Mini Reviews are a new review format from Current Editorials that allows us to take a look at a selection of interesting gadgets and present you with the details you care about most in a bite-sized article.
HTC and Microsoft partnered up this year to launch the premiere Windows Phone 8 handset, the HTC Windows Phone 8X. It’s running the latest Windows Phone 8 software, and features top-notch, stand-out hardware design. Microsoft and HTC are promoting the 8X as the Windows Phone 8 handset, but can it live up to that title? And more importantly, is it worth your hard earned cash?
Display: The 4.3-inch display on the 8X is perfectly sized, in my opinion. It’s not too big that it requires two handed use, yet it is not so small that it feels cramped. The Windows Phone UI is stunning on this beautiful 720p display; as I said in my Lumia 900 review, the UI-formerly-known-as-Metro deserves a crisp, Retina caliber screen, and the 8X delivers in this department. Colours are bright and vibrant, text is crystal clear and sharp, and individual pixels are seldom seen (some apps still use low-quality graphics, a problem the iPhone also suffered from when the Retina display was first introduced).
Hardware: HTC has once again produced stellar hardware with the 8X, which is one of the most beautiful phones I’ve ever had the pleasure of using. I like this form factor a lot, and I believe it is nicer looking and nicer feeling than Nokia’s revered Lumia design. The body of the 8X is made from a soft-touch plastic, which feels almost rubbery. That’s a good thing, though, as it means it is harder to drop the phone, and it feels very smooth in hand. I especially like the rounded edges and tapered back, which makes the phone feel as if it is perfectly contoured to your hand. I found the sleep/wake button to be somewhat troubling; it is flush with the top of the phone, and I could never tell if I pressed it or not. The rest of the buttons felt fine. Overall, I think HTC has really scored with the 8X hardware: it’s a beautiful phone that feels great, and that’s really important to a technophile like me.
Performance: The HTC 8X packs a 1.5GHz Qualcomm S4 processor, with 1GB of RAM. Windows Phone has always been a smooth operator, and that is true for the 8X as well. Everything is fast and snappy, no lag or stutter, and little to no application crashes. Scrolling is smooth, transitions and animations are fluid. Call quality was crisp and clear, basically as good as it gets for a smartphone.
Camera: The 8 megapixel rear camera takes fairly nice photos, though they do appear to be a little noisy. Any area with a lot of light can look very washed out or overblown, but colours are generally reproduced quite well. This is no point-and-shoot replacement, unfortunately.
Software: Windows Phone 8 was given a lot of behind the scenes changes, but on the surface it doesn’t feel like much has changed. The UI looks the same, and I’m still a huge fan of the sleek, modern design. However, it does feel clunky and awkward in spots, and as a power users, it sometimes feels like a chore to get real work done. Apps are still not up-to-par feature wise with their iOS and Android counterparts – Twitter, for example, is still a huge sore spot for me, as I use it constantly and I still have yet to find a truly enjoyable Twitter app for Windows Phone.
I have also come to believe that the “modern UI” itself is holding back certain apps. I think developers are having a hard time porting their apps to Windows Phone because the app has to be converted to the “modern UI”. Developers spend a lot of time crafting a unique style for their apps, and Microsoft’s insistence on developers using their UI style is holding back the Windows Phone ecosystem. For example, Twitter in “Metro” feels odd, with your Timeline being stuck in a mini-window below the large Metro header and bottom nav bar. If Microsoft had simply ported the app and UI of the Android or iOS Twitter app, the experience would be much better. I don’t see why developers can’t have more control over the user interface of their apps on Windows Phone.
While Windows Phone may not be as enjoyable to use as in some respects as other platforms, the bulk of functionality I need to get through a day – Messaging, Email, Browsing, and Twitter – are all here and usable. Windows Phone still has a ways to go if Microsoft ever hopes to catch up with the competition, but they are on their way.
Conclusion: The HTC Windows Phone 8X is a great phone. HTC has once again outdone themselves with superb hardware that both looks and feels great. The 720p display is absolutely stunning, producing crisp text and bright, vibrant colours. Performance is near flawless, while the 8 megapixel rear camera is a bit of a disappointment. While Microsoft made some important behind-the-scenes changes to Windows Phone 8 in an attempt to woo developers, there aren’t many user facing changes, and the OS feels almost exactly like the first generation. Apps still have a lot of catching up to do, but the core smartphone functionality is there and works well.
The Windows Phone 8X by HTC is certainly a great looking phone, and while it is by no means a bad phone, it is still held back by the lack of a truly great Windows Phone app ecosystem. Power users will find it hard to get serious work done using Windows Phone, while casual smartphone users will probably be satisfied with the built-in functionality and available apps. Bottom line: if you really want a Windows Phone, and you’re looking for the best one available, the HTC 8X is the one to get.