The year 2012 was a quaint year which we gadget lovers spent speculating what would be out and when, trawling the internet for any news about any leaked spec table or images, debating which device would be the best. And whenever a device was announced or released, we all went ooh-aahing, and rightly so, because all said and done, these devices are technological marvels.

Most of the new smartphones that were launched globally late last year have only recently begun arriving in the Indian markets. I had particularly been waiting for the Windows Phone 8 devices, for though I got to try them out when they were released, I wanted to put them through our complete smartphone assessment process.

HTC Windows Phone 8X was the first of the lot to arrive in India, and also on our test bench, and since then I have had my magnifying glass out, to solve the Curious Case of the 8X.

Design

I am really confused over which Windows Phone 8 device looks better. I thought the Nokia Lumia 920 was the Windows Phone beauty pageant winner, but as soon as I unboxed the 8X, I could see that the Nokia was going to face an equally stunning competitor. The Windows Phone 8X follows the same polycarbonate unibody design that most of HTC’s top end handsets follow.

The seamless back panel is covered entirely with a matte rubber coating, which I always find convenient, owing to the grip it offers. This coating comes in quite a few vivid colours, breaking away from the iPhone 5 and recent Android smartphones’ colour trends.

The 8X plays a trick with your eyes – when you look at it, you think it is quite thin. Well, it isn’t. The phone is 10.1mm thick, which isn’t the thinnest design around. But the edges are thinned in such a way that the phone looks quite slim. So where’s the bulk, you may ask – it’s around the middle of the back panel, making the device fit very comfortably in your hand.

The 4.3-inch 720x1280 HD display is covered by Corning Gorilla Glass 2 which is slightly curved at the edges, giving the already sharp display a very premium look and feel, and protection from scratches. The camera launch button and the volume rocker sit on the right-hand-side of the phone, while the power button is nestled on top. I really loved the way these buttons don’t protrude out of the edges, yet have a sharp, tactile feedback. I can easily say that I love the way the 8X is designed – neat, clever and sensible.

Tech and performance

The Windows Phone 8X packs better innards than any of the Windows Phone 7.x predecessors. The previous gen OS toting devices had disappointing specs that often made me ask, “why, OEMs, why?” Thankfully, the 8X features a Dual-core (big yay!) Snapdragon S4 chip that clocks 1.5GHz, and a 1GB RAM (bigger yay!). The 1GB RAM is a huge improvement over the choppy memory operations that the 512 and 768 MB RAMs used to give in WP 7.x phones. Using Windows Phone 8 with these specs onboard is one of the best experiences I have ever had with a smartphone.

Throughout the review period, I had my eyes glued to the handset’s screen. The 4.3-inch Super LCD screen trumps the iPhone 5’s 4-inch screen in both height and width, while retaining the same aspect ratio. I was also using an iPhone 5 at the same time, and I found that watching HD videos on the 8X is a much better experience than on the iPhone 5. The reason behind this is greater pixel density - 8X has 342 pixels per inch, while the iPhone 5 has 321.

The 8X showed no signs of hanging or developing lags during the entire testing process, although I did want the phone to resume to the Start menu from some apps a little faster. What I really did not like was that my review unit sometimes did not update the live tiles. Even if I had checked the new text, the tile would show one unread. Although it was fixed after a full reset, a bug needs to be debugged, not reset. Also, there just isn’t an option to turn off the screen rotation.

There’s no option for a microSD card, but I’m guessing the 16GB onboard storage and the rest with SkyDrive should suffice for the average user. On full charge, the battery had enough juice to run for an average of 17 hours, over different kinds of usage.

Camera

The cameras on this thing are pretty good. I wasn’t let down by either camera. The rear facing 8 meg, f2.8 camera performed really well, taking clean shots in daylight, and produces pics with acceptable amounts of noise in the dark, if you don’t use the LED flash.

The front snapper is probably the best I have seen on any smartphone till now. It’s a 2.1 megapixel wide-angle camera which takes quite bright pictures. I am generally a camera-shy person, but the 8X drove me closer to vanity as I couldn’t stop clicking well-framed self-clicked shots with my friends. Skype video-call quality was also much better on the 8X than the iPhone 5 and the Galaxy SIII (this was done over the same bandwidth for all phones, and the receiver too had a uniform bandwidth for each call).

We say

Yes, Windows Phone 8 as an OS has a few limitations, but this isn’t about the OS. It’s about how the 8X is sound, both in terms of design and technology. I wouldn’t say that Windows Phone 8 operation is uniform over all WP8 devices, because I haven’t used all. But with regards to how the 8X handles the WP8 OS, I’d say that makes it a good buy.

Love – design, brilliant screen

Hate – no additional storage, OS bugs

Rs 33,599

sabyasachi.b@thehindu.co.in

(This article was published on January 4, 2013)
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