HTC 8XT review: Sprint's first Windows Phone solid, not superb

Of course Microsoft’s roster of mobile software is less developed than Apple’s and Google’s so finding your favorite iOS or Android app might be an issue. For instance WP8 still lacks apps for Instagram and Flipboard though staples such as TuneIn Radio and Evernote have made a home here.

If you’re into new fitness gadgets like the Jawbone Up, and Fitbit Flex though you’re out of luck. There’s no Google Drive either but Microsoft’s SkyDrive application lets users push and retrieve photos and other files to and from secure online servers.

Sprint couldn’t resist adding its own apps and services into the mix. On board the 8XT are shortcuts for the carrier’s Sprint Music Plus and Sprint TV and Movies storefronts, There’s a Scout program for GPS navigation too, but it costs an additional $4.99 per month for the full version.

Camera
Equipped with an 8 megapixel camera and LED flash, the HTC 8XT comes with the standard Windows Phone camera app which pretty is spartan. Thankfully the HTC Camera application that’s also pre-loaded shores up the basic app’s missing features. It offers multiple color filters plus a burst mode to snap multiple shots in a row. The software has an HDR mode for coaxing more detail out of shadows and a panorama mode to snag horizontal vistas.

You can also adjust ISO settings manually as well as select whether you want to snap widescreen, regular, or square images. One issue I find annoying though is that the sharpness options are listed in five values ranging from “Lowest” to “Highest” -- not what I call exact resolution figures.

HTC 8XT
Camera controls are basic and at times don't offer much detail. Sarah Tew/CNET

The HTC 8XT does capture photos quickly, in less than a second, and is nimble enough to grab images of fidgety subjects. Indoors the phone took well exposed shots of our still life, too, that had plenty of detail and accurate colors.

HTC 8XT
Indoors images were sharp and properly exposed. Brian Bennett/CNET

Outdoors and under strong sunlight the 8XT also did a good job of grabbing images that were both crisp and had bright colors. I was also impressed by the HDR mode that fired off pictures in rapid succession, a processor-heavy task that tends to trip up some handsets. There was slight ghosting and a double image or two of moving objects but it's an issue that confounds even the best phone HDR systems.

HTC 8XT
HDR mode lightened up details but did add ghosting effects. Brian Bennett/CNET

HTC 8XT
The camera is fast enough for restless kiddos. Brian Bennett/CNET

Performance
Powered by a 1.4GHz dual-core Qualcomm processor, the HTC 8XT’s core components are strictly midrange. Even so I didn’t notice any major hiccups or snags. Still, as I said before, sometimes I felt impatient while the phone churned through its graphically intensive UI. Likewise, peppy isn’t an adjective I’d use to describe the device’s handling since the 8XT never behaved in a fashion I’d call snappy.

Battery life on the 8XT, similar to my experience with other Windows 8 handsets, was satisfyingly long. Through the device uses a relatively low-capacity 1,800 mAh battery, I could easily go for 24 hours without recharging.

Call quality
I tested the HTC 8XT on Sprint’s CDMA network in New York and the call quality I experienced was mixed. Callers described my voice as flat and robotic which immediately gave away that I spoke from a cellular phone. On the other hand they could easily understand what I said and didn’t detect any distracting pops, clips, or static in the background.

To my ears callers sounded clear, if not very loud, (even at the highest volume setting). Calls I placed through the speakerphone didn’t pack much volume either, odd given the phone’s powerful stereo speakers.

HTC 8XT call quality sample Listen now:

Data speeds
In New York where I tested the HTC 8XT, Sprint hasn’t officially rolled out its advanced 4G LTE network. That said I was able to sniff out a few locations where the handset displayed a “4G” logo in its status area. My results however were disappointingly slow and strictly in the 3G camp. Average download speeds clocked in at low 1.6Mbps but I recorded readings all over the map (ranging from 2.96 Mbps to zilch). Upload throughput was a little more stable, and just as unimpressive, coming in at an average of 0.6Mbps.

Data on Sprint's network in New York was slow. Brian Bennett/CNET

Hopefully these results aren't indicative of Sprint's future LTE performance in my neck of the woods. Other Windows Phone 8 devices fared much better and faster. Connected to AT&T's 4G LTE infrastructure, the Nokia Lumia 1020 for instance reached a blistering peak of 38Mbps down while the HTC 8X (also on AT&T LTE) sucked down data in the high teens (Mbps).

Conclusion
When it’s all said and done, the HTC 8XT is a capable and compact smartphone able to tackle all the basics. The speakers are great and its camera is a trooper too, snapping images quickly and with pleasing quality. I just wish that Sprint and HTC put more oomph behind the carrier's first Windows Phone. Yes, it's slim and sexy, but it lacks the power and features of many Nokia Lumia phones and the sharp display of the HTC 8X .

If you really want a Windows Phone, then it will serve you well. But if you're open to your OS choices, even older smartphones such as the LG Optimus G running late model Jelly Bean (Android 4.1) look fresher and more exciting. Its 13MP camera shoots excellent photos and its quad-core processor is more nimble. Current Sprint customers will have to shell out an additional $50 to get it (for a total price of $149), but I think that's it worth the investment (new customers, as I said, can event get it for free). Heck, I’d also recommend the Samsung Galaxy S3 (also $149.99) over the HTC 8XT which is a better value despite its age.

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    HTC 8XT (Sprint)

    Part Number: 8XT
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    Quick Specifications See All

    • Regional specs shown for US. AU specs are unavailable.

    • Technology CDMA2000 1X
    • Service Provider Sprint Nextel
    • Weight 4.94 oz
    • Diagonal Size 4.3 in
    • Sensor Resolution 8 pixels