HTC Windows Phone 8X

2nd Nov 2012 | 11:45

HTC Windows Phone 8X

The HTC 8X is the signature Windows Phone 8 device, but is it any good?

TechRadar rating:

3.5 stars

Like:

8MP camera with f/2.0 aperture; Elegant, latest WP8 OS; Unibody polycarbonate design; Fantastic contacts integration;

Dislike:

No removable battery; No expandable memory; Rubbish multiple calendar support; Mediocre battery life;

Introduction

A splash of colour, Microsoft's latest mobile platform and a sleek new body are combined with more powerful hardware - is the 8X the phone to bring Windows Phone 8 to the masses?

HTC's been in a bit of a weird position these last few years. From the days of anonymity when it made Windows phones for others, it rode the crest of the Android wave when Google's platform launched becoming, pretty much, the Android handset OEM of choice.

And then Samsung happened. HTC's offerings appeared to dip and even the pretty fantastic One X – struggled to make inroads against the seemingly unstoppable Galaxy line, currently led by the superb Galaxy S3.

HTC Windows Phone 8 review

HTC was up there at the starting block when Microsoft launched Windows Phone a couple of years back, and although it's competing with Samsung in this arena too – and its offerings haven't been what one would call "amazing" – HTC is clearly trying to make its voice heard.

And what better way to do that with some pretty bright colours and a newer version of Windows Phone that the world's been waiting for for months?

HTC 8X review

The HTC 8X comes in a range of colours - from muted black, to respectable red, to an elegant purple and a, quite frankly, hideous lollipop-lady yellow hue.

We were sent the purple model and it's a beauty. There had been rumours that the red would be reserved for Verizon users in the US – but it looks like the rest of world is now getting it too.

HTC 8X review

First thing we noticed is how thin the HTC 8X is. Not so much an amazing feat of engineering, but a clever trick.

With dimensions of 132.4 x 66.2 x 10.1mm, the HTC 8X is fairly average in size. But it's thinner round the edges to give the impression it's more svelte than it actually is. Not that this matters because it looks and feels thin most of the time and the slight curve around the back means it sits well, both on a surface and in the hand.

HTC 8X review

In fact, in the hand, it looks the same size as the HTC One X, despite the appearance given in our picture above.

Add to that the material the HTC 8X is made of – polycarbonate, like the One X – and you instantly have in your mitts a handset that feels like a real premium device. It's a unibody design so it's all nice and neat (win) but at the expense of a memory slot and replaceable battery (fail).

HTC 8X review

The front of the HTC 8X is taken up by the display. If you like what Nokia did with the Lumia 800, or indeed what HTC did with the One X, you'll be a fan of this too.

The screen just looks like it's been stuck on top of the phone and adds to that premium feel. There's also a splash of colour around the earpiece to remind you that the two are linked.

HTC 8X review

Next to this, you'll find the front-facing wide-angled camera, and the three Windows Phone softkeys at the bottom – back, search and menu.

That screen is an HD display at 720x1280. Spread over 4.3 inches, it's easily as sharp as Apple's retina display, which no longer appears to be anything special by modern standards.

HTC 8X review

The top of the HTC 8X is fairly minimalist with nothing other than the 3.5mm headphone jack and the lock button. Although we're not necessarily fans of lock buttons on top of larger phones due to the awkwardness they present, here, we weren't too fussed.

Due to the shape of the handset and the way it sits, it's easy enough to press with the index finger whether you're a left or right hander. Our only complaint is it is quite subtle and a few times, we had to feel around to find it if we were looking elsewhere. It doesn't stick out much.

The left hand side of the HTC 8X is completely bare, whilst all you'll find down at the bottom is the micro USB charging and syncing port.

HTC 8X review

The volume rocker is on the right and below it is a camera shutter key. We are always pleased to see these because it makes the art of launching the camera and taking a photo so much easier than messing about with software, no matter how good said software is.

There's also a tray for getting that micro SIM in – but you'll need to use a special tool to open it so make sure you keep it in a safe place.

The rear of the HTC 8X is a thing of beauty. That polycarbonate body really sets it off – as does the colour which sits beneath a silver HTC logo and another displaying the Beats Audio heritage. And of course, there's that main snapper with LED light which HTC promises will deliver amazing results.

