Windows Phone 8 has been on the market for some time now and an array of smartphones using this platform are available almost anywhere in the world. The first low priced smartphone that got out was HTC 8S. Luckily we got our hands on it and, after almost a month of using it and testing it, it was time to review it and take a detailed look at its strengths and weaknesses. If you plan to buy this phone, or maybe you just want to know more about it, this real life review will help you get a good picture of what it has to offer. Let’s begin!
Hardware Specifications & Packaging
HTC 8S comes with a dual-core 1 GHz processor and 512 MB of RAM. The amount of RAM available may seem too little but remember that the new Windows Phone 8 operating system has seen quite a lot in terms of optimization when it comes to memory usage. The device has a total storage capacity of 4 GB, but the real available capacity varies. I found out that after only a few days of use and 10 apps installed, that I only had about 700 MB of free space. However, the phone also packs an expansion SD card slot for additional storage, of up to 32 GB, which makes things slightly better. The display is a 4 inch super LCD touch screen with Gorilla Glass and a resolution of 480 x 800 pixels at 233 ppi, resulting in crisp fonts and smooth details when viewing images. On the connectivity side, HTC 8S supports the Wi-Fi standards 802.11 b/g/n, which is good. The phone also comes with a built-in 5 megapixel rear camera with rather average performance. One of HTC’s 8S main disadvantages is the fact that there is no front camera, which some people might consider a big downside, considering that video calls are pretty common nowadays. HTC 8S packs a 1700 mAh Li-Ion Polymer battery that is embedded in the phone which provides reasonable uptimes. Other reviewers said that its battery is weak but I don’t really agree. Later on in this review you will see why. Regarding the packaging, the box contains the usual stuff: the smartphone, an A/C adapter, a microUSB cable, earphones and a SIM pin, the manual and the warranty cards.
The full specifications for HTC 8S can be found here: Windows Phone 8S by HTC For the actual unboxing experience, don’t hesitate to watch the video below.
Design & Build Quality
The first thing that will strike you is the looks of the phone. Its body is two-toned and comes in various colors. The colored bottom stripe will make it easily recognizable by anyone who sees it. It’s clear that HTC also tried to make this phone an attractive offer for its younger clients, or maybe for the more free-spirited users out there. The one I got is the more serious one, if I can say that, which comes in the form of a black & white combination, but the 8S is also available in other colors like blue, red or even lime. The smartphone isn’t really heavy, but it’s not too light either. It has a nice, smooth and rubber like back cover that will make it feel comfortable when holding and will also make you forget about the need for an additional protection case. After seeing its big brother - the high-end HTC 8X - I find that the 8S has good proportions: the free space between the screen and the top of the phone is much less prominent and even if the screen is smaller it feels wider. Just like the 8X, the HTC 8S has all its buttons positioned on the right side, except the power button found on the top. Despite the same approach on the position of the buttons, the 8S doesn’t feel uncomfortable when trying to reach the power button. This is the direct result of it being smaller in size so, at least for me, it didn’t seem like a design problem, as it is the case with the HTC 8X. I can easily hold and unlock the phone with only one hand. And, by the way, I don’t have big hands. :) One thing did bother me though and it is a problem shared also by the HTC 8X: the fact that the power button is quite hidden/somewhat buried into the body of the phone. This makes it difficult to feel whether you actually touched the button or not. Pressing it can also be difficult. I found myself thinking many times that I had pressed it, just to discover I didn’t really do it. On the other hand, being so well hidden makes it really hard for you to accidentally unlock your phone while in your pocket or purse.
The Phone Experience on the HTC 8S
Overall, I am quite pleased with the HTC 8S as a phone. First of all, the battery uptime is good, at least for my standards. I am a pretty heavy user and the HTC 8S with its 1700mAh battery coped well. Before this phone, I used as my main phone a Samsung Galaxy S2 (with a 1650mAh battery). In theory these phones have a similar battery but the Galaxy S2 did not manage to run for more than three quarters of a day, when fully charged. The HTC 8S always managed to run for a full day which is definitely better. Also, the signal strength and the audio quality during calls are good. However, there is one thing I wish was better: the maximum volume level could be higher. When I was in crowded and loud places, I just couldn’t manage to understand the person who was calling me. Regarding the display quality, it’s good but it could be better. There are downsides but not too many. HTC 8S has some problem coping with bright lights, but outside in the sunlight, it proved to be quite decent. I didn’t encounter problems seeing it’s screen well enough to read what was displayed. The black levels are not great, the viewing angles suit its price sector, but the brightness and contrast offered by this phone are excellent.
Let’s go to the sound quality while listening to music or when viewing videos: it is good but not "Wow", as HTC claims that Beats Audio should be. In our HTC 8X review, Ciprian showed its shortcomings, so I won’t go into detail. In brief, the Beats Audio technology is just another equalizer. Also, the earphone set bundled with the phone is decent and provides reasonable sound quality. The phone has only one camera, on its rear side. It is an autofocus 5MP camera with LED flash, capable of taking pictures at resolutions of up to 2592 x 1944. Also, it can shoot videos at up to 720p. The photos taken with the HTC 8S are decent but the sharpness level is too high, especially on the corners and on the borders of the pictures. However, the color range is reasonably close to reality. The physical lens could be better but this is a low priced smartphone so I really think I got what I paid for. The video quality is also average, but a casual user will be quite pleased with the results: you get 720p HD resolution at an average of 30 fps and mono recorded audio. I don’t know why HTC chose not to offer a front camera on this model but I suspect it had to do with the price of the phone. Anyway, I find this decision quite disappointing, considering a front camera couldn’t raise it too much (maybe a few extra dollars) and nowadays more and more people use apps like Skype, which allow video calls for virtually no money.
