If you are interested in the Windows Phone platform, we definitely recommend that you buy a Windows Phone 8 device. But which device should you get? HTC 8X is one of the first Windows Phone 8 smartphones that were launched globally. It looks good, it feels good to hold in your hand and it is available almost everywhere. But, is it worth buying? Let’s find out from this detailed review, based on one month of using this smartphone everyday, as my main phone.
NOTE: Before we go ahead with this review, we would like to thank Vodafone, for giving us a test unit and letting us use it for a full month, in order to test it properly.
Hardware Specifications & Packaging
HTC 8X packs some good hardware inside. It has a Qualcomm S4 1.5 GHz dual core processor, 1GB of RAM, a 4.3 inch touch screen with Gorilla Glass 2 with a resolution of 1280 x 720 pixels, back and front cameras, and 16 GB (14.56 GB free space) of storage space. The back camera is an 8 megapixel camera with autofocus. The front camera has only 2.1 megapixels. HTC 8X provides support for the IEEE 802.11 a/b/g/n wireless standards. It is able to work also with 802.11n wireless networks running at 5GHz.This is good since not that many smartphones are able to work at this frequency. A peculiar aspect of the HTC 8X is that you cannot extend its storage space, like you can on the much cheaper HTC 8S. But then again, the HTC 8X doesn’t have the storage space issues its cheaper brother has. If you are interested in the phone’s full specs, you can find them here: Windows Phone 8x by HTC. If you are curious how the packaging looks and what you will find inside, don’t hesitate to watch this unboxing video:
The box includes your standard items: the phone’s manual, charger, usb cable, headphones and a micro-sim pin.
Design & Build Quality
The phone looks good and anyone who sees it is going to be impressed. The plastic doesn’t feel cheap. Actually, it has a nice texture that makes it feel good when holding it. Even though it is a big phone, it doesn’t feel big. First of all it is not heavy - it weighs 130 grams (vs. 185g the Nokia Lumia 920 has) - it is thin and fits very well into your pocket. I think this high-end smartphone has some of the best balance between size, screen space and weight. For example, I find the Samsung Galaxy S3 to be too much of a monster in terms of sheer size while Nokia Lumia 920 is just too heavy. Below, you can see the HTC 8X in the middle, between the Nokia Lumia 800 (on the left) and the Nokia Lumia 920 (on the right).
Most of the buttons are on the right, with one exception - the power button which serves also as a lock/unlock button in Windows Phone. The positioning on the top of the phone is the only physical design problem of HTC 8X. Depending on the kind of user you are, it can be a major design problem. Let’s explain why: On the Nokia Lumia phones (as on many other smartphones), the power button is placed on the right, just above the middle of the phone. When taking the phone out of your pocket, you naturally place your thumb on it and you can unlock the phone using only that finger. On the HTC 8x, the power button is on the top of the phone, near the right corner. Trying to unlock the phone after taking it from your pocket is a frustrating experience. You cannot do that with just one finger, not even with one hand. If you insist on using one hand, you end up pressing the volume buttons which causes another set of frustrations. Also, if you need to take screenshots quite often you will dislike its positioning even more. To take a screenshot in Windows Phone 8 you need to press the power and Windows buttons simultaneously. Because the power button is nicely integrated into the body, so that it doesn’t get pressed by accident while in your pocket, it sometimes ignores your presses. Half the time I tried to take screenshots on this phone, I failed. This starts to get really annoying after a while.
But, if taking screenshots is something you do rarely and you are OK to use both your hands to unlock the phone, you won’t find any design issue to complain about on the HTC 8X.
The Phone Experience on the HTC 8X
Using the HTC 8X as a phone has been a good experience. The signal strength was good, better than on my old Nokia Lumia 800 as well as the phone conversation quality. The quality of the display is good. The screens looks sharp, the contrast is good and its colors are a bit saturated. The only downside is that the black levels are not that great. On the edges, the black is not really black but a form of dark gray and this doesn’t look great in Windows Phone since this color is used a lot in the operating system. However, you will be able to use the phone successfully in natural light, even in strong light. You will get much better visibility than with older Windows Phone devices.
