htc 8x review 26 640x359The HTC 8X is probably the most readily available Windows Phone 8 smartphone in the USA, and so far, it did not seem to suffer from any shortage. This smartphone is available on the T-Mobile, AT&T and Verizon networks in various colors: Red, Yellow, Blue and Black. These are the Windows Theme colors and so far, the public seems to be excited by the idea of getting a brightly colored handset.

On the market, The HTC 8X main competitor is the Nokia Lumia 920, which is similarly priced at AT&T. If you absolutely want to be on T-Mobile or Verizon, then the fight falls back to the lower-end Nokia 8xx models as the 920 is an AT&T exclusive for the time being.

The HTC 8X’s main advantage over the Nokia Lumia 920 is the slightly smaller size (if you like that) and the much lighter weight, which is for many (but not all) an undeniable advantage that cannot be ignored. However, the Lumia 920 has great advantages of its own, including the low-light camera and exclusive Nokia software. Which one is best for you?

Technical highlights

iPhone 5 Galaxy S3 (U.S) Lumia 900 Lumia 920 HTC 8X
OS iOS6 A4.0 WP7 WP8 WP8
Display Size “ 4 4.8 4.3 4.5 4.3
Display Resolution 1366×640 1280×720 800×480 1280×768 1280×720
Display Type IPS AMOLED AMOLED IPS Super LCD 2
Main chip Apple A6 Snapdragon S4 Snapdragon APQ8055 Snapdragon S4 Snapdragon S4
Battery capacity 1430mAh 2100mAh 1830mAh 2000mAh 1800 mAh
Micro SD No Yes No No no
Back Camera (MP) 8 8 8 8.7 8
Front Camera (MP) 1.2 1.9 1 1.3 2.1
Internal Storage (GB) 16,32,64 16,32,64 16 32 16
Weight (oz) 3.95 4.69 5.6 6.52 4.58
Width 2.31 2.51 2.7 2.78 2.606299
Height 0.3 0.34 0.47 0.4 0.3984
Length 4.87 5.47 5 5.1 5.21

Context

We all use smartphones differently, so it’s important that I tell you what I do with my smartphone(s): I typically check email often with the built-in email app (via Microsoft Exchange), and reply moderately because typing on the virtual keyboard is tedious. I browse the web several times a day to check on news sites, but rarely watch movies or play music. I don’t call much – maybe 10mn a day, if at all.

On the “apps” side, I have a couple of social networks (FB, G+), a receipts manager (not available on WP8) and random apps (<20), but I rarely play games or do something super-intensive like video editing. This usage pattern will affect battery life and the perception of what features are useful. Now you know where I’m coming from…

Industrial design

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Obviously, this is a matter of personal preferences, but for those who will order this smartphone based on what they’ve seen online, I’m going to provide my best shot at covering the important design points.

The HTC 8X uses the same polycarbonate material which was used for the HTC One Series.The texture is a bit different and features a matte, soft, surface that seems particularly resistant to scratches and most likely drops (we haven’t tried trashing our HTC 8X unit).

 

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I love how light the phone feels

The HTC 8X feels good in the hand and although some users may find the edges to be a bit too thin/pointy, I have to say that the light weight does bring added-value as far as I’m concerned. This phone feels much lighter than the Lumia 920. If that’s important to you, then this is an edge against which the Lumia 920 is pretty much defenseless.

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the HTC 8X “feels” much thinner than it actually is

The front of the phone is mostly black (screen/glass) with a very visible colored bezel (+speaker grill). The colors have been chosen to match the overall “Windows” color scheme, and normally, there should be enough choice to make most folks happy. HTC has placed an LED light behind the speaker grill, which is very discreet when it is OFF, but very visible when it’s ON. There is no branding whatsoever in the front, which is nice and clean.

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Sometime, less is more. We don’t really need the camera button

On the sides, you can find the Power control, Volume controls, Camera button, a microUSB connector and the classic 3.5mm audio jack. I find that the Volume controls work well, especially for right-handed folks, while the Power control is way too recessed for my taste. I use this button dozens of times a day, and I want it to be quick and easy.

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The soft touch is terrific, but we could also do with less logos…

I love the soft touch surface of the back, but visually, I think that there is a bit too much branding, and I would point my finger towards the Beats and AT&T logos, which makes the back look unbalanced and less clean. I’ll let you form your own opinion based on the photos. Let me know what you think in the comments.