HTC 8X review

The 8X will be pitching itself right against Nokia's latest Lumia range – and with the Lumia 920 also coming in a number of colourful iterations, telling them apart may be harder for those who aren't as used to Windows Phone products.

But there is a difference in that the HTC 8X doesn't come with 4G LTE connectivity in the UK, whilst the Lumia 920 does. Which means it'll likely be cheaper – and that may be its saving grace for late adopters.

HTC 8X review

Expect the HTC 8X to launch at the start of November. With this in mind, there are no real deals to be had yet, but preorder prices are sitting a shade under the £400 mark (USD: $640 / AU: £620) for a 16GB sim-free unit.

This will be HTC's flagship Windows Phone handset, so don't expect it to be in the bargain bucket. Prepare to pay at least £30 a month for two years.

Interface

There's one word that springs to mind when using Windows Phone 8 and that's "elegance."

HTC 8X review

Yep, if you've not used a Windows mobile product since the clunky, ugly old era, you'll think we're winding you up. But we can't stress it enough. Microsoft has rewritten its phone OS from the ground up and as of two years ago, we've been blessed with a third major player in the OS market that really is a pleasure to use.

In fact, at the risk of upsetting our iOS-loving friends, we'd go out on a limb here and say that we think Windows Phone is even more elegant than the Apple operating system. Just the look of it, the transitions and the sheer amount of gloss Microsoft has thrown at it makes all the difference.

If you've never used Windows Phone before, we'll not lie – it is a bit of a learning curve. But it's not a steep one.

There isn't an on-screen help guide like you get with BlackBerry handsets, some Android phones or even iOS to a certain extent so depending on your familiarity with technology, it could take a little while. But not so much you'll want to send hate mail to Steve Ballmer.

HTC 8X review

What you have to put out of your mind is homescreens. Homescreens are gone. Repeat after us: "Homescreens Bad!"

Yep, instead of pages and pages to swipe between, you just get one homescreen and one app drawer. The way Windows makes it work is that it all centres around live tiles which you put on your main screen.

Each tile represents a programme, or app – it's basically a shortcut to the app. But it also updates and carries real information.

So, for example, your mail live tile will show a picture of an envelope but when you have new email, a number will appear to reflect how many unread messages you have in your inbox.

Similarly with missed calls and SMS. The calendar live tile displays your appointments and updates as they change. Fairly straightforward, huh?

HTC 8X review

The thing is that these live tiles work across almost every app you download. And you can change their layout. Rearrange them whichever way you like. It's all very easy.

You can also change their size – so whereas before you were limited, on Windows Phone 8, you get the chance to resize them to fit more on and customise the look even more.

Not only that, you can create live tiles to more than just individual apps. For example, within the maps app, we were able to create a live tile to an individual place.

Which is handy if you're planning a journey. And you can do the same to groups of contacts.

But we couldn't figure out a way to pin a tile to an email conversation which was a bit of a pain. And the same with SMS messages to individuals.

HTC 8X review

It's very much a mixed bag as to whether you'll be able to make a live tile for an individual app or process that you have in mind.

And that's really as far as your customisation options go. One of the beauties of Android is that the Google OS allows you to install animated wallpapers and widgets, so that your Galaxy S3 or HTC One X will look different to your mates'.

This isn't something you can do on iOS which only allows you to change the wallpaper and similarly, you can't even do that on the HTC WIndows Phone 8X because it doesn't use wallpapers.

You can merely change the background from black to white and choose which colour you want your tiles to be. You can change the wallpaper of your lockscreen.

HTC 8X review

But then again, this won't bother many people who just want a shiny gadget that works.

For some reason, Microsoft has set the status bar up in such a way that it doesn't actually show up all the time. The clock does in the top right, but elements like your signal level etc are permanently hidden.

You have to put your finger at the top of the screen and pull an imaginary swipe down to get them to appear. We can see this confusing some people.

Apps are stored in a central app drawer which you access by swiping to the left from your homescreen. They're listed alphabetically and simply if you have a lot of apps, prepare for a lot of scrolling.

Having said that, you can also just tap the magnifying glass that appears to the left and perform a good old-fashioned search by typing in the name of your app.

HTC 8X review

Speaking of searching, you can do that at any point from anywhere in the phone using the soft key at the bottom of the HTC 8X.

