Two years after the rebirth of Windows Phone (previously known as Windows Mobile), Microsoft and HTC announced a partnership to produce the first ever Windows Phone branded handsets, I guess you could consider them the Windows Phone equivalent of Android’s Nexus branded handsets. While this deal no doubt frustrated Microsoft’s other partners (namely Nokia and Samsung), would it achieve its goal of producing sleek new desirable handsets that could tempt consumers away from Android or iOS?
When I first saw photos of both the 8X and the 8S (HTC’s mid-range handset) I couldn’t help but feel a bit gutted for Nokia, it seemed HTC had ripped off the visual style of Nokia’s Lumia range, with bright bold colours and curved glass displays. However, seeing an 8X alongside Nokia’s Lumia 920 immediately changed my mind. The 8X looks and feels amazingly light, and seeing it side-by-side with the Lumia 920 in my local phone store made my choice between the two really easy. The 8X feels really light, even compared with my previous smaller phone (Lumia 800).
The 8X’s design makes it feel incredibly thin, if I could compare its feel to any other product I own it’d be the iPod touch, it’s really comfortable to hold. The gently curved design is clever, as it really does make the phone feel thinner than it is. For example picking up an iPhone 5 feels bulky in comparison, despite the fact that iPhone 5 is slightly thinner.
In terms of specs, the 8X is very capable. It has a 4.3” 1280×720 SuperLCD 2 display, with Gorilla glass 2 (342ppi, which is higher than any Retina display Apple have ever boaster about). CPU is a Qualcomm S4 dual-core @ 1.5GHz, and backup up by 1GB RAM. It also boasts NFC, Bluetooth 3.1, Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n, and GPS with GLONASS. In terms of cameras, both are 1080p capable. The rear facing camera is 8 megapixel. The front facing is 2.1 megapixel, and features an ultra-wide angle lens for improved video calling.
Photos taken with the rear facing camera looks great, though how great they look can vary depending on lighting. In low-light conditions I’ve had much clearer photos from both of my two previous phones (Lumia 800, and iPhone 4).
The 8X also features Beats Audio. A dedicated amp powers the headphone output, allowing for load and rich sounds when coupled with a decent set of headphones. The built-in speaker however is nothing special, in fact I’d describe it as a little below average, sound is fairly tinny and flat.
Windows Phone 8 on first appearance doesn’t seem much of a leap forward from the previous Windows Phone 7 OS. Appearances can be deceptive, as under the surface it’s a world ahead, now being powered by the same Windows core as the desktop Windows 8 OS. This means very little to the average consumer, but what it will mean in a practical sense is more apps, better apps, released sooner (Windows Phone 7 had many problems with apps being released weeks or months after their iOS/Android versions).
Windows Phone runs incredibly fast on the 8X. Maybe it’s the dual-core CPU, or maybe it’s the 1GB of RAM, or maybe the combination of that hardware coupled with the relatively simple UI, but I’ve yet to experience anything that could possibly be described as lag.
For the unfamiliar, Windows Phone (like almost all Microsoft software nowadays) is based on the Live Tile interface. Apps aren’t represented by icons, but rather by tiles. Tiles display information from your apps on your Start screen. In some cases this is gimmicky, in other cases it’s really useful. Some of my most used apps for example are apps I rarely open, such as the XE currency converter which displays live exchange rates on its tile, or the Prime TV app which has a tile that reminds me when new episodes of my favorite TV shows are airing. As well as apps, you also have hubs. Hubs group together information from multiple sources, such as the People Hub, which acts as a replacement for a contacts / address book app while also bringing together feeds from Facebook and Twitter. The People Hub’s live tile will randomly display recent tweets or status updates along with uploaded photos. There are also hubs for Games (which groups all of your games together, along with Xbox Live features), and Microsoft Office (which includes mobile versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote). Live tiles and hubs make Windows Phone feel really personal, and you can arrange your Start screen however you’d like, selecting the apps, hubs, and even documents that matter to you.
New apps can be downloaded from the Windows Store, which sadly doesn’t have quite as many apps as the Android or iOS. I’ve yet to find any really essential apps are missing, though there is certainly a lack of high-profile games.
So I wanted to spend a bit of time using the phone in real-world scenarios before finishing up this review. I actually found on the first 2-3 days of owning the phone that the battery life was fairly awful, and not just because I was using it a lot. Even when idle, the battery seemed to drain faster than it should. However, after a few days and maybe 5-6 charge cycles it’s improved dramatically. I now get around 30-35 hours between charges, which is much more reasonable (that’s with the screen setting on auto-brightness, 3 email accounts, 2 calendars, twitter and facebook syncing, WiFi, NFC, GPS on, and Bluetooth off).
Call quality is clear, though the 8X doesn’t support HD Voice that some new smartphones are beginning to support. I’ve had a couple of random ‘crashes’, times where the phone has simply decided to reboot. I’ve put this down to the fact that Windows Phone 8 is still in its early days, but given the fact that the 8X is the flagship Windows Phone, I expect Microsoft will be quick to fix whatever software bugs might be causing these reboots.
All in all, I’m happy with the 8X. Admittedly I’d already switched to Windows Phone some time ago, so my choice was based purely on hardware. If you’re an Android or iPhone user who is considering the 8X, I’d recommend checking that your essential apps are available first, but from a hardware perspective there’s little reason not to recommend the 8X.