This handset has a 4.3" Super LCD 2 screen with 1280 x 720 pixels, a 1.5 GHz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon processor, 1 GB of RAM and a 16 GB internal memory. Note, however, that there's no microSD card slot for boosting the phone's internal memory. The rear-facing camera has an 8-Megapixel backlit sensor and there's a 2-Megapixel front-facing camera for video chat. The 8X has two connection ports: a micro-USB port for data transfer and charging, plus a 3.5 mm headphones jack. Connectivity options include Wi-Fi a/b/g/n, Bluetooth 3.1 and NFC for contactless payment and file sharing. This HTC phone also comes loaded with Beats Audio technology.
The 8X runs the Windows Phone 8 operating system, which brings plenty of new features, including a homescreen with an ultra-customisable tile-based layout and a handy kid's mode.
The HTC 8X is due to launch at around £400 and will be available in blue, black, yellow or red.
DESIGN & HANDLING
At first glance, the 8X is an imposing little brick of a phone, but doesn't go overkill. In fact, its 10 mm thickness is just about right, making the HTC 8X a very nice phone to hold and handle. The rubbery, easy-grip finish on the back, twinned with the soft, smooth front make the 8X feel like a very well-finished product.
There really aren't any major issues to report with the build and finish. That said, we do think that the physical buttons could have been positioned more effectively. Plus, the ON/OFF button would have been more practical if it stuck out a bit from the phone's casing.
This handset is light and really isn't too bulky for a 4.3" smartphone. It slips easily into a pocket and doesn't weigh you down.
And while it may have been all-too easy to assume that the HTC 8X looked similar to Nokia's Lumia 920, once you get your hands on this mobile, you soon realise that all they really have in common is their flashily coloured casings.
HTC doesn't go in for AMOLED technology much, instead choosing to take Super LCD a step further with a second-gen version in the 8X. Contrast is good, at 812:1, which is up there with the best in the current smartphone market (excluding AMOLED-based mobiles with infinite contrast, of course). Above all, it's the best result we've seen in a HTC smartphone, along with the Titan, another Windows Phone mobile. This very nice contrast ratio goes hand in hand with the high screen brightness, with a maximum backlight level at 364 cd/m². That's not the highest brightness we've ever seen in a phone, but it's good enough to keep the display easy to read outdoors, especially since the background of the OS can be switched from black to white quickly and easily when you need to improve visibility (see below).
HTC has clearly taken care with colour fidelity in this phone. And that's good news, as with even more tiles now making up the Windows Phone 8 homescreen, it would have been pretty annoying to have them glowing phosphorescent. More precisely, the 8X screen has an average Delta E of 4.3. Delta E measures the difference between "perfect" colours and those displayed onscreen. With an average Delta E under 3, onscreen colours can be considered accurate. So although there's clearly still some room for improvement, the 8X doesn't do a bad job. But what is quite unusual in this mobile is that we measured a Delta E of around 3 to 5 for each of the individual colours, keeping things nice and consistent.
Add to that a colour temperature that stays pretty even over the whole spectrum—working out at an almost perfect 6496 K—and you get a screen that's clearly not revolutionary, but which gives some of the most neutral results in the mobile device world right now.
We measured the ghosting time at 22 ms, which is around average for this kind of product. This does occasionally have a visible impact—like with Windows Phone 7, some ghost trails are visible onscreen when scrolling in the OS. Still, it's nothing too serious. Note too that the screen's very high 341 dpi resolution makes it one of the most pixel-dense mobile screens out there at the moment. The OS looks clear and crisp and the tiles are razor-sharp.
The only slight downside of the screen is that the image starts to look yellow and contrast drops when viewing the 8X from a three-quarters angle from the top left corner or the bottom right corner. In other words, from angles very rarely used with this kind of product. From all other angles and directions, onscreen image quality remains consistent. Ultimately, then, it's not such a big deal.
INTERFACE & NAVIGATION
The new edition of the Windows Phone OS brings a whole load of new features, including an entirely customisable interface with Microsoft's Live Tiles for real-time info on your homescreen. There's also a handy kid's mode accessible via the homescreen, giving little ones their own session on your phone with access to a pre-selected range of apps and content. A new Rooms feature has appeared in the People Hub so you can group contacts to send joint messages, share calendars and more. Plus, there's a Wallet hub (that's a bit like Apple's Passbook) for organising boarding cards, tickets and other services, and to which a bank card can be linked for NFC payment. Finally, accessibility has been boosted for partially sighted users thanks to a choice of text sizes, a screen magnification function, a high-contrast mode and a screen-reading function. A Wireless Loopset is available as an optional extra for wearers of hearing aids.
Windows Phone 8 has the same basic strengths as Windows Phone 7, with the Office software suite directly integrated, a direct link to a SkyDrive account with 7 GB of free online storage, and OneNote for a quick and easy way to take and arrange notes (with text, photos, web-clippings and more).
On top of that lot, HTC has added its own range of extra apps to the 8X, as with the firm's Windows Phone 7 handsets. In fact, not much has changed here. There's a HTC hub in the Windows Phone MarketPlace from which you can download a few utilities, a HTC app linking weather data, stock market updates and the latest news, as well as a photo editing app that basically uses a set of filters (like Instagram but not as good).
