Windows Phone 8X by HTC Review

First Impressions

Design

The first impressions of the 8X instantly are, just how beautiful it really is, the device has a crisp black bezel surrounded by the colour option you choose which goes around to the back, in this case blue (California Blue as HTC say), which admittedly looks more purple than blue. Whilst the device itself is actually around the thickness of the 920 at its thickest point, the device is tapered around making it feel so much more thinner than you’d expect, whilst it isn’t, it looks thinner than an iPhone 5 side by side, even feels it, clever work from HTC there!

The device itself is rather big, next to a 710 it eats the little baby for breakfast, but its not drastically big, we’re not reviewing the pathetic Galaxy Note II here.

One thing you wouldn’t know about the device until using it is the rather useful notification light on the front to the right of the speaker, which is useful when charging, red whilst charging, green when done!

The headphone port at the top is just big enough to house any headphones you’d need to, more on music later though.

The only major gripes we have about the phone is the lock button at the top, its recessed and is rather a pain to press, which isn’t completely ideal when for example trying out the new screenshot capabilities in Windows Phone 8, but nothing major.

Buttons and ports

On the top of the device you will find the recessed lock button, which honestly we hate, its not something that should stop you buying the phone it just takes a bit of getting used to unfortunately. On the right side of the phone you’ll find a volume rocker and the camera button, which is welcomely easy to press. The front of the device is all display with the 3 capacitive buttons on the bottom with vibrate tactile feel to them. Under the phone is the microUSB port used for charging and syncing (where required, software updates work from the phone now), oddly though the port goes in upside down.

Display

The 8X comes with a relatively large 4.3 inch 720P (1280×720) display supporting an incredible PPI of 342, which even beats out the Nokia Lumia 920 and the iPhones oh so incredible Retina Displays 326ppi, which is incredible! What this means is incredible pixel density and clarity in the display, something we’ve all been dreaming of in Windows Phone, and its now here and we can’t get enough of it.

Some of the cool HTC features included with the 8X is the weather lock screen integration showing the latest weather condition and information instantly in the lock screen, on the HD display this looks awesome, HTC also offer a pretty neat Live Tile with a clock and weather information, which works well in both large and medium tile sizes.

HTC also through in a very quick Flashlight, network utility and an Instagram-esc Photo Enhancer, even if you won’t find Instagram on the Store (yet, insists Joe Belfiore) which is give or take on real usability, as is Instagram by that matter.

Windows Phone 8

The real highlight of the Windows Phone 8X by HTC is the operating system its running, the 8X is the first Windows Phone 8 device available in the UK (due to 920 delays) and it definitely kicks things off well, as you can see from the image the HTC tile showing as mentioned above and the new tile sizes. One thing I was impressed about with the new tiles was how even small tiles showed notifications, and how much I found myself wanting large tiles for things like music and news basically just because of how much you get out of it, happily surprised don’t get me wrong.

Now this isn’t going to be a review of Windows Phone 8, that’s another blog, but suffice to say I’m very impressed, its quick, its fast, 95% of things are working instantly out of the box, love it! Look out for a full Windows Phone 8 review however in the coming week or so. One thing I will say is some, only some, apps crash and don’t work on Windows Phone 8, but had no problems with games and most apps I’ve been using all these years on Windows Phone 7.x.

I was very impressed by some things in Windows Phone 8 I can’t really not mention, other than the tiles of course. The People hub is massively improved, now supporting FaceBook filtering when adding statuses, I haven’t had a chance to check out Together yet, but it looks pretty awesome. Messaging finally supports full Emoji in the keyboard, and there’s a lot, similar to iOS there’s a Recent section so the commonly used icons will show up, and the keyboard is incredible using the new autocorrect that goes beyond autocorrect, it even estimates your next word, and using this a while it does actually learn what you type, love it! Oh and Mail is black now. Trust me though they is so much more I could talk about Windows Phone 8 which I’m leaving for my full on Windows Phone 8 review.

Camera

The HTC 8X features an 8 megapixel rear camera with LED flash and a 2.1 megapixel front facing camera, which honestly is awesome! A snapshot of the 8X camera is below, click the image to view the full image (be it cropped through SkyDrive). The camera is instant, its fast, it works, and seriously could become a real competitor to the Lumia 920, I was incredibly surprised just how good the Camera on the 8X was, and 1080P video was better than passable by any HDR. It’s interesting to note though, the 8X defaults its setting to 6 megapixel to keep the 16.9 aspect ratio of the display (likely why the 920 camera is 8.7 mpxl), and images taken through 8 megapixel ended up looking washed out, that’s definitely not a deal breaker, but its important to mention. Like with Windows Phone 7 you can instantly upload pictures quickly to your linked social networks and SkyDrive automatically, everything really does just work.

