HTC came from seeming obscurity where it had built a solid industry reputation for building Windows Mobile devices (Orange SPV anyone?) before Google launched Android and it smelt an opportunity.
Handsets like the HTC G1 and the Hero really launched the Taiwanese maker into the major league. And then Samsung came along, wanting a slice of the Android pie; launching its Galaxy line and showing HTC that nothing lasts forever.
Luckily, HTC hasn't gone down without a fight. When Microsoft launched Windows Phone 7 two years ago now, HTC was right there at the forefront. And with the 8X it's done that once again, making sure it's front of the queue for Windows Phone 8.
Design and build
The HTC Windows Phone 8X (or if we really have to use its fully official name the Windows Phone 8X by HTC) looks amazing. It's an all in one, unibody, polycarbonate design, so you won't be taking that back off or fiddling around with SD card slots.
The polycarbonate gives it a feeling of exclusivity and it has a matte finish - meaning it not only looks great, but is easy to grip. You can pick from four colours - vivid red, hideous yellow, a seductive purple (our favourite) and graphite black (for the boring among us.)
Beneath the display, you'll see three standard Windows Phone 8 buttons - start, back and search.
The top of the phone houses the headphone jack and standby/lock button. Meanwhile, you'll find little to remark on at the bottom, other than a micro USB charging port. The left hand side of the phone is bare - whilst the right has a sim tray slot, volume rocker and camera shutter button.
A camera lens sits around the back - along with the LED flash to keep it lit well. With dimensions of 132.4 x 66.2 x 10.1 mm, this is a phone that's easy to handle. And because of its curved back, it gives the impression of being slimmer than it really is.
The screen feels as though it's been placed on top of the panel, rather than being part of it and sticks out slightly - but in a good way - with curves around the edges. It's a high resolution job too - coming in at 720 x 1280 and measuring 4.3-inches. It's just as good as the iPhone's offering.
HTC has also made sure the actual screen is pushed right up against the glass so just like the Samsung Galaxy S3 and iPhone 5, you get amazing clarity. We'd recommend using the light theme though - it'll improve your outdoor visibility, no end.
Interface and OS
The HTC 8X is one of the first - if not the first Windows Phone 8 handsets and the OS brings some real improvements. Some are obvious, some more subtle. But all welcome.
The main one is live tiles. Windows Phone's big selling point has always been these little bricks that update with live information. You can now resize them to a number of presets and while it sounds like an obvious thing, it was notable by its absence last time.
There's also improvements to the lock screen with some social media info being displayed and a brilliant ability to use Facebook albums as your screensaver (the OS picking images at random to shock and surprise you.)
You're still restricted to one main home page and one menu page. But at least you can see more at a glance now.
HTC's made some of the best camera phones of its times - and the recent HTC One X was certainly no slouch. We're a little disappointed with the 8X offering though - if only because HTC made such a song and dance about how great it is.
The rear lens is 8MP which is pretty standard fare these days. It does a good job in reasonable light, but struggles in the dark. The flash is a little overly yellow and in pitch black situations, it just kicks in and takes the photo with no real focusing time. Add to that a slow shutter speed, you realise this is very much a phone camera and not up to Lumia 920 standards.
The front camera is a very respectable 2.1MP and yields impressive results. HTC promises you can fit more into a shot and we can verify that you can - if you hold it in landcape mode, you get a really wide picture.
Performance and battery life
The HTC 8X flies along - despite only having a 1.5GHz dual-core processor. This is perhaps because of the way that the OS works - things are monitored very closely and apps don't get in the way of each other. In fact, we encountered a lot less lag than we've experienced on much more souped up handsets.
As for keeping yourself going all day, you will manage as long as you're sensible. HTC doesn't have the best track record for battery life, unfortunately. And it certainly won't win any awards here. But that said, if you want a bigger battery than 1800mAh, you'd probably end up with a larger casing, so it's horses for courses. We averaged 12 hours with medium use which should do most people.
- Looks great
- Improved OS
- Great front-facing camera
- Fast and snappy experience
- Top-notch display
- Not LTE compatible
- Rear camera could be better
- Poor Mac support compared to WP7
- Mediocre battery
- Would have preferred some more sensible colours
Verdict: HTC is getting in early while the appetite for WP8 is strong. Even though the Nokia Lumia - its main competitor - rocks LTE, the HTC is a lot, lot lighter and smaller in the hand. For those who want to stand out, this is a great handset. And those who love social networking will be in their element because of the unique way that Windows Phone handles contacts and networking. We're sure in time, there will be far superior Windows Phone 8 handsets - but for the time being at least, this is the best one you can get.
More info: HTC Windows Phone 8X spec