Overall, I think that the design of this handset is good, but does not scream “high-end”. Check our photo gallery below and decide for yourself. I’ve did my best to snap photos that present the HTC 8X under its best light.

Display

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The 4.3” Super LCD 2 touch screen has a 1280×720 resolution, and produces accurate colors that could be compared to the IPS display of the Lumia 920 and other IPS displays on the market. The brightness is also very good and should be sufficient in most situations.

The only weak spot of the HTC 8X Super LCD 2 display is the black levels which are always a bit more “gray” when compared to the Lumia 920 IPS display. The more you crank the brightness and the more obvious the difference is. Both displays would lose out to an AMOLED display (typically used in Samsung phones) when it comes to black levels, but in relative terms, the Lumia 920 has an edge here. On the other hand, AMOLED displays have less realistic colors.

Killer apps

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Virtual keyboard: Ironically, despite having hundreds of thousands of apps at their disposal, most users still refer to text-based communication as being the “critical” application for them. That’s why you must not underestimate the importance of a virtual keyboard. The more productive you want to be, and the more likely this element may get in the way.

As we’ve said in the past, the Windows Phone keyboard is extremely responsive, and it is very good at guessing which key you are trying to type on, which reduces the error rate. The built-in word suggestions are also fairly good, and can accelerate typing even further. The HTC 8X’s display is not very big (4.3”), but I found the keyboard to be very good, even if I would prefer using it on a larger screen.

Still, depending on your own habits, you may be able to find even more productive keyboards. For instance the Galaxy Note 2’s virtual keyboard is not as responsive, but it has an additional row with the numeric characters, supports press and hold special character access, and the word suggestions supports many simultaneous languages.

We really LOVE the responsiveness of the Windows Phone 8 keyboard, but we think that Microsoft should make word suggestions appear faster (near 1 second lag right now), and add support for multiple dictionaries/language for multilingual users.

Voice dictation: Windows Phone 8 has a voice dictation feature in case you don’t want to type. It works reasonably well, and we felt that results are close to what can be obtained on the iPhone’s dictation. Google’s Android 4.1+ remain the king of the hill for this feature. Not only the voice recognition is noticeably better, but it is also available offline, which makes the dictation fast enough for near real time voice to text. We hope that Microsoft will push this further.

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Email: The email experience is excellent. The overall readability of Windows Phone 8 is amazing, and you should find that in every Windows Phone. However, the HTC 8X’s 720p display makes the text look much better than on previous 800×480 Windows Phones.

In terms of productivity, the overall responsiveness lends itself to doing more things, like flagging a bunch of emails for move/deletion, or flag email for later read. Surprisingly, the Email Search is very fast (this can be a major frustration point on other smartphone OSes…). We always search for an address in an invite when getting into a cab, so waiting for a search can be painful. Finally, the ability to quickly switch from different email filtered views (Unread, Flagged and Urgent) is awesome. We typically don’t use this feature much on other platforms, but in Windows Phone 8, it rocks.

Calendar (very good): Calendar applications in mobile devices are usually not very appealing except for Windows Phone. The calendar is easy to read, thanks to the large fonts used for titles and event descriptions, compared to other applications. Additionally, the beautifully designed layout makes the experience visually enjoyable. We particularly appreciate the “I’m late” icon that allows to send an email in one click when you are running late to a meeting.

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Background photos can be pulled from Facebook

Facebook (very good – a bit slow): The Facebook integration in the People Hub is particularly well done, you can follow the latest news in your feed and post your status directly from there, without the need to download the free Facebook application. From the People Hub, you can invite people in “your room” via SMS or create groups.

The Facebook application is well designed, but you need to get used to the “Metro” navigation system inside the app. Unlike in other operating systems’ apps, there is no icon at the top left, accessible from most screens in the app, to go back to the main menu where you find the top sections: News Feed , Profile, Friends, Messages, Places, Groups, Events, Photos, Chat…

The only think that I dislike about the Facebook experience is the performance: the Facebook app is much faster on the iPhone 5, and I have the general feeling that the Windows Phone 8 version is slower than the Android version…

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Maps: all Windows Phone 8 handsets will come with a robust mapping service that allows map browsing, basic directions and more importantly: maps stored on the device. This means that you don’t need to use wireless data to access your maps, which is great when traveling to areas where reception is sparse, or down. International travelers will appreciate this as well because it is often when you need a map the most, yet data is often not available when you want it.

The Windows Phone offline mapping goes way beyond anything that Google and Apple offer today.With Google, you can download an area to the local storage. However, you cannot download a state, let alone the whole country, or the world.