Microsoft hasn't made this a contextual key (ie. It doesn't search within the app you're in at the time) and neither has it made something that searches your phone like Android offers. This is a cold, hard web search.

As soon as you tap that button – wherever you are – you're prompted to search the web. And by 'search the web', we mean 'search the web using Bing' because predictably, Microsoft has stuck to its own search engine here.

There's no way to change that as your default. Not that you would necessarily want to if you're using a Microsoft phone anyway.

HTC 8X review

One thing we do have to criticise, though, is the lack of screenshot capture. This was shown off when WP8 was first announced, yet doesn't appear to have made it into the final build of the HTC 8X.

This is annoying – not just from a reviewer's perspective (hence why we've had to take photos of each screen which looks a lot rougher) but also from a user's point of view. How many of you regularly snapshot things we're doing and tweet or MMS them? We certainly do.

That aside, it's a glossy, intuitive, easy to use OS. Don't be put off by the old days. Microsoft has learned lessons and learned them very well indeed here for Windows Phone 8.

And it suffers no lag – which just goes to show that you can get away with a dual-core, rather than quad-core 1.5GHz processors, and not have to worry about a decrease in performance.

Contacts and Calling

Contacts

HTC 8X review

We'd go so far as to say that we think the contacts implementation on Windows Phone is the best out there. Bar none. The People section really is unmatched.

Here's why: Rather than simply being an app, it a fundamental part of the WP8 OS that runs through it like a vein. You have to basically rip up everything you have in your head about how contacts apps work.

When you go into the People section, you're greeted with tabs that you can swipe through. One of them, 'What's New', gives you details of the latest developments of your Social Networking profiles (everything from Facebook to Twitter and LinkedIn), a 'recent' tab shows you who you've spoken to lately, plus there is a new tab called 'Together' which allows you to create a little group of contacts for a group chat and share files between.

HTC 8X review

Everything from photos to shopping lists. Predictably, like Apple's iMessage, this only works on the proprietary platform, so unless lots of your buddies use Windows 8 devices, you'll be talking to yourself a lot.

It's a little like a group chat in WhatsApp but a lot more confined. And when we tried to invite a friend on Android using it to see what would happen, they were just sent a link to a page that came up as 'Not Found'.

One other great option here is the ability to create groups of people and pin that group to your main screen. So, for example, you can have one for 'the boys'.

Or if you're creating an event, you can have a group of people involved here. It allows you to not only group text but also keep an eye on their statuses via social networks if you don't want to trawl through people you met at a bus stop 12 years ago, accepted on Facebook and still haven't had the heart to delete.

HTC 8X review

You can also view 'All' contacts. And when we say 'All', we mean ALL. Not just phone contacts but social networking buddies too. They're all brought across, as are their profile photos and it all looks very nice.

What Microsoft has been trying to encourage on Windows Phone 8 is us to use the contacts section more. So rather than going into a Facebook app for a Facebook contact or a phone app for a phone contact, we just go in through the People section, locate said person and contact them using the method of choice.

All of their status updates, photos etc are synced in there. Think of it as People being a central hub out of which many branches grow, rather than crudely flicking between several apps to do the same thing.

Being a Microsoft phone, it naturally hooks up to Exchange without issue, and you can therefore browse contacts easily. Other accounts such as Google Contacts play nicely too.

Individual contacts show their status updates and various bits of info from their phone number (obviously) to their birthdays and how else you can contact them. The amount of info really is limitless and it's presented with a nice big profile pic pulled in from the social networks.

We set up our contacts within seconds. You sign in with your various credentials and create a Live ID if you don't have one (not compulsory but does help) and after that, the HTC 8X just seems to trawl through whatever it needs and brings everything together.

Calling

HTC 8X review

There isn't any support for smart dialling, but we're not that shocked since it takes more time to bring up the keypad than it does the keyboard to search for people by typing their names in.

Making and receiving calls is simple. When somebody phones you, a photo of them pops up and bounces up and down on screen, almost impatiently. It's a nice touch. And actually talking to people was a pleasure too. The signal seemed to be pretty consistent in our testing.

One other thing we liked the look of was the international support feature. This promises – if enabled – to correct common mistakes when dialling if you're in another country.

