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HTC 8X Great display, bad camera

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The 8X is HTC’s first Windows Phone 8 model. SEAN BACHER discovers it is well priced, has a great screen and sound, but really lacks in the camera department.

HTC initially started making phones based mostly on the Microsoft Windows Mobile operating system, but in 2009 branched out to Android. Although HTC is now better known for Android phones, the company has followed in Nokia’s footsteps and embraced Microsoft’s new mobile operating system, Windows Phone 8. The 8X is one of the first in HTC’s Windows Phone 8 line. While it has not done much in terms of changing the Windows interface by plastering its own skin on top of it, the phone gives a sense of style and sophistication.

We put it through the Gadget 10 Question Users Test to see how it fares in other departments.

1. General look and feel (aesthetic judgement, differentiation in look and feel)

As with many current smartphones, the HTC 8X uses a unibody design, meaning that there is no removable battery or back plate. The micro SIM is slotted into the left of the phone but, unlike the iPhone where a pin is needed to get the card out, this one can be easily removed with your fingers.

The 8X design puts it in a class of its own. It is slim and light and uses a tapered design, which makes it feel thinner than it actually is. The polycarbonate chassis gives it a ‚”rubbery‚” feel, which also means that the phone has more chance of surviving an accidental drop.

Overall, the HTC 8X feels great in the hand and, at 130g, it is significantly lighter than rival Windows Phone 8 models.

8/10

2. Slippability (Weight and size, ability to slip into a pocket unnoticed)

At just over 10-mm thick, the HTC 8X is not the thinnest out there, but the clever tapered design will allow it to fit into most pockets. I did, however, find that the rubbery coating made it more difficult to slip in and out of a pocket in a hurry.

The buttons are well hidden around the phone in fact, too well hidden. Due to the fact that the buttons are flush with the phone, it is nearly impossible to feel for the Power button or Volume rocker without looking. The Camera button, located at the bottom right, was too easy to push accidentally, so one must make sure the screen and phone are locked before putting it in a pocket.

The well-designed tapered body definitely counts in favour of the 8X, but the almost hidden physical buttons will make it a pain to use in the dark.

7/10

3. General performance (speed, responsiveness, multi-tasking)

The HTC 8X uses a 1.5GHz dual-core Snapdragon CPU, putting it on a par with most other leading smartphones. The CPU, which is backed by an Adreno 225 GPU and 1GB of RAM, makes the phone’s navigation seamless, with no freezing.

Apps launched one after the other without showing any sign of slowing the phone down. Because the 8X runs Windows Phone 8, you need to set up a Microsoft Live account before downloading any apps. In addition, downloading games needs a Microsoft Xbox account. Although this was a tedious process to set up, once done, accessing apps and games was as simple as clicking on the relevant tiles on the home screen.

Angry Birds was easily tamed by the powerful CPU, and more processor intensive apps like 3D Moto, which uses the phone’s accelerometers to navigate a bike through traffic, ran effortlessly.

Holding the virtual Back button on the phone launches an application manager that brings up mini windows of active applications. Swiping from one to the other was easy enough, but there is no option to force an app to close right there.

Overall, the phone’s performance did not disappoint. The active tiles running on the Home screen were always up to date and switching between open apps was a breeze, but the lack of control when dealing with them was a bit of a disappointment.

7/10

4. Life as we know it (How’s the battery life?)

The 1 800mAh battery is good enough to get you through a full day of browsing, sending and receiving e-mails and tweets. It will also provide you with enough power to watch a few videos on YouTube.

That said, the phone is 4G enabled and so will continually hunt for that network. If you are not in an area covered by 4G, it is a good idea to force the 8X down to a slower network. Included under the Settings menu is a Battery Saver option. This automatically closes all apps running in the background and turns off the automatic synchronisation of Facebook, Twitter and any e-mail accounts when the battery level drops below a certain point.

Like the Nokia Lumia 920, the HTC 8X offers wireless charging, but I was unable to test this. It is best to check which charging mats are compatible with the 8X before buying one.

7/10

5. Vision of the future (picture, video and browsing quality)

The HTC 8X’s 4.3-inch capacitive touch screen really stands out from the rest. It offers a maximum resolution of 720×1 280 pixels with a pixel dimension of 342 pixels per inch. Not only is the screen bigger than that of the iPhone 4s, but is also clearer. The screen is also bigger than that of the iPhone 5.

The bright Corning Gorilla Glass 2 screen shows its true colours when one is watching high-definition video, but its clarity is completely lost when taking videos and pictures. Although the phone uses an industry standard 8MP camera, the images pixelate and don’t have the quality found on many other smartphone cameras.

Browsing the Internet was simple and effortless, and is well integrated with the phone’s voice commands. Unlike Apple’s Siri, that doesn’t understand half of what you say and ignores the other half, the HTC makes a proper effort at trying to work out what you are saying and getting the correct information to you.