Here, the default Windows Phone 8 map does well, but the Nokia Lumia 920 has a definitive advantage, thanks to Nokia Drive, an app that makes the Lumia 920 act and feel like a real personal navigation device (PND) that provides voice directions and indoors maps for a number of malls and popular locations.

Skype (good video quality, but poor user interface): Tested over WiFi, the video call quality was surprisingly good with the Skype app in Windows Phone 8, the image resolution and quality is very good even in low-light conditions. The compression is well done, since the video is fluid and the image does not pixelate. It is significantly better than many Android phones equipped with a similar Snapdragon S4 chip.

On the other hand, Skype for Windows Phone 8 has been a source of frustration for me. First of all, it is slow – very slow. Simple actions like calling and handing can be very laggy. Secondly, there is no “search” function — really? I have 50-70 contacts or so, and scrolling around to search them is unacceptable. Skype is a very cool service, but the Windows Phone 8 implementation needs a lot more work.

Smartphone management: if you are on Windows 8, Microsoft is not using the Zune software to manage Windows Phones anymore. Instead there is a full-screen dedicated app that is much more intuitive in our opinion. Basic tasks like copying files to/from the phone are clearly visible, and the store takes a background role, which is the way it should be.

Entertainment

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The video capabilities are very good. This is a 1080p movie from Starcraft

Video: Playing 1080p video is pretty easy for the Snapdragon S4 processor that powers the HTC 8X, so this isn’t much of a challenge. In practical terms, this means that you should be able to enjoy the full quality of the 720p movie, if you find content to load on your phone… right now, there is no way to rent or buy movies on Windows Phone 8…  too bad because renting movies is great on the Microsoft Surface RT tablet.

Gaming: Windows Phone has a good shot at establishing itself as a great gaming platform, but right now, we can’t say that it is the case. We’ve tested XBox live games like Earthworm Jim HD which is a 2D game (in standard definition) and Top Truck, which is also 2D and physics based. They don’t exactly push the hardware envelope. If there’s a title that you would recommend to us, drop a comment below. In the meantime, we know that the Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 hardware has great potential for gaming, but that this has yet to be realized.

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Here is a view of the loud speaker.

Speaker quality: the speaker of the HTC 8X is located at the lower-back of the handset. This is a common placement that is often used in phone designs. It’s not optimum because a lot of energy is spent blasting the sound backwards to get enough. The volume is surprisingly loud for a phone that is so small.

The downside of the speaker placement is that the nature of the sound does change drastically depending on whether you are holding the phone, or have it on a table. That’s because the sound bounces off completely different surface at different distances. In general, I find the sound to be better when the HTC 8X is NOT resting onto a surface.

Digital Imaging (Good++, color-balance is a bit off)

In terms of photography the HTC 8X is pretty decent. I have compared it with the iPhone 5, the Galaxy Note 2, and of course with the Lumia 920. This is a tough group to beat, and they are recognized as having very good or excellent photo capabilities. I will lay it out for you:

The iPhone 5 has the best color representation
The Galaxy Note 2 produces sharper and less noisy brightly lit photos
The Lumia 920 bets everyone in low-light photography, but gets the color balance wrong
The HTC 8X does OK, but leads in none of the above categories

htc 8x review iphone5 bright photo

Bright photo: the iPhone 5 does a good job of capturing what I see

While being quite good, the HTC 8X does not reproduce what my eyes see in either bright, or  dim lighting conditions. That is a pity, and I disagree with those who say that the HTC 8X can rival the Samsung and Apple phones in terms of digital photography. It’s not quite there yet. Here’s why:

In the bright settings, the HTC 8X shot an image which is too dark and which fails to convey the overall brightness of the scene. The iPhone 5 does that properly (see above). In low-light conditions, the HTC shoots and image that is not too noisy, but that is way too yellow (see low-light paragraph below).

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In bright conditions, the HTC 8X photos are a bit dark. A bit more exposure would have been great

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The Lumia 920 got the color balance completely wrong in bright light

The Lumia 920 gets incredible low-light performance, but the color balance is completely wrong: it’s totally blue in bright lighting conditions, and shifts back to white when it’s supposed to be a bit yellow. While this wasn’t a problem for sharing web photos on Facebook, photography enthusiast should take note.

