HTC Windows Phone 8X Review

HTC astounded a lot of people with the Windows Phone 8X. When the company’s CEO, Peter Chou, emerged on stage on a brisk New York day, few of the present press were expecting such a remarkable, compact and beautiful device.

The company has taken a lot of hits and has kept on going; from poor sales of its One series Android phones to falling market share and dwindling share price (all of which are correlated), HTC has found a strong partner in Microsoft at an important time.

With powerful specs, a gorgeous 4.3-inch screen and plenty of visual flair, can the HTC 8X make it into your holiday smartphone list? Let’s find out.

The Good

The HTC 8X is powerful, and it’s gorgeous. This phone is light, slim and feels perfect in the hand; it’s one of those set-it-and-forget-it type feels, except it applies to actually, well, using it. This comes from the relatively tiny form factor (for today’s market), though it’s a lot taller than it initially appears.

The body is made with a similar-feeling matte polycarbonate to its One X sibling, though the material is slightly courser, almost leathery. It’s also a lot narrower than the aforementioned Android flagship, which allows it to slip into of any pocket seamlessly. The sloping edges help the 8X feel thinner than its mid-range 10.1mm frame, and the little touches, such as tiny drilled holes in the back for speaker output, work in its favour.

With a top-right power button, slim right-side volume rocker and equally recessed camera shutter button, the 8X puts itself at a disadvantage against the Lumia 920 which, despite its size, operates more effortlessly as a camera. That being said, the low profile nature of the phone lends it a remarkably feeling of self-containment, one that has yet to be rivalled by any phone but the iPhone.

The Super LCD2 display on the Windows Phone 8X is one of the best ever made. It’s sharp, dense and colourful, with accurate colour reproduction, something that can’t be said yet for Samsung’s Super AMOLED screens. While not everything is perfect — Nokia’s Lumia 920 bests the 8X in direct sunlight tests, and blacks could be darker — the phone’s display is in many ways still unparalleled. Unfortunately HTC bested itself with the Super LCD3 display on the Droid DNA, but despite its super high pixel density the 8X is brighter and shows deeper colours.

The Windows Phone 8X boasts the same 8MP shooter as the One X and its ilk, but improves upon the Android crowd by offering a wide-angle 2.1MP front-facing camera that is by far the best we’ve seen from a smartphone. Thanks to deep Skype integration in Windows Phone 8, users of the 8X will enjoy unprecedented video quality from the front shooter. It can shoot 1080p video, too, and is controlled by the dedicated Image Sense chip, something in which HTC takes a lot of pride.

Unfortunately the same can’t be said of the rear lens, which is bested in many ways by the Lumia 920, especially in terms of video quality and low-light performance. The 8X takes great photos, and is even better able to focus at close quarters than the Lumia, but results lack the sharpness and dynamic range of the iPhone 5 and Galaxy S III. And while the Lumia 920 currently shoots “soft” photos in daylight, there is potential for improved results, and will likely be corrected in a future software update; the 8X is merely limited by its mediocre sensor.

Performance and battery life on the Windows Phone 8X are what one would expect from a flagship device. They’re excellent. I was able to get through an entire day with the device pushing through emails, Twitter notifications, Facebook messages, taking photos and video, and generally doing what one does on a smartphone. The 1800mAh battery is non-removable, but due to Windows Phone’s well-known power efficiency it should last longer than an Android phone with the same size cell.

The phone was not demonstrably swifter or slower than the Lumia 920, likely because they share the same 1.5Ghz dual-core Snapdragon S4 processor and 1GB RAM combo. Some apps exhibited slow load times and poor scrolling performance, but that has more to do with apps that have yet to be optimized for Windows Phone 8 than any fault of the 8X itself. The OS, with its multiple-sized live tiles, superlative keyboard and excellent social media integration, feels spacious and effortless on the 8X.

One thing that 8X has going for it over any other device on the market right now is a comparatively powerful headphone amplifier. At 2.55v, it is able to drive headphones noticeably louder than most smartphones, and can reach ear-bleeding levels without distorting. While this is meaningless to most users, on a blind test I was easily able to tell the difference in quality between the One X (good) and the 8X (better) using the same pair of 120-ohm Beyerdynamic headphones.

