Sleek design; user-friendly Windows Phone interface; Crisp colourful screen; Powerful snappers that can be expanded via ‘lenses’; Beats Audio.
Small choice of apps; disappointing battery life; lack of memory card slot
HTC’s Windows Phone 8X exceeds itself on so many levels – ultra-sharp display, smooth design and impressive dual snappers, as well as plenty of social networking options and Beats Audio for quality sound. It’s just slightly let down by the lack of apps and the battery that drains too quickly.
Microsoft has only just launched its new OS Windows Phone 8, so we were lucky to get our hands on a review model of HTC’s Windows Phone 8 flagship smartphone, called ‘Windows Phone 8X by HTC’. HTC has put together smart design, social networking niceties and magnificent multimedia capabilities whether you’re new to smartphones or looking to upgrade again.
Our first glimpse at the new Phone 8X impressed us. It has a sleek single-panel design, with tapered edges that make it stand out, while still remaining solid in both look and feel. The whole of the front panel is covered in glossy glass and there are three touch buttons for Windows, Search and Back. These sit below the screen. The front-facing snapper is at the top of the handset.
The edges have been kept clutter-free. The Micro SIM slot, snapper and volume buttons are on the right side, while the power button sits on the top. You’ll find the Micro USB sport on the bottom of the device. The only downside of the single-panel design is that it is not possible to swap out the battery if it fails for some reason.
The back of the phone has a soft, matt textured coating, with a choice of four colourways – blue, red, yellow and black. The back is resistant to scuff and easily cleaned with a cloth.
Built in is 16GB of storage for media and apps. But there’s no memory card slot, which is odd as Windows Phone 8 now offers support for them. However, the good news is that you get 7GB of space free on the cloud-based storage offering from Microsoft – called SkyDrive.
Windows Phone 8 ran nicely on the phone, thanks to the 1.5Ghz dual-core Qualcomm chip that sits under the chassis. It coped with every app and games we threw at it, with no signs of slowing down. The OS is pretty light on demands, so we reckon this phone should be futureproofed for the life of your contract. Most of the other launch devices for Windows phone 8 – such as the Samsung Ativ S have the same power.
If you’ve used a Windows Phone handset before you’ll feel at home with this latest version. The home screen features a grid of live tiles, which you use to shortcut to apps. The tiles are updated with live info, so for example, the mail tile will show if you have any unread mails. The new feature is that the tiles’ size can be changed – either to half size or twice as big. It means you can squeeze more onto your home screen if you want.
Flick to the left and you’ll see a list of all the apps in alphabetical order, which you can scroll up and down. The lock screen also features live data. Not only can you see message notifications, but you can set it up so that Facebook and Twitter both stream content to the lock screen.
Push the button
The shutter button sits on the right edge of the device – and if you push it, it will wake it up from hibernation and send you straight into camera mode. Snaps are taken almost instantly when you push the key and there are two ways to focus – either let the lens do the work or tap the screen. We were impressed with the macro shots we were able to get using manual focus, but otherwise the auto mode works perfectly well.
It was surprising though that some of our snaps taken outside were rather dark, because the lens took some time to adjust to the sun’s glare. It means we needed to angle the lens down to get a good result – not always practical if you’re trying to grab a shot of a building, for instance. Indoor snaps came out far better – they were bright and sharp, even when we looked at shots on a TV. In low light, we were surprised at how bright pictures were – even if they did have the usual graininess you see on snaps taken on phones.
Sound and vision
Music lovers will be pleased to see the Beats logo on the back of the phone. Beats Audio improves music quality, making it clearer and crisper. It does a great job of bringing to life low bit-rate music, making it sound more like CD music. HTC tells us the back speakers have a Beats amp built in, but we found it didn’t really have enough oomph and the loudest volume won’t really let you blast your tunes.
Watching films and YouTube clips was enjoyable thanks to the impressive screen. It measures 4.3 inches and is of the Super LCD 2 variety with a 720p resolution. With 341 pixels per inch, on paper the screen is actually sharper than the retina display on the Apple iPhone 5. It’s also made from incredibly thin Gorilla Glass, which means it is resistant to knocks and yet enables the phone to stay pretty slim. If the screen is set at maximum brightness it’s easy to read even in bright sunlight.
It’s just a shame that the super display drains juice from the battery rather quickly – we only got a meagre four hours of video streaming out of a full battery – about two hours less than on the average smartphone. However, with moderate use – some apps, a bit of music, calling emailing and texting – the battery should last 24 hours or so.
