One thing I admire about HTC is that their phones always have a very original design esthetic. Just like Nokia and Apple, you can spot a HTC phone immediately. While I admire their originality, I havenít connected with many of their recent phones. Last yearís Amaze reminded me of a bathtub while the One X had to profile of a banana... That is, till I laid eyes on the HTC 8X.
To say that the 8X is beautiful would be giant understatement. Windows Phone is known for itís distinctive design and the 8X is a wonderful interpretation of it. Itís like one of the Windows Phone live tiles grew up and became a phone.
Not only does the 8X look fantastic, itís solid yet nice to squeeze in my hand. It has a polycarbonate body. Mine is blue, though it has a slight purple tinge to it. Unlike the Lumia 920 which is a bit slippery, the 8X is soft to the touch. I could be wrong but it appears the 8X body isnít painted, itís a really great finish. Itís the first plastic phone that makes me forget about metal.
Itís easily the sleekest phone on the market right now.
The 8X has a 4.3Ē 1280x720 super LCD2 display. It looks amazing. It has big viewing angles, works well in direct sunlight plus colours pop on it. The only fly in the ointment is that itís black levels arenít as deep as what youíd get from an AMOLED display.
I compared the 8X display to the 920ís display extensively in my 920 review and both displays are very close. Colours on the 8X pop more, the 920 is slightly better in the sun though the difference is so small weíll just call it even. The 920 has less off-angle colour shift but the 8Xís viewing angles are better. How is that possible? When you move off, a moderate amount the 8X colour shift more but they remain viewable till youíre almost at 90 degrees, the 920 goes black at around 60 degrees.
There was a intermittent problem with the display. From time to time there would be Ďstaticí on the display. It would appears as horizontal or vertical lines that sort of look like static. It doesnít happen all the time but it popped up every now and then. Iím not sure if my 8x has a loose connector or something.
Normally, I donít comment much about power buttons. Some people like them on the side, some on top. Personally, I preferred top mounted button back when phones had smaller screens but now that big screens are the norm a side-mounted one is more intuitive.
The 8X has a top mounted power button, which is just awful. I tend to hold my phones with just my right hand and whenever I press the power button, I accidentally hit the volume buttons. It drives me crazy! Iím constantly changing the volume when I donít want to. The buttons themselves are terrible too. They donít stick out enough so theyíre hard to feel out but theyíre too easy to press in. I guess the sleekness has a price.
microSIM tray, volume buttons, camera button
power button, microphone, headphone jack.
Like the Lumia 920 and Samsung ATIV-S, the 8X has a 1.5Ghz dual core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 processor, 1GB RAM and LTE support. All have 1280x720 displays though each is a different size; 4.8Ē for the ATIV-S, 4.5Ē for the Lumia 920 and 4.3Ē on the 8X.
All have 8MP cameras though the Lumia 920ís is image stabilized. The ATIV-S has 16GB of built-in storage and can be expanded with MicroSD cards. The 920 has 32GB of non-expandable storage while the 8X is available in 16GB and 8GB versions. I have a 16GB version and it actually has close to 15GB of storage available for use. Itís much more than the 11GB of free storage you get from the HTC One X.
If you plan on doing anything with the 8X, do yourself a favour and skip the 8GB version. While 16GB is also on the small size, the Windows Phone marketplace isnít as mature, so there arenít as many huge apps available for it. So 16GB will go farther than it will on Android or an iPhone.
Like most recent HTC phones the 8X features Beats. On previous HTC phones I couldnít tell what difference the Beats logo made. They didnít make my headphones sound any better than other phones and in many cases they werenít any louder.
On the 8X there is definitely a difference. The 8X has an insanely loud headphone amp. I used to think my iPhone 5 was pretty loud. The iPhone 5 at maximum volume is only as loud as the 8X is at around 22/30. Itís so loud that they can easily overdrive my Sony XBA-3 in-ear headphones. Mind you, Iíve noticed that the XBA-3ís arenít the greatest at handling lots of power. My Shure SR-840 over-the-ear style headphones were able to handle the 8X at maximum volume.
