No messing around this year as Microsoft has finally hit the nail on the head in terms of operating system and hardware on which to showcase it. Compared to previous editions of its Windows Phone operating systems, Windows Phone 8 seems to have mastered a challenger to Android and iOS.
If I didn’t have déjà vu around this time last year, I certainly do now. It seems like an annual tradition around the winter months that I get handed a new Windows Phone OS to tinker around with. Winter 2010 saw the launch of the Samsung Omnia 7 with WP7, last year the HTC Titan danced its jig with WP7.5 (Mango OS) and now I have the seriously sleek HTC 8X to bolster my seasonal gadget arsenal. Now, enough about Christmas traditions, let’s talk spec.
Look and feel
Out of the box one thing is obvious, this is a pretty sleek smartphone. Comparing it the the HTC One X or even the older HTC Titan is an obvious thing to do and in terms of size it is actually a good thing that the 8X comes in lighter and smaller. It’s just a better fit overall for the experience it is trying to deliver.
Around the device the button positions are well placed, front and back cameras are what you’d expect and the phone fits well in hand. One thing that does puzzle me is the lack of access to the internal components of the phone. From first holding the phone the initial reaction was, “Ah, this slot is for the micro-SD and the SIM goes in the back” – wrong! The 8X has a side slot for a micro-SIM and no extra memory card slot (which considering there is only 16GB internal, most eaten by OS, is annoying). In fact, no access to the internals at all, which means if the phone were to freeze for any reason, the “get out of jail” card of yanking the battery out can’t be played.
HTC 8X - Tech Specs
- Microsoft Windows Phone 8 OS
- Qualcomm 1.5GHz dual-core Snapdragon S4 processor
- 16GB internal storage
- 1GB RAM
- 720 x 1,280 pixels, Super LCD 2 screen
- 4.3 inches display, 341 PPI pixel density
- 8MP front camera, 1080p video
- Beats Audio
Hardware and OS
Unlike previous installations of WP OS, there doesn’t seem to be this tug of war that I had previously stated between the hardware and software aspects. Yes, Windows still tries to launch its own products at you from all angles, but HTC sticks to its side of the bargain and delivers everything with aplomb on high-tech hardware. The phone features the latest 1.5GHz dual-core Snapdragon S4 processor and 1GB of RAM, meaning no matter what is running the phone will zip along at lightning speed.
And its not bad to look at, either, with the much-praised screen technology being migrated over from the HTC One X. The 4.3-inch, 1,280 x 720 Super LCD 2 screen delivers a whopping 341 PPI – yes, Apple fans, that’s more than the iPhone 5!
As for the updated OS itself, I can’t praise it enough. They’ve finally tweaked out the annoying things from previous versions (even simple things like typing, which defied logic in WP7) and updated the look and feel making it more customisable and user friendly. The integration with other Microsoft products is actually becoming a reason to use them rather than taunt them now (more later).
With great power comes great, erm, power usage. The huge downside to the 8X is the battery. Featuring a, seemingly high-end, 1,800mAh battery, I really would have expected it to last longer. A full charge will get about eight hours talk time but considering what the phone will really be used for this is reduced to less than four hours continuous usage for apps. It still perplexes me that smartphone batteries aren’t up to modern-day usage requirements. Outside of the quick draining time, the phone does overheat slightly. It’s OK, I’ll just take off the back cover and ... oh.
Android and iOS users can continue laughing ... for now. Yes, it is true, there is still a dearth of apps available for WP users but it is getting significantly better. In fact, as Wired found out, of the top 91 paid-for and free apps available on Android and iOS – 32 were available on WP and 16 more had their own versions with more coming every day (I even managed to get Draw Something yesterday!). The regulars are there to keep users sweet, anyway, with Facebook, a dedicated LinkedIn app, finally, and Twitter apps performing better on this WP version.
Where WP users have the last laugh is in the games department. I’m not quite going to stick my fingers in my ears and go “la la la, I’m not listening” but I really do prefer the (albeit, limited) games on WP devices. Having the backing of the XNA Monogame development and XBox behind you helps, I suppose.
Now, I suppose it’s time to address the constant elephant in the room, Windows software apps. I’m going to stick with the elephant analogy now (I do like elephants), it turns out the elephant in the room makes a pretty good housemate once you acknowledge him and he agrees to pay half the rent. Yes, I ragged on the annoyance of the Windows software before in these reviews but I’m actually starting to come around to using SkyDrive, OneNote, Office365 and now the new XBox SmartGlass, which means full control of an XBox from the couch for when you’re feeling super lazy. Having said that, my long-term on-again/off-again relationship with Hotmail (or Outlook online now) has been rekindled against my will.
Video, photo and music
If you’re looking for a nice camera to top off the HTC 8X, you’re in luck. Again, something which has been transported over from the One X, the back camera is an 8-megapixel shooter with f2.0 28mm lens, serviced by a CMOS sensor and a dedicated imaging chip, which delivers some pretty impressive snaps. The software is pretty standard, no real bells and whistles hanging off it but it does not detract from the images. HTC has also included its customary “photo enhancer” for good measure to add more to your images.
Image taken with the HTC 8X. Tea, anyone?
Front-facing camera clocks a nice 2.1MP, which is good for Skype calling and both cameras will record video at 1080p, the back camera registering 30fps and features continuous autofocus and enhanced lighting functions, which on test has proven more favourable than the Nokia Lumia 820 and even the Samsung Galaxy S III.
Music wise, on first reflection, something weird happened. I plugged the 8X into my PC and Zune didn’t awaken from its slumber to flash up in front of me. “That’s not like you, Microsoft,” I thought, only for the penny to drop. With the lack of micro-SD slot, low internal memory and no forcible Zune usage, it becomes apparent what the slight ploy in all of this is – streaming. Heavily featured on the 8X is the XBox Music Store which has a vast catalogue of music available to stream direct to the device (claiming more than 18m tracks so far) and I must admit the 3G connection on the 8X is an absolute giant leap from the Titan so it is a hassle-free service to use. There is a 30-day free trial and after that it is €9.99 a month. With Spotify launching in Ireland recently, this could be a space to watch over the coming months.
Sound quality on the 8X is very good and HTC has once again teamed up with Beats Audio to deliver the sound system. You can choose to switch this feature on or off and to be honest, maybe I’m just tone deaf, but there doesn’t seem to be a huge difference either way. Then again, I’ve always thought a technology loses all credibility once it becomes a fashion accessory.
I’m hooked, is about all I can say to confirm my feeling towards the 8X. Yes, I’ve been a WP user for some time now but I’ve had my fair share of Android and iOS devices in the past and I’m in no hurry to move back after playing with this smartphone. The OS is sound, the hardware is absolute top notch and the petty annoyances I’ve had in the past seem to be, at least, phasing out now. If you are an Android or iOS user you’re probably not going to move to WP now if we’re being honest, but if you have dipped your toes into the WP waters before I think it’s about time to take a running jump into WP8.