The newest challenger to the mobile device battlefield is Microsoft’s Windows Phone. Recently WinPhone has taken the coveted third place spot in the market behind Android and iPhone. Even though the overall market share is only 4%, which is small in comparison to Android’s 79% and iOS’ 13%, Windows Phone has had an unarguably impressive 130% growth last year. All this hard work has spawned an impressive sense of loyalty from its user base, which is surprising to those who have yet to use a Windows Phone.
The Windows OS is butter-smooth, beautiful, and very well integrated with various services and a consistent look across the entire experience. Hardware is also attractive and yet there isn’t the device fragmentation that is apparent on Android devices thanks to Microsoft’s firm OEM. The 8X is HTC’s flagship Windows Phone, but does it live up to the HTC brand while competing with Nokia’s established WP line?
Let us begin with the raw specifications that sit behind the scenes of the 8X:
- 4.3-inch 720p HD LCD display
- 1.5GHz dual-core Snapdragon processor
- 1GB system RAM
- 8GB or 16GB Storage (no SD slot)
- 1800 mAh Lithium-ion battery
- 4G LTE
- 8 MP rear and 2.1 MP front cameras (1080p video on both)
HTC is known in the Android world for having high-class and great quality devices. With their entry to the Windows Phone ecosystem, they spared no expense keeping up with that tradition. The 8X feels great in the hand. It is quite thin at a mere 10.1mm, and as a result is also super light, weighing just 130g or 4.59 oz. Both of these make it almost invisible when carried in a pocket, so if you are a fan of skinny jeans the 8X will comfortably fit.
The casing wraps around the front of the device giving a colored accent, but is cut in a way to allow the screen to sit flush with the curves. The edges of the device are a little more pointy than perhaps they should be. During regular use it doesn’t pose a problem, and the curves actually make the 8X feel thinner than it actually is. However during a long phone call it may become uncomfortable with the way most phones are held because of the harsh corners. Not a deal breaker, but something to keep in mind if you are one to make frequent calls. I would definitely suggest seeking one out to hold yourself to make your own decision.
On the back of the device, and anywhere that has color for that matter, is a matte and textured reinforced plastic. The matte is very soothing to the touch and certainly doesn’t make it feel cheap. The casing is solid through and through with no noticeable body flexing (unless of course you happen to be Sasquach). The HTC logo is cut through the plastic but only just, while the Beats and other logos are printed on the device or (in the case of the barcodes) a thin sticker. Nustled between the Verizon and FCC branding is the speaker, and toward the top (and centered perfectly) is the 8MP camera with LED flash.
The bottom of the 8X holds the micro USB connector used for PC connection and charging alike. It also has a pin hole for the ever-so-important voice microphone for phone calls.
The right edge has a duo of useful buttons. At the top is the volume rocker, and the bottom has the two-stage camera button. The camera button is useful even when the phone is in sleep mode because if it’s held for a couple seconds the camera initiates and opens to snap those spur-of-the-moment photos. At the top, just above the volume up, is the micro-SIM slot and accompanying pinhole used to eject the tray. I was able to remove the tray using just my fingernail (albeit after a little work) so if you need to get it out in a pinch it’s possible. (I should note that the device does automatically power off when the SIM is removed, just FYI.)
The power and lock button is situated on the top opposite the headset input. Also on top is the noise canceling microphone.
The home screen of a Windows Phone is a collection of customizable tiles representing anything from contacts, to apps, to bookmarks. The information given from these tiles varies depending on what information the application is meant for. For example, the Reddit app “Baconit” gives a running total of your Comment and Link Karma as well as a countdown to your Reddit Cake Day. Other apps will give you a preview of unread messages, or the next appointment in your calendar. The Photos app and the People app display photos differently. Photos will simply cycle through the photos in all your albums at random, as you can see mine is now showing a section of a Vancouver Canucks wallpaper. The People app will do something similar, however it varies the contact photo sizes at random. This is visually appealing, and also allows the app to be quickly accessed because it’s where all the important people in your life are found.
In addition to a cool live tile, the People app displays an aggregated list of updates from the contacts in your address book. This information is synchronized from any service you have linked to your phone and the People app, and is displayed in a friendly list for quick access. The Me app is also linked in a similar manner. It will display notifications from these synchronized services tailored to your needs. It is also possible to post updates from the Me app without having the 3rd party applications installed.
It is fair to say that applications make up a key part of using a modern day smartphone. Everyone has their go-to apps they use, and eventually we’re going to need a fast way to get to those apps that aren’t configured for the home screen tiles. Windows Phone makes it as easy as possible to get to these additional apps with a simple swipe to the left. This will bring up an alphabetical list of all of the applications currently installed. Any new applications will fall into their appropriate place among the list even while downloading & installing.
One of the unique features of the list is what happens when the total app count passes 40, which is the appearance of letter headers. There is a boxed letter that appears above any section that has applications installed. What that means is if there are no apps installed starting with J, there will be no J letter box in the list. When any of the letters is tapped a grid appears with all 26 letters so that a quick jump can be made to any section with ease. Letters that do not have apps installed (like our sad J mentioned earlier) will be greyed out and simply won’t work.
The WinPhone lock screen is beautifully designed, and comes with a setting to make everyone happy. The most important features of a lock screen, beyond security, are being notified of what’s new and making everyone jealous of your awesome phone. Windows Phone and the 8X excel at both of these things.
