We got our hands on the HTC 8X and 8S!

HTC Windows Phone 8X hands on

Check out our full review of the HTC Windows Phone 8X.

HTC 9/19 Launch EventHTC and Microsoft joined hands once again today with the launch of the Windows Phone 8X and Windows Phone 8S, a pair of colorful handsets that will hit the U.S. market sometime in November. Like Nokia, HTC has set itself apart in with bright design that is the exact opposite of the sinister black shades of the iPhone 5, or the drab grays and opaque whites of most other handsets.

We have to give HTC props for its simple, easy-to-follow naming structure. On the Android side, we have the HTC One X, S, and V. Now, we have the Windows Phone 8X and 8S. As with the Android versions, the X title goes to HTC’s high-end device, while the S gets slapped on the budget handset (much like the One V).

We had a change to get a bit of hands-on time with the 8X and 8S. Let’s see how they stack up.

Windows Phone 8X

htc windows phone 8x and 8s first impressions 3

Look and feel

The Windows Phone 8X comes in four colors: blue, red, yellow, or black. If you’re going to pick up one of these devices, chances are you’ll want to snag a color. But alas, black is there if that’s your thing. And strangely, that was the only color device HTC made available for hands-on time. Weird.

The casing of the 8X is made out of polycarbonate, and it has a pleasant matte feel. Not only does this set the 8X apart from its competitors, but it gives the phone a pleasant grippiness, which should help prevent some fumbles. The casing is also “seamless,” as HTC calls it, which means there are very few spaces in the device where dust or moisture can make their way in. This also makes the various buttons along the sides nearly imperceptible. And the snug fit around the screen gives the phone a high-quality character.

Upon picking up the 8X, we were surprised by just how light it was. Not so light that it feels cheap, but light enough that you’ll notice it immediately. You’ll also notice the rounded corners and tapered edges, which look nice, but made the device slightly uncomfortable for our hands (despite HTC’s oft-repeated assertions that the 8X is amazingly comfortable to hold).

Screen

The 8X sports a 4.3-inch 720p Super LCD 2 display with a 1280 x 720 resolution. Do the math, and that equals out to a Retina-topping 341.5 pixels-per-inch (ppi). The iPhone 5, by comparison, has 326ppi. While the screen, which is covered in protective Gorilla Glass 2, is crisp, bright, and vivid, we couldn’t tell a lick of difference between the resolutions of our iPhone 4S and the 8X. That said, the screen of the 8X is significantly brighter than the iPhone 4S display, and quite similar to the display of the Samsung Galaxy S 3. We must say, however, that while the display was brighter, the colors also look far less natural than the iPhone 4S. Good or bad, this comes down to preference.

Hardware

Inside, the 8X packs a dual-core 1.5GHz Snapdragon S4 processor and 1GB of RAM. Our tests with the device were quite limited, so we will save judgement until the full review. But based on loading some apps, snapping some pictures, and the like, the 8X performed well, with no major hangups. As we said, testing this takes some time, and the results change once the device is loaded with apps.

Of course, the 8X also has 4G LTE, Bluetooth 4.0 and Wi-Fi connectivity, Beats Audio with a 2.55v amplifier, and an FM tuner. NFC functionality comes standard, but you’ll have to check with your carrier (AT&T, T-Mobile, or Verizon) whether they’ll allow the mobile wallet feature to work.

Lastly, the 8X includes 16GB of internal storage. Unfortunately, HTC did not give the 8X an SD card slot, so you can’t up upgrade. Nor did the company create versions with bigger storage capacity, so that’s definitely something to consider when looking at the 8X as your next phone. An HTC rep was quick to point out that all Windows Phone 8 users get 7GB of free cloud storage with Microsoft SkyDrive. Good — but good enough?

HTC-8X-4

Camera

The 8X includes an 8-megapixel rear camera, which is powered by HTC’s ImageChip. Also found in the One series, the ImageChip allows the device to shoot rapid fire snapshots and re-focus quickly. The camera performed as promised, but the colors of the photos we took were noticeably over-saturated. This may have been a result of the strangely lit space where HTC was showing off the devices, but we can’t say for certain. The camera also includes 1080p HD video recording capabilities.

More important to HTC was the 2.1-megapixel front camera with a respectably fast f/2.0 lens, which offers a wide 88-degree viewing area. The company repeatedly talked about this feature as a great advancement. And it was nice to be able to fit more of our surroundings on the screen — something that will come in particularly handy for Skype video calls. It’s a solid, but slightly over-hyped, tweak.

Like all Windows Phone 8 devices, the HTC 8X includes a dedicated camera button along on the bottom-right side of the device. This allows you to fire up the camera with a single click. You can also use it to focus and snap pictures. 

Windows Phone 8S

HTC-8S-1

While we’d love to give you a full-blown account of all the nuanced touches of the Windows Phone 8S, we can’t do that. HTC made it clear that the 8X was the star of the show, and the 8S is the homely step-daughter who has to eat in her room when respectable guests come over for dinner.

We were able to coerce an HTC rep to let us actually hold one, and even play with it for a minute or two, but he was fairly quick to slip the device back into his pocket and dangle the much prettier 8X in front of our faces again.

And you know what? We can’t really blame them. The 8S is clearly a budget phone, and is more defined by what it lacks than what it offers. While it’s made with the same polycarbonate as the 8X, and sports the same color options, it’s an entirely different device. The screen is 4 inches (not 4.3), and is only WVGA quality (800 x 480 resolution) — a difference you notice instantly when seeing the 8S and 8X side by side.

HTC-8S-2

The 8S does include a dual-core S4 processor, but this is only backed up by 512MB of RAM. It has a 5-megapixel front camera with 720p video recording capabilities. And it does include the HTC ImageChip. But there is no front camera on this puppy, so no video chats for you, 8S owners.

The one upside is that, while the 8S only has a tiny 4GB of internal storage, it does have an SD card slot, so a hat-tip to HTC for that one.

Other features include Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity, Beats Audio (but not the 2.55v amplifier found in the 8X), and an FM radio — none of which we were able to try.

Conclusion

HTC has a solid showing with the Windows Phone 8X. And the 8S will do well in spite of its lackluster features, as long as carriers offer it for $50 or less with a contract. The question is whether users will jump on the Windows Phone 8 bandwagon. And, if so, whether they’ll choose the bright, flashy 8X over the equally vibrant Nokia Lumia 920. Only time will tell.

The 8X and 8S will both be available in November on AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon.

P.S. What’s with the phones all having the wrong date? We don’t know — but heads up, HTC and Microsoft: these are the kinds of details Apple would never overlook.

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