Although we couldn't convince TechRadar bosses to send us to Barbados for two weeks to try it out, we imagine it removes stray '+' symbols and zeros.

Messaging

If you're a messaging fiend, then we have no hesitation in saying that the HTC 8X is a great handset. As we've already mentioned, social media runs through the OS like veins through a pensioner's leg.

HTC 8X review

And as well as that, you can download individual apps for your social networks too so it really is easy to access anything friends with iPhones or Android handsets can.

As far as email goes, you won't be surprised to hear that Hotmail is the email method of choice for Microsoft. It's baked Windows Live support into the HTC Windows Phone 8X, but it's not overpowering and you are also given the option to use GMail too.

Funnily, when setting up an email account, it doesn't use the name GMail, but 'Google' instead – almost as if Microsoft can't bring itself to utter the name of a competitor.

We set up our GMail account easily enough and messages were displayed beautifully. First of all, they're threaded so everything is nice and neat.

And the email client we're given on the HTC 8X is thoroughly capable of reformatting and displaying HTML emails as they should be.

HTC 8X review

The only problem is that we couldn't find a way of having it automatically download images for selected sites, which slows down the whole experience.

It's something iOS seems to manage OK – and despite the security concerns the HTC 8X warned us of each time we did it, we'd at least like the option. Nanny state, much?

We also noticed a quirk in that despite the HTC Windows Phone 8X's theme being set as 'dark', once you open an email, it switches to light and everything is white.

This is despite us going into the settings and unticking the box that enables that light switch. Weird.

As we mentioned in the last section, Exchange is fully supported and emails come through thick and fast. There may not be a notification light like a BlackBerry – but with those live tiles constantly updating, prepare to never leave the office! Even when you have, physically, left.

HTC 8X review

It's interesting that there is no universal inbox. Email is kept very much away from messaging. Which is strange when you consider Microsoft's approach to contacts and how it is trying to get all of the social media elements in one place via the People channel.

Speaking of messaging, when you're in that section, you can access both your texts and MMS messages and peruse your online buddies for real life chattage.

We spoke live to TechRadar's very own Gareth Beavis via Facebook using this method which was much more pleasant than having to talk to him in person.

It all works as it should which is better than the early days of Windows Phone 7.5 where we got constant error messages.

HTC 8X review

Reading texts is easy enough – when they come in, as well as your live tile updating, you get a banner at the top of the screen that you can tap to bring it up.

Typing messages is a bit of a pain though. The keyboard looks cramped and basic – and it takes time for you to trust it. Once you do, you'll hate it. Or at least we did.

Typing with two hands just created lots of mistakes and auto correct didn't always kick in. It's horses for courses and we're sure the pincer fingered among you won't mind. But we weren't fans.

And unlike Android, you can't change the keyboard for a third party. You're stuck with it. So we'd definitely recommend trying it out in a shop first.

Sadly, voice dictation isn't amazing either. We came from a Samsung Galaxy S3 where we constantly feel jealous of how good Apple's Siri's dictation is by comparison. Having used the voice dictation on the HTC 8X though, we won't be complaining again. Come back Google – all is forgiven!

HTC 8X review

And another notable exception we must highlight – Skype! Yes, you may think it's odd that we lambast an OEM for not including Skype since nobody else does but since Microsoft owns it now – and since we've been hearing such great things about it in Windows' name – we were hoping it might be implemented here to take on FaceTime.

Sadly, not only is it not installed, it's not even available to download in the Store. We hope this will be rectified before too long as we can't help feeling that HTC and Microsoft are missing a great selling point here.

Internet

We'll get the bad news out of the way first of all. The HTC 8X is not an LTE enabled handset. If you're thinking of browsing over 4G here, sorry folks. Think again.

HTC 8X review

That said, early adopters (and those with more money than sense) aside, the likelihood is that 4G probably won't be a big issue for many buyers.

And you do have the next best thing in 3G HSDPA (which is the best thing if you're not on Everything Everywhere, at least for the next few months.)

So 4G aside, you have a cracking handset for browsing. Don't forget, Microsoft is not just a software manufacturer, but also a search provider with its own mapping solution, so it's able to pack a strong enough punch here.