While we are on the topic of making people jealous of your awesome 8X, there is one drawback that plagues it and all current Windows Phones: application selection. While I was able to find apps for any of my necessary needs, such as IMDB, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Reddit, etc. I did notice a lack of options for these, as well as a smaller selection pool in general when compared to Android and iOS. The Windows App store is growing by leaps and bounds, and does appear to be populating great-looking and performing apps on a regular basis; however, be prepared for some holes when trying to find that one app that does everything.
While it isn’t a saving grace completely, there is one piece that stands out leaps and bounds ahead of the competition that will do some to assist in the lack of native apps, and it comes in the most unlikely place. The native web browser on Windows Phone, which is expectedly Internet Explorer, is the absolute best mobile browser I have used on any platform. It is faster, smoother, prettier, and provides a better experience than what is available on iOS, BlackBerry, or Android. I never thought I would be one to advocate the use of Internet Explorer above anything else, but Windows Phone has an ace up their sleeve with this one. Well played.
As awesome as they are, all of these features are available on all Windows Phones. So what makes the HTC 8X’s app experience unique? That would be a combination of the HTC app and the Beats Audio integration. One is awesome, the other less so.
The HTC app, shown here displaying weather information (provided by AccuWeather), is slick and very useful. It is fully customizable and will display real-time information for weather, stocks, or news. The weather display can even be configured as the lock screen background making it that much easier for the lazy (see also: me) to decide what to wear in the morning. Each pane is smooth to scroll through or flip between, and the information is always displayed in a friendly and readable fashion. This is however the only full, HTC-exclusive application on the device. That by itself isn’t a bad thing, just take it for what it’s worth.
With their recent partnership, the Beats Audio integration is a big selling point for the 8X, and most HTC products for that matter. Sadly, where the 8X is concerned the feature falls flat (pun intended). The feature is a simple on/off switch at the bottom of the settings menu, and that visual indicator is about all the difference you will find for the feature, apart from simply making the audio output louder. There was no noticeable difference in equalizer quality, bass performance, or intensity beyond raising the volume level up a few notches. I will note that I tested the feature on a variety of application sources, from the native music app, to Spotify, to podcasts, and a movie with no change. I also used several different outputs, from high quality in ear and on ear headphones, to a cheap gym headset, to my 5.1 surround sound speakers currently in use on my TV. Comparing it to the audio output of my laptop and Galaxy Nexus showed no improvement either. It seems that the Beats injection was simply forgotten in the 8X.
I do want to make note that the audio didn’t sound terrible – it was decent enough, just not the incredible Beats Audio Experience that is advertised.
Accessing the camera app can be done a couple of different ways. The easiest, and one I used most often, is by simply holding down the camera button on the left side. Holding this down for about 2 seconds will launch the camera (even if the phone is locked). It is also accessible via a live tile or the application list, but these are much slower.
Once the app is open, you’ll find all the settings you would expect. The four quick options swap between filters, toggle the flash options, swap to the front camera, or change to the camcorder (which has the same four options). In the advanced options are settings for resolution, exposure, contrast, ISO, and more. However leaving these on normal and auto takes great photos all on its own.
As mentioned earlier, the rear of the device sports a powerful 8 megapixel camera capable of taking shots up to 3264×2448. This, along with the advanced settings, allow the camera to capture solid photos in a variety of environments.
The focal point of the camera is very good and allows close-up shots without difficulty.
The sensor is capable of capturing photos of nighttime incursions to get some donuts!
Video is also superb with the camera recording at full 1080p HD at 30 frames per second. The video settings are customizable just the same as the photo set to fit any recording situation. And that’s not all! The front camera is a better-than-average 2.1 megapixels that will record at a full 1080p. This also means that Skype video chat will be crystal clear.
Whatever needs you may have for a camera integrated into a smart phone, the combination of rear and front shooters on the 8X will most certainly fulfill them.
Call quality and data signal
All the best features and apps in the world are for not if the device their housed on has rubbish connectivity. In addition to its Wi-Fi and Bluetooth radios, the 8X on Verizon comes complete with 4G LTE network data.
True to form with other Verizon devices, call quality was excellent. There were no complaints on either end for any of the calls made or received on the 8X. Surprisingly enough there were times I was in an area that had low coverage, but even then the calls were clear so both parties could be heard. The lack of any dropped calls is welcome news for anyone using up hundreds of minutes per month.
The data connection was great as well. I was able to get a usable data connection anywhere I had signal, and speeds when in 4G areas was sublime. Streaming music had no lag and the bitrate was the same as songs played locally. Video playback had virtually zero pre-buffering or stuttering mid-stream even with HD enabled. I still saw greater speeds while connected to my home Wi-Fi, but I do not believe that anyone would be disappointed by the connection while out of the house.
- Light and stylish body
- Outstanding camera
- Fast and fluid OS
- Superb signal strength and speed
- Internet Explorer mobile rocks
Not so awesome
- Beats Audio not up to snuff
- Lack of exclusive apps
- App market smaller than competitors
At the end of the day, the 8X is not only a brilliant piece of hardware but it has slick and stylish software shining through its display. The device is gorgeous, and Windows Phone OS is a serious competitor to watch out for. The Camera, OS speed, and Web browsing experience are better enough that this phone should be seriously considered for anyone with these needs. It does have its pitfalls in the form of app selection and the like, but it is a serious competitor.