The sound quality when listening to music is good too. Nothing spectacular though, even though HTC aggressively markets their Beats Audio "technology". In the end, HTC 8X is only a phone and Beats Audio is only a software equalizer like those existing in Winamp. Beats Audio tweaks music to emphasize the bass and vocals, while depressing middle frequencies. This works well only for certain types of music like hip-hop, rap, house, etc. While listening to classical music, classical rock and other types of music, Beats Audio should be turned off for better results. When watching movies on your phone thought, they generally sound better with it turned on. When inserting the headphones into the phone, pay attention and make sure that they enter the audio jack completely. If you don’t push a bit, they won’t remain plugged and you won’t be able to hear the sound correctly. This is a minor quibble though. The back 8MP camera on the HTC 8X is decent but not spectacular. It works well for a phone and you will take decent pictures. The colors are enhanced a bit too much by the HTC software, at least for my own taste. They look good when viewed on the phone but if you transfer them to a PC and compare them with the pictures took by other cameras, you notice this artificial enhancement. The back camera is capable of recording 1080p videos. The quality is good but the tendency to artificially enhance colors remains. In low light conditions, the camera it is prone to losing focus though. The front camera simply sucks. It takes only low quality noisy pictures. It is decent though when making a quick video call on your phone. In such scenarios, you are more interested in not wasting too much bandwidth than in having high-quality video.
HTC Apps for Windows Phone 8
The HTC 8X comes with a few apps specific only to HTC phones: Connection Setup, Converter, Flashlight, HTC and Photo Enhancer. The apps are not many and provide little value to the user. They don’t compare in their usefulness to the Nokia apps. The Flashlight is useful at times but it is far from providing any unique functionality that you don’t find on the Store. The HTC app adds a dynamic tile on the Start screen that shares the time, your location and information about the weather. When you open it, it also shares stock information from Yahoo! Finance and news from CNN and Yahoo! News. What I liked best about it is the way it shows the weather for the current location.
I never had any need to use the Converter or the Photo Enhancer in my 1 month of using this phone. I just used them once or twice to see if and how they work, so that I can mention them in the review. They can provide some value but you are not likely to use them often. The Connection Setup app is useful when setting up the phone for the first time. You provide your country and carrier and it automatically configures the phone so that you get connected as fast as possible, including to the 3G/4G network.
Performance in Benchmarks
The HTC 8X is a fast phone. It never felt slow and sluggish and I did not experience any performance issues, no matter what I did with the phone. To measure things more objectively and learn how it fares compared to other phones, we ran a few tests with MultiBench 2 and WP Bench. We ran the same tests also on HTC 8S (the cheaper brother of the HTC 8X), the old Nokia Lumia 800 with Windows Phone 7.5 installed and Nokia Lumia 920. MultiBench 2 showed that there is very little performance difference between HTC 8X and the Nokia Lumia 920. All the scores are very close. Also, the HTC 8X is way better than the old Nokia Lumia 800. It is great to see such a performance gap between the new and old Windows Phone devices. This will help the Windows Phone ecosystem in the future.
The WP Bench CPU test revealed the same picture - the HTC 8X and Nokia Lumia 920 are very close in terms of performance. This time, the Nokia Lumia 920 was slightly faster.
The other tests executed by WP Bench (graphics, storage, and memory) revealed similarly low performance differences.
In terms of boot time, the HTC 8X starts very slowly. I couldn’t believe it when we measured it against other phones. The average boot time is of 51 seconds, that’s 5 seconds slower than its cheaper brother HTC 8S and 11 seconds slower than Nokia Lumia 920. A surprisingly poor result.
I also tested how well the Internet browser performs, using the Sunspider benchmark. As you can see, browsing the web with HTC 8X is a good experience. The upgrade is massive when compared to Nokia Lumia 800. Also, browsing the web on the HTC 8X is slightly faster than on the Nokia Lumia 920 (about 2% faster).
In terms of battery time, the HTC 8X can get you through a normal work day. In light use scenarios, it can last even a day and a half. In terms of synthetic tests, that stress the phone to its maximum, we ran WP Bench. Unfortunately, the HTC 8X had the weakest endurance.
Its battery drained in a very quick 2 hours 19 minutes and 24 seconds. Even the bulky Nokia Lumia 920 performed slightly better.
The main downsides of the HTC 8X are the positioning of the power button (which makes it harder than it should be to unlock the phone and take screenshots) and the suite of HTC apps bundled with it, which provide less value than the Nokia apps. If these are not big issues for you, you will have a device that is fast, fluid and good looking. Performance-wise it is a well rounded phone, its price is better than that of its main competitor - Nokia Lumia 920 - and so is its availability (at least in Europe). Globally, its is much easier to find this phone than the Nokia Lumia 920. Another selling point for the HTC 8X is its size and weight: it is big but it doesn’t feel massive. Also, it is easy to carry around.