HTC has unveiled its new Windows Phone flagship, the HTC 8X amidst a flurry of handset launches surrounding Microsoft’s new mobile platform. There is a lot of competition in the Windows Phone 8 market, so can the Tainwanese manufacturer continue the success it has had with its recent Android handsets and, more importantly, does the HTC 8X have what it takes to stand out against the likes of Samsung and Nokia?
- Dual-core, 1.5GHz Qualcomm processor
- 4.3-inch Super LCD 2 display
- 16GB internal storage
- 8 megapixel camera
- 1080p video recording at 30fps
- 10.1mm thick
- 130g weight
- Windows Phone 8
- 1800 mAh battery
- Beats Audio
Design and Build
HTC’s new device is a fantastic looking handset which breaks from the styling of the Taiwanese firm’s recent smartphones and brings in something new. Possibly taking its cues from Nokia’s earlier Lumia devices, the HTC 8X introduces a splash of colour that hasn’t been seen very often on HTC’s handsets and the new look compliments the dazzling visuals of Windows Phone 8 very well.
With the bezel that surrounds the 4.3-inch display being quite narrow, the handset has a long and slender appearance that both looks great and sits well in the hand. Physical buttons are mounted around the edges of the device, with the volume rocker and camera keys located on the right and the lock button on the top of the phone. Whilst the way in which these buttons are almost flush with the body is a good bit of design, we found that the lock key may have been easier to use had it protruded a little more, but it’s a minor gripe with a handset which, overall, looks very good indeed
HTC has pulled off a brilliant design trick which makes the 10.1mm thick frame of the HTC 8X appear to be slimmer than it is. The backplate of the handset curves gently towards its edges, both reducing the bulk of the device and making it more comfortable to grip, something which is a credit to the firm’s designers. The backplate also bears a silver-coloured HTC logo and which looks very stylish, adding to the overall aesthetics of the handset.
The 4.3-inch Super LCD 2 display on the HTC 8X is outstanding – it’s clear and bright and shows off the graphic elements of the Windows Phone 8 software very well indeed. The 720×1280 resolution has a ppi of 342, amongst the highest we’ve seen on any smartphone, and this makes the screen crystal clear, with a degree of sharpness that is very impressive.
Small, detailed elements such as text on web pages show up clearly and there is a real distinction between colours, something which is especially important when considering the visuals of the WP8 user interface. Whilst the HTC device doesn’t have an equivalent to Nokia’s ClearBlack technology its display can rival that on any other high-end smartphone.
Aside from the user interface itself, images and videos look good on the display, with the contrast and clarity that can be seen elsewhere continuing. The screen also performs well under bright lights and although some reflections occur it certainly remains useable.
Under the Hood
Microsoft’s mobile platform now supports multi-core processors and the HTC 8X has a dual-core, 1.5GHz Qualcomm chip that is similar to those seen in many other Windows Phone 8 handsets.
One major advantage that any version of Windows Phone has had over its rivals is that there is very little lag in the platform, even on older, single-core devices. While the new software may well be more demanding in terms of processing power the dual-core CPU in the HTC 8X is up to the job and the seamless performance continues, meaning that the user interface is smooth and easy to operate.
Even when multi-tasking and switching between several apps at once there is no delay. The only regular hang-up that we found occurred when downloading an app, as the UI displayed a ‘Downloading’ message and locked out all other functions for a few seconds. However, this is something that happens on many Windows Phone 8 devices and doesn’t seem to be a problem specific to the HTC 8X itself.
Aside from the processor, the HTC 8X has 16GB of internal storage but no room for a microSD card. However, Microsoft’s SkyDrive cloud-storage service is incorporated into the UI and offers 7GB of free space that can be upgraded to 25GB at a price. This integration with SkyDrive smakes it easy to upload files directly from apps such as Office and the photo gallery and makes it feel like an extension of the phone’s functions rather than a separate service.
