HTC Windows Phone 8X Review

27 March 2013

The HTC Windows Phone 8X is HTC’s current Windows Phone 8 flagship device that, while doing nothing to slow HTC’s growing reputation for questionable names, has seen its fair share of popularity in the WP market.

Sporting thoroughly modern hardware, the elegant WP8 UI and stylish case design make for a blending of power and visual appeal that’s rarely seen in the handset market. But looks and specs aren’t everything, so we grabbed one ourselves to check it out in our own Windows Phone 8X review.

Design of the 8X

While the device has been (fairly accurately) accused of copying Nokia’s colourful Lumia line in terms of aesthetic design, we have to admit that it at least does it with class. We have no problem with more manufacturers taking Nokia’s lead and releasing vibrant and interesting smartphones that catch the eye and add a dash of colour to the otherwise bleak world of black, white and grey gadgetry, just so long as they end up providing something that at least looks as good as the 8X.

The 8X even outdoes its direct competitor, the Lumia 920, in a few of its design elements. It’s far thinner, for one, measuring 10.1mm at its thickest and tapering down to around just 4mm at its edges. On paper this doesn’t sound too much better than the 10.7mm of the Lumia 920, except that the 920 has little-to-no tapering and carries that 10.7mm all the way to the edge. There’s also a noticeable difference in weight, with the 130g of the 8X offering a more comfortable experience than the hefty 185g 920.

That being said, the 8X is fairly tall and wide compared to its 4.3 inch screen size. It’s roughly equivalent to the 920 when measured up and down, but its screen is smaller, meaning more wasted space around the edges. The colourful design does lighten any negative visual impact caused by this, but the black and white models may suffer as a result.

The volume rocker, camera and power buttons are all colour coded to whatever colour theme you pick, which looks pretty nice. The case is also coated in a soft-touch material, adding to grip and providing a great non-glossy finish that feels as though it would stand up to minor scratches pretty well.

Overall the Windows Phone 8X is a great-looking, eye-catching device that’s easy to hold and shouldn’t be so big as to deter the average user. The only real drawback in its design appears to be the large spaces around the screen, although we’d have to say that we didn’t notice it too much until we actually looked up the specs. Somehow the finished product manages to keep your attention away from the fulsome bezels and on the brilliant display.

Windows Phone 8X Display and UI

The 720p 4.3 inch display of the HTC Windows Phone 8X is very good. Colours are vibrant, whites are pure and blacks, while not as inky as on the iPhone 5 or the ClearBlack display of the Lumia 920 (there it is again), still come out sufficiently dark. Images are crisp, movement is fluid and we got no noticeable jerkiness in regular operations.

We must say that it’s not the absolute best HD display we’ve used, but it would be close. In fact, if the Windows Phone UI were not so heavily-dependent on inky blacks then we probably wouldn’t even have noticed any flaws. Still, we can’t see users having anything to complain about. Like we said: not the best, but definitely up there.

The Windows Phone 8 UI doesn’t really change from device to device. As such it’s still gorgeous, vibrant, unique and well-layered. The different colour themes allow for a surprisingly wide range of ‘looks’, despite the simplicity of their application and, as always, we love how the overall aesthetic design carries on in to 3rd party apps like Facebook and Twitter.

The problem with writing reviews of smartphones utilising the Windows Phone 8 UI is that they all start getting repetitive during this part. It’s fast, beautiful, Bing search is surprisingly useful (especially its Local function) and Nokia Maps is variably reliable.

Xbox-Live integration is always fun for Xbox users and the games on WP8 are of a pretty high quality, so long as you’re willing to do a bit of research before buying anything. Luckily, that research usually comes in the form of the “Try” button, which allows you to try the game before deciding on purchase. While the WP8 OS may be lacking in apps when compared to Android or iOS, the Try function is definitely one of the best app/games store options on any mobile OS.

The solid hardware on the Windows Phone 8X made short work of every game and app we threw at it. The UI was smooth, fast and, as always, a refreshing and stylish change from Android and iOS.

8X Camera

Cameras have become a pretty key marketing factor in the last few months, even more than they’ve been in the past. The Lumia 920’s PureView camera was touted as being better than the iPhone 5, although somewhat incorrectly according to our PureView vs iPhone 5 test, the HTC One demonstrated a new Ultrapixel approach and both the Samsung Galaxy S4 and HTC One sported some very similar but still impressive new camera features.

