HTC 8X review: HTC 8X

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CNET Editors' Rating

3.5 stars Very good

Average User Rating

4 stars 30 user reviews
Review Date:
Updated on:

The Good Slick, attractive design; Crisp, bright screen; Easy to use software; People hub groups social networks together; Powerful enough for most tasks.

The Bad No microSD card slot; Rival phones have bigger screens and faster chips; App store is barren.

The Bottom Line The HTC 8X, also known as the Windows Phone 8X by HTC, features a slick design, 4.3-inch display and a dual-core processor. The Windows Phone 8 software is enjoyable but doesn't seem to offer much over its Android or iOS rivals.

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The HTC 8X is the first phone to land in our hands running the  brand-spanking new version of Microsoft's mobile operating system, Windows Phone 8 . The new software brings support for higher screen resolutions and burlier processors to the colourful live tiles of its predecessor. But with an extremely limited app store, does it have what it takes to tackle Apple's iOS and Google's Android?

The 8X -- also known as the Windows Phone 8X by HTC -- boasts a 4.3-inch 720p display, a slim and sleek design and a 1.5GHz dual-core processor. It's available from November from £400 SIM-free.

Should I buy the HTC 8X?

The main reason to be excited about the HTC 8X isn't in the phone itself, but what lies inside it. It's the first phone we've seen running the latest version of Microsoft's mobile operating system, Windows Phone 8.

Like Windows Phone 7 before it, it's fun and easy to use and offers a bunch of neat features. Its main drawback, however, is its distinct lack of apps. While there are a few gems like Netflix and WhatsApp, there's nothing like the catalogue available on iOS and Android. If you're a serial app addict, Windows Phone 8 won't satisfy you.

HTC 8X Windows Phone 8
The blocky Windows Phone 8 interface is reflected in the handset's design.

The phone itself is rather sharp though. Its 4.3-inch, 720p screen is extremely bright and colourful. The 1.5GHz dual-core processor pumps out enough juice to make swiping around the tiles a nippy experience. Design-wise, the 8X's minimal aesthetic is likely to appeal to the more fashion conscious among you.

While Windows Phone 8 offers an attractive interface, it doesn't seem to do a whole lot to tempt users away from Android or iOS. The People app is certainly handy and there's a whole plethora of cool little tweaks to enjoy, but the barren app store isn't going to satisfy real smart phone lovers.

If  simple software and a truckload of apps are your thing,  you can pick up the iPhone 4 from £319. If you want the customisability  of Android and a similarly well-stocked app store then Samsung's Galaxy  S2 is a wise choice at £305 SIM-free. The 8X doesn't do much to put  itself above either of these and with a higher asking price, it isn't a  wise choice unless you have your heart set on buying a Windows Phone.

Design and build quality

HTC normally doesn't stray too far from its familiar design -- many of its Android devices look pretty similar. Thankfully, it's put more effort in creating something eye catching this time out.

It's still clearly from the same minds that built the beefy One X, but it borrows design tips from Nokia's Lumia range . The back panel is a matte, rounded plastic affair with gently curving corners. You'll be able to spot the HTC logo as well the the Beats 'b' at the bottom.

HTC 8X angled back
The brightly coloured, curved design is among this handset's strong points.

The front is dominated by a single piece of glass, which curves at the edges to meet the plastic casing. It's a very minimal, monolithic look, but I think it's extremely stylish. If elegant, linear lines are your thing you'll probably appreciate the 8X's look. My review model came in black, but we've previously seen it in purple which I found rather appealing -- it certainly stands out from the crowd.

The rounded design makes it extremely comfortable to hold in one hand, helped as well by its slender 9mm thickness. It's only 132mm long and 66mm wide too, making it very pocket-friendly. At 128g, it's weightier than Apple's new iPhone 5, but it's far from what you'd call heavy and at no point did I feel weighed down by it.

Around the edges you'll find a power button, camera shutter button and volume rocker, all of which I found to be easy to press, without feeling loose and plasticky. There's a 3.5mm headphone jack on the top and a micro USB port on the bottom for charging and data transfer.

HTC 8X back
Both front and back cameras are capable of 1080p video recording.

You get 16GB of built-in storage, which you'll want to use carefully as there's no ability to expand the storage with a microSD card. One of the updates to Windows Phone 8 was the ability to use external storage, so it's something of a disappointment that HTC hasn't included this here. You'll need to rely on cloud-based storage for your photos and videos and use streaming services such as Netflix for movies, rather than store them locally.

Screen

The 8X's screen measures 4.3 inches on the diagonal, putting it near Samsung's Galaxy S2 in terms of screen space. It's not up there with huge beasts such as the Galaxy S3 or the whopping 5.5 inches of the Galaxy Note 2 , so if you're a serial media hog, it might not be the mobile for you, but it's a good compromise between screen size and portability.

The older Windows Phone 7 software only supported screen resolutions up to 480x800 pixels, but thankfully this has been altered for Windows Phone 8. It's now capable of supporting high-definition displays, meaning the 8X is able to offer a 720p screen. Its improved resolution is immediately noticeable over the Nokia Lumia 800, with small text appearing sharper and edging on the bright squares of the Windows Phone 8 homescreen appearing much more highly defined.

The auto-brightness of the screen tended to err on the dim side slightly, but turn it off and you can ramp the brightness to a retina-searing level. I found it to be easily bright enough to use under harsh office lighting without trouble and held up very well under direct sunlight during a rare outbreak of sunshine here in autumnal London.

