Smartphones have become extremely plain as of late, and frankly it bores me, apart from the new Lumia phones and HTC devices, they all seem to fit the same sort of design guideline, black and covered in plastic.
However when HTC revealed their new Windows Phone 8X I suddenly became interested in phones again, apart from the fact its the first phone in HTCs line-up to run the latest Windows Phone 8 operating system, what makes it interesting id the wide selection of colours available, ranging from yellow all the way to purple.
Of course the phone is still available in black (as you can tell from our product shots), but the option to add colours is a great one.
The amazing thing about the 8X is simply how thin it feels in the hand, on paper its only an average, 132.4 x 66.2 x 10.1mm, but thanks to the curved edges, the phone feels much thinner than what it should be.
The body itself is made from polycarbonate, which in its unibody design makes the phone feel ‘premium’, however due to the unibody the phone does lack a memory card slot or replaceable battery.
Around the front, is the large display which takes up most of the real estate of the phone, with the addition of a great to touch screen, the earpeice has even been coloured to remind you which version you purchased.
The screen itself is 4.3 inches wide, with a HD resolution at 720×1280 pixels, and is just as sharp as an iPhone, and looks great when viewing almost anything. Text is displayed perfectly, and movies are great to view on the display, however sometimes the size of it can make the phone itself a little tricky to hold.
Fitted behind the display is the front-facing wide-angled camera, under which is are the three Windows Phone keys, including the back, search and menu buttons.
On the top of the phone is the lock/power button, next to the 3.5mm input jack, the lock button itself turned out to be extremely difficult to use, with a weird placement it can sometimes be difficult to find, and I all to often found myself having to twist the phone up to view the button, unlike many other smartphones on the market which feel all to natural.
The left has been left bare, whilst the right side of the phone contains the volume rocker, camera shutter key and the micro SIM card tray.
And then finally at the button you will find the micro USB charge/ sync port.
The rear of the phone is probably my favorite part of the design, its simple and looks great at any angle, the 8 megapixel rear facing camera sits in the centre of the top, with the LED flash on the right of it, under which they have placed a silver HTC logo with the Beats logo below that.
Windows Phone 8 is a truly great looking OS, and matches HTC’s 8X in terms of colours, allowing you to choose the accent you prefer, much like the Windows 8 desktop OS. However the background can only be changed between two different themes, white and black.
However one of the best and probably most known features of the mobile OS, is of course the live tiles, each one can represent an application installed on the phone, or a shortcut to anything from a e-mail account to a YouTube channel (with the Metrotube app anyway).
These live tiles can also be used to show updates and live information, such as how message you may have, or even what the weathers like outside.
These are great for viewing information on-the-fly without having to actually open anything and because they can be set to work with more or less any app, they can be used to show a wide range of information.
These can be rearranged into any position you like, and even resized to small, medium or large.
I would however, have liked a unified inbox to be in place instead of the current separate accounts littering up the homescreen, it seems that Microsoft didn’t spend enough time on the Mail app and it shows.
For instance I wasn’t able to access individual folders I have added to accounts, and the application wouldn’t recognise when you have already read a message on a separate device.
To add to that the included Maps application is pretty shoddy, I would have liked to see the option to automatically add newly installed applications to the homescreen automatically, instead of having to drag each on over as I download them.
The problem is that the OS is very hard to use, especially if you are using it for the first time, unlike UIs like iOS, Windows Phone 8 just doesn’t feel natural, I found myself for the first time Googleling how to use various features.
Instead of pages, Windows Phone 8 only includes a total of two sections, the main homescreen where all the tiles are placed and then the installed app list.
And that’s about it, there’s not features such as widgets, wallpapers (apart for the homescreen) or even features like the well-known HTC weather backgrounds.
However HTC has managed to include a couple of their ideas in the OS, one of which is the weather lockscreen widget, which will show your current locations weather in a nice (non-animated) background. I would have preferred more input from HTC however.