We found browsing over Wi-Fi to be fast. Not in the same league as the iPhone 5 but certainly on a par with – and maybe even better than - our Samsung Galaxy S3.

HTC 8X review

Sadly, we didn't enjoy the same performance when browsing over HSDPA. It's not that the HTC 8X was painfully slow. But it wasn't as fast as we are used to – and that was despite having a full signal.

We are willing to put this down to the network and maybe an early release of WP8 that was running on our device as the processor is obviously more than capable of serving up sites in a jiffy.

If you're not a fan, there are also third party browsers available - although they can't be set as your default method of surfing.

If you're a fan of Flash sites, you'll struggle here. This isn't really a shock as Windows Phone has never supported flash internet so it's not a loss.

And the fact of the matter is that Android no longer supports flash – nor does the iPhone which has always been Adobe-less – but we still hanker after it a little.

HTC 8X review

We've made the point before that whilst lots of larger sites have switched to HTML5, others haven't and won't – and that means that large parts of the world wide web will be unobtainable for mobile users, which can't be a good thing. It'll take a long time to update the entire t'interweb.

Zoomed out, pages look beautiful because of that high resolution screen. And even zoomed in – when you get right to the minutest detail of a letter – you can't see individual pixels.

Which is good because the very sight of them these days sends geeks like us into an OCD-induced lather.

By default, mobile sites are loaded and you have to go into the menu to change this option to desktop sites.

HTC 8X review

It's a little convoluted because we're used to the 'Request Desktop Site' option in Android which lets you request the larger version ad hoc rather than having to muck about with digging around menus.

But in many cases, the mobile site will serve adequately. That is what they're there for, after all.

You can double tap to zoom and the HTC 8X will automatically do what it's told. Unfortunately, text reflow doesn't appear to be supported out of the box – or if it is, we couldn't figure out how to get it to kick in. We spent a lot of time panning around manually.

Tabs are supported if you're a manic browser and there are bookmarks. We couldn't figure out how to sync our own favourites from a Mac and worry that this may not be supported.

HTC 8X review

It was here that we felt the absence of both Google Chrome and Safari which seem much more seamless in this respect.

We must also point out how much of an importance search is to this phone. Remember, we mentioned the always present Search button at the bottom of the HTC 8X which always brings Bing up?

HTC 8X review

Well, Microsoft is keen to make sure that it's not just a web search. It's a real time search, which sounds like a load of marketing baloney but is actually true.

Just as much emphasis is put here on location aware searching – so looking for things to do and places to go or eat nearby as well as old fashioned www results. And it's all presented back to you beautifully in the style of the OS rather than just a web page. We're big fans.

Camera

We've heard a lot of talk about the camera quality that was promised on the HTC 8X – and HTC certainly isn't shy of throwing out some big claims.

We tested them and have to say that we think the camera is good, yes. But let's not get carried away here. It's not the best out there.

HTC 8X review

You have two snappers – an 8MP job around the back, which seems to be the order of the day for most OEMs right now with an f/2.0 lens. And an unusually hi-spec 2.1MP camera on the front.

Firing said camera up is nice and easy. You simply hold down the shutter key and it springs into life. This works from the lockscreen and is very snappy. You can go from nothing to snapping in a couple of seconds at the most.

HTC 8X review

The shutter works well. You hold the camera button down three quarters of the way to get it to lock on to whatever you want and it focuses automatically.

You then press the button all the way down and it takes your snap. You can also touch the screen to alter the focus point but the phone then immediately takes the photo before you really get a chance to see whether or not you're happy with its selection. It's all done in rather a hurry. Calm down, dear.

As with all phones these days, the flash can be muted or put onto auto mode. This did seem a little over-sensitive, kicking in at times we didn't expect it to need to. It also had a tendency to make our pictures rather more yellow than we would have liked.

The shutter speed is adequate but not amazing. We've seen far better elsewhere, sadly. We don't want to have to take photos of solely inanimate objects. Where's the fun in photographing a pencil sharpener?

HTC 8X review

You're provided with several settings for your photos but they're nothing adventurous. The usual elements like Sepia and Black and White. And Solarise! Who the hell uses this feature?

Why are you taking photos in negative mode?! All manufacturers include it, yet we've never seen anybody take photos with it. Odd.

Other elements like exposure and white balance can easily be altered from within the settings.

