Review: HTC 8X

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HTC has watched their once commanding lead in the Android world dwindle, with Samsung scooping up the majority of Android related fanfare. And then there’s Apple and iOS. Together, Apple and Samsung are making HTC’s financial directors weep. Windows Phone is a reboot of sorts for HTC, a fresh start if you will. While they’re still very much trying to compete in the Android world, the relatively small field of competitors and competing devices in the Windows Phone world means HTC has a much better chance of getting noticed. The company’s 8X is just the device they need.

Hardware

Where Nokia’s chooses to use bright, vivid polycarbonate, HTC has instead opted for (still colorful) soft touch finishes. The result is a phone that is nicer to hold and less likely to slip from your grip. From an external standpoint, we prefer HTC’s design choices over Nokia’s this time around.

Diving in deeper, HTC keeps things pretty sparse on the 8X. The right side of the phone houses the volume up/down and physical camera shutter button while the left side holds absolutely 0 buttons. Down below is your micro USB charging port with the power button (that is difficult to hit we’ll add) up top. Also on the top – the 3.5mm audio/headphone jack.

It goes without saying, Windows Phone looks great on even low resolution displays. On a true 720p display such as what we’re dealing with here, Windows Phone really shines, as does on-screen content. Colors were very vibrant and true while blacks were also quite dark. No, blacks weren’t quite as dark and colors not quite as saturated as an AMOLED. But in our opinion, we’d take more accurate colors and give up a tad in blacks. To each their own.

Internally, you’re looking at pretty standard (but powerful) hardware at this point – 4.3-inch 720p display, 16 GB of storage, 1 GB of RAM, 8-megapixel/2.1-megapixel rear/front, 1.5 GHz dual-core processor and 1,800 mAh battery. In the Android world you’re looking at a mid-range/high-end device. In the Windows Phone world, that’s more than enough to power through Windows Phone 8’s UI.

In our daily usage over the last couple of weeks, we never noticed any slow downs or lag in normal navigation around the app nor in the various 3rd party apps we downloaded. Along the same lines, cellular and data performance over Verizon’s network was, as always, reliable and generally speedy. Because Verizon’s LTE network is a bit more mature, and it’s lineup of LTE-enabled devices quite a bit larger than their competitors, we did notice it slowing down more than their competitors. Still, even at its worst points we managed to net ~4-7 Mbps down – which is actually in the lower range of what VZW says you should get.

Camera & Video

For Windows Phone, Nokia is where it’s at for photo buffs. But don’t count out HTC. The 8X takes pretty awesome photos, too. That said, compared to top contenders such as the already mentioned Lumia 920, the iPhone 5 and Galaxy S III, we found the 8X to more than hold its own against the aforementioned devices, though never really pulls ahead in any key area. Low light shooting is decent and color reproduction is fairly accurate. For most users, the 8X’s camera performance won’t leave you wishing for more.

Battery Life

Battery life is the revolving door if you will of the smartphone world. The more features and power you pack into your device the more battery power is needed. Conversely, putting in bigger batteries also means adding size to the phone’s overall footprint and weight – two things people seemingly hate (or so manufacturers tell us). With the 8X, HTC managed to make a relatively thin and light phone and still manage to pack in an 1,800 mAh battery. In our daily testing we were able to get roughly 10-12 hours of heavier use out of the battery before sliding down below 15%. Considering the demands we put on phones, we’re pretty impressed and could definitely see many people making it through a full work day without having to worry about their next charging station and session.

Conclusion

In the Windows Phone world there are really two choices: The Lumia 920 or the HTC 8X. The Lumia is highly lauded by Nokia for its photography, specifically low light abilities while HTC pushes the 8X as a thinner, overall better device. Physical size differences aside, both the Lumia 920 are and HTC 8X are very similar in terms of software. A few bundled apps differ. And as touched on above, the Lumia does still produce better images via its camera overall. To some, the more vivid and “risky” design of the 8X will offset the few knocks against its camera while to others, Nokia’s continuing refinement of Windows Phone hardware and software is enough to keep them coming back. No matter which phone you ultimately decide to purchase, you’re getting a great piece of hardware that is more than capable of showcasing Microsoft’s latest mobile OS.

If we had to pick, we’d go with the 8X. It may not seem like much in pictures, but the difference in hand is striking. The 8X is simply nicer to hold and more comfortable to use. It doesn’t feel like a brick and the bright color choices make for a more personable experience. Combined with rock solid performance it’s a no brainer.

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Gadget lover, smartphone collector, and beer connoisseur. I've been writing about gadgets for three years now and loving every minute of it. Outside of the digital landscape, I enjoy being active outdoors. I'm always up for a good conversation, so feel free to drop me a line!

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