More importantly, it means that audiophiles with 300-ohm headphones will be able to obtain nearly double the volume from the 8X over an equivalent smartphone. And while most sound aficionados won’t take their $1600 Sennheiser HD 800’s for a walk on the town, in the event they should the 8X will more than suffice.

Needs Improvement

The Windows Phone 8X is still a Windows Phone, and that means that despite HTC’s unmatched design ethic and build quality and the operating system’s smooth performance, it is still not quite able to compete with the big boys.

Where Nokia has its own Collection of apps, many of which are good enough to sell Lumia devices on their own, HTC’s homemade assortment is anything but robust. There’s a mediocre photo editing suite, a hub for weather and news, a flashlight and some other odds and ends. It pales in comparison to what is available to Lumia owners, and undermines many of the 8X’s advantages.

There’s also the question of storage space. You can get the 8GB version of the 8X for free on Rogers with a three-year contract, and Bell sells the 16GB for the same price. Rogers charges $79.99 for the 16GB version but only $20 more for the 32GB Lumia 920, which is arguably better value. Now, the 8X is half the size, or at least seems so, and a good 55g lighter, so it’s certainly going to be more attractive to the average consumer. Just keep in mind that neither device has expandable storage, so go with the phone that will offer you the best value for your money.

The other thing that the 8X lacks is wireless charging. This is neither a necessary feature nor a deal-breaker, but I can see some Nokia fans using it as yet another reason to pick the 920 over the 8X. I’m not so sure it matters. Both devices have the same sensors and radios, including NFC support, but this is true of all modern Windows Phone 8 devices.

I’d be remiss not to talk about the app situation on Windows Phone 8 as a disadvantage, but it’s well-worn territory, so we’ll skip it. The Windows Phone 8X, for better or worse, has the same third-party app selection as any WP8 device today, and while selection is likely to improve in the coming months — developers are just now updating their apps to take advantage of larger live tiles, quick resume and smooth scrolling — it’s paltry right now.

More importantly, a multi-platform app on Windows Phone is usually a feature or three behind its iOS or Android equivalent, and that isn’t good news for those endorsing the platform. When Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare or Evernote takes six months to roll out big changes to Microsoft’s mobile OS it puts users at a huge disadvantage. Some big name apps like Twitter have not seen feature updates in over a year.

The Sum

HTC’s Windows Phone 8X is a delightful phone with excellent performance, decent battery life, a gorgeous screen in a unique form factor. It has the promise of being one of the best phone’s on the market, but is disadvantaged by a half-baked app store and a lack of Nokia’s proprietary apps.

Nevertheless, the 8X has a great camera, best-in-class sound quality with Beats Audio and a powerful headphone amplifier, and a number of features that make it worth your time. Considering it is being heavily discounted on both Rogers and Bell at the moment, it may be worth looking into.


  • Omer

    So I got to try this phone at the Microsoft booth at Eaton center and boy did it feel like a well built phone. Looks were amazing and the windows phone 8 felt very smooth on the device. Nice to see companies like HTC setting new standards for design and build quality.

  • Darth Paton

    Amazing device, if the lumia line doesn’t make it to Bell (or any other carrier for that matter)this will be my next phone 🙂

  • InfinitiGuy

    Too bad it runs Windows phone.

    • DonSod

      It’s the Windows OS that makes it so attractive!

  • JonnyHWANG

    HTC’S CEO is not JK Shin, that’s Samsung Mobile’s CEO, Peter Chao is HTC’S CEO

    • gnote

      that’s Peter Chou…

  • jellmoo

    I’ve been playing with an 8x for the past few days and I have to say that there is a lot to like. The deign is one of the best, if not THE best, available. It feels incredibly light in the hand, and the contours really meld to your grip. I love the rubberized finish that doesn’t attract fingerprints and doesn’t have that slippery feel of plastic or glass.

    I really like the phone, but I do think it suffers from a lack of “perks” that are available on the 920. When the 920 has twice the storage, wireless charging, a much better camera, enhanced touchscreen and puremotion screen, and the Nokia exclusive apps, it’s hard to really compare them when they are at the same end and price range of the WP8 spectrum. HTC did a really nice job with the design, but they didn’t go the extra mile with the perks like Nokia did.

