Maps and navigation
The maps information for Windows Phone 8 is provided by Microsoft's best bud Nokia, regardless of whether you're using a Nokia phone or not. Nokia's maps provide a wealth of information about local businesses, streets and live traffic, so it's great to see it built into all Windows Phone 8 handsets as standard.
You can view maps in either a standard map view or a satellite view. It's able to provide detailed driving instructions between two points, although the map app isn't able to give live, turn-by-turn directions. The Nokia Drive app, which provides that functionality, will apparently be available on all Windows Phones, but at the time of writing it wasn't in the store.
Local information is easily found too. Press the 'scout' button at the bottom and it will bring up details about local bars and restaurants -- together with contact details -- as well as local places of interest and shops. While I found it was able to provide a rough guide to the area with at least enough information to keep you happy for a weekend, it's not a complete list and some nearby shops and restaurants that I'm rather keen on didn't show up.
Oddly, the satellite views provided on the phone are older views than you'd see on Bing's desktop maps. I first noticed when I looked at the map of the CNET UK offices. On the desktop version, a terrifyingly huge Virgin Atlantic jumbo jet appears to be ploughing into our building, whereas on the phone, this plane is yet to arrive. Similarly, buildings nearby are still in construction on the phone but are finished on the desktop version. Although the information seems up to date, the aerial pictures aren't as current.
Google's maps, found on Android devices, certainly have more local information and using Google Now for nearby businesses is extremely easy. Between the two, Google offers more features. Windows Phone 8's offering is leaps and bounds above Apple's new maps software, which has deservedly.
The People hub on Windows Phone 8 aims to pull together all your friends' information and updates across all social networks into one easy to navigate place. By linking your email, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn accounts, you can see everything you need to know about your friends from one spot, rather than jumping in and out of various apps.
When you load the app, you'll be shown your own Facebook profile picture, along with your most recent update. Below is a list of all contacts from all linked accounts for you to scroll through or -- more easily -- type in a search. Swipe to the right and you'll see recent updates from your friends' various accounts.
Tap on a contact and you'll be able to contact them by any of the channels you have linked -- you can send a tweet, an email, a Facebook post, a text or call them straight from the app. Swipe to the left and you can see their recent posts, as well as look at their Facebook photos. While this might seem an easy way for an obsessive ex to keep up to date on everything you're saying and doing, I really found it easy to use and was certainly quicker than using separate apps to contact friends.
If you have a contacts list bursting with friends and colleagues -- which I'm sure you do -- you'll want to check out the Groups tool. It lets you add contacts to named groups, allowing you to easily share information to the people held inside. I put all my happy colleagues into a group entitled 'CNET', logically enough. When I come to share a photo, send a text or an email, I can simply click the group and send the same thing simultaneously to everyone in the group at once.
You're also able to pin contacts -- and groups you've made -- to your homescreen to instantly access them without having to search through the list every time.
It's not just about your friends though, sometimes you need a bit of time to yourself, right? The me app connects with the same networks you've linked in the People app, letting you see notifications -- Facebook tags, Twitter mentions and so on -- in one place. You can also see all of your updates you've posted to your social channels, if you're narcissistic enough to want to re-read everything you've been posting.
More handy is the ability to post updates straight from the app. You can select all your linked channels, or just one if you don't want your Facebook friends to see the same gold as your Twitter followers receive. You're able to check in to locations too, although there's annoyingly no way to post photos from the app.
One of the big problems with Windows Phone 7 was its distinct lack of apps in its store. Sadly, this problem hasn't gone away in Windows Phone 8. Open the app store and browse through any of the categories and you'll notice big-name apps are few and far between -- and those that are there are hidden among a deluge of clutter.
There's a few gems of course -- Netflix is brilliant and Whats App is as handy here as it is on iOS and Android -- but there's not a lot else. Oddly, both Skype and Spotify are missing from the store, both of which are essentials on any phone hoping to take up long-term residence in my pocket. The Skype app is currently being finished off and will offer the same stripped-back, simple interface and background running as.
I'm sincerely hoping that Spotify has also been removed from the app store as an update is on the way. Both Skype and Spotify are still available in the store when accessed on a Windows Phone 7 device. While WP7 devices aren't able to use apps for WP8, WP8 is able to use older apps, so it's weird these apps aren't available.
Games are also pretty scarce too. Angry Birds is available, as is Fruit Ninja, and at 79p each, there's not much price difference from their iOS counterparts. Sadly though, there's not a whole lot else. If you love getting to grips with the latest mobile games such as Real Racing 2, Windows Phone 8 isn't going to suit you.
