Review: HTC Windows Phone 8X – Costly Signature

Introduction:

Nokia might be the Mircosoft’s darling in Windows Phone game but HTC has been their longest partner. Since the days of Windows Mobile, HTC has been actively standing by Microsoft’s side and was once the biggest OEM to use the Microsoft OS. Even when Windows Phone 7 debuted, HTC had the biggest portfolio of devices showing their trust in Microsoft’s new mobile OS. With Windows Phone 8, they seemed to have reduced their effort but they did produce two phones which they call “signature” phones. Plus, they are directly given the advantage to include the “Windows Phone” branding to name their phones.

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We recently reviewed Windows Phone 8S but Windows Phone 8X is the real flagship with top-end hardware. The task for 8X is to compete with Lumia’s and at the same time it’s own Android siblings and prove itself in the run. A sophisticated design, top-end hardware and hefty price tag really make it a “Signature” company wants it to be?

Design:

Like its younger sibling, HTC has used its designing talent for 8X; rather it is even better. Complete unibody construction, sculpted glass on front, matte finish back, tapered edges; that’s how you design your signature phones. We had a black unit which looked stunning. And those craving for colors, there more shades of 8X available like red, blue and yellow. It looks fantanstic in all those shades.
HTC 8X has 4.3″ S-LCD2  display which has 720p HD resolution. At this screen size 720p resolution results in pixel density of 342ppi which makes images very crisp. Contrary to this, Nokia’s Lumia 820 has just WVGA resolution resulting in lower ppi count and thus less sharp images. For the matter of fact, HTC 8X has slightly more ppi count than Lumia 920 as well. HTC 8X uses sculpted, Gorilla Glass 2 on the front which covers front from top to bottom, almost. At the top left corner, there’s a 2.1 MP front camera which also uses wide angle lens. First time on phones on we guess. Right in the middle of the screen there’s a big earpiece grill. It also covers the multicolor notification LED under it. Next to the earpiece grill there are proximity and ambient light sensors but they almost go invisible. Below the display you’ll find the usual set of Windows Phone buttons, all of them are touch sensitive. They are also adequately lit.

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Rest of the body of the HTC 8X uses matte finish which while feels and looks good also gives better grip on the phone unlike 8S whose back was polished too much resulting in not so good grip. On 8X its definitely better. HTC 8X has tapered edges which make the handset comfortable to use. On the right edge, from top to bottom, you’ll first see a microSIM slot, a  volume rocker and then a shutter key. Left edge has nothing on it. The audio jack and the power button are on the top edge of the phone. The power button can be easily reached without any inconvenience. microUSB port sits alone on the bottom edge.

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On the back sits the 8MP camera with a LED flash. The loudspeaker is situated near the bottom. There are lot of stamps and logos near the bottom which might turn off some of you. It did turned us off as well.

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Hardware, Performace and Battery:

HTC 8X is the company’s flagship device so obviously it has top end hardware. It uses Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 dual core processor clocked at 1.5GHz along with 1GB of RAM. We have seen the same hardware on Lumia 920 and Lumia 820 and since Windows Phone 8 itself is very polished OS, there’s no sluggishness or stuttering while using the. The only concern we’ve with this SoC is that it gets significantly hot after decent amount of usage. If you’re into using internet over 3G or Wi-Fi, no matter what, or lots of calling you’ll notice it immediately. We hope Qualcomm improves the thermal solution with next hardware revision.
We already told you about the display about of 8X. Another thing that is worth mentioning here is that, it has very wide viewing angles. No color degradation at all. Images look same as you would see while directly looking at the display.
HTC 8X comes with just 16GB of inbuilt memory and no option to increase it further by the means of microSD card. We wonder if at this price tag it would have costed HTC much to include higher storage, say 32GB or 64GB or a simple microSD card slot. We prefer more internal storage since Windows Phone 8 doesn’t allow storing apps on memory card.
8X comes with 1800 mAh battery and we have no issues with it. It would give us around 10-15 hrs. Well that’s less than what we got on two Lumia’s and 8S.

Camera:

The HTC 8X has 8MP AF camera with f/2.0 aperture making it a good photographer in the dark environments. Then there’s a LED flash light as well. The camera captures good photos but not remarkable for the 8 MP sensor. HTC cameraphones suffer from some traditional problem. HTC 8X again concentrates on aggressive noise reduction while compromising on the quality and details. Colors were off too. But if you compare it to previous HTC phones, it’s still better yet not significant improvement.

