HTC 8X – Windows Phone 8
I was anxious to receive my first Windows Phone 8 to review for several reasons. First, I thought it would dovetail nicely with a Windows 8 tablet or desktop. Second, HTC always designs a nice case for each phone. This one comes in several great colors – red, yellow, blue and black. Again, the case of the phone conforms to HTC’s formula – thin at the edges, a gentle curve onto the back with a soft-touch finish applied to a plastic case.
Processor: 2 core, Snapdragon S4 Plus, 1.5 ghz
Graphics: Adreno 225
Display: 1280 x 720 super LCD2, 4.3″ diagonal
Weight: 130 g
RAM: 1 gb
Storage: 16 gb
Battery: 1800 mah
Camera: F&B, 8 mp/2.1 mp, f2.0
OS: Windows Phone 8
I do like that a phone that is meant to be “different”, using the Windows Phone OS can still be compatible where it matters. This phone uses a micro USB for power/data connection, just like Android devices. I’m thankful they didn’t take the Apple approach to peripherals. The connector is on the bottom, with the earpiece jack on the top. The power button is top right, volume rocker is on the upper right side and the camera button is on the lower right. Pretty standard placement for all the access points and control.
If I were to buy one of these phones, I’d get it in blue. The blue is almost a deep purple. Love that color. To me, this is a very attractive phone, especially in colors. We’ve graduated from the all silver age of cell phones, and now we’re starting to emerge slowly from the all black age of smartphones. Let’s only hope that we don’t also have a taupe phase to go through. Color and materials are areas that HTC explores with great success on the 8X.
The 8X appears to be physically well put together. It’s solid. No removable panels (no removable battery, no SD card, no external slot for a sim, no tacky USB flap). None of the more common complaints about HTC buttons apply on this phone, because the buttons are right along the edge, where they are easy to find and press. Maybe most impressively, as buttons go, is the dedicated camera button. The last phone I reviewed with this feature was the Evo 4G LTE, which is still one of the most feature-laden phones in existence. Software can be added or improved, but the physical design of a smart phone is something you really can’t upgrade without adding a case, so the design is something I pay more attention to than other aspects.
If you hold the 8X in your open palm, it feels as good as it looks. HTC’s penchant for soft touch finishes has never misfired for them, in my opinion. But the minute you grasp this phone, curling your fingers around its edges, you realize that the edges are too sharp, even with a soft touch material. They don’t look sharp, but the edge radius is just too small. It’s hard to believe, because the rest of the phone is soft, rounded, and nice to touch, but the part of it where you are going to touch the most is fairly uninviting.
Windows Phone 8 Operating System
For Android phones, I just review the hardware because you can replace all the software, including most of the interface. But on Windows Phone 8 (WP8), that’s not the case. You’ve kind of got to take a look at the entire OS. Everything is different. If Android is similar in some ways to iOS, neither one of them resembles WP8, so you don’t even really have a baseline to work from. So here we’ll go through as much of the operating system as I could get to.
For a phone that I was pretty amped up to review, the case was just where the disappointments started. The Windows 8 operating system that I recently reviewed as a part of the Microsoft Surface review is related to the Windows Phone 8 OS on the HTC 8X. It has many of the same strengths and weaknesses. I like the colorful and animated display. Like I said before, the animated graphics remind me of the graphics in the movie The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy (no pun intended, with the Galaxy being another phone family that you may have heard of). WP8 will likely garner more positive comments than Windows 8. The difference between the two is of course the traditional desktop. WP8 does not have a desktop. The similarity is the tile interface formerly known as Metro. When you see WP8 in action where it belongs on a phone, you realize that bolting it on to the desktop OS was a desperate attempt to link Microsoft’s strong traditional business (desktop OSes) with the exploding new area where they are pretty weak (mobile OS). Linking the two successfully would be a huge boon for Microsoft going forward, and it would be one way to translate their past success with desktop OS into success with mobile OS.
So in that way, making Win8′s start page match the WP8 interface was a stroke of brilliance. The problem is that just replacing the Start button with a Start page is clumsy, and whiplash-inducing. Maybe Microsoft should have also updated Win8′s desktop to work better with the Metro interface. If you’ve used Win8, you know that it looks like something new bolted onto something old, where nothing seems to have benefited. I personally think that the Metro (tile-based) interface should have been made to sit on the desktop, much like the Widgets that Vista introduced.