Granted, the 8X has been out for a while now, so comparing it to the two newest Androids on the block may seem a bit mean, but it’s going to have to compete against them in the market so it’s definitely worth mentioning how it fares.

All up, the HTC Windows Phone 8X had a pretty decent camera. It took great photos in daylight and, while it didn’t wow us, it took some pretty decent shots on overcast days and towards the evening. At the very least, it was better than a lot of other WP8 and HTC phones we’ve trialled.

It still struggled a bit with movement and required a little bit longer to focus than we’d like, but it wasn’t a pain.

Using the flash usually provided pretty blurry photos and we often had to take several to get a shot right. That being said, the flash didn’t have a tendency to wash out colours, as is a problem with countless smartphone cameras, so decent flash shots were at least possible.

Video was, unsurprisingly, standard. It was good during the day, took a while to focus in the evening and next to useless at night, even inside with the lights on. This is pretty normal for a smartphone, so we won’t get too up in arms about it.

We’d have to say that overall the 920’s PureView beat out the 8X’s camera. It’s true that the PureView does suffer from some light-bleeding issues, but in those same situations the 8X struggles to provide a clear image at all, with faces and objects coming out far darker than on its competitor.

Web Browsing and Battery Life

Web Browsing on the 8X is pleasantly fast. We’re slowly getting used to the wonderful world of 4G LTE speeds, but that shouldn’t mean that the 8X gets left out in the cold when compared to the excitement we showed for other devices.

3G users need to understand that 4G, if you live in a 4G supported area, is a big deal, even for the casual browser or Facebook/Twitter user. 4G literally offers speeds up to and seriously in excess of landline ADSL2+ speeds. It’s one of those transitions that when you make it is either just nice or completely awesome (depending on the user) and then when you try to go back to the way things were before you find yourself tearing at your hair wondering how you ever lived like this.

The WP8 default browser is also fast, efficient and attractive. Specific web pages can be pinned to the start menu as resizable Live Tiles, something we love, and picture-heavy websites tend to load quite quickly. Pinch to zoom is also relatively lag-free; something that is still not hugely common in smartphones despite it being a very old feature by now.

Battery life was actually great. Despite the large 720p screen and 4G LTE connectivity the WP 8X held up really well. We tended to get a full day out of it and only put it on to charge at night because it wouldn’t last the 8 hours till morning. That buffer of a few hours is really handy to have, as we never found ourselves rushing around in search of a power outlet.

The usual suspects like super heavy gaming or massive downloads and installs obviously took their toll and required a bit of a charge top-up, but the day anyone can show us a device for which that isn’t true will be a very happy day indeed.

Music and Video

Music and video are generally areas in which HTC devices do pretty well. You really can hear the difference between an HTC phone with Beats Audio and your more run-of-the-mill smartphone. Bass is deep without causing distortion and trebles come out clearly with no crackles or pops. Unfortunately the 8X doesn't come with any free Beats earplugs, but even on a standard pair of $30 Sony earbuds we could appreciate the difference.

The music app itself is the standard WP8 option. Its functional, easy to navigate and quite a bit prettier than what most OSes offer. Artist pictures are prevalent and can even be set as dynamically rolling lock screens while music is playing.

Video comes out fantastically on the HD display. Once again blacks could be a bit better, but this was far less of an issue in movies, as most don't rely on the perfect blackness of the WP8 UI background. The vibrant colours and clear whites we previously mentioned really came out to play here and provided an awesome experience.

The WhistleOut Opinion

The HTC Windows Phone 8X is a great smartphone and is definitely one of the best WP8 phones on the market. In fact, despite the Lumia 920 sporting a better display and camera, the HTC WP 8X holds its own if purely for the thinner, lighter design. After using both anyone should be able to feel the huge difference in comfort between the bulky, heavy, glossy 920 design and the thin, light, rubberised style of the 8X.

Everything else about the 8X was great. Battery life was impressive, the browser was fast, the WP8 interface was, as always, beautiful and the design of the device itself is a real head-turner.

We have to admit, due to HTC’s new WP device designs we went in with a bit of an impression that the 8X would be a poor imitation of the Lumia 920. We were wrong. The 8X is a fantastic WP8 device in its own right and definitely deserves to be considered by any WP shoppers who are in the market to compare.



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