HTC Apps for Windows Phone 8
The apps provided by HTC are few (Connection Setup, Converter, Flashlight, HTC and Photo Enhancer) and don’t offer much in terms of value. Compared to the amount of apps included by Nokia on their phones and their quality, HTC could very well offer nothing. I can sincerely say that I didn’t feel the need to use any of them. I only launched them once or twice to see what they do. However, I kept one of the default apps that came preinstalled with the phone: the HTC app (yes, it is named HTC). This app places a tile on the Start screen, showing information about the weather and the time. Also, when you open the app, the design used for displaying weather information is quite nice. If you want to know more about the apps bundled by HTC on their Windows Phones, read the HTC Apps for Windows Phone 8 section in this review: A User's Review of the HTC 8X with Windows Phone 8. Regarding apps in general, there is one issue with this phone: the amount of space available for you to install apps. After using the HTC 8S for two weeks, the phone had almost no space left. I couldn’t believe it, as I did not install more than 20 apps on it and I did not store much in terms of pictures, music and video. What happened to its free space? I did a bit of searching on the Internet and I have learned that many HTC 8S owners have similar problems. Apparently, on the phone’s memory, Windows Phone 8 creates a folder named Other. There, it stores all its cache and temporary files. This folder grows very quickly and eats up the space that otherwise would have been available for installing apps. If Windows Phone tells you that there is no space left, your only solution is to backup your user files and reset the phone. This is not a very good option and I’m sure it will disappoint many users. I hope HTC will learn from this problem and stop providing Windows Phones with less than 8GB of storage space on them. To prevent encountering this issue early and often, you must buy an SD card for your phone and store your pictures, videos, music and all other user files on it.
Performance in Benchmarks
Although the HTC 8S is not a high-end device and its hardware specs aren’t impressive compared to other Windows Phones, it didn’t feel slow when I was using it. There were a couple of times however when it hung a little. This happened mostly when going back to the Start screen while the phone was also charging. I was also browsing the web and the phone was quite hot so I guess it had to do with being charged while its temperature was above normal levels. Looking at benchmarks results, HTC 8S fared as I expected it to: it doesn’t compare with its high-end siblings but it does offer reasonable performance levels. In MultiBench 2, HTC 8S was the weakest of its Windows Phone 8 siblings. However, it fared a lot better than the Nokia Lumia 800 with Windows Phone 7.5. It had some nice scores for a phone that’s very reasonably priced.
Going to the second benchmark - WP Bench, the CPU test showed the same discrepancy between Windows Phone 8 and Windows Phone 7.5, with my HTC 8S being again the least performing of the Windows Phone 8 devices.
The storage and memory tests in WP Bench didn’t reveal anything different from what we’ve already seen, but the graphics test was surprising at first sight. HTC 8S got the highest score, higher than HTC 8X and Nokia Lumia 920. On second thought I realized that this score is only the result of HTC 8S having a smaller display resolution than its counterparts. The result was also confirmed by the high score obtained by the Nokia Lumia 800, which also has a smaller resolution than the two high-end devices we tested with Windows Phone 8.
Next, we looked at boot timings. The HTC 8S isn’t the fastest, but it takes the second place when compared to other Windows Phone 8 devices we tested, right after Nokia Lumia 920. I found it very funny that it boots faster than the more expensive HTC 8X.
In terms of web browsing performance we used the Sunspider benchmark to see how the smartphones fare. HTC 8S was again last in the Windows Phone 8 team but it exceeded by far the the Nokia Lumia 800 with Windows Phone 7.5.
The only score that surprised me in a very positive way was related to battery life. We ran the same test on other Windows Phones: the "big brother" HTC 8X, Nokia Lumia 800 with Windows Phone 7.5 and Nokia Lumia 920. HTC 8S was the best of the bunch. Again, its smaller sized screen and the less powerful CPU helped it get this score. Its battery kept going approximately 42 minutes longer than the other smartphones did, before it was completely drained. Good job!
Regarding battery life, I would like to make one last comment: in light usage scenarios, when you make a few phone calls, browse the web for short periods of time, check your email once every few hours, the battery on the HTC 8S can last up to a day and a half. One time I used the phone frequently, played lots of games and used many of its features. The battery lasted only 5 hours. Not many other phones would last longer either so it is a very decent result, especially when considering the price of the phone.
HTC 8S has a unique design that makes it easy to recognize from other phones. Its looks are friendly and playful if you could say that about a phone. After using it for a month, I am mostly pleased with the way it works. The only important downside is that, if you are the type who installs many apps, you will run out of space relatively fast. Purchasing an SD card is a must for this phone so factor that into its price when purchasing it. HTC 8S it is not as big as other smartphones tend to be and that’s a positive for me, its battery will last you a day in normal usage scenarios and its price is very reasonable for what it has to offer. HTC 8S is a good choice for anyone looking for an affordable smartphone with Windows Phone 8.