Not only is the 8X louder than a 747 taking off, it sounds decent too. While theyíre not anymore revealing than my iPhone they have a little more bass without sounding boomy.
Iím not as young as I used to be but wow, the 8Xís headphone amp is kind of intoxicating. Then again, with this much power tread carefully; Listening to the 8X at maximum volume will have you turning up your hearing aid sooner rather than later.
I just finished listening to them at maximum volume for 10 minutes and I feel like I just spent the evening at a club minus the drinking. HTC better be careful, in a few years they're going to be sued by a bunch of deaf teenagers.
The 8X camera focuses slightly faster than the Lumia 920ís. Iím not sure what the 8Xís official 35mm equivalent focal length is but itís about the same as the 920. The 920 has a 26mm lens so Iíd say the 8Xís is about that wide. Personally, I think 26mm is too wide, While it does allow you to fit more in your picture without having to step back (useful indoors) it makes it harder to get close and intimate with your subject. Until they start putting cameras with optical zooms in cameras, I find that 28-35mm is a good compromise.
Compared with the iPhone 5 and Samsung Galaxy S III/Note II, the 8X feels really slow. Those phones focus faster, they take pictures faster and they have much faster shot-to-shot speeds. The speed makes them much more intuitive to use, especially if your subject isnít static. I suspect this is a Windows Phone camera software problem. The 8X can take good pictures but most of the time I find it doesnít (unless my subject is static)
If you look closely at the 8Xís pictures, it captures more detail than the 920, mostly because the 920 has this overly-aggressive noise reduction which destroys a lot of fine detail. So, given ideal conditions it can take decent pictures.
HTC has put a different set of options of the 8X; effects, resolution, white balance, exposure, contrast, saturation, sharpness, ISO and face detection. Video mode also has a couple of options: effects, resolution, white balance, contrast, saturation, sharpness.
It has a very practical set of options. I just wish HTC had added some lenses to the 8X. Windows Phone allows you to add functionality to the camera via a feature called lenses. The 920 comes with lenses that allow you to shoot panoramas, create animated gifs plus thereís one that letís you remove people from your picture. All the 8X comes with is Bing Vision - a QR code reader and OCR tool that all Windows Phones will come with.
Video quality is average, sound captured from the microphone is good, better than the 920.
The HTC 8X runs the latest version of Windows Phone 8. Microsoft doesnít allow manufacturers a lot of leeway when it comes to making changes to Windows Phone. Aside from a few custom settings and coloured tiles manufacturers instead make their own custom app that are exclusive to their own Windows Phone.
Right now, the 8X only has 5 programs available for it: HTC, Connection Setup, flashlight, Photo Enhancer and Converter. HTC is a program with stock quotes, news, weather and HTCís signature flip clock. Photo Enhancer allows you to add effects to pictures youíve already taken; Sepai effect, cool, warm, that sort of thing.
Iím disappointed that HTC doesnít have more exclusive apps for the 8X. At a minimum, it should have turn based navigation out of the box. The included maps program from microsoft will give you directions but no navigation.
One thing that annoys the hell out of me is the Windows Phone marketplace. If youíre a loyal Windows Phone user and are switching to a new phone, thereís no way to view which apps you purchased previously like there is on Google Play or the App Store. Luckily, thereís an app in the marketplace called Ďreinstallerí. Itís a must have when I get a new Windows Phone!
As for Windows Phone 8, it contains some new features over Windows Phone 7.5. I already covered some of them in my Lumia 920 review but those include resizable live tiles. Before you could only fit up to 8 tiles, now you can fit 32 on your home screen. This makes the start screen much more useful.
If you have kids thereís a useful feature called ďkidís cornerĒ. You select which apps you want your kids to be able to use and then launch kids corner by swipe the lock screen. Itís actually really cool.
There are some other new features including more hardware support, performance enhancement and some tweaks here and there.
Microsoft is very strict when it comes to what hardware goes into Windows Phones. The 8X and 920 (and ATIV-S) all run the same processor and have the same amount of RAM so itís no surprise that they each have very similar performance. If youíve read my Lumia 920 review, you can skip this part as I donít have anything new to add.
