We've been hearing about Windows Phone 8 software for a few months, and now we finally have the chance to spend time with a WP8 device. Microsoft has allowed HTC to simply call its line "Windows Phone 8", indicating that these two devices are somehow the perfect showcase for the new OS. The Windows Phone 8X is the higher-end of the two models from HTC.
First of all, there's no mistaking this phone for any other. Apple will not be filing any lawsuits against HTC's bold new shapes and colours. Between HTC and Nokia's chosen palettes, Windows Phone devices really do stand out in the crowd of black and grey Androids and iPhones.
Slim and stylish
The 8X has a cushiony shape, with thin edges and a bulging back, which actually makes it more comfortable to hold. The front is almost entirely composed of a Gorilla Glass 2 panel, though the coloured plastic body frames it quite nicely. Our test unit came in a relatively sober blue, though your choices include bright red, fluorescent yellow and, thankfully, black.
The rear camera is an 8-megapixel unit and the front one is 2.1-megapixels. Both can capture 1080p HD video, and the front camera has been given an extra-wide angle lens to help you take self portraits and group shots at arm's length, or video chat in groups. The top edge hosts a standard 3.5mm audio jack and power button, while a volume rocker and dedicated camera button occupy the right edge. The left is completely blank, and the bottom has only a microUSB port. The SIM card tray sits flush with the body's edge and is barely noticeable. Sadly, HTC has put form over function by omitting a microSD card slot.
The 8MP shooter
Once switched on, the improvements in WP8 over its predecessor are obvious. Screen resolution has been increased, and everything looks much crisper. The new lock screen has five slots for notification icons on the bottom and one large text field for alerts. You choose which apps (such as the phone, messaging, email, calendar) get to occupy each slot, which doesn't make much sense, as you can't see alerts from lower priority apps even when there aren't any from your selected ones. The lock screen can also change dynamically, for example, you can choose to see sports scores, stock alerts, Facebook photos or the Bing picture of the day.
The Start screen now extends across the entire display area, without the unnecessary strip on the right. Tiles can be of three different sizes, depending on your preferences and desire to see live updates. Swiping to the right brings up the same alphabetical list of all installed apps.
The volume toggle and camera shutter
The OS has a few neat touches, such as the Rooms feature that allows you to group message any set of people, and share photos, maps and contacts. NFC allows for tap-to-share and pair with other WP8 devices, though apps still have to take advantage of it. You can plug the phone in via USB and simply drag and drop audio and video content across, without any software like Zune Desktop or iTunes. You even have more choices of colours for your Start screen tiles and highlights.
There's also Microsoft Office, which lets you open any document saved to your SkyDrive account and even create new ones from scratch or from templates. OneNote gets its own app and takes the place of any basic note taking app. It also adds support for audio and video clips, links, photos, and of course, cross-device access.
The power button
The most interesting built-in app is called Kid's Corner. This is effectively a separate user profile with no access to your stored data and no ability to use the phone's calling features. It's perfect for allowing children to play games or watch videos that you explicitly whitelist, and you don't have to worry about them fidgeting with your settings, making inadvertent calls or racking up massive charges on your credit card.
Microsoft claims there are around 100,000 apps in its store now, which is still far fewer than what iOS and Android have to offer. This will only grow, since WP8 overcomes many of the limitations of WP7—both in hardware and in software.