In terms of performance, the Snapdragon processor used in the 8X raises the bar for pure processing power in the mobile phone market. Raw data from our benchmark tests places the 8X above the iPhone 5 and the Galaxy S3 on CPU power. Graphics and 3D processing are a bit less impressive, however, as the 8X is more or less in line with its rivals. Nevertheless, this power makes Windows Phone 8 run ultra-smoothly. There's no latency, no hangs, and the 8X gets everything done with the kind of speed you rarely see in a smartphone.
Windows Phone 8 no doubt contributes to this fluidity—the previous generation of this OS had already been smartly optimised for sleek operation on most handsets, even though Windows Phone 7 mobiles weren't the highest-spec models around. So there's little chance of Windows Phone 8 proving a disappointing experience with a handset like this. Note too that multitasking has been extended to allow two extra apps to run. All in all, you can now have seven tasks open and running at the same time. There's still no way of keeping two things running on the same screen—like having a video open in one corner while typing out an SMS—as you can in the Samsung Galaxy S3 or Galaxy Note 2. Then again, each app you've got running in the background bursts back into life at lightning speed.
But Windows Phone 8 isn't perfect. Some star apps, like Instagram, for example, are still not available on this platform. That may seem like a relatively minor niggle—then again, the app currently has over 100 million users. Other notable absentees are Google+ and DropBox (although you do get SkyDrive).
Another blip is that the landscape-mode keyboard is still hemmed in by chunky black bands down either side of the keys, which is irritating when there's such a big screen to put to use. That said, we still think that the Windows Phone keyboard is currently the best onscreen keyboard in the mobile phone market. It's simple, intuitive and intelligent.
NOTE: Mac users beware—the Windows Phone Connector app for transferring content and managing your smartphone via an Apple computer isn't yet compatible with Windows Phone 8 handsets. An update is due out very soon to correct this.
Web browsing is catered for by Internet Explorer 9 in Windows Phone mobiles. While this proved a little chaotic when version 7 of Windows Phone launched, IE has been progressively updated to become a reliable browser that performs well. Web browsing is fast and display quality in 1280 x 720 pixels is impeccable. Since WP7.5, and the navigation bar being moved to the bottom of the page, the whole experience has become sleeker and more user-friendly. Tabs are managed just as well, too.
The meida player is pretty comprehensive too. This ensures good file support (video: 3gp, 3g2, mp4, m4v, asf, wmv / music: AAC, amr, m4a, MP3, WAV, ASF, WMA) and can be loaded with content via a USB cable. You can also add an Xbox Music account, which is pretty similar to Spotify. The SmartGlass companion app for the Xbox 360 is on hand too, so the phone can be used as a second screen or a remote controller for the console. Finally, there aren't as many games on offer here as for iOS, but it's nice to be able to test all the paid-for games before you buy.
It's a shame that Microsoft still can't bag itself any big exclusive games, bringing hit PC titles to the mobile gaming world. The arrival of Windows 8 should hopefully make things easier for developers.
HTC's phones still come with Beats Audio technology, and this model finally seems to be loaded with a decent headphones out socket. By keeping distortion in check and proposing a genuine "loudness mode"— that's supposed to correct amplification issues at the highest and lowest ends of the spectrum—the Beats Audio system actually works well. Note, however, that Beats Audio enhancement can be switched off if required with no real negative impact on audio output quality.
Test shots from the camera came out sharp and clear with very low levels of noise. Plus, the sensor proved able to capture a very high level of detail in our test scenes. The 8X camera actually gives very similar results to the HTC One X in still photos.
As with other HTC phones, image processing software is on hand to reinforce contours, lines and the edges of objects. Here, this effect seems to be pretty heavy. On some of our test shots, the contour lines on the map seemed to really stand out—sometimes too much, creating a false impression of depth. With very densely detailed scenes this can be problematic, as the image processing goes a bit overboard.
The colours are pretty natural. In fact, they're some of the least artificial-looking colours we've seen from an 8-Megapixel cameraphone. In low light, the 8X does a decent job, again keeping noise to a minimum. There is, however, a slight red overtone lurking in the background.
Unfortunately, the LED flash overexposes shots, as is all too often the case. You'll therefore need to stay at a reasonable distance from your subject when using the flash.
The 8X records 1080p video but we wouldn't exactly describe it as smooth. This smartphone will be fine for capturing unmissable moments when you're out and about or the occasional clip for posting online, but don't expect to shoot high-quality video with the 8X. The sharpness and contrast can be improved, but this video mode just isn't very good at handling movement, whether fast or slow.
In the end, the HTC 8X has a decent camera for still shots. In fact, it's up there with the best 8-Megapixel cameraphones on the market.
The HTC 8X has a 1800 mAh battery, which is decent enough for an OS that's not too power-hungry in itself—notably thanks to its data-driven Live Tiles. In the end, battery life is perfectly satisfactory and the handset can hold out for a day with regular use of its various features.