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Vidoes were compartiviely better. HTC 8X can record videos in FullHD (1080p) resolution. Last time when we reviewed HTC 8S, it disappointed us with its poor video quality but that is not the case with 8X. Videos preserve very good amount of details. The camera has agressive continuous auto-focus so camera tries to re-focus frequently. Still, FHD (1080p) videos produced with HTC 8X and sometimes dropped frames. Ironically, 720p videos turned out to be better. But since our unit was pre-production one we think it’s natural since actual device would have improved software.
HD 720p Video Sample:

FullHD 1080p Video Sample:

The front camera on HTC 8X is also noticeable. It uses wide angle lens and has 2.1 MP resolution. This basically means that you get better self portraits and can also cover wide area behind you. And since it also has same f/2.0 aperture as main camera, you can expect some good self portraits in low light conditions. The camera can also record videos 1080p FullHD resolution.
Camera has familiar Windows Phone interface. One thing to note here is that the settings available on Windows Phone handsets differ from one OEM to other. For example, settings that you get on Lumia’s are not present on HTC’s 8X or 8S.

Connectivity:

HTC 8X comes equipped with all forms of connectivity. It has GSM/3G network. For internet it relys on EDGE/3G or Wi-Fi (b/g/n). Windows Phone now even supports file sharing over bluetooth, it’s not straight forward though. Windows Phone does not enable the Bluetooth automatically when you want to send files, rahter you’ll need to go to settings and enable it before you can send the files. Still it’s better than not having sharing at all. In case you find doing this very complicated, 8X has NFC as well which should ease your job. Only requirement is that the other party should also have the support for NFC.
HTC 8X has both GPS and Glonass for positioning and navigation. Both did their jobs very well. 8X was quick to get the GPS lock.
The HTC 8X has excellent network reception. In our tests, we didn’t encounter any call drops or connection problems. Earpiece was loud and clear enough and microphone could transmit the voice without any background noise.
Multimedia:
HTC 8X is one of the first Windows Phone handsets from the company to get “Beats Audio” treatment. As a result HTC 8X comes with dedicated audio cheap and amplifier. The inbox headsets provide very good output. We just wish if the loudspeaker was little more loud actually. Watching videos on 8X is a pleasure since display has very good viewing angles and crisp image quality. And Beats Audio should increase your joy. HTC 8X lacks FM Radio but we’ve been hearing that future update of WP8 will bring it back and if it’s present on existing phones, then it’ll be simply enabled.

HTC Apps:

Compared to Anroid phones of the company, the possibility of the customization is very much limited on the Windows Phone. From end user’s perspective it’s good because they do not have to get used to new interface everytime they switch the devices. Yet, Microsoft allows OEMs to put their own apps on the phone. So far, only Nokia has been taking full benefit of it. HTC also pre-loads some apps on theirs but they are pretty simple apps which you can anyways download from Store or have similar alternatives. The only useful apps are the “HTC” app which gives you weather information and a cool time tile.  The other app is HTC’s “Photo Enhancer” app which gives you the ability to touch up your photos on the device itself and also allows you to aply filters to your images. We plead HTC to provide more custom apps on their phones to make them competitive. For instance, company provide good suite of apps containing a SatNav app on its Android phones. Compared to that, Windows Phone handsets come in pretty much vanilla flavor.

Conclusion:

HTC Windows Phone 8X as HTC and Microsoft jointly called it has the potential to be a signature device. But it needs more attention from the company. In almost all areas HTC has nailed it, especially design and audio. But company also needs to understand the importance of apps. Well, they do actually but it’s their reluctance towards the Windows Phone. Another thing is that such a gorgeous device is crippled by just 16GB of inbuilt memory and no option for expansion. It should have either bigger storage or an option for extension.
As far as the comparison is concerned, it can comete with Nokia Lumia 820. Lumia 920 is out of its reach anyways. Yet, Lumia 820 has qualities to trump 8X anyday with excellent suite of apps from Nokia and extendable storage.
Its value for money quotient isn’t impressive as well. For the price, Rs.33,500, that goes near that of Lumia 920 and way more than Lumia 820, 8X hardly has handful of features to call its own.
Now come out of Windows Phone and you shall see the high-end Android prediators around. HTC’s own OneX+ got a hefty price drop recently; the 64GB retails for around Rs.29,500. It is better than 8X in every aspect. Want more choices? There’s Samsung Galaxy S3 waiting for you. Then there’s LG Optimus G as well for around the same price as 8X.
HTC Windows Phone 8X is seriously a good device but the companies negligence stops us from recommending it. Most of the things are just within the reach of a software update. And another thing is pricing. If HTC brings a 32GB/64GB variant with good homebrew apps and aggressive pricing then we might take our words back. We hope they do get it right.