On Monday, Microsoft formally unveiled its latest mobile operating system, with the new platform arousing considerable interest in both the US and the UK since it was announced back in June 2012. ITProPortal live blogged from Monday's exclusive London Windows Phone 8 launch in case you want to relive all the main talking points as they happened, but now, it's time to take a closer look at the vehicles responsible for driving Microsoft's latest mobile OS forward. Without further ado, let's meet the first wave of Windows Phone 8 handsets - and make sure to check out our review of Windows Phone 8 as well.
Windows Phone 8 has three flagship devices in all, and none is more important for all parties involved than the Lumia 920. The word 'beleaguered' is applied to Nokia and its financial struggles nearly as often as it is tacked onto introductions of RIM, while Microsoft needs blockbuster smartphones as it seeks to push Windows Phone adoption and set its on-the-go operating system on a path to one day competing with Android and iOS. As the only high-end WP8 handset currently on 4G, the Lumia 920 is the one that really matters for Microsoft's new mobile OS - and, by connection, its radical new Window 8 ecosystem as a whole
Design and build
One of the criticisms frequently levelled at the Lumia 920 is that it's a bit chunky. Weighing in at 185g and sizing up at 10.7mm thick, it isn't exactly little black dress material, at least not by today's standards of super-svelteness. For those keeping score, that's more than 70g heavier and 3mm chubbier than the iPhone 5. The Lumia 920 utilises its girth to the full, packing a host of cool features (see below) as well as a powerhouse 2,000mAh battery delivering 10 hours of (claimed) 3G talktime. In other words, don't let the current fetishisation of über-minimalist mobile designs put you off the 920 – a good phone is a good phone and it's not like it won't fit into your trouser pocket. For style-conscious consumers, the Lumia 920 is also noteworthy for coming in a range of fun, bold colours with both glossy and matte finishes available.
Display and processor
The screen measures 4.5in diagonally, making the Lumia 920 a halfway house between the 4in category currently led by the iPhone 5, and the 4.5-5in segment typified by the ultra-expansive Samsung Galaxy S3. Crucially, the Lumia 920 exploits its extra inches, boasting a high quality resolution of 1,280 x 768 pixels at a stunning 332 PPI. Behind the pretty screen, there's a Qualcomm Snapdragon chipset running the show, comprising a dual-core Krait CPU clocked at 1.5GHz and an Adreno 225 GPU.
What potentially sets the Lumia 920 apart from its WP8 rivals is the quality and scope of its additional features. At 8.7-megapixels and an aperture of f/2.0, its PureView-standard primary camera is just that little bit better than the competition, sporting Carl Zeiss optics complete with image stabilisation - a real rarity in the mobile arena. But most importantly, it's the only Windows Phone 8 device currently lined up to run on the UK's new 4G LTE spectrum, as being rolled out by EE this week. It's also NFC-ready to power those futuristic sandwich purchases you've been dreaming about, though unfortunately there's no microSD card slot, so you're tied to 32GB of on-board storage. For added awesomeness, the Lumia 920 also supports wireless inductive charging - hardly essential stuff in 2012/13, but early adopters are no doubt salivating at the prospect of getting a cappuccino and a bit of mobile juice ahead of their peers.
Price and availability
By the UK's (generally) open market standards, the Lumia 920 is a bit of a diva and will only be available on EE and via Phones 4u for the foreseeable future. Unofficial SIM-free pricing hints at an outright payment of around £470 for the 920 and a number of tariffs have already been revealed - though none are exactly a bargain.
A reasonable-sounding £50 down payment will get you a £41 a month, two-year contract with a 1GB data allowance, which is about twice what most heavy smartphone users ideally want to pay for their mobile fix. That said, 4G deals aren't going to come cheaply, and variation by handset and network is likely to be minimal for the time being.
All things considered, Nokia's new flagship handset is probably the best-rounded, most attractive Windows Phone 8 device currently available - unlike its rivals, the Lumia 920 will arrive in the UK this week. Moreover, our initial hands-on flirtations with the 920 have revealed a phone that feels and operates every bit as smoothly as it should, given the impressive nature of its specifications. We think all of the new WP8 mobiles are worthy of serious consideration, but the Lumia 920 is probably the benchmark.
For more on Nokia's flagship Windows 8 handset, see our Lumia 920 vs iPhone 5 spec comparison.