The superb screen, combined with the great voice integration are stand-out features. But HTC really needs to improve both the front and rear camera if it wants to compete with the big toys.

6/10

6. Talk to me (quality of audio)

The sound quality that comes out of the rear mono speaker is pretty standard, but the HTC is designed to integrate with Beats Audio by Dr Dre headphones. When they are plugged into the 3.5mm head jack, and the Beats Audio feature is activated under the Settings menu, sound is taken to a new level. No longer is the music tinny and distorted, but feels like it has got some volume and oomph.

Beats Audio by Dr Dre headsets are not included with the phone, so normal headphones can be connected to it and it also connects to Bluetooth enabled audio devices.

9/10

7. Message in a bottle (range, speed and efficiency of messaging solutions)

The messaging apps on the HTC 8X are all standard. E-mail, tweets and Facebook messages are all pulled into a single app, which can be shown as an active tile (the Windows equivalent of a widget) on the Home screen. I found this really confusing, and so opted for separate apps. Windows Phone 8 does the same for your contacts, but in this case things worked better. Instead of ending up with duplicate contacts, all details were merged into a single contact. Once again, you have the option of displaying this as an active tile, with images of random Facebook and Twitter contacts popping up.

8/10

8. Keep control (How effective are hardware and software controls?)

As mentioned, the physical buttons located around the phone’s edge were very difficult to use. The Back, Menu and Search buttons below the screen were easier to find as they light up and give full control of the phone, no matter which app is in use.

A problem I find with many tablets and smartphones is never knowing if I have tapped a button or not, but the HTC 8X offers tactile feedback on the three buttons below the screen. A knocking sound is also made when tapping away at the keys on the virtual keyboard.

The hardware buttons are a let-down, but the easy-to-use keyboard and the tactile feedback evens the score out.

7/10

9. The new new (innovations, unique features)

Although the HTC 8X offers some vast improvements over its predecessors and other smartphones, it offers nothing innovative.

6/10

10. The wallet test (Is it competitively priced?)

The HTC 8X comes in at around R7 000. This beats the Samsung, Apple and Nokia equivalents hands-down, and makes it a viable Windows alternative to competing Android and iOS devices.

9/10

Conclusion

Total score: 74%

Overall, the HTC 8X scores well in the looks, functionality and price departments. But, due to the fact the Windows Phone 8 is still a new operating system, the variety and number of apps available for it is limited. This is by no means a drawback on the phone, as next year more Windows Phone 8 devices will become available and so to will the number of apps available for it.

The camera, on the other hand, is a real drawback. A camera that took decent images and video would have complimented the beautiful sound offered by the Beats by Dr Dre integration and the dazzling display.

* Follow Sean on Twitter on @seanbacher

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Featured

Hit the road with high-tech night light for bikes

Cyclists need effective lighting by night and day, writes JOEL DORFAN, in his test ride of the latest in high-tech from Fenix

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Since 2004, Fenix Light has been manufacturing quality lights ranging from flashlights and headlamps to lanterns and bike lights.

There are many folks who ride their bicycles at night for various reasons. Whether on-road or off-road, there is always the need to see the path ahead of you. During the day, it’s wise to have a really bright strobe light so others around you can see you coming. 

Enter the BC21R V2.0.

The original 880 lumen BC21R was released some years ago. Besides the main light, it also had two red lights at the side. However, there were several complaints about this older version. The main ones were:

  • Plastic construction – does not dissipate heat causing the light output to step down;
  • Rubber mount – stretches and perishes over time;
  • No helmet mount.

With the launch of the new light, now called the BC21R V2.0, the folks at Fenix have kept all of the good features and added a bunch more, as well as remedying all of the complaints from the original. In a nutshell, it offers:

  • 1000 lumen output
  • Removable 18650 LiIion battery
  • Built in USB Type-C charging port
  • Dual Distance Beam System
  • Battery level indication and low-voltage warning
  • All-metal heat fin; IP66 rated protection
  • Quick-release bike mount compatible with Fenix bicycle light helmet mount

The increase from 880 to 1000 lumens means that there is now better coverage of the road ahead. The dual distance beam system means that the areas both near and far are illuminated. They do this by graduating the top half of the front lens that refracts some of the light down towards the front wheel, allowing the rest of the light to illuminate the roadway.

When you do not need all 1000 lumens, sequential taps of the on/off switch will cycle through the different output settings of low, medium, high and turbo. In any of these modes, a double tap of the switch will put the light into strobe (alternating high and low output) mode. On a fully charged battery, runtime on Turbo is published as being 2 hours, and on low at 50 hours. 

Many lights today are sealed units. Once the battery stops taking a charge, the light would have to be discarded. The removable battery means that, once it reaches end of life ,it’s a simple matter of inserting a new 18650 battery. Also, should you be on a really long ride and find that the battery starts going flat, you could stop along the way and swap out the battery for either another fully charged one or two CR123 batteries. 