There’s a lot of confusing features in the OS, one of which is the status bar which only shows when on the lockscreen or when you frantically tap on the top of the display itself, the clock will always show on the top right however, but everything else such as the signal level or battery are mostly left hidden.
The second of the weird features is the search button, which once pressed will bring up the main search screen, however when you’re in an app it won’t actually search within it, closing the app your currently in and bringing you to the Bing search screen, a truly annoying feature.
There’s no way to change the search engine, which shouldn’t be a problem for some users, I would have liked the option however.
Obviously contacts is probably one of the most important features within any smartphone, with the main feature of a phone being to call or get in contact with friends and family, it’s important to have a good way to do this.
And Windows Phone handles this probably the best out of any of its features, due to the simply People screen which will show literally all of your contacts from sources such as, Facebook, your contacts list and even e-mail accounts.
Within the application there’s a section called “What’s New”, this will show all of the latest from your contacts social networking profiles such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn accounts.
Next to which is the “Recent” tab which displays who you have been in contact with lately and then there’s another called “Together”, where you can set up groups of contacts and chat with the whole group and share files between each other.
These groups of people can then be added to your homescreen, and can be quickly clicked on the see whats going on with that set of people and message/ share things to them.
Once you enter your account details, you will gain your contacts pictures, birthdays, e-mail address and even their current status from Facebook, as long as they have it that is.
The search within the contact list is great, you simply tap one of the coloured letter indicators and it will bring up a screen of all the other letters available, once one of these is tapped it will take you to the corresponding section.
Animations are something that Windows Phone 8 does perfectly, and once phoned the OS will display a bouncing version of the contacts photo, which is a nice feature.
Messaging is yet another thing that Windows Phones does brilliantly, there’s one unified MMS and SMS application that can be used to send text, images and other internet, as part of your plan’s package.
The app will also let you message those on Facebook too.
When you receive a text you will be notified in a number of different ways, the first is the display of a notification banner at the top of the screen, alongside which the live tile will update with the number of messages you now have and it will also display on your lockscreen, all of which is customiseable.
However typing out these messages is not an easy task to undertake, the keyboard feels cramped and I found there just wasn’t enough room to type efficiently enough as it is on other OS’s.
Typing with two hands is very difficult, and you will find yourself crossing thumbs on occasion, something which your stuck with as it cannot be changed for a third-party version.
There’s also a lack of voice dictation, however at least the OS now includes Skype, right? I’m not to bothered if I’m honest as I feel if a user really needed it they could just download it, I spouse the integration is interesting however.
However it actually isn’t that simple as once you click it, you are actually taken to a download page in the Microsoft Store.
There’s a ton of other social networking features in the OS is great too, however as I mentioned previously, the email application leaves a lot to be desired.
Don’t get my wrong, it’s easy to use and setup as you simply click the service provider and then type in your account details, simples.
However the client itself is a bit weird to use, as far as I can tell there’s no way of automatically downloading images within images, and as i mentioned before there’s no unified inbox.
However I do really like the automatic syncing, which would collect my emails thick and fast as they come in real-time, something which I wish iOS would do without killing the battery off.
Browsing however is pretty quick on 3G or even Wi-Fi, but that of course depends on your own connection speed and signal.
There are some third-party browsers currently available, however these can’t be set to default and aren’t in fact very good.
As you would expect the mobile version of Internet Explorer won’t support Flash websites or content, however HTML5 is supported, which is arguable better so it’s all a-okay.
The HD screen makes pages look great, even zoomed in you can easily read text and view images in great detail.
When pages are accessed, pages will be displayed in their mobile form as with many other sites, however you can change this with the “Request Desktop Site” option, however this does take longer than it should to get too.
There’s also tab support within the application.
With a 8MP camera on the back and a 2.1MP megapixel camera on the front, you will achieve good quality, but nothing that will amaze you. There’s also a f/2.0 lens, which is great.
