HTC 8XT $99.99
13th Aug 2013 | 21:48
The HTC 8XT is everything you could want in a budget Windows Phone smartphone
Introduction and Design
The smartphone's slim design and light weight are elements that we loved about its predecessor, the HTC 8X. Now Sprint customers get to enjoy that form factor with all the goods from Windows Phone 8.
One thing HTC always seems to get is good design and great choice in materials. This smartphone's build quality is excellent considering its intended audience. For a mid-range and affordable smartphone, we really fell in love with the build and form.
It wasn't too long ago that a smartphone in the $100 range would also mean a huge sacrifice in build quality. Thankfully, that is no longer the trend.
For fans of variety, we have some bad news: the smartphone comes in only one color for Sprint, and that's California blue. It's a very deep blue that almost looks purple, so if that's a huge turn-off, there aren't other options.
Despite being what we'd consider a mid-range smartphone, HTC managed to pack a few nice features into the 8XT. You may already be familiar with HTC's deal with Beats Audio, so the 8XT gets that treatment, too. It also features BoomSound, which can be found on the HTC One. The two front-facing speakers each have their own amp, so you'll get decent sound and volume when you're listening to music through the speakers.
For specs nerds, this Windows Phone 8 smartphone has a 4.3" display covered with scratch-resistant Gorilla Glass. It's 800 x 480, so don't expect razor-sharp graphics, but it's good enough. Under the hood there is a Qualcomm 1.4GHz dual-core processor and 1GB RAM. The battery is 1,800 mAh, which seems small compared to what's on the market today, but it got us through the day just fine with moderate use.
You'll find a solid 8MP camera on the back of the device with a small LED flash. Up front, there is a 1.6MP camera for selfies and video calling.
Below the display, you'll find the back, home and search buttons that ought to be familiar to Windows Phone 8 users. At the base of the phone, there is a micro-USB port for charging and syncing, and a small microphone.
On the right edge of the device, there is a volume rocker and a dedicated camera key. The left edge of the device is clean and button-free. Up top, there is a sleep/wake/power button and a 3.5mm headset jack.
The way the device is contoured makes the edges feel slim and sharp, and it gives the smartphone an overall feel of being very thin. Its dimensions measures 5.2" x 2.6" x 0.39", so it does have a very small profile, and it feels like it doesn't weigh a thing at just 4.23 ounces. HTC really knows how to make excellent hardware.
We see this as being the ideal smartphone for those who don't need all the bells and whistles and power of Windows Phone 8 smartphones like the Nokia Lumia 1020. The fact that it's only priced at $100 and has LTE capabilities makes it a bargain. Of course, Sprint's LTE network isn't as large as AT&T's or Verizon's, but it's pretty peppy where available.
The only strike we can really give against the HTC 8XT is Windows Phone 8. Sure, we gave the platform decent marks in our review, and it's an OS that gets the job done, but against Android and iOS there really is no comparison.
To be clear, we don't hate Windows Phone 8, but its ecosystem is struggling against Android and iOS. Apps like Instagram, Google Voice and other big names are sorely missing from the platform. Instead, you find apps that have backwards ways of accessing those services, or third-party apps and solutions that aren't nearly as good as native ones.
But if you're not big on apps, and you use your smartphone mostly to shoot photos, check e-mail, browse the web, use maps and fire off text messages, you won't mind WP8.
With the HTC 8XT, you'll be getting Windows Phone 8. For those of you familiar with Windows Phone, you'll feel right at home with the 8XT. The home page is loaded with a number of apps that act as live tiles, which means they are constantly changing to reflect either what's in the app, or any notifications you may have.
Having live tiles is nice, though some of you coming from Android might miss the expanded features, controls and information that can be had with widgets.
The thing with notifications on WP8 is that you'll get badges for the apps that need attention, but if you miss the initial notification, and the app isn't in plain view, you won't see it unless you scroll down to it.
For some, the notification system on WP8 is just fine, but be aware if you're used to iOS or Android and you're jumping to this OS, you won't have the same luxuries. Microsoft has promised a proper notification center and other big updates for 2014.
The tiles on Windows Phone 8 are now adjustable in size: they can be the large, normal sizes, or smaller ones so you can fit and arrange them on your home screen to your liking. You simply press and hold the tile and you can change its size or delete it from the start screen.
Swipe to the right and your apps will appear as a list that you can scroll through vertically. If you have tons of apps, and you prefer finding them via this scrolling method, it can sometimes take you a while to flick through the alphabetically arranged list. The quickest way around is by using the search icon at the top of the apps list.
Pressing and holding the back button will bring up all your recently used apps, so you can quickly jump between them without having to go back to your home screen and hunting for an app all over again.
If you press and hold the home button, you'll bring up voice commands. From here, you can look up places, perform searches and more. When you first bring up the voice command function, you'll be given a small list of examples of commands. It's pretty handy when you want to get something done right away without tapping and swiping all over your phone.
When you press and hold the search button, Bing search pops up. You can quickly look for what you need on the web from the screen. At the bottom of that screen, you'll notice a music icon and an icon that looks like an eye. The first is for music recognition, and works like Shazam. The latter will scan QR codes, bar codes, books, DVDs and CDs.