At any time, you can tap the on/off button, which will light up an indicator to tell you the current state of charge of the battery. This same indicator will flash red when it’s time to recharge the battery.

To prevent damage to the LED light source, temperatures are monitored and, if the light gets too hot, the output is reduced. This is not ideal when you are out on a ride on a hot evening. By changing the head from plastic to metal with cooling fins, however, the light will now remain cooler, allowing for full output for longer periods.

Instead of a stretchy plastic mount like on the older model, Fenix has now gone with a proper clamp type mount. This is secured to the handle bars using a thumb screw; and then there is a quick release that allows the light to be attached or removed from the clamp with ease. Two different-sized rubber inserts for the clamp ensure a good fit on different diameter handle bars.

A bonus of this type of quick release mechanism is that the light is now compatible with the Fenix helmet mount should one wish to mount it there. Also, should you wish to use the BC21R V2.0 as a handheld flashlight or to stop it being stolen, no tools are required to remove it from either the bike or helmet mount.

So how does the BC21R V2.0 perform in real life?

It puts out a very concentrated spot-like type beam optimised for distance. The lens setup ensures that most of the light is below the horizon where it needs to be, which also makes sure that it does not blind oncoming motorists. 

The light will start getting warm to the touch when stationary or when hand held. However, when cycling, the cool air passing over the finned head does keep the light cooler.

Being a single 18650 battery light, a ride of longer than about 90 minutes will see the light starting to reduce output. It’s the tradeoff of size vs run time. Therefore make sure that, if you’re going to need the full 1000 lumen output for an extended period, to carry a spare battery with you.

The older model cost $75, and the good news is that Fenix appears to have maintained this price even with all of the extra features of the V2.0 model. This places the BC21R V2.0 in the mid- to high-range of  single battery lights. Given the features and multi-use applications it’s pretty good value for money.

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Product of the Day

Hisense adds AI-cameras to handsets

Hisense has entered the AI-camera space with the Infinity H30, aimed at the mid-range market. BRYAN TURNER tests the new camera technology.

Click below to read the review.

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While many know Hisense for its TVs and appliances, it has an impressive lineup of smartphones. Its latest Infinity H30 smartphone packs a serious punch in the mid-range market, including features like a low-bezel screen and AI camera.

Out the box, the phone comes with the usual charger, charging cable and earphones. There is a surprise in the box: a screen protector and a clear case. A nice value-add to the already affordable smartphone.  

The polycarbonate plastic body feels premium, especially for a device in this price range. It has a colour changing body, depending on the angle at which it is held. The colour of the device we reviewed is called Ice Blue, and shimmers in darker and lighter blues. Aesthetically, this is a big win for Hisense.

The 6.5″ screen is a narrow-bezelled FHD+ display with good colour replication. Hisense is known for creating colour-accurate displays and it’s good to see it continue this legacy in its smartphones. The shape of the display is interesting, taking some design notes from Huawei’s Dewdrop display with what Hisense calls the “U-Infinity Display”. It makes the phone look really good. 

On the rear of the phone, one finds a dual-camera setup with fingerprint sensor. On the bottom of the phone, there is a speaker, a USB Type-C Port and a headphone jack. The speaker’s placement on the bottom isn’t optimal and the sound is muffled if one accidentally covers the single speaker area.

The 4,530mAh non-removable battery is very capable, providing a good 12 hours of medium usage (checking messages every half hour and playing an online game every hour) until it reaches 20%. The battery capacity isn’t the only power feature of the device; it runs on the latest Android Pie operating system, which includes AI power-saving software measures to keep background apps from using battery.

It is a little disappointing to see the device came with some pre-installed games. Fortunately, one can uninstall them. Hisense makes up for this by issuing Android updates and security patches as the come out. This, coupled with the MediaTek Octa Core processor, provides a good user experience for playing games and multi-tasking.

The H30 has a whopping 128GB of on-board storage, and it can be expanded even more with a MicroSD card. The 4G-LTE capabilities are perfect for most high-speed broadband situations, with around 40Mbps download and around 10Mbps upload in an area with good cell service.

The 20+2MP rear camera configuration is good at taking shots on Auto mode, but pictures can be better after figuring out all the camera modes available. There is a professional mode for those who want to be extra creative with their photography. It also includes a baby mode, which plays various noises to make a baby look at the phone for a better picture. The AI mode can be enabled to make full use of the processor in the device, and fif the camera mode to be selected based on scenes photographed. 

The 20MP front camera performs equally as well. This camera is the reason for the U-like shape at the top of the screen. The camera app has beauty-face filters, for those wanting a slimmer face or smoother skin.

Overall, the Infinity H30 is a prime example of a good phone in an affordable price range.  The camera is very capable, and the AI processing helps what would otherwise be a regular camera. The aesthetically pleasing colour saves the day, and makes this mid-range device look like a high-end flagship. The device is retailing for R5,499 from most major carriers.

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