All that multi-tasking can put a strain on the handset’s power source and battery life can suffer under heavy use. The 1800mAh battery is not the least powerful we’ve seen but doesn’t have the power of the 2300mAh one on Samsung’s ATIV S, and we found the HTC 8X to last a day on one charge with moderate use which included downloading several apps, web browsing and some use of the camera.
Operating System and User Interface
On to Windows Phone 8 and the new platform itself is fantastic, offering a brilliant revamp of an already excellent operating system. While the basic visual elements remain the same the OS has been completely rebuilt from the ground up to make it more compatible with other versions of Windows and other mobile platforms.
This means two things; firstly, the HTC 8X will work alongside desktop machines and tablets running Windows 8 to create a full ecosystem and secondly, it will be easier for software developers to port apps over from iOS and Android, hopefully solving the problem of a lack of apps available for the platform.
The Live Tiles interface is one of the most recognisable features of Windows Phone and has been given an overhaul, with extra functionality added to the tiles themselves. They can now be resized, allowing even more information to be pulled through to the homescreen and adaptations to the lockscreen mean that updates and messages can be pulled even further through the UI.
Beyond this, the People Hub again provides an excellent way of keeping up-to-date with all your contacts with information from the phone’s SIM and a variety of social networks combined to provide updates and contact data in the same place. An extra feature of Windows Phone 8 is ‘Rooms’ which allows users to group certain contacts together and share messages, calendar events and the like between them.
HTC has kept the handset refreshingly clear of the bloatware which sometimes makes an appearance on Android devices, adding just a few extras that increase functionality. Most prominent is Photo Editor, a post-production tool that allows the user to alter images and add effects to them and makes up for a lack of image-editing apps currently available for Windows Phone.
Camera and Video
Equipped with an 8 megapixel camera, the HTC 8X is well-suited for mobile photography, especially when the hardware is combined with the excellent Windows Phone 8 camera app. Whilst the camera can be launched through the app menu or a Live Tile pinned to the homescreen, it’s just as easy to hit the physical button on the right hand edge of the device.
The camera app also has an accurate touchfocus feature which works well, although we found it a little annoying that tapping the screen to focus causes the device to take a picture. So, if you’re unsure of exactly what you want to focus on you can end up with several unwanted test-shots stored in the gallery before you get the final image.
Photos are clear, crisp and detailed and look great on the HTC 8X’s display. However, we found that using the flash did make some photos come out with a slightly yellow tint but this wasn’t a significant problem and was easily edited out afterwards. Images can also be captured in a range of different resolutions with lower-quality images forming smaller file sizes which will make the most of the storage space available.
Video can be recorded in 1080p at 30fps and is of a good quality, although we noticed that the HTC 8X can be a little slow to adapt to changes in lighting conditions which occur whilst filming. However, this is a minor gripe again and the overall quality of the footage is of a high standard.
Connectivity and Multimedia
As may be expected, the HTC 8X is Wi-Fi enabled, with online performance when browsing websites and downloading apps remarkably fast when connected to a wireless network.
Windows Phone 8 has also introduced NFC support and the HTC 8X is equipped to wirelessly transfer data and take advantage of contactless payment should its use ever become widespread.
In terms of media performance, the HTC 8X produces high quality sound that is furthered by sound enhancements such as Beats Audio. HTC has continued its association with the sound tech firm that has been heard on its recent Android handsets and the results are comparable to the likes of the One X and One S, with low-end frequencies sounding particularly strong.
Performance and Verdict
HTC’s 8X is probably the best looking Windows Phone 8 handset we’ve seen so far, with a brilliant physical design that makes the device seem far slimmer than it actually is. With Microsoft having opened up the playing field for WP8 and working alongside manufacturers other than Nokia, more ideas are being brought to the table, with the competition spurring on creativity.
There may not be much scope for manufacturers to alter the new Windows Phone software but there is opportunity for them put their own stamp on the platform with the devices they produce and HTC has done just this. The HTC 8X makes an excellent flagship for the Taiwanese company and offers the Windows Phone 8 experience in a distinctive device that stands out aesthetically from its rivals.