HTC Windows Phone 8X review: What a Windows phone should be

I didn't have terrific luck with the 8X's 2-megapixel front-facing camera, but then again, most front-facing cameras aren't designed to take your next glamor shot. Photos were OK and color balance was fine on faces, but I got a lot of discoloration and noise in the bottom third of my self-portrait.

Don't these tiny cupcakes look good? The artificial lighting didn't help the 8X's rendering here. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

The 8X takes nice 1080p HD video at a frame rate of 30 frames per second. Volume was predictably higher on me than on my subjects, but video looked smooth and crisp when I held the camera still. When moving it, there was some blur while it grabbed onto a focus point, just like other similar cameras. Colors were about right, but the camera did continually adjust from yellow indoor lighting to cooler, bluer outdoor lighting as I walked from the interior of the office to the window.

Like the camera, videos get a range of effects, resolution, and white-balance options, plus adjustments for contrast, saturation, and sharpness. I shot on the default mode, "normal," but you can also go higher or lower.

The Windows Phone 8X has 16GB of internal storage, and 7GB of free Microsoft Skydrive storage.

Performance
4G LTE was alive and well on the Windows Phone 8X, generally reaching the high teens for download speeds in San Francisco, with upload speeds in the lower digits. I tested on two apps: Free Speed Test and MySpeed Test. Unfortunately, the latter app seemed to swap uplink and downlink speeds, but the numbers are correct even if the presentation isn't.

Testing LTE speeds on the HTC Windows Phone 8X
LTE results were impressive on two speed-test apps: Free Speed Test (left) and MySpeed Test. Screenshot by Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

The 8X has a 1.5GHz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Plus processor, which is one of the fastest there is, regardless of the number of cores.

Download Endomondo app (3MB) 29 seconds
CNET mobile site load 2.5 seconds
CNET desktop site load 16.5 seconds
Boot time to lock screen 44 seconds
Camera boot time 3 seconds
Camera, shot-to-shot time 4 seconds with flash and autofocus; 1-2 seconds, no flash, no autofocus
Load up app (MySpeedTest) 3 seconds

In everyday life, battery life was strong on the 8X's 1,800mAh lithium ion slab, though the average talk time from three battery drain tests showed only 6.4 hours of video playback. The 8X has 1GB RAM system memory. The digital SAR of the AT&T version measures 0.78 watt per kilogram.

Call quality
I tested the Windows Phone 8X in San Francisco using AT&T's network (GSM 850/900/1800/1900 MHz; LTE 1700/2100). Call quality was very good. Volume was nice and high at a medium level, with no noise or interruptions. My caller's voice sounded warm, rich, and fairly natural. There was a little flaw when he spoke, making him sound slightly lispy and thick, but we were able to talk for a long time without the device getting in the way.

On his end, my testing partner called the phone very premium, from a calling perspective (he didn't know which one I was using until the end). When analyzing the call, he said I sounded slightly unnatural, but loud, clear, noise-free, and excellent.

HTC Windows Phone 8X call quality sample Listen now:

I tested the speakerphone by holding the phone at waist level. On my end, volume immediately dropped, and my test partner sounded slightly more distant. There was a little defect in voice quality that didn't sound like it had before, and there was a little natural echo. Overall, though, I thought it was a serviceable speakerphone experience, especially since there wasn't background noise, distortion, or strong echo.

My test partner also noted the normal amounts of echo, but deemed volume levels good and voices piping in clear.

How does it compare with the Nokia Lumia 920?
When it comes to price, specs, and software extras, the $99 Nokia Lumia 920 wins across the board. The 8X's camera isn't quite as consistent (though some shots were better ,) there's less storage space, and not every carrier will offer wireless charging.

Check out this point-by-point comparison for even more details.
HTC Windows Phone 8X (blue) versus Nokia Lumia 920.
The HTC Windows Phone 8X (blue) is thinner and much lighter than the Nokia Lumia 920. Josh Miller/CNET

However, the 8X is a nice premium Windows Phone handset it ints own right, and it also has a much sexier design that's easier to hold and carry. The 8X is more contoured and lighter than the Lumia 920, and its soft-touch coating on every phone makes it much more grippable.

If AT&T is out of the question, the premium choice is easy since the 8X is coming to Verizon and T-Mobile as well. For AT&T customers, the decision could come down to size and weight, since the phone's designs are so different and since many other specs are so similar: LTE, 8-megapixel camera, identical processor, and large, HD screen.

Should you buy it?
The HTC Windows Phone 8X's sexy hardware makes Microsoft's OS look extra cool, and its three-carrier attack will push it into the spotlight. HTC has carefully crafted the 8X's hardware, giving it an immersive screen, a fast processor, and a fair amount of internal storage. The variable camera could be another decision point between the 8X and, say, the iPhone 5's camera; however, I was very pleased with the 8X's best shots .

Ultimately, the phone can only be as strong as its OS, and as a result, you have to live with Windows Phone 8 OS itself. The OS looks sharp and is fun to use, but its continued lack of some crucial apps at launch will hold it back for some people. Rest assured that those will come, especially as more people use Windows Phone. But if the thought of not having an official Reddit app, or CNET app for that matter, makes you cringe, then the 8X absorbs that demerit.

Although I do really like the 8X's smooth lines, manageable footprint, and bright colors, the Nokia Lumia 920 has the more consistent camera and double the storage at half the price. AT&T customers should pick that one, even though it's heavier and bulkier. However, those with other carriers should consider the 8X their premium Windows Phone option.

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Quick Specifications See All

  • Release date Nov. 20, 2012
  • Service Provider AT&T
  • Weight 4.59 oz
  • Diagonal Size 4.3 in
About The Author

Jessica Dolcourt reviews smartphones and cell phones, covers handset news, and pens the monthly column Smartphones Unlocked. A senior editor, she started at CNET in 2006 and spent four years reviewing mobile and desktop software before taking on devices.