SunSpider (lower is better):
HTC 8X: 904.7
Apple iPhone 5: 911.7
Nokia Lumia 920: 909.1
Samsung Galaxy Note II: 1005.4
LG Optimus G: 1314.1
Samsung Galaxy S III: 1781.5
HTC Titan II: 6360.5
Peacekeeper is another browser-based benchmark which allows us to compare devices across different platforms.
Peacekeeper (higher is better):
Apple iPhone 5: 807
Samsung Galaxy Note II: 749
LG Optimus G: 505
Samsung Galaxy S III: 476
HTC 8X: 345
Nokia Lumia 920: 331
HTC Titan II: 153
While Internet Explorer does really well in SunSpider, itís Peacekeeper scores are a little more modest.
Unfortunately, Iím not aware of a 3D gaming benchmark thatís available for both Windows Phone and another platform. Iím not big on synthetic benchmarks but one thing I think about is that the Samsung Galaxy S III has the exact same processor as the Lumia 920. Since Windows Phone 8 is optimized to run on the Snapdragon S4 processor Iíd expect similar or better 3D performance than the GS3. It should be adequate for any games you throw at it for the next while.
To test battery life, I switched the phone to airplane mode and played back a video at full brightness till it shut off.
Battery test (mins):
HTC 8X: 274
Nokia Lumia 920: 340
Iíve noticed while I can compare these results across platforms, itís not generally a good idea. For example, iOS does really well in my test but itís real world numbers are much lower. Itís really only useful for comparing devices running the same operating system.
For me I find that the 8X's battery drains pretty quickly. It probably can't make it through the day so make sure to charge it when you get a chance.
As a Phone:
I was very surprised that the 8X is a stellar RF performer. I compared it to my unlocked RAZR HD LTE and the 8X is actually noticeably better at hanging onto and making use of a weak LTE signal. Iím still waiting to get my Lumia 920 unlocked. After that, Iíll be able to compare the 8X and 920 head-to-head. Right now, my 8X is on Bell while my 920 is Rogers.
Maximum earpiece volume is decent though itís not as loud as my iPhone 5. Sound quality is good. Itís clean-sounding with little hiss.
The built-in speaker sounds fine but itís not very loud.
If you were to search for Ďsexy phoneí, you'll find a picture of the 8X. Itís just such a treat to look at and to hold. Going deeper, it feels fast and my guess is that it should have the horsepower to run anything you throw at it for the next while.
Skip the 8GB version and look for the 16GB. While not a large amount of storage, you should be able to do more with 16GB than you can on Android or iPhone. You also get to use more of the 16GB because initially 15GB is free unlike iPhones and Androids which typically have around 11-13GB out of 16GB free.
RF performance was a pleasant surprise. Hopefully future HTC phones will have similar performance.
I compared the 920 and 8X extensively in my 920 review but hereís another thought. The 16GB 8X on Bell is $49.99 while the 920 on Rogers is $99.99. For $50 more you get an image stabilized camera, 16GB more storage, more apps and a bigger screen.
The stabilized camera comes with some caveats, while the 920ís camera can take some pictures that you canít take with other phones, absolute image quality isnít that great because of overly-aggressive noise reduction. The 16GB of storage is absolutely worth if you plan on using your phone a lot. While I donít normally place much emphasis on exclusive apps, the ones on the Lumia are absolutely crucial because the Windows Phone app ecosystem isnít as mature as it is on Android and iOS. As for the bigger screen, I wouldnít pay extra for it. Windows Phone has a very clean interface so 4.3Ē is big enough that another 0.2Ē is going to make a big difference.
Thereís also the 8Xís aesthetic qualities. While I think the 920 is quite a looker, the 8X is just a much prettier phone.
- looks great
- feels great
- strong RF
- amazing screen
- loud headphone jack
- only 16GB of non-expandable storage
- poor button placement
- buttons are too easy to press
- lack of apps from HTC