Somewhere between Android and Apple
Anyway, WP8 doesn’t suffer from that strange dichotomy. It is just the Metro interface on its own. So I think that WP8 is far more successful than Win8. It’s colorful. It’s fun. It gives your content a front row seat in a way that is customizable, interesting, visual, and organized. The WP8 interface is very clean. It doesn’t resemble Android at all. I think if you’re an Android fan, WP8 isn’t going to do much for you. If you think Android is too technical, too hard to use, or requires too much fiddling, you might like WP8.
Also, I think WP8 has the chance of appealing to iOS users more. My impression is that people who use Apple products want something that is finished, polished, and just handed to them. Android users want something primarily powerful, customizable, something you build yourself, or can tinker with to a large extent. WP8 is definitely finished, shiny, sparkly, and polished, and you can’t really hack it and put a customized version of WP. WP8 definitely has a color coordinated look. Android, with it’s lime green robot mascot, is not going to win any fashion awards. So if you look at the potential market of WP8 buyers as being some continuum of people ranging from Android to Apple, I think it is going to be in the middle, leaning toward Apple.
So WP8 has tiles, which are easy to understand. We get that. Just like Win8, swipe in from the right, and you can access your apps. And you can go to the Store to buy more apps, or get free ones. To me, the organization of the Store left a lot to be desired. It seems to be based on visual appeal rather than the ability to find something specific that you are looking for. Maybe this kind of thing works for other people, but for me it was just a turnoff. It strikes me as disorganized, and only able to show a small amount of information because they’re afraid of how a lot of information looks.
Some people claim that there is a material difference between 500,000 apps on one store and 130,000 on Windows store. I wanted to believe there really wasn’t any difference. I though that I could probably get by with a collection of just a couple hundred apps. Boy was I wrong. On the Google store, I can find just about anything I can think of. I did one time want a train whistle generator based on musical chord types, but I wasn’t able to find that. So that’s one. But in the Windows store, it was either that there really just wasn’t much there (even with 130,000 apps – how is that?!?), or that it was just a lot harder to find things. I did find some stuff I was already familiar with like Evernote, IMDB, Speedtest, Youtube, and such. Maybe it just didn’t have the ridiculous level of superfluous junk that Google has in such abundance. In the end, the WP store looks great, but I didn’t find anything that I wasn’t looking for. In Google, I always find stuff I didn’t know I wanted.
And then there’s trying to get a screen shot from WP8. In Android, it’s just the power button and volume down. Two physical buttons. In WP8, it’s power and Windows button. That’s one physical button and one virtual button. I just couldn’t get the hang of this. One had to be pressed harder than the other, and you had to use two hands. Most people will probably never use this or be frustrated by it.
But by far the most frustrating thing about this device for me was that the virtual keyboard does not include a few symbols included with the Android keyboards. It just happens that I’ve used one of those symbols in several of my passwords. Now I could go around to my various accounts for things and change all my passwords to be WP8 compatible, or I could just say forget it. So I never did set up my email on Windows Phone 8. I thought of trying to copy and paste symbols into a note file, or even emailing the password from my Android device, and then copy and paste the password whenever I needed it, but you would be surprised at how many password entry systems don’t allow pasting text.
Beyond that, the keyboard had no alternate characters. You had to change to a second page for all numbers and characters. Most Android keyboards I’ve used have 3 pages of stuff, in addition to long press options.
To go further about the keyboard, I wasn’t able to enable the haptic feedback. It was happy to make sounds, but I never did find the setting to make the keyboard vibrate with key strokes. Also, the keyboard doesn’t have any navigational arrows (which I know some people hate). I like the arrows because it is often too difficult to use a fat finger to get the cursor exactly where it needs to go. Overall, the keyboard has to be the absolute weakest aspect of this operating system, or the device in any case. For me it has probably killed any chance of switching to Windows Phone.
The one thing that I found more compelling on WP8 than anywhere else was Facebook. I just started a Facebook page for my business literally yesterday. But Kim set up her Facebook account on it, and looking through all the pictures was actually kind of compelling in a way that I didn’t find on the desktop version.
I had great hopes for this phone and for this operating system. For some other people, it might still be a great combination. It’s crazy to think that the lack of a single character on a keyboard has almost entirely spoiled my experience with this phone.
Does Windows Phone 8 have what it takes to succeed? It really could. It is polished enough to appeal to iPhone users, whose biggest gag hurdle will be the “Windows” in the name. Is WP8 going to save Windows 8? I don’t think so. Windows 8 is shaping up to be another Vista or Windows ME style dud. Is the HTC 8X going to be one of the phones that carries WP8 into the future? Well, I think the Lumia 922 has a better chance to do it. Physically, the main thing wrong with the phone is the sharpness of the edges, much like the HTC One S. Lacking an SD card and a big battery are standard complaints at this stage.