But all is not lost. Windows Phone 8 apps share a similar foundation as apps designed foron desktops. Theoretically, this would make it a very simple job to bring Windows 8 apps to the phones. Although there aren't many apps in the Windows 8 Marketplace either, the operating system will soon be on all new computers, meaning developers will have a reason to bring their apps to the platform and, hopefully, to the phone as well.
For now though, the store is extremely limited and if you're an app addict you'd be better suited to Android or iOS.
Bundled with Windows Phone 8 are the mobile version of Microsoft's Office app and One Note. One Note is a simple note-taking app that syncs across all your Windows 8 devices -- think Evernote but made by Microsoft for Windows 8.
The Office app is arguably more for viewing documents than creating them. You can create Word or Excel documents, but your options for formatting are very restricted. Of course, typing out long documents is better left to proper keyboards on laptops than on phones. You can view documents sent to you though, including viewing PowerPoint presentations.
While having Office bundled on a phone might not be the sort of thing you'd brag about to your mates at the pub, it's handy for creating quick documents and checking over your files on the way to a meeting.
Power and performance
Unlike Windows Phone 7 before it, Windows Phone 8 is able to take advantage of multi-core processors. You'll therefore find a 1.5GHz dual-core chip slumbering inside the rounded shell. That's a modest improvement over offerings from last season's devices and it might seem a shame not to see a quad-core offering -- especially as Windows Phone 8 can cope with up to 64 cores.
Quad-core phones don't necessarily offer any better performance, however, as apps need to be written specifically to take advantage of the extra cores. Even on Android -- which has numerous quad-core beasts to its name -- there aren't many apps that can take full advantage. A nippy dual-core processor is able to offer a decent amount of juice without putting too much strain on your battery.
Indeed, I found the 8X had plenty of grunt, making swiping through the handsome tiles responsive and free of any visible lag. Opening menus was similarly nippy and using the multi-tasking tool to switch between running apps was satisfyingly immediate. It was also easily able to handle streaming high-definition video from Netflix. At no point did I feel the phone was struggling.
It's unlikely to be able to tackle the same demanding apps and 3D games with the same gusto as Samsung's Galaxy S3. The almost complete lack of such apps makes that something of a moot point.
On the back of the 8X you'll find an 8-megapixel camera with LED flash. I took it for a walk along the Thames with an iPhone 5 for comparison.
The results were generally quite pleasing. Image quality was fair and fine details on distant buildings were visible when I viewed the photos full-screen back at the office. The iPhone 5 has the edge in terms of clarity, but the 8X's attempts were still good.
The 8X does, however, offer very different image tones. While the iPhone 5 has a more natural image tone -- albeit sometimes bordering on the cold -- the 8X had a darker, almost purple hue to it. It's not always unpleasant and gives a warmer feel to an autumnal picture. But it isn't an accurate depiction of the scene though -- if I want to add warm tones, I'll do so in post-production.
Unlike the iPhone, however, the 8X offers the ability to tweak some of the settings. Effects such as black and white or sepia are available and you can also change white balance, exposure, contrast, saturation, sharpness and ISO speeds. The camera does a decent job on full auto mode, but it's handy to be able to tweak the settings if you want to be more creative.
It's not as fully featured as HTC's high-end Android phones though. The One X offers numerous shooting modes like burst mode, panorama and HDR -- none of which are available on the 8X. The dearth of apps in the Marketplace will be a problem for photography enthusiasts too. There's a few bits and pieces for editing your snaps, but none of the big names -- such as Instagram or Photoshop -- are yet available.
The camera is also able to shoot 1080p video, which I found to be comparable to the video on most high-end smart phones. It has a front-facing camera too for those vain self-portraits and video calling.
Overall the 8X's camera is generally acceptable and will do fine for your everyday snaps. If you want more shooting modes and access to a wider choice of editing apps, you should look to some of the
Windows Phone 8 is an attractive and fairly easy to use operating system. The live tiles are enjoyable and the People app is a fantastic way of bringing your social networks together. It doesn't offer much to truly stand out above its Android or iOS competitors, however, and with an app store that pales into insignificance next to its rivals, it's got a struggle on its hands to convince users to switch.
The HTC 8X itself offers a sleek, monolithic design with an excellent screen. It's a marked step up from last year's Windows Phone 7 handsets, but with only a dual-core chip it might not have done enough to tempt spec-hungry gadget-lovers away from quad-core Android phones.