HTC 8X review

There is also an option to change lenses. Which sounds different to what it actually does. Basically, If you select this, it gives the camera over to another app.

So for example, there is one app there that you tap on and it launches a barcode scanner. Other apps can be installed – so things like augmented reality browsers should work well here. You're not actually changing your lens. Just the programme the lens is using. Geddit?

HTC also says the front snapper can give you up to three times the space of a normal photo because it is a wider angle lens.

In landscape mode, you can definitely see the difference – though we still looked ugly as sin ourselves.

It's clearly for the vain – since the second you click to take a photo, it begins a countdown timer of a few seconds to give you time to get into position.

HTC 8X review

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HTC 8X review

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HTC 8X review

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HTC 8X review

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HTC 8X review

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HTC 8X review

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HTC 8X review

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HTC 8X review

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HTC 8X review

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HTC 8X review

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Video

The HTC 8X gives you a full HD camera at 1080p with 30fps.

Quality can be adjusted from within the app to give you smaller file sizes. Remember, you have a limited amount of non-removable storage, so in some cases, you may be better going for smaller files.

As with the camera, you can change a number of effects and record in solarize mode or sepia etc. Not that we can imagine you'll want to. But the option is at least there, as is the ability to change things like the exposure and white balance.

HTC 8X review

Shooting video is a fairly easy experience. You have to go in through the camera mode if you launch it by pressing the shutter button.

There doesn't appear to be a way to default this button to firing up the video camera. Once you're in, you're greeted with a massive timer over the bottom left of your video. It's been in Windows Phone since the beginning but looks great.

HTC 8X review

Shooting can be done with the light on or off but there is no option to have it come on automatically.

Whatsmore, you can't even toggle it on and off during a video. It means that if you suddenly enter a dim patch, you have to stop your video and start again. All very messy.

In fact, you can't even touch the screen when you're filming as that immediately wraps up the shoot. We did this accidentally several times and cursed the HTC Windows Phone 8X for doing it.

In good light, videos are well represented. But in poor light, they're just passable. In fact, when it comes to switching between pitch black and bright light, we'd say that the HTC 8X is one of the worst phones we've seen cope.

Whereas we were recently amazed with the Galaxy Note 2 and the way it adjusted so easily, with the HTC 8X, we couldn't believe how bad it was.

Take a look at our video and just see how long it takes for the levels to adjust when we put the light on in a dark room.

Media

So, you're probably wondering just how much of a priority media is for the HTC 8X. We'd love to say we think it is high. It should be. In truth, it's as though HTC deals with media with nothing but contempt.

HTC 8X review

First of all – no removable storage. Yes, we know lots of manufacturers are doing away with SD slots to force us to go to the cloud but for lots of us, there is a real pleasure in being able to have music and video stored locally in one place. We shouldn't be forced to stream.

With that in mind, 16GB seems like a really paltry amount. And to add insult to injury, Microsoft has just added MicroSD support to Windows Phone 8, so there really is no excuse here.

Anyway, at least you can fill the 16GB of storage up with your own content, right?

Good luck with that one. Never have we used a handset that has frustrated us so much that we have wanted to stick it in a food blender, add some bone marrow to the mix and feed it with gravy to the dog!

The problem is that we couldn't connect it. Admittedly, we were using a Mac. But the Windows Phone 7 software which worked so brilliantly and allowed us to sync everything seamlessly before doesn't communicate with the HTC 8X.

So we tried it on a Windows machine. You're thinking the same thing as us, right? Windows Phone, Windows PC... they'll get along like a house on fire, yep?

No.

HTC 8X review

Using Windows 7, we connected the HTC Windows Phone 8X and after several minutes of pontificating, it told us what we wanted to hear: That it had detected a HTC 8X phone and encouraged us to download the software suite to connect to it.

And the link it sent us to (the link MICROSOFT provides) was a broken page that didn't exist. This is what you call a #majorfail.

We then tried it on a Windows XP machine – that did work and we were able to transfer files via drag and drop. But that's hardly ideal. And should people have to use an older version of Windows to get their HTC 8X working as it should?

OK, we know this is a brand new handset – it's not even been officially released as we write this review. But heck, HTC – you gotta fix this pronto or you're going to annoy a lot of people and do your reputation even more damage.

