they stream content to your lock screen, including a slideshow of photos.
The HTC 8X comfortably ran Windows Phone 8 thanks to its dual-core Qualcomm processor, clocked at 1.5GHz. We also had no trouble messing around with games and apps, which loaded quickly and showed no signs of slowdown. Considering Windows Phone’s light system requirements, we can’t imagine this phone being out of date for the lifetime of your contract. Most other Windows Phone 8 launch devices, including Samsung's Ativ S, feature the same processing power.
Movies and music
Eagle-eyed readers will notice the signature ‘Beats’ logo on the rear of the HTC 8X, which once again signifies the presence of Beats Audio enhancement. This audio tech is basically a clever piece of software that makes your music sound crisper and clearer, especially if it’s of dubious quality to begin with. Some of our low bit-rate tracks were really brought to life, sounding more like CD-quality tracks. The rear speakers apparently have a built-in Beats amp although it still lacked any real oomph and the top volume isn’t loud enough to really blast your music. We’d stick with earphones.
The HTC 8X’s 4.3-inch Super LCD 2 screen rocks a sharp 720p resolution, and is made from impressively thin Gorilla Glass to keep it tough without adding excessive thickness to the phone. We enjoyed watching movies and streaming YouTube clips thanks to its crisp image reproduction (at 341 pixels-per-inch it’s technically sharper than the Apple iPhone 5’s retina display), bold colours and excellent viewing angles. Boost it up to maximum brightness and you’ll be able to read your mails even with serious glare reflecting back off the screen.
Unfortunately, that screen saps the HTC 8X’s battery a little too quick. If you’re a media fan, expect a measly four hours of video streaming on a full charge, around two hours below the average for a modern smartphone. Thankfully if you restrict your use to emails, texts, calls and the occasional bit of music or app play, you can get a full 24 hours of battery life before you need to plug in again.
The HTC 8X’s dedicated shutter button can be found on the right edge, and pushing it even when the phone is hibernating launches you straight into the camera app. Photos take almost instantly with another push of the button, and you can either focus manually by tapping the screen or let the lens do its job. We found we could get some excellent close-up macro shots using the manual focus, while the auto is perfect for every other occasion.
However, some of our outdoor shots came out surprisingly dark, as the sensitive lens adjusted to counter the glare of the sky. We found we had to angle the lens downwards to get a bright result, which isn’t always possible when you’re trying to capture a building or some other point of interest.
These two shots look like they were taken on completely different days but were actually taken within seconds of each other. In the second, we angled the camera downwards to brighten the shot.
The HTC 8X’s camera produces much better results indoors. In well-lit environments our shots were crisp and vibrant, even when viewed back on a TV. And when the lights went down our photos turned out surprisingly bright (although suffered the usual grainy after-effect).
Face the front
Do you find you take self-portraits of yourself and your beloved by stretching out your arm as far as it’ll go, only to find you’ve cropped off your sweetheart’s chin? Well, the HTC 8X’s front camera, with its wide-angle (88 degree) lens, may be the blessing you’ve waited for. As you can see in the below shot, the difference between the Motorola Razr i (left) and the HTC 8X (right) is astounding. That wide-angle lens captures a lot more of your surroundings, making it ideal for snapping a group of people, or yourself stood in front of a beautiful landscape (or our kitchen, in this case, but for argument’s sake let’s pretend it’s the Taj Mahal). The 8X even gives you a two-second countdown so you know when to smile.
The Windows Phone 8X by HTC (right) captures much wider shots than rivals
Windows Phone 8 gives you a small range of easy-to-use editing tools, so you can tweak your snaps on the fly before sharing over a social network. The crop and rotate functions work as they should, but more impressive is the auto-fix feature. Simply tap this and the HTC 8X automatically adjusts your photo’s brightness and saturation levels, which helped to rescue some of our previously mentioned outdoor shots. As well as the excellent editing tools, you can download ‘lenses’ which add extra features to your smartphone’s snapper. The pre-installed Bing lens allows you to scan barcodes and QR codes, or even scan in text for copying or translation (a great feature if you’re stuck in foreign climes and confronted by an English-free menu).
