Hands-on with the HTC 8X and 8S (video)

Today we got a glimpse at HTC’s future: Android and Windows Phone. In particular, HTC is aligning itself heavily with Redmond in a way that we didn’t anticipate, and it speaks to either how confident the company feels in the potential of WP8, or its lack of confidence in Android. Either way, diversity is a good thing, and these phones announced today, the 8X and 8S, are great examples of HTC’s design evolution.

The 8X feels incredibly solid in the hand, with a great build quality that avoids any seams. While it incorporates many of the manufacturing advantages of the One X, it and the 8S, feels slightly more metallic. HTC is emphasizing that coating, which comes in multiple colours such as red, black, blue, and yellow, is scratch-resistant and made from a single piece of polycarbonate.

There’s a 1.5Ghz dual-core Snapdragon S4 processor, 1GB RAM, 8-16GB internal storage (no microSD slot) and a 1800mAh non-removable battery to round out the specs. An LTE-capable baseband will also be on board, in contrast with previous reports that it would be HSPA+ only.

We weren’t able to see any new software features in Windows Phone 8 — Microsoft had a big presence at this event, and kept all the demo phones on the lock screen — but HTC is touting its 8MP ImageSense camera on the back, which takes burst shots at 15fps. Its sensor and lens combo is the same as in the One X — f/2.0 aperture and all — but Microsoft claims that the photo-taking experience is significantly better than on Android, afforded by the dedicated shutter button and optional lenses (which we saw during the Lumia 920 demo, though those were Nokia exclusive).

The 2.1MP front-facing camera, which will be used to power WP8’s powerful Skype integration, has a wide f/2.0 aperture as well, creating a much wider field of view than traditional FFC’s. While we don’t think 1080p video capture from a front camera is especially valuable in daily use, it’s nice to know that it’s not an afterthought.

The phone is significantly thinner at 10.1mm than Nokia’s flagship, too, though we can’t say which boasts the better screen. The 4.3-inch Super LCD2 display is absolutely gobsmacking, however — a stunning piece of technology that looks significantly better than the already-fantastic One X. This is because of a tighter pixel density which, at 342ppi, is among the highest in the industry. Blacks look Super AMOLED-good and colours, which receive such emphasis in Windows Phone 8, are vivid, accurately saturated and just plain beautiful.

The 8X and 8S are the first Windows Phone devices with integrated Beats audio, and come with a more powerful internal amplifier than typical smartphones, which drives both the headphone jack and back speaker (etched with 245 “microdrilled” perforations). The 8X feels very compact, much more so than the Lumia 920, and is practically dwarfed when put next to the massive One X. It’s clear that this generation of Windows Phone devices is keeping screen sizes to within reasonable numbers — 4.0-4.3 inches, generally — and will benefit from higher pixel density as a result.

The 8S is a bit of a combination between the One S and the One V. Its two-toned colour scheme (with cheeky names as Fiesta Red and Domino Black/White) is being marketed as the “playful” version. It’s really compact — the 4-inch display feels smaller than it is — and it will be a considerably more accessible mid-range device than the 8X.

Despite the lower specs — a 1Ghz dual-core Snapdragon S4 processor, 512MB RAM, an 800×480 pixel Super LCD display, and only 4GB of internal storage plus microSD slot — the build quality is just as good as its bigger brother, and I would feel comfortable recommending it to photography lovers as well. The 8S has a 5MP camera with ImageSense and a f/2.8 lens, plus 720p max video support. There’s a 1700mAh non-removable battery in there as well.

We know that the 8X is coming to both Rogers and Bell, and the 8S is coming to Bell. More on price and specific availability in the coming days.

Update #1: Looks like the 8X will not have LTE capabilities. That definitely makes the decision a lot easier for prospective buyers.

Update #2: The HTC site was updated to reflect the fact that the 8X will in fact have LTE support. Sorry for the confusion.

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