Music

The actual music player is easy enough to use. It's the standard Microsoft Windows Phone music app which is very beautiful and is now called 'Music + Video', putting the ill-fated Zune heritage to bed for good.

We streamed some tracks and it all worked well enough. If you have an X-Box Music Pass, you can go to town on the music on your HTC 8X and really enjoy some streaming action, a'la Spotify.

HTC 8X review

You don't seem to be able to get videos this way unfortunately, which puts HTC's Windows offerings behind its Android variations.

Also, it seems slightly odd when HTC made such a song and dance about its Watch service, which it first launched on the Android-toting HTC Sensation and now appears to have completely forgotten about on WP8.

HTC's pet project, Beats Audio, also finds its way into the HTC 8X. You don't get the Beats headphones – just a standard pair of HTC ones – because times are tight. Which means you get a bit of extra bass and it's all very nice but blow your socks off, it won't.

Other multimedia-related apps find themselves in here if you've downloaded them. For example, the YouTube app. Although that is not actually an app – it just launches a mobile version of the YouTube site. Bad Google!

There's sadly no FM radio on board which is a shame as HTC has teased us with these in the past. It's no huge deal since you can stream from various apps and sites – but it would have been nice (and more battery economical) to have had.

Photos

HTC 8X review

Photos are provided through their own dedicated app and can be viewed in different ways – with them being sorted by person or by album.

Not much has changed here. We're big fans of the ability to share photos directly with other apps, as you can more fluidly with Android than iOS.

So, say you want to put a pic through some filtering software, you don't have to open that app separately, you just go into the photo menu and it will let you share easily enough.

HTC provides its own Photo Enhancer app out of the box which is OK, but there are plenty more free versions in the store with more functionality. Instagram may be notable by its absence – but there are lots of alternatives.

DLNA is supported though we struggled to transfer music over it to our PS3 or Samsung TV. No doubt X-Box owners will have more luck.

Battery and Connectivity

Battery life

The battery in the HTC 8X isn't the largest you'll come across at a pretty-measly-by-modern-standards 1800mAh. Plus, it's sealed in, so even if you do manage to get your hands on a spare, you'll be able to do no more than look wistfully at it.

HTC 8X review

At the time of writing this review, even HTC wasn't giving estimates of talk time on its website. So we can't call their claims into question but that's fine since so much power on modern phones is used up through other things that don't involve phone calls anyway.

Our impression of the battery on the HTC Windows Phone 8X is that it's standard HTC fare. Which means that it's OK if you use it frugally, but as soon as you approach anything near real-world use, forget it! The sad thing is that even after all these years, HTC can't make a decent battery.

We took our unit off charge at 8am. We had Wi-Fi on and Bluetooth connected for about 20 mins to the car stereo. We sent about 25 text messages over the course of the day, a handful of emails, took 13 photos, one video and browsed the web for 40 mins or so. By just after 5pm, the battery was down to 10%.

If you turn off all your syncing, you may do better. But the issue here is that this is a phone that is meant to be connected – that's the whole point in Windows Phone.

It's a shame that HTC can't reflect that. There is also a battery saver option which you can engage in times of emergency. But that disables services when the screen is off and makes your email revert to manual fetch. It's functional, but not ideal.

Connectivity

As for connectivity, you have all of the usual suspects here from Wi-Fi a/b/g/n (which explains our fast surf speeds) to Bluetooth and GLONASS GPS.

You've also got NFC support though that doesn't appear to be the most exciting technology right now, but Windows Phone 8 is the first Microsoft OS to support the contactless tech, so it's at least a positive step.

Apps and maps

Maps

HTC 8X review

With the HTC 8X being a Microsoft handset, you won't get to within a sniff of Google Maps, unless you use the website. Not that you should worry – Bing Maps is actually a very good offering too. And it can't be worse than the current Apple Maps.

The only sad thing is you'll end up wanting to punch Nokia-owning friends when they start waving their Lumia 920's around and banging on about Nokia Drive. Shut up!

Compared to Google Maps, Bing Maps looks a bit dull. Cosmetically, it's all greys and blacks with the occasional bit of dirty yellow.

But at least it knows where things are. It also provides you with directions for driving, but alas, no turn by turn navigation free out of the box. It's like Google Maps used to be three or four years ago.