When you go into your history for the codes you've scanned, it will take you to Bing searches for those items. Its accuracy is surprisingly good.
Overall, even if you haven't had much experience with the Windows Phone 8 platform, you'll find it pretty intuitive and easy to use.
The HTC 8XT rear camera is an 8MP shooter that takes good photos, but they won't blow your mind. Colors are accurate, but the photos tend to look a little over sharpened. Overall scenes look slightly washed out, so you'll end up adjusting contrast if you care to share quality photos.
You can adjust the default settings so that photos look a little better, but the files still aren't very good. Even in good lighting conditions, there is noticeable color noise and details look a little smudged.
The light metering system can be a little inconsistent at times. When you're shooting a scene with a high dynamic range, for example, it'll often blow out highlights and over expose a photo in favor of shadow details.
The photo files that come out of the camera probably won't be good enough to print, and it's also obvious when you post photos online that it came from a smartphone camera. Files from the iPhone 5 or Galaxy S3--both of which have 8MP cameras--are much better.
There are two camera apps that come with the smartphone. The first is the default Windows Phone 8 camera, and the other is HTC's own camera software.
The HTC Camera allows you to shoot in rapid burst mode so you can really capture a moment regardless of how fast your subjects are moving. The app also has five live filters to shoot from, which means you can add a little creativity to your shots while seeing what the photo looks like before you press the shutter button.
With the HTC Camera app, you'll also be able to adjust settings like ISO, white balance, contrast, sharpening and more. It gives you the same control and flexibility as the default camera app.
Interestingly, when you go into video mode in the HTC Camera app, we were unable to access the video settings. In the default camera app, you can control filters, contrast, sharpness, video quality and more within video settings.
For photos, you may want to stick with the HTC Camera app since it offers filters and a burst mode that works really well. For video, the default camera app has a large timer and more controls under settings.
Battery life and connectivity
Windows Phone 8 handsets have generally been pretty good when it comes to battery life, and the HTC 8XT is no exception. The battery would easily last us an entire day, from the time we woke up until we went to bed, with all of our e-mails, social networks and notifications turned on.
If you forget to plug your device in overnight, expect a 4-6% drop in battery life, which we would consider to be negligible.
Connectivity and Call Quality
The 8XT has 3G and LTE connectivity, along with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth support. Sprint's LTE network isn't as robust as Verizon's or AT&T's, so your experience may vary.
Sprint 4G LTE, where it is available, isn't nearly as fast as its competitors, either -- at least in San Francisco, where we tested the device. We saw an average of 6Mbps download and a surprising 12Mbps upload.
The smartphone also has a tendency to jump between 3G and 4G, too, though luckily it doesn't seem to take its toll on battery life -- only your sanity. It can be frustrating when you're downloading an app or streaming a video and everything suddenly slows down when it decides to hop onto Sprint's 3G network instead.
Call quality in San Francisco was good. The earpiece is loud and clear, and our friends were able to hear us just fine on their end. Speakerphone quality is excellent, too, thanks to the front-facing speakers, each equipped with its own amp.
Although we have our hang-ups about Windows Phone 8, we actually ended up liking the HTC 8XT. We're fans of HTC's design and materials choice for its smartphones, and for a $99 device it feels like a premium handset.
With the 8XT, you're getting a solid mid-range smartphone. At its budget-friendly price point and with everything it has to offer, you really can't go wrong with it if you're looking for a capable smartphone without a load of bells and whistles.
Windows Phone 8 isn't quite as robust as iOS or Android, and its ecosystem is lacking the breadth and quality of apps found on the other two platforms.
WP8 is also missing a simplified and unified notification system--one that would allow you to see all of your missed notifications, calendar events, weather and more in one place. Microsoft promises that those features will come in Windows Phone's next big update, but that's still some time away.
We like the fact that Sprint now has a Windows Phone 8 smartphone, and that it is LTE capable, too. The design and build quality of the HTC 8XT is excellent, and it doesn't feel like HTC made any sacrifices in that department to get to this price point.
We also liked the front-facing speakers and the inclusion of Beats Audio. It gives both the speaker sound and headset sound (headset included) a little more punch and bass.
There isn't much to complain about when it comes to the hardware, as it is excellent. But again, as with many of our Windows Phone 8 smartphone reviews, it comes down to the platform and its accompanying ecosystem.
Apps that we love are missing from WP8, and it can sometimes be a little maddening. Why doesn't have Instagram or Vine or Snapchat yet? Where is Google Voice? Why should I have to download a third-party solution instead seeing an official app there?
Fans of WP8 can go on and on about how the platform has everything you need, but then again that all depends on your needs. In terms of convenience and overall user experience when it comes to apps, you can't do much better than Android or iOS.
Despite our qualms about Windows Phone 8 and Microsoft's efforts, the HTC 8XT is actually a good smartphone for those who don't need tons of apps and aren't glued to their phones all day.
At $99, it's hard to do better than the 8XT in terms of hardware and intuitive software (lack of notification system not included).
We would recommend this phone for the person who wants to do a bit of social networking, some e-mail here and there, listening to music and taking pictures. But if your smartphone habits include more intensive activities, this budget smartphone may not be for you.