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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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Nokia 9 PureView pioneers new camera tech

Nokia packed five camera-lenses into its latest high-end flagship, but does more lenses mean better pictures? BRYAN TURNER took it for a test run.

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Nokia is not new to the high-end mobile photography market. In 2012, it led Mobile World Congress (MWC) with its 41MP Nokia 808 PureView. This year, Nokia returned to MWC with its next PureView handset: the Nokia 9 PureView.

Instead of pushing megapixels, the mobile device maker chose to focus on intelligent exposure and sharp focus quality. It achieved this with a set of five cameras on the rear of the device – the most ever on the back of a handset. All of the lenses are 12MP f/1.8 lenses, and three of them are monochrome. The five lenses work in tandem to blend the best parts of a captured image. This is achieved through software image blending, which has been trained to know what’s good and bad about the image. 

Why monochrome? 

Lighting is dramatically improved with a monochrome sensor. About 2.9x more light can be captured with a monochrome sensor when compared to a conventional sensor. Huawei showed off the advantages of integrating a monochrome camera with the P9. 

Why three monochrome lenses? 

Detail can be captured at three different lighting settings, one to absorb a lot of light, one to absorb a little less light, and one to absorb very little light. These photos can then be blended into one great photo, without the user having to worry about setting the camera’s exposure manually.

The monochrome mode captures photos in crisp detail, while giving an authentic dramatic monochrome photography feel.

Only five lenses have been mentioned so far but the back of the device sports seven holes. The sixth hole is for the flash and the seventh is for the depth sensor. This sensor captures the depth of an image, so autofocus can be a little sharper and focus depth on bokeh images can be adjusted after the picture is taken. This adjustment feature is especially useful when a subject’s hair has been “bokeh’d out”.

Click here to read about the other features of the Nokia 9 PureView.

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Bose Portable: quality at a price

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The Bose SoundDock Portable looks great and performs well, but SEAN BACHER finds the price doesn’t justify the better sound quality.

Since its inception in 1964, American-based audio specialist, Bose, has built a name synonymous with quality. Along with that, it has built a reputation of being more expensive than many of its competitors, but not deterring many from making the expensive investment. The mini sound speakers are quite often used in boardrooms, bars and restaurants around the world and offer crystal-clear sound that rivals most speakers twice their size.

Testament to the Bose sound quality is that it is used as the standard audio system in luxury cars like Audi, BMW and Mercedes, and according to Wikipedia, Bose products can be found in many military and NASA applications.

It is therefore not surprising to find Bose accessories compatible with smartphones. One example is the Bose SoundDock Portable. A portable docking station for iPhones and iPods that works off rechargeable batteries.

We put the Bose SoundDock Portable through the Gadget Five Question User.

1. Ease of use (including set-up)

Although the Bose SoundDock Portable, comes with instructions, they are not needed and in most cases, it will be ready to operate the minute it is removed from the box and an iPhone or iPod is plugged into it.

If the batteries on either the phone or docking station are flat though, the charger needs to be plugged into it before it can be used. You don’t need to wait for the batteries to charge fully before using it.

Bose has taken the minimalist approach with the SoundDock as on the right are two touch-sensitive Volume buttons and that’s it. No Power or other controls. The included remote is also very easy to use. It uses standard Play, Pause, Volume and Skip buttons, all well labelled.

The front of the docking station is made up of a silver grill, below which is the retractable iPhone dock. Although the casing around the connector is designed to accommodate an iPhone’s protective skin, it was not big enough to for the bumper I had on my phone, which meant I had to take the phone out of the case every time I wanted to plug it in.

On the plus side though, unlike many other portable docking stations, the Bose will charge a docked phone even if it is just running off battery power.

The Bose SoundDock Portable’s ease of use along with its elegant design cannot be faulted. But its dock connector counts against it.

Score: 18/20

2. General performance

The two front facing speakers offer crisp sounds and when the volume is cranked up all the way the SoundDock does not distort at all and is deafeningly loud.

At the rear is 3.5mm jack, allowing you to connect non-Apple phones, MP3 players and other audio equipment.

According to Bose, the 1 900mAh rechargeable battery pack will offer up to three hours of music at a maximum volume a different approach to rating battery life as most other vendors rate operating times at ‚”typical listening volumes‚”. I have been using the SoundDock on and off and not at full tilt for the past week without having to plug the mains adapter in yet.

This is however a good thing. Although the Bose SoundDock Portable is elegant and well made, Bose didn’t pay to much attention to the adaptor. It is a bit bigger than two cellphone chargers placed next to each other. It monopolises all the other electrical outlets, when plugged into the wall, meaning you need a dedicated plug for when you want to charge the battery.

The Bose SoundDock Portable provides a beautiful sound, its battery life is great, but the giant-sized charger is a complete let down.

Score: 12/20

3. Does it add value to your life?

Unlike many docking stations that are designed for bedside listening, the Bose SoundDock Portable is powerful enough to offer good sound in an average sized dining room or lounge.

Weighing in at just under three kilograms, it is not the lightest of them all, but the rear, recessed-handle makes carrying it fairly easy. (A carry bag is available as an optional extra.) Overall, it is a nice addition for a picnic or where an electrical outlet is not available.

18/20

4. Innovation

Sound docks have been around for years, and although the SoundDock offers superior sound, it offers nothing in the way of innovation. In fact, the lack of Bluetooth or any wireless connectivity for that matter is limiting.

13/20

5. Value for money

Much like the die-hard Apple Mac fans that will spend more on a product that performs much the same as cheaper alternatives, you get the same in the audio/visual world.

This becomes especially clear when reading the various reviews posted on the Internet. Reviewers either dislike the Bose SoundDock Portable due to it price, while others like it, saying the sound quality justifies the price.

But at R5 000 for a docking station I would have to agree with the former reviewers. R5 000 is ridiculously overpriced, even though it offers superior sound.

10/20

Conclusion

There is no faulting the Bose SoundDock Portable in terms of elegance and sound, but its clunky charger and high price are complete turnoffs.

Total score: 71%

* Follow Sean on Twitter on @seanbacher

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