The Windows Phone 8X by HTC is one of the very first smartphones out of the blocks running the all new Windows Phone 8 from Microsoft. As you can probably tell by the name though, it’s the one Microsoft considers the flagship, the one that’ll lure first time smartphone owners over, and even Android and iOS addicts.
Its striking design and lurid shell hide some impressive specs: there’s a 4.3-inch HD 720p screen, a super fast dual-core Snapdragon S4 1.GHZ processor, 16GB of storage, and an eight megapixel camera capable of shooting full HD video. But Windows Phone 8 is the real star of the show here. Can it cut it in 2012?
As we said in our hands on preview, the Windows Phone 8X design is certainly striking. Think of the Nokia Lumi 800’s “pillow” shape with straighter lines and you’re not far off. Unfortunately, we were given the black version for review, which is the runt of the litter, and utterly boring to look at. We’ve seen the purple number in the flesh before however, and it’s a lot more exciting - as, we suspect, is the yellow option.
The HD display is spectacular to look at, and solves one of our biggest problems with Windows Phone until now, the grainy maximum resolution it supported. And the bright colours on black background of Windows Phone look delicious on it.
Windows Phone’s underlying code may have been changed drastically, but how you use it hasn’t. And that’s largely a good thing. The new look tile screen of Windows Phone 8 is slightly more customisable, with options for icons of three different sizes: they can also show live information about an app. It remains a nice balance between Apple’s static app icons and Android’s supremely flexible widgets.
Skipping around between apps remains fast, but then lag was never an issue with Windows Phone 7. It’s fast and easy to use, with a superbly responsive keyboard - but we’ll go into more details on this front in a full Windows Phone 8 review shortly. We will say that Xbox SmartGlass makes for a delightful way to control your Xbox console from your smartphone, though since it’s already available on Android, it’s not a selling point for Windows Phone 8 particularly.
HTC hasn’t added much on top of this core, but it does have its own image chip and speaker amp with Beats Audio, like its Android phones. Audio purists will sniff at the latter, but it does mean thumping bass when you listen to music.
We have to be frank: as striking as the design it, it’s not nearly as premium as the beautiful curved casing of the HTC One X and X+ Android phones. And as good as the camera is, it lacks the fantastic burst mode of HTC’s Android phones, and their ability to take photos whilst recording video.
And nor is there a 4G data option on the way, which seems like a bit of an oversight when a 4G HTC One X is on sale already in the UK, and Nokia’s Lumia 920 and 820 Windows Phone 8 blowers will have turbo data speeds built in too.
Most of the problems we have are with Windows Phone 8, however. As easy as it is to use, power users will quickly run up against its limits. It takes two taps to get to the tabs screen in Internet Explorer, for instance, and the number of apps compared to iPhone and Android is still limited.
Microsoft also hasn’t fixed some of the most glaring issues with Windows Phone: the People hub, which pulls in all your friends’ social media updates, never updates in the background, so you have to wait for it to load to see what’s going on. And multi-tasking is still baffling: you can come back to an app in the state you left it, but only if you open the app tray by holding down the back button. If you just open it from your homescreen again, the app just restarts, losing your place. Android doesn’t do this. But we’ll go over all of the features and pros and cons of Windows Phone 8 in more detail later this week.
The Windows Phone 8X by HTC’s lack of exclusive software could also prove a serious problem, even for those already tied into Windows Phone. Why go for HTC when Nokia’s Lumia phones include a free satnav built in? Why indeed.
The bottom line
Windows Phone has always been a bit of a gamble: why jump on board the Microsoft train when there are so many apps for iPhone and Android? Microsoft still hasn’t answered that question, but there’s no doubt it’s built a fluid and seamless operating system in Windows Phone 8 that even your gran could figure out.
The Windows Phone 8X by HTC is just about as polished a showcase of this as you could hope for, with striking colours to match the OS. What it isn’t, however, is as beautiful as HTC’s Android One series of phones, nor as powerful for the tech-savvy. And with Nokia’s Windows Phone 8 devices promising much more in the way of exclusive software, it might be best to hold fire until we get you a full review of them too.