HTC 8S review

Pros

  • Beautiful handset design
  • MicroSD support
  • Good battery life

Cons

  • Minimal onboard memory
  • Low resolution screen
  • Lacking HTC app extras

HTC’s two most recent Windows Phone-based handsets sit at the top of the tree and at the entry level. With the HTC 8X setting you back around £400, you might be drawn to the £225 HTC 8S - a lot more attractive to the cash-strapped. It’s also smaller than the 8X and so more hand-friendly, though of course some of the specifications aren't as high as the more expensive phone.

There are certainly no compromises on the design front. I’d go as far as to say this is probably the nicest looking Windows Phone I’ve seen. I’m a fan of the large bar of bright blue sitting all around the bottom of my review handset. This is set against a deep blue backplate with just a flash of the lighter blue around the camera lens and again on the front around the speaker above the screen.There are other colour options, too, with lime green and grey, black and white, and all over red in the frame.

The rubberised finish to the backplate makes for good 'grippability', and while overall the HTC 8S is not the thinnest handset – it is in fact over 10mm thick - it feels thin thanks to the tapering of all the edges. All in all, it’s quite a looker.

The chassis lacks a removable backplate, which means the battery can’t be got at. But that bottom strip of bright blue translates into a small removable cover on the back of the chassis, and this provides housing for a micro SIM and a microSD card.

Yes, you did read that right. When Windows Phone first appeared Microsoft said it did not support memory expansion because that would interfere with the OS’s smooth running. But now, with Windows Phone 8, memory expansion is supported.

Internal storage runs to just 4GB. You also get 7GB of SkyDrive storage, as with every Windows Phone, and you can set things up so that photos you shoot and other data are automatically backed up there.

The presence of memory expansion might sound great, but take note that the microSD card can only be used to store music and video. Apps need to go on the internal storage. And of that 4GB of internal memory, only 1.1GB is actually free.

The screen is another area where things are acceptable rather than superb. At 4in the screen is just about large enough for watching video, and the Super LCD is bright and clear.

However, the resolution of 800 x 480 pixels means that most web pages require some zooming to make their text legible, and text can appear a bit on the grainy side. If you read a lot of emails, web content, documents, eBooks or whatever, then this might not be your ideal handset.

The HTC 8S might also not be perfect for you if you create a lot of text, either. The Windows Phone keyboard is very responsive, but larger screens simply offer more space for tapping out text, and keen writers might find things a bit cramped here.

HTC says that the battery on this handset is high performing, and certainly attention seems to have been paid to constant gripes about poor battery life in mobiles because the HTC 8S has a generous 1700mAh battery. It easily saw me through a day without feeling I needed to dash off and find the mains.

HTC’s now standard partner Beats Audio is here, and the handset delivers mixed results in terms of audio quality. The back-mounted speaker has a fairly high top volume, but quality is not great when sound is at its loudest with distorted tones and lack of clarity the key features. Opt for headphones and the top volume is far too loud for comfort and again quite distorted. Tone things down and quality improves greatly both through headphones and handset speaker.

Windows Phone is a much more locked down operating system than Android. It can’t be skinned, and the key ways that manufacturers can differentiate their handsets are in chassis design and the provision of extra apps over and above the Windows 8 standards.

In the case of the HTC 8S there are lamentably few extra apps. The HTC app does offer weather information and adds in stocks data and news feeds. The app is not as compelling as it is on Android, but at least it does deliver a large live tile with time and local weather details.

There’s also a Photo Enhancer for adding colour effects to photos. This app is reminiscent of what HTC offers in Android, but has no additional cropping or editing features. The camera, incidentally, shoots 5-megapixel stills and 720p video. Images are OK but not great. There is no front-facing camera.

When you compare these extras to the range you get from Nokia on its Windows Phone handsets, there’s really no comparison. With Nokia Maps, City Lens for finding local services and the superb streaming Nokia Music among them, it has to be said that if I were choosing a Windows Phone I’d probably go with Nokia.

That said, I am still not entirely convinced by Windows Phone as an operating system. I know it has many fans, but the inflexible lack of skinnability, and the general look and feel of the user interface just don’t appeal to me. Nor is the apps offering wide enough for my tastes.

Verdict

Among Windows 8 fans the HTC 8S may gain considerable traction. Its price is a clear draw, and the newly available memory expansion option opens up side-loading storage options which will enhance its appeal. But the onboard memory quota is pitiful, really. Nokia provides better app-based extras and if your budget lies around the £200 mark, then you might want to hold out until you can do a comparison with the Nokia Lumia 620.

Specifications

Manufacturer and model

HTC 8S

Network

GSM 850/900/1800/1900

HSDPA 900/2100

Processor

1.4GHz dual-core Qualcomm S4

Memory

4GB

Memory expansion

microSD

Display

4in, 800 x 480 pixels

Main camera

5-megapixel

Front camera

None

Wi-Fi

Yes

GPS

Yes

FM radio

No

Battery

1,700mAh

Size

120.5 x 63 x 10.3mm

Weight

113g

OS

Windows Phone 8

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