Taiwanese phone-maker HTC today took the wraps off what it purports to be ‘the face of Windows Phone 8’ in the form of two gorgeous Microsoft-powered smartphones, the 8X and 8S.
Apparently the result of an internal mandate to design devices inspired by the Windows Phone operating system and the challenge of making the iconic Live Tiles into as close to a physical, tangible product as possible, the 8X and 8S (or the Windows Phone 8X and Window Phone 8S by HTC, to give them their full names) certainly exude a sense of fun and breathe fresh air into HTC’s line up.
Designed by HTC’s lauded design agency One & Co, the 8X and 8S attempt to differentiate themselves with colourful hues, a strong visual identity, and a nice line in hardware specs to boot.
The flagship Windows Phone 8 device from HTC is a looker in anyone’s books. It’s certainly an impressive size and exhibits the keen attention to aesthetic detail the manufacturer has become known for.
Boasting an expansive, vivid 4.3-inch 1280 x 720 super LCD display (with Corning’s now-famed Gorilla Glass, naturally), a 1.5GHz dual-core processor and 16GB of on-board storage, it would be easy to dismiss the 8X as merely ticking all the boxes for a current-generation smartphone.
However, the attractive tapered frame - delicately crafted from anodized aluminium - as well as an 8-megapixel autofocus camera and built-in amplifiers with Beats Audio support set the 8X apart from the pack when it comes to hardware.
The selection of striking colourways for European editions of the 8X - California Blue, Limelight Yellow and Graphite Black are promised for Europe – was a little more muted than expected, especially given that the Lumia range from Nokia is promising an equally vibrant set of Windows Phone 8 devices in October.
In the flesh, the 8X is a solid handset, the 10.1mm thinness accentuated by the design and a matte finish that lends it a sense of confident build quality.
Whilst we weren’t able to tinker with the Windows Phone 8 innards as much as we’d like, a nice – if subtle – touch, is that the device matches the theme to the colour chosen out of the box.
It is these details and accents to an HTC phone that so strongly emphasise their focus on the overall experience for the user, something which is effectively conveyed in the 8X.
In the audio stakes, whilst the 8X won’t be supplied with Beats By Dr. Dre headphones upon purchase, the software side tweaks are still present and correct, revealing themselves as soon as an audio-outputting device is connected to the phone.
The reassurance of ‘authentic sound’ and dedicated audio amplifiers with a higher voltage output that offset pesky distortion issues at higher volumes are welcome, but the absence of any official cans is sorely felt from HTC’s new WP8 poster child.
The HTC 8X holds its own in the snapper stakes, an 8-megapixel 28mm lens is supported by an LED flash, physical camera key, an f/2.0 aperture as well as a BSI sensor to avoid capturing poor low-light images. And to help out less able snappers, the 8X also equipped with a dedicated HTC ImageChip, which apparently enables a quicker focus speed and clearer action shots.
A nice boost comes to the front-facing camera too, with fans of video calls or self-portraits able to enjoy a 2.1-megapixel effort with a wide angle lens and support for 1080p HD video recording, just like the effort on the rear. You’ll be glad to know that the ImageChip also does the business with the second camera, souping-up photos over here too.
Whilst the 8X won’t be riding on the 4G super-highway any time soon with only a UMTS model due for Europe, quad-band support compliments Bluetooth v2.1, Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n and NFC support in terms of connectivity.
As odd as it sounds, Windows Phone 8 is the least thrilling part of the 8X, HTC’s inability to customise, tweak and tinker leaves an altogether slightly over- familiar selection of Live Tiles to greet you on its crisp touchscreen.
That's not a downer by any means, but when you’ve witnessed some of the trickery HTC has managed to create on Windows Mobile and Android in the past, the restraint that the company is showing in the 8X is palpable.
With HTC’s Sense ethos confined to the addition of Beats Audio and improvements in imaging and their Hub present once again to deliver a portal to unique applications, you can’t help but feel the manufacturer is somewhat hamstrung by Microsoft’s insistence on uniformity in the operating system.
HTC certainly achieve what they set out to do in terms of creating a smartphone that appeals to the eye and to the touch with the 8X, perhaps inviting those unfamiliar with the unique language of Windows Phone to try it, engage with it, and most importantly have fun with a robust, slick device.
The HTC 8S’smaller 4-inch display is WVGA as opposed to the 8X’s Super LCD screen. The processor is indeed down to a dual-core 1GHz affair and the internal memory has been quartered to 4GB (but is upgradable via microSD, unlike the 8X). Meanwhile, the front-facing camera is gone and the rear-facing effort is now sporting a 5-megapixel lens, shorn of all that ImageChip goodness.
But with those gripes out of the way, the HTC 8S still has one thing going for it: it looks fantastic.
A more affordable Windows Phone 8 entrant, HTC’s 8S definitely lends a heightened sense of fun to proceedings, the gorgeous two-tone design immediately carving the handset a niche amongst fashionistas and the anti-slab brigade alike.
The unique, slender frame evokes memorable HTC handset designs past like the Hero, Legend and HD Mini, with Black-on-White, Red-on-Blue and Grey-on-Yellow colour clashes looking incredibly attractive, cool and certain to turn heads at the right price point.
It pares back on the right features to make it more of a mid-level offering, meaning the Windows Phone 8 experience loses little of its snappiness on the 8S’ leaner processor.
The Beats Audio support may have also lost its dedicated amplifiers in the 8S, but will make more than enough noise in public with some incredibly bold, eye-catching looks.
A smaller, lighter frame makes for a more pocketable (or purseable) device in the HTC 8S, and is sure to go head-to-head with the Nokia Lumia 820 in the ‘cheaper-but-still-cool’ Windows Phone 8 stakes.
According to HTC themselves, Microsoft feel the same way, with the 8X and 8S both receiving a great reception from Redmond, so much so that they will be the faces of Windows Phone 8 in a joint marketing campaign later in the year.
With reassurance that HTC’s dynamic duo will receive ‘prominent placement’ in building awareness for Microsoft’s latest mobile effort, it will be an interesting battle for supremacy between the 8X and 8S with a blessing from on-high (they have Windows Phone 8 right in the name) against a pair of powerful phones from Nokia attempting to convince floating fans to make the switch to Lumia.
Either way, the 8X and 8S are said be landing within days of the launch of Windows Phone 8 in late October, and are due to bring a splash of colour - and a bit of punch - to the smartphone battle.
At the right price and with the right levels of support from networks, these two could well bring the much-needed ‘wow’ factor to Windows Phone this winter.