Colours are handled very well, making the bright homescreen tiles look extremely rich. I loaded up some high-resolution photos and videos, all of which looked great on the display. It might not be physically big enough to be your dedicated movie player, but it's certainly good enough for watching a few episodes of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers on Netflix when your train journey drags on.

Windows Phone 8 software

Windows Phone 8 replaces the older Windows Phone 7 -- which Microsoft rather unceremoniously declared that it will be ditching completely -- but brings various upgrades to the table.

In terms of outward design, there's not much that's immediately different. It's based around a homescreen full of colourful tiles that display live information such as emails or text messages. In Windows Phone 8, you're able to resize these tiles -- from dominating a whole line to taking up a small square -- letting you fit four tiles where you'd previously only be able to fit one.

HTC 8X Windows Phone 8 homescreen
The Windows Phone 8 homescreen isn't much different from its predecessor.

Apps you don't want pinned to the front are displayed in a list when you swipe to the left. This isn't quite as elegant as the grids of apps you see on Android or iOS, as you have to scroll down a continuous line. When you install more than 45 apps the list will be separated by letter. Tapping the letter brings up all letters, letting you quickly jump to the 'T' section, for example. This method does require you to remember the names of all your apps, however. If they're not obviously titled like Twitter or Camera, you might struggle.

The design of the OS is very neat and visually quite appealing. It's easy to see it as a combination of the simplicity of iOS's interface merged with the live widget functionality of Android. It's easy to learn the tricks and swipes needed to get full use from it.

Navigation comes courtesy of three touch-sensitive buttons beneath the screen. A back arrow returns you to the previous screen, a Windows icon takes you to your homescreen and a magnifying glass icon brings up Bing search. In most apps you'll see various icons at the bottom to interact with the app. If you're not sure what they do, pressing the three dots to the right will reveal more information and other tasks you can perform.

Multi-tasking has been greatly improved in version 8. Pressing and holding on the back key will bring up thumbnails of your recent apps. Apps are paused when you leave them, so they won't need to boot from scratch when you venture back and some apps -- such as the music player or navigation tools -- can continue to run in the background.

HTC 8X Windows Phone 8 multitasking
Pressing the back key brings up a handy multi-tasking tool.

Voice interaction has been built in too. Press and hold the home button and you can then speak commands: "Text Luke Westaway." I found it was able to understand me and find the right contact nearly every time. You can then dictate a message and say "send" to send it on its way. It's pretty good at recognising sentence structure, although its grammar wasn't always perfect and didn't capitalise the 'I' in 'I'm'.

Say "Note" before you begin speaking and you can dictate a note that will be automatically pasted into the One Note app. It's a very handy way of saving a quick memo or reminder to yourself without having to open individual apps and type it out on the keyboard.

HTC 8X Windows Phone 8 dictate-note
Dictating straight into One Note is quicker than typing it out.

Annoyingly, although it was able to hear my words well, it automatically starred out any bad language, and there didn't seem to be a way to turn that off. I don't really like Microsoft attempting to teach me a lesson about naughty words -- my mum does a pretty good job of that already.

You can also use it to open apps -- "Open Netflix" worked perfectly -- and search for businesses. I asked, "Where is the nearest pub?" which it sadly wasn't able to understand, instead bringing up a Bing search for the thirsty request. Saying "pubs", however, showed web results and a list of local pubs, handily highlighted on a map. By contrast, Google Now on the Nexus 7 was able to show me exactly where my nearest pub was and walking directions on how to get there.

Email and calendars are quick and easy to set up. Head into the accounts section and click your email client of choice to add that account. You can then select if you want to sync any connected contacts and calendars. I work primarily in Google apps so this was extremely helpful for me. After a couple of minutes my phone had access to all my email accounts and associated calendars. You can go into your calendar's settings to make it show events from only certain sources -- uncheck Facebook if you don't want all your friends' birthdays on show.

HTC 8X Windows Phone 8 calendar
The calendar is easy to set up and sync with your email, Facebook and Hotmail accounts.

Typing on the screen is a hit and miss affair. The keyboard is very similar to the one you'd find on the iPhone. You only see letters normally, so you need to hit a button to reveal numbers and punctuation marks. It has predictive abilities and is able to suggest words as you're typing. While I found the words it suggested were accurate, there was a delay in suggesting them, so my typing the word was quicker than pausing to see the options, more often than not.

It's clever though, and can learn sentences you use most often, meaning you only need to type a couple of words for it suggest the next words in the chain. It'll also learn made-up words -- I found a few uses of "amazeballs" was enough to bring the word up as a suggestion when I started typing "ama" the next time. It's very similar to Android's SwiftType, but I find SwiftType is able to offer suggestions faster and is much more accurate with correcting my spelling.

Unlike Android, you aren't able to download different keyboards to use in its place. If you take your time over what you're trying to write it's perfectly usable but if, like me, you tend to bash out speedy sentences in a hurry and hit send without checking them over, expect to receive some harsh words in return about your erratic spelling and feeble grammar.

Kid's Corner

A nifty feature new for Windows Phone 8 is Kid's Corner. This app allows you to create a duplicate of your homescreen, but showing different apps, music and videos. The idea behind it is you can select child-friendly apps and music provided by that terrifying adorable purple dinosaur.

HTC 8X Windows Phone 8 kids-corner
With Kid's Corner, you're able to display only apps, games and music you deem suitable for children.

When Kid's Corner loads, you -- or, more specifically your hyperactive 5-year-old -- will only be able to see and access the apps you've chosen. They won't be able to make calls, access the store or alter any settings without typing in your PIN.

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