Both the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 (and probably the S3) and the iPhone 5 get close to what my eyes are seeing, with a slight edge for the iPhone 5 in terms of color accuracy, and an edge for the Samsung for image sharpness in bright light, as the iPhone 5 tends to stay noisy and slightly over-exposed.

galaxy note 2 photo sample

In dim lighting, both the Galaxy Note 2 and the iPhone 5 do a good job at capturing what I see — except with noise

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In dim lighting, the HTC 8X goes all yellow on us

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Believe it or not, this is the LOW LIGHT photo captured by the Lumia 920. Color balance is OFF (too white/blue) but the image quality is incredible

The same is pretty much true for video recording, except that the iPhone 5 loses its lead because it has a ridiculously narrow field of view. The Lumia 920 is actually the best video recording device in this particular tests, as it got the color-balance perfectly right in the bright setting, although still wrong in the low-light scene. The Galaxy Note 2 does well, but doesn’t quite capture the brightness of the scene in full light.

I have uploaded the full-size images and videos to our Ubergizmo Flickr account if you want to look at the small details in their full glory. Enjoy!

Performance

The HTC 8X uses a Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 chip similar to other Windows Phone 8 devices, so don’t expect any major difference with the Lumia 920 and the upcoming Samsung ATIV S.

I was going to compare the result obtained with the Antutu benchmark on this smartphone, but I noticed that the score were higher by almost 50% when compared to Android smartphones using a similar same chip. I have to look into this before using those numbers because as it stands, I don’t see a particular reason why Windows Phone 8 handsets would be 50% faster using the same hardware. Maybe there were some changes, or maybe Antutu isn’t completely the same…

If you are not familiar with it, Antutu is an overall system performance benchmark (CPU, graphics, storage), and what it shows is that overall, most recent phones land in a comparable performance footprint. This means that unless you do something very specific (like “gaming” or “downloads”), those phones should provide a similar overall performance.

htc 8x sunspider

So we’re left with SunSpider, which is probably the least representative of pretty much anything that matters to the end-user. SunSpider is a JavaScript test that mostly measures how good the JavaScript engine is. Performance jump of 100% have been witnessed after software updates, so keep in mind that this may not be a great CPU test. It also uses a single-core, so it won’t be able to differentiate much between single and multi-core architectures. Finally, please don’t consider it to be a “web performance” test, because it is not. Most of the perceived web performance is felt during the load time and rendering time, both of which often have nothing to do with JavaScript performance.

We’re throwing the SunSpider numbers out there because you may hear about this, but we recommend not paying too much attention to those.

Battery Life (Good+)

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Most likely, you will need to charge your handset every evening

At first, I noticed that the overnight battery depletion (8hrs) was in the 33% range, and I was VERY worried, but it turns out that it was the GPS that was ON at all times. This is really bad. I advise every Windows Phone 8 users to disable the Location (settings>location) in order to conserve power.

With the GPS OFF, the phone loses about 10% of its battery life overnight in standby mode (LTE and WIFI active). While this is not a bad battery depletion rate, the Lumia 920 and phones like the Galaxy Note 2 do considerably better. Despite having nearly the same battery capacity as the Lumia 920 (1800 vs. 2000 mAh), we found that the HTC 8X battery optimization isn’t as good in general. I suspect that many people will have to charge the HTC 8X on a daily basis.

Conclusion (Good+)

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The HTC 8X has several things going for it, namely a very thin and light design, and a wide availability among US carriers. Those are two very strong points that may ultimately be at the root of its eventual success.

However, outside of those two important advantages, the HTC 8X does not bring much more to the table: its Windows Phone 8 experience is not enhanced by exclusive apps like Nokia Drive, Nokia Transport or Nokia Music, and its photo/video performance, while not bad, is not impressive either. The same thing goes for the 4.3” screen which is “very good, but still not excellent”.

At the end of the day, if you want a Windows Phone 8 handset, you have to decide if you love this 8X design, or if the Lumia 920 is just too big and heavy. If you don’t mind the extra weight and being on AT&T, the Lumia 920 choice is a no-brainer. If you are truly patient, you may want to wait for the Samsung ATIV S which seems like a Galaxy phone running on Windows Phone 8… but it will come out only in a couple of weeks…

As always, I hope that this review gave you a good sense of how it is to use the HTC 8X in the real-world. If there are additional question or if I overlooked something feel free to leave a comment, and I will address them ASAP while I still have the phone with me. If you found this page to be useful, Like it and spread the word.

Filed in Cellphones >Featured >Reviews. Read more about HTC, htc 8x, Windows Phone and windows phone 8.

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