HTC launched its flagship Windows Phone 8 device, the 8X, back in September. Despite its recent migration towards Android, the Taiwanese company has a strong history of manufacturing devices based on Microsoft's mobile platform, with previous generation Windows Phone 7 handsets including the 7 Mozart, the 7 Pro, the Titan, the Radar, and the HD7. The 8X's clunky naming perhaps hints at a desire on HTC's part to stay close to Microsoft despite hopping into bed with Google as well - just don't expect consumers to know it as anything other than the 8X.
Design and build
Like the Lumia 920, the HTC 8X comes in a number of colourful flavours with artsy names like 'California Blue,' 'Flame Red,' and 'Limelight Yellow.' These palates co-ordinate nicely with Windows Phone 8's tile-based interface and should appeal to certain types of fashion-conscious consumers. Keeping with similarities to Nokia's latest flagship handset, the 8X isn't the most slender device on the market either, measuring in at 10.1mm thick. It's not as heavy as its rival, mind, weighing a considerably less taxing 130g. A strong line-up of features are packed into the frame, though it hasn't got the best battery: its 1,800mAh power pack looks likely to be on a par with the iPhone with regards to longevity, an obvious shortcoming from the perspective of heavy users.
Display and processor
If you're not a fan of massive displays but still want to give Windows Phone 8 a go, then the HTC 8X may well be the right handset for you. Measuring 4.3in, this screen isn't as large as some, with restraint an obvious asset here as it sports a WP8 best-of-class LCD2 display with a resolution of 1,280 x 720 pixels and a beauteous density of 342 PPI. Behind the bling, the 8X also features a Snapdragon dual-core chipset (clocking at 1.5Ghz) and Adreno 225 GPU but this one isn't 4G.
The 8X is alternately impressive and disappointing. In addition to its pack-leading display, it's also got pretty spectacular camera features, including an 8-megapixel primary snapper with f/2.0 aperture, as well as a 2.1-megapixel front shooter that's better than just serviceable. Factor in the 8X's Beats Audio technology, and you've got a device that's hugely rich from a media perspective. The shortcomings? While HTC's WP8 flagship does feature NFC, it hasn't got a microSD slot, which means users are tied to a measly 16GB of internal storage - a real shame given its otherwise stunning entertainment credentials. But most devastatingly, the 8X won't feature on the UK's 4G spectrum, at least not in the immediate future, though it should be noted that its US version does support the LTE standard.
Price and availability
The lack of 4G connectivity is reflected in the relatively humble pricing of HTC's WP8 offering, with grey market retailers like Handtec offers a SIM-free pre-order price of around £400 for the 8X. Similarly, the absence of LTE means that tariffs for the 8X are considerably more affordable than their new-gen network counterparts. Among other deals, £28.50 a month will get you a contract with Orange featuring unlimited texts, 600 minutes, and 1GB of data (according to uSwitch) – and a free HTC 8X, of course. Deals are likely to get even better in the future as the UK 4G rollout accelerates, and the fact that the 8X is set to be available on a wider range of networks - including O2 and Vodafone as well as Orange - is surely a benefit in this sense.
As such, the HTC 8X device is a fantastic and affordable way to start enjoying Windows Phone 8 in the near future (availability is thought to be early November). Its world-beating display and handsome camera features stand out as particular assets -it's a strong purchase candidate depending on your handset priorities. The want of 4G means you can get these high-end specifications at bargain prices, though making a two-year commitment to an old-gen network won't suit everyone. Ultimately, much may depend on how HTC evolves its WP8 line to take into account demand for super-fast on-the-go speeds.
For more on HTC's flagship Windows 8 offering, see our hands-on with the HTC Windows Phone 8X, or head to page four to check out its younger sibling, the HTC 8S.
With the Lumia 920 looking like an early standard bearer for Windows Phone 8, and the HTC 8X offering some incredible features at a keen price, Samsung was in the unfamiliar position of not being the most talked about manufacturer at a mobile launch. That's not to say that there's anything wrong with the Ativ S, which was unveiled back at IFA 2012 in September. On the contrary, initial response to the device has been broadly positive - it just hasn't elicited the same kind of frenzy as its rivals.
Design and build
The Ativ S certainly looks like a Samsung smartphone: tall, slender, and relatively light, it's the thinnest of the Windows Phone 8 flagship devices at just 8.7mm, and weighs in at an innocuous 135g. Packed into that slender aluminium chassis is another Samsung hallmark - a powerhouse 2,300mAh battery, just like its Android sibling, the Galaxy S3. That should mean that even heavy mobile users don't have to worry about missing out on crucial tweets at the end of the day.
