Review: HTC Windows Phone 8S – Simply Authentic

When everyone started to think that Nokia is Microsoft’s only darling in Windows Phone 8 game, HTC came up with the Windows Phone handsets of their own.  HTC has been Microsoft’s partner for years since Windows Mobile days. Just to highlight their partnership Microsoft even dared called HTC Windows Phone handsets as the ones offering ‘signature’ experience (Nokia calls its Lumias ‘original Windows Phones’…hmm). Nokia is certainly the biggest supporter of Windows Phone but HTC takes more advantage of the branding by including ‘Windows Phone’ in the handsets’ name itself.

The Windows Phone 8S or just 8S is the cheapest device yet in the Indian market retailing around Rs.19,000. So some trade offs are just about necessary. Let’s see if the including the ‘Windows Phone’ in the name is worth it. We will take you through what 8S offers and where it lags.

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Design:

What we first like about the HTC phones is their design. They are one of the best phone designers out there. The HTC phones in all segments have a classy design that lives up to the tradition HTC has set for itself and we can surely say that 8S is not an exception. The 8S features almost unibody construction for better build quality. The only thing that is separable is the small bottom cover at the back which reveals microSIM card and microSD card slots. HTC has produced the handset in various colors which just stand apart from the competition. Our favorite is black & white combo  (featured above) which coupled with ‘high-contrast’ theme of Windows Phone looks stunning than anything. The 8S makes people go “Wow” just by its design. 8 out of 10 people were amazed by its designs and looks. But hey, everything comes with its own set on cons.

The back of the HTC 8S has matte finish but it helps very little to give you good grip on the phone. Rather it feels just too slippery. Phone is already too slim and the slippery back makes it even tough. Instead of polishing the back to the infinity, HTC could keep it little rough for us. Another drawback is the detachable back cover. It’s so tiny that if you follow HTC’s instruction to remove it, you’ll either never be able to remove it or you might just break your display. A tip for you, insert your nails or something similar between the cover and the main body from sides and it comes off quickly.

HTC 8S features a 4 inch S-LCD2 display with Gorilla Glass. Above the display you’ll find a finely crafted earpiece grill which also hosts multicolor LED inside. The two sensors, proximity and ambient light sensor sit beside each other but you need eagle eyes to spot them. Below the display there’s a usual set of Windows Phone buttons but in a bezel of the color same as that of phone’s which gives dual tone look since the display is inside black bezel. In our case it was blue. If you’re coming from Windows Phone 7, you’ll notice that the ‘Windows’ or home button now has a different icon; the new Windows Phone logo. The buttons are adequately lit. We didn’t forget the front camera but it’s just not there on HTC 8S but unless you’re obsessed with self portraits or do video calling you won’t miss it.

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On the back there’s a 5MP camera with single LED flash. And then there is a big ‘HTC’ logo and ‘Beats Audio’ logo since 8S uses Beats Audio chip. Windows Phone 8X and 8S are the first to use Beats Audio. Just below the ‘Beats’ logo there’s loudspeaker of 8S.

The top of the phone hosts 3.5mm audio jack and the power/unlock button. We are not the fans of the phone with power buttons on the top, but on the 8S its placement didn’t feel uncomfortable. On the right side there’s a volume rocker and dedicated shutter key while the left side is completely bare. The microUSB port is on the bottom which is according to new chassis guidelines from Microsoft. You’ll find it at the same position across all WP8 devices.

Hardware, Performance and Battery life:

The 8S has 1GHz dual core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro chipset with 512 MB of RAM and Adreno 305 GPU. That’s little less than it’s elder brother 8X but it’s not underpowered as well. In real life usage it didn’t show any sign of sluggishness. It’s as responsive as it should be. It carries off every task you throw at it. The credit also goes to Microsoft which has kept Windows Phone 8 clean and optimized for the hardware it runs on. Microsoft doesn’t allow any OEM customization to the interface which is another thing that keeps WP8 bloat free.