Scanning the text from the cover of Mobile Choice magazine...
Share and share alike
Windows Phone has always been a sociable OS, with its excellent People hub which ties together your social media accounts so you can keep a close tabs on your friends and family. Windows Phone 8 takes sociability to yet another level with its easy-share options. Browse to a photo, webpage or app, and you’ll find a ‘share’ button that allows you to text, email, tweet and spread a link in any number of ways. Now you can bombard your chums with endless cat photos or links to YouTube cat videos, or even your latest website that you set up for your cat. Until they change their number, at least.
Video callers or anyone with a meagre amount of free minutes will appreciate that Skype is now a lot more user friendly and properly integrated into Windows Phone. We sadly didn’t get the chance to test the new Skype app before finishing this review, but we’re promised that – once signed in – you will always be reachable, even when the app is ‘asleep’. Skype contact details will be added into the People hub, while missed calls will appear in your notifications. We’d appreciate an option to enable Skype only when connected to Wi-Fi (to avoid killing your data allowance by accident), but we’ll have to wait to see if this is included.
If you prefer texting or emailing, the virtual keyboard is thankfully clutter-free and simple to use. Excellent predictive text learns your usual sentence construction, and can predict which word you'll use next - for instance, when we type in 'Trains', the HTC 8X suggests 'are', followed by 'buggered', 'as' and 'usual'. Genius!
Windows Phone 8 is clearly pitched at families with its new family-friendly features, including the excellent ‘Family Room’ hub. This is a private area for yourself and your chosen few (who you invite with a quick text message), where you can share calendars, notes and photos, or even indulge in a private text chat. It’s a great way of ensuring everyone knows where everyone else is, and syncing up when it comes to shopping lists and other bits.
Kid’s Corner is another neat little idea that allows you to share your smartphone with your beloved spawn (if you dare entrust a wee ‘yin with several hundred pounds worth of equipment). This is essentially a segmented section of the OS that gives your child access only to the apps you select, with a PIN protecting full access. Your kid can therefore play games and watch videos while you’re busy, without accidentally browsing to some ‘educational’ Dutch website.
Shop ‘til you drop
The only area where Windows Phone is still lagging behind Android and iOS is the online app store. The store itself is well laid out, giving you fast access to the best paid and free apps, specific categories and a series of ‘spotlight’ apps which you might otherwise have missed. Sadly the selection on offer is still nowhere near as comprehensive as on other mobile devices. This is something that will obviously change as more and more developers get behind this OS, but for now users are stuck with a meagre selection of games, very few useful apps for going out, and the frankly rubbish Bing search engine that’s prevalent through the phone.
Thankfully you get a couple of decent apps pre-installed on the HTC 8X, including Microsoft’s mobile Office suite. This allows you to view and knock up documents, presentations and spreadsheets on the fly, as well as access your online SkyDrive storage to back up and restore your important files. It’s a powerful online office app and one that’ll make do if you left your laptop at home.
In its massive global launch, Microsoft has promised that lots of big apps will be coming to the market in the coming months. One of the big ones they mentioned was Pandora, the popular music service, which will come with a year's premium ad-free subscription free of charge. We're keeping our fingers crossed that more developers will embrace Windows in 2013, and with massive manufacturers such as HTC, Samsung and Nokia behind it, we reckon that'll be the case.
You also get NFC support with the HTC 8X, which will be used in the near future to turn your smartphone into a virtual wallet. For now you can use the built-in NFC to swap files with your friends with the handy 'tap & send' feature, which we haven't had the chance to test yet but seems just as easy as Samsung's Galaxy Beam tool.
The Windows Phone 8X by HTC is one of those rare mobiles that has something to offer everyone. Someone taking their first steps into the world of smartphones will love Windows Phone 8’s simplistic and intuitive exterior, media fans can get a kick from HTC’s Beats Audio, and the bold, crisp screen is a great way to take in movies or browse the web. Not forgetting the fantastic dual snappers for capturing your every move, and sharing it with the world. As soon as the Windows Store gets a full complement of decent apps, we’re confident that Windows Phone 8 will become as popular as Android and iOS.