    My last point, and this comes from somebody that is a big fan of Windows Phone, is that Microsoft just plain didn’t do enough to differentiate WP8 from 7 at the more obvious user level. Outside of the adjustable icons and added accents on the start screen, users are not going to be seeing obvious improvements. There is no notification center, no real improvements to the Windows Phone Store, or even to the majority of apps available. Even though a ton of work went under the hood, it gives the impression of being more of an incremental update than a brand new beginning.

    I like the 8x a lot and think it has a lot going for it. But it is a bit of a tough one to recommend with the 920 having so many other little bonuses, and other devices having the benefit of running on a more mature platform.

  • rize

    $0.01 for the 8gb and $29.99 for the 16gb at Rogers this weekend. All W8 phones are on sale.

  • EvanK

    I’ve been extremely impressed with Windows Phone hardware. Not boy from Nokia and HTC, but even Samsung put a little more thought into the design with the metal-sequence backing.

    However, this doesn’t seem like a true successor to the Titan, hopefully there’s a 1080p 5″ Titan 3 in the works with the 16MP camera, and a metal industrial design. I’d die for hardware like that.

  • Miknitro

    Good review, I liked the bit about actual usage.

    Out front, I’m currently android guy but was a WM user.
    So it catches my eye, but never holds my interest beyond ten minutes sadly.

    This looks like a decent phone, HTC designs are usually very well done.
    Though it does look a little narrow, I suppose there’s a market for those not wanting a big screen phone outside the Apple orchard.

    A One-X user.

  • Mike D

    I picked one up. It’s a fantastic phone. The design and screen won me over. No regrets.

  • KL

    If I wasn’t set on getting a BB10 phone, this would easily be my next phone of choice by far.

    Good luck HTC, most of your products are very solid, just update them more frequently. I really don’t understand why not more people chooses their devices.

  • Mark Danziger

    No mention of WiFi? really?

    If this was Apple, Windows 8 would be slammed way harder than Antennagate. But it’s Microsoft, so no one cares because they don’t even want the phone if it were free. Well, no one but you cares and you don’t mention it. Tell me why I should trust you Daniel Bader

    • Keith

      I’ll defintely be going for a Lumia 920 myself but I’m glad HTC has its fans also. I would rather see a 4.7″ Titan version of this though–4.3 doesn’t cut it anymore.

  • Mathieu

    Anyone knows if there is any black version of the phone with 16 GB storage that are available at Bell?

  • til-bar

    I’ve had the 8x for the past 3 weeks. The flush buttons are borderline useless. With one handed use, I have to take 3-4 attempts at the power button before getting it. I’ve read of others on XDA who unlock their 8x using the camera button because the power button is so awful.

    It’s a pain in the a$$ as a daily driver. As much as I love the design, the poor usability has led to a ‘for sale’ sign.

  • Alan Wake

    Great phone, feels amazing, the blue colour is fantastic and looks really cool.

    I was convinced I would be buying a 920 for the longest time, but after heading to the Microsoft store and trying both out in person, the weight and clunkiness put me off the Lumia right away.

    I can sacrifice a better camera, and some cool features for a more comfortable phone. Love the HTC 8X

  • Blas

    I like the mention of headphone/music usage in here.
    I’d like to see more of that.

  • FormerAndroidUser

    Love the screen size – upgrade the specs next year, throw stock Android and make it a Nexus and I’m sold.

    • Darth Paton

      Still can’t let go of that buggy hunk of junk Android?

  • Alex

    No google apps = shiny useless phone.

    I had a windows phone, nice OS, love the minimalist design and active tiles. What I didn’t like is the BING s**t and no Google apps, returned it and got myself a Galaxy Nexus and now a Nexus 4.

    Sorry to say but Google won, people don’t realize how dependent we are on Google apps. It’s like buying a nice house with no toilets. It just doesn’t work.

    We need Google, and Google as of now is saying no to Windows phone support.

    So I am forced to say no as well.

  • furkey yusuf

    Living in a 3rd world country with high poverty rates,having a smartphone among the majority of the population is like a r
    omour,a dream and utmostly fictious thing.I also have this dreams more than anybody else to try out this htc 8X phone..How I wish that one day I let ma hands on this phone..I believe that dreams do come true..and it surely will…

  • Iha Mkwrha

    Let me winthis oone

  • Alain Lafond

    Looks like a true good phone.
    But the real question is about Microsoft. Will Windows phones last?

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  • Mx

    I really like the design of the 8X. And WP8 will progress, so, nothing to worry about! Would be an excellent daily device.