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HTC 8X Great display, bad camera

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.


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.


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.


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.


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. 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.


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. 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.


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.


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.



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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