The 8S has 4GB of internal memory and has microSD slot as well for memory expansion. Well there is nothing to get excited about it. WP8 doesn’t allow to use memory card for installing apps, only multimedia files like photos and songs are stored there. After clean start WP8 itself takes up around 2.25 GB of space out of 4GB which leaves very little space for the user. Install couple of big games and it’s all over. It’s just like Nokia’s Lumia 510 which comes with 4GB of memory. It’s only up to Microsoft to allow memory card to be used to store apps.

The battery life on HTC 8S was just excellent. The 1700 mAh battery has enough juice. Our usage pattern was, push mail enabled on three accounts, WhatsApp running in the background, SNS services, phone connected to the data network or Wi-Fi for at least 18 hours a day and it returned impressive 24 hours of battery life before giving up. But if you’re a gamer or listen to music, then battery would live for just 8-10 hrs too.

Camera:

Camera UI is very simple, just like the one on WP7. Even for the newcomer, there’s nothing to learn. The interesting thing we noted is that all the Windows Phone handsets from various OEM (here HTC and Nokia) different camera settings. For an instance, HTC 8S lets you select particular resolution whereas Lumia 820 doesn’t. On Lumia 820 you can choose scenes like close-up, night but such setting is not present on HTC 8S. And we always thought Microsoft controls the software part completely. Anyways, the UI has plenty of settings like color saturation, white balance, exposure, sharpness etc. You can even apply various effects to the images directly from view finder. The only weird thing we noticed about the camera UI is the ‘zooming’ mechanism. It doesn’t use volume rocker or on-screen zoom buttons for the purpose. Rather it takes ‘pinch to zoom’ approach. It’s really annoying to zoom-in this way, especially in videos.

The HTC 8S features a 5 MP AF camera. Honestly speaking, HTC wasn’t a star in camera department but the camera on 8S surprisingly produced images of good quality. Better than what we have come to expect from HTC. The amount of resolved details is what you would expect from a 5 mega pixel shooter. The color reproduction is perfect, not over saturated in any case. It didn’t have issues with achieving good white balance either. This time we really don’t have any complains for the still photography section.

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But it’s not all merry in the video recording. HTC 8S did have its problems here. Videos produced by it have merely acceptable quality even in 720p. The other problem was the continuous auto-focus. It’d hard time getting focus on the object, it was not aggressive though. If your videos doesn’t involve lots of action (just some people dancing to the slow tune) then HTC 8S will do its job. HTC 8S can record videos in 720p resolution, maximum.
HTC Windows Phone 8S video sample:

Apps and Productivity:

HTC doesn’t have the freedom to customize the Windows Phone like Nokia. Nor does it try to fill the gap by providing additional apps in the app store. We have seen HTC taking immense efforts for their Android handsets but their approach towards Windows Phone has been kind of neutral from the beginning. We’re expecting to HTC to surprise whenthey call their phones “signature phones”. Still there are some neat additions. HTC 8S includes an Sense like weather app which provides weather information (on lockcreen too) and an excellent ‘time’ live tile which we miss even on Lumia phones. The ‘Photo Enhancer’ app has also been ported from WP7. And lastly the ‘Attentive Phone’ (found in settings) which lets you control phone’s ringer behavior like flip to mute etc. Windows Store (Marketplace earlier) is now being filled up with new useful apps everyday. And since Windows Phone 8 shares the same core with Windows 8, it has become easy for developers to port their apps for WP8. Thankfully, Office Mobile which comes as a standard package with Windows Phone 8 boasts the productivity.

Conclusion:

If you’re looking for first time Windows Phone 8 experience with the most complete package that also fits your budget we would certainly recommend you HTC 8S. For the design that stands out, the adequately powerful hardware make it worthy. Plus the price tag isn’t bad either. It leaves nothing very little to complain about.

In its segment the only other Windows Phone 8 handset would be Lumia 620, where it’s available. If we’re to recommend any Android device in the same category then that would be HTC’s own Desire SV which we recently reviewed. We honestly don’t have any other alternatives to tell you this time which offer this good ‘value for money’.