Photos can be taken quickly with the camera shutter button, which if held the lens will focus on a subject, this can be done from anywhere within the phone, even the lockscreen.
I found the camera to work extremely well in most situations, dark photos come out better than expected and photos in normal situations also look great, however the camera does take some time to release the shutter and finish focusing, for which reason I found it too be okay, but defiantly the best feature of the phone.
As you can see from the photos below, sometimes you can get a great looking one and others turn out to be quite fuzzy.
Various content can be played on the 8X in many different ways, with a ton of different services and applications available you really are littered for choose, however within this review I am only going to go through what comes with the phone, although you can download applications such as Spotify to access more services.
As the phone doesn’t have a microSD card slot, I’m afraid your stuck with the standard 16GB of in-built storage that comes with the phone, which is plenty in my mind, the great thing is that Xbox actually has their own service called Xbox Music which once signed up, will allow you to stream music over the internet, freeing up some of that much-needed space.
Which is great as loading content onto this thing is in no way easy, and plugging into a Windows 8 PC doesn’t help, which is weird when you think about it.
I grant it one thing, the OS did know what type of software it was, however once plugged in you can only use the pretty shoody Windows 8 application to sync you device, and with no windowed version of the app, you simply have to watch it whilst it transfers your content.
The apps themselves however look great and are extremely easy to use, the music player has to be my favorite out of the bunch, with screen filling cover flows and that easy to navigate letter system, it works perfectly.
Videos however are a little different, you have to load each one on manually as they cannot be streamed, and to be frank I’m not a real fan of the interface Microsoft used for the video player.
However Beats Audio must be its saving grace, right? Well not really, it’s all well and good that the phone optimises your music for better should, however it will not do so for the speakers and the phones doesn’t even include a pair of Beats headphones as standard, leaving you to use the uncomfortable HTC ones.
Alongside which, there’s no FM radio on-board or a standard YouTube/ video streaming application that comes with the phone.
Photos you take from the phones two cameras will be stored with a separate app which will then be sorted by artist or by the album. To go with the basic app, HTC has include their own Photo Enhancer application, which is trying to compete with Instagram, but it doesn’t leave you forgetting about the service.
I really enjoyed a lot of the applications available on the Windows phone Store, and was happy to findd that a lot of them would integrate perfectly with the OS itself, allowing for background task such as downloading new content on the RSS reader, Weave or even displaying alarms with 67am.
Live tiles also work perfectly, one of my favorites is the one for this application called “tile livescore” which will live update the tile with match information from your favorite team.
However there’s a lot of rubbish to sift through on the phone too, and most of the choice available doesn’t contain applications I could see myself using on a daily basis, with other store’s such as the Google Play Store and the iOS App Store supplying much more content, the Windows Pone Store has a lot of catching up to do.
Windows Phone 8 Screens:
Overall I really liked the Windows Phone 8X, it’s smart, looks great, feels great and is unbelievably slim, and the phone itself includes some of HTC’s best work ever, however there are a few things with the design I did not like, for example the buttons, which I found to be poorly placed and have been sunken to fair into the frame.
However my biggest issues, isn’t HTC’s fault as it lies with the Windows Phone 8 operating system, which I found to be hard to use, clunky and extremely outdated in some areas, however in others it impresses with things like live tiles and probably the best looking mobile OS available to date.
However the apps available don’t feel quite there yet, a lot of the free ones are pretty rubbish if I’m honest, and the paid ones just don’t feel worth it, with the except of some of the game titles like Final Fantasy. I found the camera to be okay but nowhere near the quality of some other high-priced smartphones on the market, however I do like how apps where integrated with the overall system.
The Windows Phone 8X by HTC is available from many stores for many different prices, as an example Vodafone are currently selling the device on contract for free on a £33 a month contract lasting 24 months and granting unlimited calls and texts alongside 1GB of data, you can find out more about that here.
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Disclosure: Vodafone sent us the HTC Windows Phone 8X for the purposes of this review.