HTC has been known for its brilliant displays, and the 8X’s screen is no exception. With a 4.3-inch screen, the 8X seems to be bucking trends for bigger and larger screens, especially when the device is compared next to the Titan and Titan II that preceded it. The more modest screen size makes sense too, given that you cannot instantly download videos through Xbox on your phone–you’ll have to sync or stream through services like Netflix for instant gratification–and there is a more limited number of e-book apps for the platform. Still, there may be some gamers who may yearn for larger phones as Android is pushing towards the 5-inch space.
The Super LCD display with 720p HD resolution displays colors beautifully in images and text and offers a fairly wide viewing angle.
The screen is definitely one of the top displays we’ve seen. Though it’s short of the the quality of the One X’s display on AT&T’s 4G LTE network, it’s still miles ahead of many other phones. Viewing angle on the 8X is not quite as good as that on the One X, but it still offers a pretty wide viewing angle. Still, the screen is beautiful and you’ll be pleasantly surprised by how rich the bold Live Tile colors pop on the display. Even the smallest of text is rendered crisply thanks to the high pixel count.
HTC uses Super LCD 2.0 display technology for the screen so you won’t have the over-saturated colors that are found on Super AMOLED screens like those on Samsung’s phones. The downside is that blacks are deep and dark, though not as dark as can be on an OLED screen.
Powered by a dual-core Snapdragon S4 processor along with a 4G LTE radio, the model that we’re testing is for AT&T’s network in the U.S. Windows Phone 8 is the first time that the platform is allowing multi-core processors and display resolutions higher than the WVGA standard that Windows Phone 7.x was limited too, which makes the HTC 8X competitive against some of the latest Android devices. In the past, Microsoft had played up the fluidity of its OS, saying that it’s not the number of cores that dictate performance, which is fine but the average consumer will go for the ‘more is better’ mantra and end up choosing rival products.
At the end of the day, a dual-core CPU alongside LTE support makes the HTC 8X a powerful device. Though it’s curious to see Microsoft choosing a dual-core processor design to standardize on for high-end devices–like the 8X and the rival Lumia 920 from Nokia–in an era where Android phones are pushing for quad-core performance. Regardless, the 8X is a zippy device and there wasn’t any discernible stutter.
What I did notice is that some apps still lag when you first open them, and that was a problem we had observed with the Lumia 800 and 900 in the past. This is due to the fact that when you open an app, background information gets updated before the app is available to the end-user to use. The issue isn’t as bad as it was before and the delay is ever so slight. Many of the native apps launch quickly, but a few third-party apps still stutter for a bit. However, thanks to the low-latency performance and quick speeds of 4G LTE on AT&T’s network, the delays aren’t as bad as it used to be and background information is refreshed rather quickly.
Webpages loaded quickly and streaming audio was fine. At the time of this writing, third-party Pandora music app isn’t yet available for Windows Phone 8, but is promised to be coming.
The one thing that I wish my 8X came with is more storage. At this time, users can choose between 8 GB or 16 GB of storage, though what’s available to end-users is much less than this amount as the operating system takes up some space. Microsoft says that with 7 GB of free cloud storage on SkyDrive and streaming capabilities of Xbox Music, users shouldn’t have too much trouble. Where you’ll encounter problems is if you pre-load movies or TV shows by synchronizing with your PC as videos do take up a bit of storage.
SkyDrive can automatically upload images captured with your 8X camera so you can view them on a Windows 8 system without having to manually synchronize your picture. And unlike iOS’ Photostream where images are temporarily stored for 30 days, SkyDrive’s upload is permanent until you delete it or manage it some other way.
Battery life for Windows Phone 8 is really good and I was impressed to be able to use the phone moderately over LTE and not have to charge the phone for a day and a half. The phone recharged relatively quickly.
There isn’t much to write about battery life–it’s good and the phone works as it should. I did have an incident regarding the 8X where I left the device to charge overnight on a nightstand and woke up to find the phone scorching hot. I unplugged the device and turned it completely off for fifteen minutes, and all was fine. The overheating never appeared again since then.
Call quality was loud and good, both through the earpiece speaker and the loud speaker. The loud speaker is plenty loud when cranked up and Beats Audio integration sounds good when paired with headphones of your choice.
HTC and Microsoft are promoting the HTC 8X’s cameras, especially the ultra-wide angle front-facing camera. On the front, that means that for video calls, especially when paired with Skype, you’ll be able to squeeze more faces into the conversation and this opens up group chats to family and friends.
