HTC 8X Review: Windows Phones Are Finally Getting Good

Nokia has been alone on the vanguard of worthwhile Windows Phone hardware for a while now. But that's no longer the case. Here's HTC's 8X. And it's got enough firepower to go toe-to-toe with anything on Android or iOS.

What Is It?

An HTC phone built for Windows Phone 8.

Who Is It For?

Anyone who wants a Windows Phone, but doesn't feel up to the larger Nokia Lumia 920.

Design

The 8X is a little thicker than the Galaxy S III, but its curved-in edges make it feel thinner than it is. It's so solid, it feels like an iPad 2 coated in soft-touch paint and shrunk to 4.3 inches.

HTC 8X Review: Windows Phones Are Finally Getting Good

Using It

The 8X experience is a function of its software, obviously, and you can find our full review of Windows Phone 8 here. But on its own, it's a really nice piece of hardware. The Qualcomm S4 dual core processor is quick, and it makes WP8's already snappy animations seem even faster.

Apps open ridiculously quickly, especially considering how slow things used to be on Windows Phone. We loaded up 10 back-to-back-to-back, and didn't experience slowdown.

And the screen! Oh, goodness, the screen is lovely. It's a 1280x720 (341 PPI) display, and it positively sings with color and sharpness on videos and in WP8. The screen takes a hit on viewing angle, though—don't set it down to read. And some apps that haven't been updated for WP8 resolutions display in preposterous ways (Netflix encases the display in black on three of four sides).

Maps are accurate—they're powered by Nokia Maps instead of Bing now—and did not send me anywhere I didn't want to go. But you're going to have to wait a while for Nokia's transit and turn-by-turn features to make it to all Windows Phones. They're exclusive to Nokia for a while longer, which is a downer for everyone else.

HTC 8X Review: Windows Phones Are Finally Getting Good

The Best Part

The build quality. This phone feels like a rubberized katana blade—solid like an iPhone, but without the fragility.

Tragic Flaw

Battery life was not great. With medium-heavy, but certainly not constant use, it would be just about dead before the end of a workday. Since this is the European model, it didn't even have LTE sucking down power.

This Is Weird

We couldn't get the NFC to interact with a Beats Pill bluetooth speaker. That's not a surprise since the Pill also hassled our Galaxy S III, but it's worth noting that it didn't register at all.

HTC 8X Review: Windows Phones Are Finally Getting Good

Test Notes

  • The camera did not perform very well in low light. It's a relatively fast lens—f/2.0—but all of its low light adjustment seems to be done in post processing, in HTC's Photo Enhance app.
  • Squeezing the phone in the middle of the display proves the build quality is solid—much more so than the plastic-backed Galaxy S III. However, repeated squeezing—not hard enough to break it, just the sort of grip you'd use day to day—resulted in some crackling sounds. This could be glue settling, but it did not fill us with confidence, even though the phone feels so solidly built.
  • Sound on the 8X itself is not great. Its speaker is pretty quiet compared to the Galaxy S III, which isn't a problem for regular use, but it's not a very loud if you use your phone as an alarm clock.
  • Touch events lag very slightly if you're trying to out-pace the display's reaction time. That's not ideal, but it's not a huge deal, and is masked a bit by WP8's active animation style.
  • One nice little design flourish is that the LED indicator for charging, or low battery, is in the earpiece grill.

Should You Buy This?

Do you want a Windows Phone? Are you on a carrier other than AT&T? Then yes, this will probably be the best you're going to get.

But if you're on the fence about making the switch, you probably want to hang back and see what the Lumia 920 looks like. Then, maybe wait a bit longer to see if the ecosystem actually manages to populate itself. But for the Windows Phone faithful, this is a hell of a makeup present from HTC.

Specs

Display: 4.3-inch 1280x720 (341 PPI), Gorilla Glass 2
Processor: Qualcomm S4 1.5 GHz dual-core
Dimensions: 132.35 x 66.2 x 10.12mm
Weight: 130 grams
Storage: 16 GB, Micro SIM
RAM: 1 GB
Battery: 1800mAh
Camera: 8MP, f/2.0, BSI sensor
Network: (European) GSM, EDGE, HSPA, HSPA+