This fairly compact phone has a 4" Super LCD screen (as often seen in HTC handsets) with 800 x 480 pixels. The 8S runs on a 1 GHz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon processor and 512 MB of RAM. You only get 4 GB of built-in storage (with just over 2 GB of available memory) but a microSD card slot is on hand for boosting capacity by up to 32 GB.
The 8S has a micro-USB port for charging and for data transfer, and, as with most HTC handsets, Beats Audio technology is onboard for enhanced audio. Note that there's no front-facing webcam but you do get a rear-facing 5-Megapixel photo and video camera with LED flash.
The HTC 8S is on sale now for around £240 SIM-free and is available in a selection of colour combinations: grey/yellow (tested here), grey/blue, black/white and blue/red.
DESIGN & HANDLING
In spite of its 4" screen, the HTC 8S is a compact and very light phone. In fact, it's a much nicer mobile to handle than the Nokia Lumia 820, which has a slightly squarer, boxier feel.
Although the rear casing is made entirely from plastic, the finish is exemplary. Plus, we very much like the fact that HTC has used a matte finish rather than a super-shiny casing (Nokia, take note!).
The 8S has a two-tone colour-scheme that you may or may not like. Most of the smartphone is finished in a subtle tone, while a brightly coloured stripe at the bottom of the handset adds a flash of colour that's mirrored with highlights around the speaker on the front of the phone and the camera on the back. This gives the 8S a touch of individuality that we rather like.
The micro-SIM and microSD cards fit into slots housed under the coloured band at the bottom of the phone (see above). The phone's buttons seem well-made and feel like they should stand the test of time.
There's no new screen technology on show here, as HTC has once again used the tried and tested Super LCD, as seen in several Android smartphones from 2011 and the first half of 2012. This 4" Super LCD screen has an impressively high contrast of 1215:1, making it one of the most contrasted phone screens out there right now (apart from AMOLED screens and their "infinite" contrast). And this eye-catching contrast is paired with a high screen brightness, as HTC has upped the phone's maximum brightness to just over 420 cd/m2. With the brightly coloured Windows Phone 8 interface, contrast and brightness of this calibre really pack a punch, ensuring you can see what's onscreen when using the phone indoors and outdoors.
Colour fidelity is on the better side of average for a smartphone, with an average Delta E of 5.6. Delta E measures the difference between "perfect" colours and those displayed onscreen—the closer it is to zero the more accurately onscreen colours are displayed. We measured the colour temperature at 5916 Kelvins, and this stays pretty even over the whole spectrum so there are no tinges or overtones to report. In the end, while the HTC 8S isn't amazingly accurate at handling colours, it still offers perfectly acceptable levels of onscreen image fidelity that should prove good enough for most users.
The ghosting time of 24 ms is a little higher than average in the 8X, but the biggest problem we found with this display was its tight viewing angles. In landscape mode, the screen contrast drops when you view the display at an angle from the left or right—especially from the left, in fact. The image isn't lost as badly as with TN displays, but the drop in contrast is enough to be noticeable (the onscreen image looks dark). That's all the more disappointing since this screen is otherwise perfectly decent.
INTERFACE & NAVIGATION
A round-up of all the main features of Microsoft's latest mobile operating system can be found in our article on Windows Phone 8.
Unlike Nokia, HTC has taken very few risks with its use of Windows Phone 8. It's a shame that you don't get certain applications or functions seen in the Nokias, like the offline GPS function or music streaming, but you do get a live info widget (weather, stocks, etc.) and a few other handy little extras (currency converter, clock, connection wizard, etc.).
In the end, the HTC 8X and 8S offer the same basic experience with Windows Phone 8. However, the difference in power and performance between the two handsets can really be felt. Whether coming out of standby, launching an application or starting a task, the 8S does everything more slowly than its higher-end counterpart. Don't get us wrong—the 8S isn't painfully slow or anything—it's just that the difference between the two handsets is noticeable. We also spotted a few trails of onscreen ghosting here and there when navigating around the Windows Phone 8 homescreen.
Ultimately, though, the 8S remains—like most other Windows Phone 8 handsets—a smooth, fluid smartphone that's practical to use and fast at carrying out tasks, in spite of its rather limited RAM.
Web browsing with Internet Explorer 10 is smooth and fast in spite of this handset's technical limitations compared with many other Windows Phone 8 mobiles. The screen's 800 x 480 pixels mean that the display isn't quite as sharply, finely detailed as the 8X, even though the screen is smaller. That said, the 8S screen is perfectly readable, and the highly precise and surprisingly smooth zoom function is a real boon. For web browsing, the 8S isn't 100% perfect, but it's more than acceptable.
Seeing as the media playback features in the 8S are exactly the same as in the HTC 8X, we recommend you take a look at the "Multimedia" section of our 8X review for more information. Basically, there are still a few limitations when it comes to audio/video/photo support on Windows Phone 8 handsets, but Microsoft has done a good job of loading its OS with multimedia options, offering a growing amount of music and video content, as well as games via Marketplace and Xbox Live.
The 5-Megapixel camera is one of the few genuinely disappointing features of the 8S. Photos come out looking too red, too fuzzy and too overexposed when shooting close-by subjects with the flash. In fact, quality here feels to have stepped back a good few months in the smartphone market. Photos only really seem usable if taken in excellent conditions with loads of light.
And it's a shame that HTC's camera is a let-down here, as the camera in the 8X is really quite good!
With its 1700 mAh battery, relatively low screen definition and a pretty power-efficient OS, the HTC 8S should have everything on its side in this part of our review. And, in practice, this handset does hold its own. With very heavy use you'll probably need to recharge at the end of the day, but more moderate use—with a bit of web browsing, a few e-mails and a bit of gaming—should see it hold out for a day and a half. The 8S outdoes the 8X on this front as it's not as power-hungry as the higher-end model. Note that the 8S takes less than three hours to charge fully via the micro USB cable.