On the rear, you have an 8-megapixel camera. And while HTC has been working on improving its imaging chops with devices like the One X for AT&T, the HTC 8X’s camera falls short when compared to other flagship devices. In low light environments, pictures are noticeably dimmer and more grainy than when compared to the iPhone 5′s camera or the Samsung Galaxy S III’s shooter–we’ll have to wait to compare performance with the competing Nokia Lumia 920 that also runs Windows Phone 8.
Also, when shooting at a bright object in the dark, there’s a lot of flaring with the lens, and we saw that when we shot some street lights at dusk in downtown, an issue that wasn’t present on the iPhone 5.
In daytime, pictures captured under bright light were great. The camera’s interface is simple and uncluttered, but the simplification also means that some features get omitted as well, such as filters and scene modes that are present on the One X and the Galaxy S III and there is no panoramic capture mode on the 8X.
That said, HTC bundled an app called Photo Enhancer that adds some filters post-processing. The app gives users a nice alternative to the popular Instagram app, which isn’t currently available for this platform.
In terms of photo lenses, like the Hubs on Windows Phone, Microsoft allows third-party apps to tap into the Camera as a ‘Hub,’ meaning that apps like CNN can insert their CNN iReport app inside the the camera app so users don’t need to launch the citizen-journalist feature from inside the CNN app. Over time, more apps will tap into the Lenses feature inside the camera, but the feature is limited currently to a few apps.
My big complaint with the camera deals with touch to focus. While Windows Phone has touch to focus where you can tap anywhere on the screen to set your focus, similar to iOS and Android, the platform handles this slightly differently. When you touch to focus, the camera will automatically attempt to focus and then automatically capture the image–on the iPhone 5, the process is done in two steps and the user will have to manually activate the shutter to take the picture. This means that whether or not the image is actually in focus on the 8X, the camera will automatically capture it.
This is fine in most situations, but for people who like to take macro photography of flowers or small objects, you don’t know if you’re too close to the subject and if the camera can actually focus at that distance. Regardless of the focus, an image would still be captured.
All in all, the camera could be better for an important flagship device–low light performance could be improved, the lens could be sharpened to eliminate flares, and more features could be inserted into the camera app, such as filters and panoramic image capture to stay competitive with the recently unveiled Nexus 4, which has a 360-degree photo capture app.
Additionally, the camera can also record 1080p HD videos at 30 frames per second, similar to most high-end smartphones.Windows Phone 8 is more of a slight evolution of the Windows Phone platform, with Microsoft refining subtle things on the inside. On the outside, the big noticeable difference between this and previous iterations of the platform is that the homescreen can support more Live Tiles at a glance due to the fact that users can now shrink some Live Tiles to fit more in. The tiles have also gained some badges for notifications, with the number of alerts prominently displayed on the tile where you have notifications awaiting, such as the E-Mail and Facebook tiles.
Live Tiles & Live Lock Screen. Speaking of Live Tiles, Windows Phone 8 now also supports a Live Lock Screen, giving users the ability to cycle through their lockscreen wallpaper with Facebook images and display Facebook calendars and notifications directly on the home screen. It’s a nice touch, but notifications still feel incomplete without a complete overview of all notifications in a single screen, similar to iOS’ Notification Center or the notification pull-down on Android.
Curiously, though, for being called Live Tiles, few of them actually update and animate in the background. You’ll still see upcoming appointments in the Calendar tile, as you would a widget on Android, and you’ll still see the number of outstanding notifications requiring your attention, but it won’t for example, cycle you through the subject lines of unread emails or scroll through unread text messages. As to the animated tiles, they move and change for a little glitz, but don’t add value, such as the animated Games hub or the peek-a-boo Me hub.
Tiles & Hubs. Apps are organized accordingly on the home screen in their own Tiles, which are similar to shortcut icons. You can pin apps to the homescreen and resize them now. Certain content go into their own Hub, which is like a collection. For instance, in the Photos hub, you’ll not only have access to your camera roll, but you’ll also have access to other photo editing apps that you’ve downloaded from Windows Phone Marketplace–the Hubs know to group apps together to make it easy based on categories. You’ll also be able to view photos from Twitter and Facebook as well inside this hub. Likewise, for the Office hub, you’ll have access to mobile versions of Word, Excel, and Powerpoint, as well as the cloud like SkyDrive.