Size matters. The past year has seen mobile phone sizes creep up, following greater demand for large-screen web browsing, large-screen gaming, and big, powerful batteries. But human hand sizes haven’t grown in response. Enter the sleek, palm-friendly HTC 8X: A now-rare, high-end smartphone that can actually fit in your hand with its modest 4.3in screen. While the 8X isn’t the most powerful Windows Phone 8 – that prize goes to the Nokia Lumia 920 – it’s likely to be the best balanced, with the right combination of high-end features, usable size, and it’s priced at £400 sim-free.
HTC calls the 8X design the “pyramid,” because the phone’s internal components are stacked, well, like a pyramid. The phone tapers at the edges and bulges slightly in the middle. But it isn’t truly round on the back – it sits stably on a table. Most of the body is a high-grade, comfortable-to-touch soft matte polycarbonate plastic.
In terms of colours, the 8X comes in black, flame red, dark blue and a greenish-yellow that I’ve been calling chartreuse to differentiate it from Nokia’s purer yellow. The yellow makes your eyes water. The blue, though, is subtler and more professional than Nokia’s loud, glossy finishes.
At 65 x 10 x 132mm (WxDxH) and 130 grams, the 8X is actually a smidge taller than the Lumia 920, but it’s much narrower and 55 grams lighter, which is what you really notice. Compared with the Samsung Galaxy S III, it’s shorter and narrower but slightly thicker. I actually prefer my phones even a little smaller than this – the HTC One S, as I’ve said a bunch of times, is my ideal – but the size of this phone won’t appal any fan of 4in and 4.3in screen devices.
Front and centre, there’s a tight 4.3in, 1,280 x 720 Super LCD 2 screen covered by Gorilla Glass on the front. At 341 pixels per inch, it’s the highest-density screen available today. The screen looks sharp and bright until you see the Lumia 920’s ClearBlack IPS LCD panel, which makes the 8X look washed out. The Power, Volume, and Camera buttons are slight missteps; they’re very subtle and a bit hard to find without looking.
The 1,800mAh battery is slightly smaller than the Lumia 920’s 2,000mAh cell, but the Lumia 920’s bigger 4.5in screen uses more power. On talk time, the 8X lasted 8 hours and 28 minutes, about 90 minutes less than the 920. But we were able to get 4 hours and 50 minutes of YouTube streaming with the screen at the highest brightness, almost an hour longer than the 920.
The HTC handset’s call quality was acceptable, but not extraordinary. The earpiece and speakerphone are both a bit quiet, which is surprising considering how powerful the phone’s Beats-powered headphone amp is.
The phone had no problem pairing with a Plantronics Voyager Legend Bluetooth headset and triggering Microsoft’s voice commands from the headset. The voice command software, however, really leaves something to be desired. It dials the phone just fine, but freeform queries like “how’s the weather?” result in web searches rather than returning usable results.
Sadly, the 8X doesn’t support LTE in the UK, so there’ll be no super-speedy surfing on the EE network as with the Lumia 920. It does support HSPA+ 42 though (or 3.5G, if you will). The handset also supports 2.4GHz and 5GHz 802.11 a/b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 3.0, GPS, and NFC.
Performance and apps
For the full details on the software, read our review of Windows Phone 8. The difference in performance between new Windows Phone 8 devices is more about the included apps, and here Nokia has an edge, bundling more extra bits. While you do get Nokia Maps on board the HTC 8X, you don’t get Drive and turn-by-turn directions, which is a downer (though it is allegedly coming).
Nokia also seems to be working to grab exclusive games, utilities, and apps for kids. HTC’s only meaningful contribution to the platform is the HTC Hub, an app which shows the time, weather, and stock prices. It can also beam weather information to your home screen.
- Excellent balance of size and power
- Great design
- Sharp screen
- Sonically superb with Beats Audio
- Photos are a bit washed out
- No memory card slot