Display and processor
As with its general design, the display of this WP8 mobile screams classic Samsung. Featuring a gigantic 4.8in Super AMOLED touchscreen, the Ativ S offers a resolution of 1,280 x 720, though overall quality isn't quite as impressive as the Lumia 920 or the HTC 8X, with a pixel density of 306 PPI. In the engine room, the Ativ S sports a dual-core Snapdragon chipset clocked at 1.5GHz and features Adreno 225 graphics.
Available in 16GB and 32GB iterations, one feature that potentially sets the Ativ S apart from the competition is its microSD card slot, an option that single-handedly transforms it into a serious contender for entertainment-first mobile users. In other words, you'll be able to cheaply expand your storage capacity to pack a decent amount of music and media onto your phone, and given the gargantuan nature of the display, why not watch the odd TV show on the Ativ S?
Elsewhere, it's a solid if unspectacular Windows Phone 8 handset, featuring an 8-megapixel primary camera complemented by a 1.9-megapixel front snapper as well as NFC capability. And unfortunately there's no room at EE's 4G party for the Ativ S as it's 3G only (HSPA+).
Price and availability
UK availability of the Ativ S is still largely up in the air, though it would be a massive shock if it didn't arrive at some point in November. Pre-order pricing on Clove Technology hints at a SIM-free tag in the region of £440. That seems like a lot for a phone that lacks LTE, but its big screen and the ability to bolster onboard storage cheaply and easily, could see some users adding the Samsung Ativ S to their shortlists
For more, check out ITProPortal's Samsung Ativ S vs Nokia Lumia 920 spec comparison and our hands-on with the Samsung Ativ S feature.
Alongside their high-end Windows Phone 8 devices, Nokia and HTC are also offering more mainstream handsets running Microsoft's latest mobile OS. The Nokia Lumia 820 and HTC 8S will roll out alongside their older siblings in the coming days and weeks, and we think they're well worth consideration, even if you have the dosh for the pricier flagship models.
Nokia Lumia 820
For its part, the Nokia Lumia 820 is a very attractive smartphone that matches up well to more expensive devices. Its primary strengths lie in the camera department, where the 820 features an 8-megapixel primary snapper with an f/2.2 maximum aperture, Carl Zeiss optics, and a front-facing VGA shooter. The handset has NFC technology, 4G LTE capability, wireless charging, and sports a Snapdragon S4 chipset in the engine room clocked at 1.5Ghz. With regards to onboard storage, the Lumia 820 shines by offering a microSD card slot - not found on the Lumia 920 - so users can cheaply and easily upgrade its storage from 8GB to 32GB - the same capacity found on the Nokia Lumia 920 flagship WP8 device.
Indeed, only the Lumia 820's 4.3in display represents an obvious downgrade from the 920, with the IPS LCD screen found on the latter swapped for an AMOLED one with an 800 x 480 resolution (vs the 920's 1,280 x 768) and an image density of 216 PPI (compared to the 920's 332 PPI).
Of course, its higher-end specifications mean that the Lumia 820 is far from a budget buy: SIM-free pricing is likely to be in the region of £360. For more, see ITProPortal's Nokia Lumia 920 vs Lumia 820 spec comparison - is an HD display worth £100 to you?
HTC Windows Phone 8S
By way of contrast, there's more of gap between HTC's Windows Phone 8S and its big brother, the 8X. Its 5-megapixel camera with a maximum aperture of f/2.8 is a noticeable step down from its sibling's 8-megapixel, f/2 shooter, and it doesn't have a front snapper at all. Similarly, the 8X's 4.3in LCD display has been traded in for a smaller 4-incher on the 8S with a resolution of 800 x 400 pixels and a lower PPI (233 vs. 342). There's no NFC capability or 4G LTE on the 8S as well, while its Snapdragon processor only runs to the tune of 1GHz.
You will get Beats Audio sound enhancement, but not the same amplifier found in the 8X, and colour choice is down to four flavours, too. However, the 8S actually bests its WP8 relative in the storage department: like the Lumia 820, it features a microSD card slot, so its capacity can be boosted to 32GB. No amount of love or money will enable you to fit anything more than 16GB of content on to an 8X.
Fortunately, pricing reflects these significant specification discrepancies: Amazon is currently listing a SIM-free pre-order price tag of £240, making it £160 cheaper than the 8X. It might not be in the same class as other existing Windows Phone 8 devices, but the HTC 8S is likely to appeal to cash-conscious consumers keen to try Microsoft's new mobile OS.
For more, see ITProPortal's Windows Phone 8 review, and let us know which WP8 handset appeals to you the most.