For something with a pretentious-sounding name, the HTC 8S is very approachable. It didn’t once sneer at my sneakers as I picked it up, turned it on and set it up. Thank goodness.
The 8S is not only completely lacking in any superciliousness, but it’s also very affordable phone ($449) and really good-looking. It’s lightweight at 113 grams, fits comfortably into your hand thanks to its gentle curves and softly textured, highly-tactile chassis, and it comes in a range of colours.
Full disclaimer here: although I went to the Windows Phone 8 launch expecting to be dazzled by the Lumia 920, I fell in love-at-first-sight with the HTC 8S instead. But now that I’ve spent time with it, I find myself no less enamoured.
The design is quite stylish, and, as we’ve seen with other HTC phones we’ve tested over the past couple of years, it’s built solidly and feels very sturdy. I’ve got no qualms about throwing this in my messenger bag or carrying it around in-hand. It comes with a full-sized SIM slot, and space for a microSD card - unusual amongst Windows Phones. The screen is a well-sized 4-inch 480 x 800-pixel LCD display (233 ppi), and the screen is amply crisp and clear for the Windows Phone 8 interface, as well as for video playback, photo-viewing, email, web-browsing and other tasks. I liked how bright it seemed in daylight, too, while I was out and about over New Year’s.
The phones specs are pretty good for the price, too. A dual-core 1GHz SnapDragon S4-based processor and 512MB RAM is ample. Using the phone, in all, was a pleasure. Transitions between screens were fast, apps loaded rapidly, and I noticed no slowdowns at all. I used this phone right after having used the HTC One V, and it was noticeably faster and smoother.
Windows Phone 8 is not too dissimilar from Windows Phone 7.5, but HTC has included its own People Hub as part of the main lineup of apps. I liked the People hub as a way to quickly see my contacts and their most recent updates. In other ways, I found Windows Phone 8 very straightforward to use, with very little learning curve. I think it’s a great operating system for a new user, and $449 is a fabulously affordable price point for people to sample this OS.
The 8S comes with a rear camera capable of 5-megapixel shots that also has an LED flash and autofocus - neither of which always standard for this price. It takes video at 720p and 30 frames per second. But I honestly expected a little more from 5MP. It’s noticeably noisier and more prone to blockiness than, say, the Lumia 710’s 5MP camera. I’d liked what I saw of the camera during the launch, so this surprised me, but it’s also one of the phone’s few flaws. The camera also has a dedicated button on the side, which works even if the phone is locked. It’s very handy for those moments where you want to take a pic without having to go through the palaver of locating the app.
Also disappointing was the sound quality. HTC has pitched this phone as a multimedia companion. It comes with a microSD card slot, capable of taking cards up to 64GB - plenty of space for music or video - and Beats Audio logo, indicating the presence of the Beats Audio sound enhancements. Yet at high volumes, the sound gets a little distorted. The speaker is down the bottom end of the phone, and it seems to contribute to the crackling. I’d be reluctant to spend up big on a pair of Beats Audio Headphones for this, frankly. I’m hopeful that my experience was an isolated incident, but I’d definitely recommend trying out the sound in store yourself if you plan to use this as a music phone.
The rest of the specs are good. There’s the aforementioned microSD slot for an additional card to round out the phones base of 4GB onboard storage. It features a - sadly unremovable - Lithium-Polymer 1700mAh battery that provided enough charge for me to use the phone for up to two days of moderate use.
Phone calls made using the 8S were of excellent call quality, despite the issues I had with the speaker for music playback, and it has internet fast enough that I didn’t notice slowdowns.
All up, the HTC 8S is a great little Windows Phone. It has a couple of flaws, but for the price, this is just brilliant. If it doesn’t convert a few people to Windows Phone 8, I’ll be very surprised.