Get in the picture
As well as the rear camera, HTC has included a front-facing snapper that has a wide-angle lens (wide as in 88 degrees). This should make it easier to take those self-portraits of you and your loved one without cropping off an ear or a chin. It makes a huge amount of difference – and also enables you to take a snap of a group of friends, or you or a friend in front of a landscape, for instance. There’s also a two-second timer so that you can smile at just the right time.
For editing your snaps, Windows Phone 8 offers a small selection of user-friendly tools. Rotate and crop, or use the clever auto-fix facility, which will alter saturation and brightness levels. It is also possible to download ‘lenses’, which add a few extra features. The Bing lens, for example, enables you to scan QR codes or barcodes – you can even scan in text if you need to copy or translate it.
Stay in touch
If you like to use video calls to keep in touch, the good news is that Windows Phone 8 has made Skype more user friendly this time around. We didn’t get a chance to use it, but we’re assured that once the user signs in they’re always contactable, even if the app is ‘sleeping’. Skype contact details are included in the People hub and any missed calls come up in notifications. It would be nice to see an option that lets you only use Skype if you’re connected to Wi-Fi (to avoid any data allowance shocks) but maybe that will be come.
The onscreen keyboard makes emailing and texting easy, while the predictive text learns how you write, so it can predict what word you will use next.
Social media fans will enjoy how the fabulous People hub brings together all your social networking accounts – and what a great job it does of enabling you to share. Browse to a webpage, app or photo and you can hit a button to share it by tweet, text, email and so on.
One for families
HTC is obviously targeting families with its Phone 8X – check out the Family Room hub, for example. This is a private place where you and those you invite can share photos, notes and calendars – or even have a private text conversation. It’s handy for letting everyone know where everyone is, and syncing shopping lists, for instance.
If you want to share your expensive handset with the children, Kid’s Corner is how you can do it. This is a section of the operating system to which your child can have access, so they can only use apps you want them to. So they can watch video and play games, but not access any of your own – ahem – personal interest special websites.
Not so ‘appy
Where Windows Phone 8 does fall down compared with its iOS and Android rivals is the app store. While its well laid out, offering sections to look for free and paid-for apps, as well as those in certain categories, it just doesn’t have the choices the others do. Obviously this will change as time goes by, but at the moment, you’ve really only got a sparse selection of games to choose from, the Bing search engine and a very few useful apps.
What you will find onboard the 8X is the mobile Office suite from Microsoft, which lets you set up or view documents, spreadsheets and presentations, Plus you get access to online storage in the shape of SkyDrive. This is an incredibly useful online office app, especially if you’re out without your laptop.
One of the big apps Microsoft is promising in the future is Pandora, a music service that comes with a year’s free subscription. We hope that more app developers will get behind the Windows Phone OS next year and really improve the apps offering.
The 8X also supports NFC, so in time to come your handset will be able to act as a virtual wallet. But for now it lets you swap files with other devices using the ‘tap and send’ facility.
It’s not often you see a phone that has something to offer everyone, but the Windows Phone 8X by HTC is one of them. Newbies will love its user-friendly qualities, while music fans will enjoy the Beats Audio offering. If you want to surf the net or watch films, the colourful sharp display does a great job. Then of course there’s those impressive cameras. All it needs is for the Windows Store to get populated by more apps, then it will be a true contender to iOS and Android.
|Type of device||Smartphone|
|Operating System||Windows Phone 8|
|Processor speed||1.5GHz dual-core|
|Graphic chipset||Dedicated HTC ImageChip|
|Screen size||4.3 inches|
|Screen type||Super LCD2|
|Resolution||1280 x 720|
|Display type||16 million colours|
|Internal storage||16 GB|
|Memory card slot|
|Secondary camera||2.1 megapixel|
|Special camera features||Auto focus, LED flash, and BSI sensor (for better low-light captures)|
|Music player||Playback: .amr, .aac, .wav, .mp3, m4a, .asf, .wma (version 9 and 10) Recording: .wav (with OneNote)|
|FM Radio description|
|Video player||Playback: .3gp, .3g2, .mp4, m4v, asf, .wmv (version 9 and 10) Recording: .mp4|
|Browser||Internet Explorer 10|
|Games||Downlaod via Marketplace|
|Other||Studio-quality sound with Beats Audio built in Enjoy bigger sound and superior fidelity with exclusive built-in amp|
|GPS||Internal GPS antenna with GLONASS|
|Colours (Standard)||California Blue & Graphite Black & Yellow|
|Handsfree speaker phone|
|What's in the box||Charging adaptor, USB cable, Stereo headset with In-Line Mic and Call control, Quick Start Guide and reference material|
|Standby||Not yet released|
|Talktime||Not yet released|
|Battery life multimedia||Not yet released|
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