One useful feature in the now called Photos hub, is the ability to tap ‘People’ in the Hub, select a friend and view all their photos that way, its a much easier integrated way to view your friends photos in a non pervy way of course. Crop, rotate and red eye built in are a nice touch and addition to Auto Fix in the hub.

Music

One thing that instantly impressed me in ways I never expected in the Music hub was Cloud Collection. Initially I thought Cloud Collection was music you’d stored in the Cloud yourself, but no, it houses every Zune/Xbox Music purchase you’ve ever made in the Cloud collection, but in your library to stream at any time, or download to your phones offline collection at ease. So even without syncing music from a PC/Mac we had Music in the hub, which is awesome.

Aside from that, the Xbox Music hub really is Zune running on Windows Phone 8, although we love the large tile when playing music, and the ability to share songs via Bluetooth, in fact anything over Bluetooth (you need to turn it on to see the option), a very welcome addition to old-school phone users.

Beats Audio

One thing we have to mention on the 8X is Beats. Now, I’ve gone down as to saying that Beats are over-priced headphones with a B written on them and you can get competitive headphones for a quarter of the price, and guess what, thats true … what isn’t true is how awesome Beats Audio is as an amplifyer!

The 8X doesn’t come with Beats headphones, standard HTC affair, but testing using some cheap Sonys I heard quality through them I’d never heard before, and in comparison to quality through an iPhone, Lumia 710 and a MacBook Pro headphone port against the 8X there was no competition, the sound was incredible. To get a true sense of how good it is, its worth going in to Settings > Beats Audio and turning it off and on during music playback, that’s when you realise just how awesome it is! Time will tell how the Lumia 920 competes on Dolby built in.

Apps and Eco-system

Ok, the apps are still coming, today we just got Angry Birds Space on Windows Phone, but Angry Birds Star Wars will be simultaneously released on iOS, Android and Windows Phone so thats good. The apps in most part are here which is awesome, and ones that aren’t have very worthy alternate versions, one thing to note on the HTC is the lack of the Nokia Collection shows on Windows Phone sadly, but many new apps, including big names are making apps finally available across the board.

The eco-system of Windows Phone is finally here though thanks to Windows 8 and the integration Microsoft have been created really shows now, and Windows Phone 8 works seamlessly with Windows 8 and other Microsoft core services including the Windows core itself now, which all in all makes for an incredible not only user experience, but integrative experience. All in all the eco-system is here, not perfect, but definitely here!

Battery Life

All these awesome features are well and good until your battery dies, and the battery life on the 8X is not going to rival the best battery life handsets but its much better than we expected, especially when competing against a Lumia 710, iPhone for example, the 8X is very capable battery wise, on a full first day of use the battery life ended the day at around 20% which really isn’t bad for a high end Smartphone like the 8X.

Overall

The Windows Phone 8X for the most part is an incredible phone, and has really shocked us in many ways, and we hold heartedly recommend this phone for anyone looking for an awesome Windows Phone 8 experience, whether its enough to tear you away from iOS or Android is something your going to have to decide yourself, we love it, but the main lack is the apps and games that really are only just arriving, it may be worth checking the Store before to see if what your wanting is there.

Pros

An absolutely beautiful piece of hardware that also features pretty much everything a high end smartphone has, NFC, great camera, fast browser tech, and runs apps and games with ease, plus the Beats Audio amplifier makes even cheap headphones sound premium, trust us when we say, thats Beats logo on the back is forgiven when you hear the quality … just don’t waste your money on Beats headphones.

Cons

For the most part the apps are here, but the 120,000+ apps may not be for you

16GB internal storage is not expandable

On closer inspection, the battery life is nothing to be desired

A few Windows Phone 8 bugs need patching, random restarts aren’t cool

With Nokia providing so many apps on Windows Phone, you may find yourself out in the dark more than even other Windows Phone users

Price

£370 – £400 SIM Free

£379 – Pay As You Go

Free on contract

Summary

 – Its hard not to recommend the 8X to anyone, its fast, crisp photos and most of all it sounds as good as it looks and is easily the perfect Windows Phone 8 device, goes down as one of our favourite phones of the year, if 16GB is enough for you (could of been a 5), and of course if Nokia weren’t providing most of the big name apps on Windows Phone these days, but Maps and Drive is expected to come soon.

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