HTC 8X review

Transit directions are notable by their absence, but what you do get is traffic reports. We hasten to add though, they're not entirely accurate.

We sat gazing out of the window to be told by Bing Maps that traffic was heavy when there was actually barely a vehicle on the roads.

Bing Maps is also very good at being location aware. We're not talking about its speed to lock onto a signal (which the HTC Windows Phone 8X is very good at – even indoors, buried away from the sky) but actual details of what there is to do nearby.

It's similar to the service you'd get from a third party like Yelp and presented neatly in the WP8 style. We were very impressed with the results as these services can often be a bit hit and miss, yet this was great on our handset.

Apps

HTC 8X review

Aside from the standard Windows Phone apps, HTC also bundles a couple of extras. One in particular deserves special mention – simply because it is so damn pointless.

It's actually just called HTC and when you open it up, it just gives you weather, stocks and news. Three things you could get in better form from dedicated apps with live tiles.

You also get the flashlight app which we don't need to explain. And there's a fantastic addition called Kids Corner. This allows your child to have its own little space to play with the phone – complete with their own homescreen.

Any parent who has ever allowed their child to play Angry Birds and found they've done so much more than play a game will appreciate this.

HTC 8X review

HTC and Windows also provide you with mobile versions of Office and there is, of course, SkyDrive support. Whoop whoop etc.

We must also give a special mention to the Calendar app and shame it publicly by pointing out that it STILL doesn't support multiple Google calendars.

If you use an online calendar, odds are you will use several calendars within that service and we think it's inexcusable that Microsoft can't work this in.

We complained about it as long ago as the HTC Radar and HTC Titan and Microsoft still hasn't fixed this.

You can have a Hotmail calendar and a Google Calendar and a Facebook calendar all show up together. But only one of each. Which is neither use, nor ornament.

Hands on gallery


HTC 8X review

HTC 8X review

HTC 8X review

HTC 8X review

HTC 8X review

HTC 8X review

HTC 8X review

HTC 8X review

Offical gallery

HTC Windows Phone 8X review

HTC 8X review

HTC 8X review

HTC Windows Phone 8X review

Verdict

HTC feels like the cheating partner that always asks for one more chance. It seems to promise the world but then fail to deliver and you keep saying 'OK' because you remember happier days. But you wonder if you'll ever truly get them back.

The HTC 8X should have been the comeback Windows phone – it has it all on paper: a brand new updated OS, great looks and top connectivity options (minus 4G).

Plus, it's coming to market before the attention-seeking Nokia Lumia 920 and yet, despite us being really, really excited to get our mitts on it, we couldn't help feel a little bit 'meh' about the whole experience once we did.

We liked

The HTC Windows Phone 8X is a premium-feeling device with a brand new iteration of the highly elegant Windows Phone OS. It has almost every connectivity option you could ask for and a camera with increased light allowance on the lens.

It may only be rocking a dual-core processor, but it is stable and fast and Bing Maps is a credible alternative to Google's long-established alternative.

We disliked

But design comes at a price and we'd happily give up clean lines for a removable battery and expandable memory.

It's also odd HTC is launching its flagship WP8 device without LTE at almost the same time Nokia brings out its LTE-enabled device. And the whole thing lacks Skype and good voice dictation – two areas where Microsoft should be on a par with - or even better than - Apple.

Verdict

When we reviewed earlier Windows Phone handsets, we were told the platform needed time to bed in.

It's had that and it's evolved but we can't help feeling there are still a few areas it really is left lacking. Things like the poor media support are inexcusable and these are places where Microsoft is to blame more than HTC.

We're sure it will be fixed but it takes the gloss off a new purchase when things like this don't work flawlessly.

And the sad fact is that even though Redmond provides an OS that HTC can hardly tinker with in the way it can with Android, the buck stops with the Taiwanese here in punters' eyes.

The HTC 8X promised so much on paper and the excitement leading to it arriving was building up for us. Yet when it arrived, we found it to be a mediocre handset and this is the best of the two WP8 phones HTC is launching. Which means it's not even the best value.

We recommend it for those looking for something different – but if you have the money to spend, we'd hold out for the Nokia Lumia 920.

Better luck next time, HTC. And that's not the first time we've had to say that.

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