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Hands on with the HTC Windows Phone 8X and 8S

Will Windows Phones make their mark through colour? This week, HTC announced two new phones that will run Microsoft's upcoming Windows Phone 8 operating system: The HTC Windows Phone 8X and the Windows Phone 8S.

Like the Nokia Lumia 920, these are much more brightly coloured than any Android or Apple phone on the market. We got to spend some time with them, and we liked what we saw.

If you're familiar with HTC, you can probably figure out what these phones are all about just by looking at their names. Much like the recent Android-based HTC One X, S, and V, the Windows Phone 8S and 8X are HTC's mid-range and high-end Windows Phone 8 offerings. Think of the HTC Windows Phone 8X as the HTC One X or the HTC One S – a premium device made with top-of-the line hardware. Meanwhile, the Windows Phone 8S is more like the HTC One V – attractive in its own right, but less powerful to make it less costly.

HTC'S president of global sales and marketing, Jason Mackenzie, recently told us that the company intends to set itself apart from the rest of the Windows Phone 8 pack through "design." To that end, the HTC Windows Phone 8X and 8S are vibrant phones that share a bright colour palette with Nokia's Lumia 920 and Lumia 820, but take the look further with a tapered, super-slim shape.

First up is the HTC Windows Phone 8X, which is HTC's flagship Windows Phone 8 device. As you can see from the images on this page, the Windows Phone OS itself looks very much the same as you've seen elsewhere, since Microsoft keeps pretty close control over it. Microsoft still wants to keep some OS features under wraps, and we were only able to look at the home screen and the rather simple camera app. So we'll focus on the hardware.

HTC Windows Phone 8X

The 8X is made of polycarbonate and comes in blue, red, or yellow. If you dig the more traditional smartphone look it comes in black too, but these bright colours are really where it's at.

The area surrounding the display is black, but the colour of the phone is echoed in the earpiece grille above HTC's logo. There's hardly any bezel around the glass at all, which makes the device feel really classy. The matte polycarbonate is soft to the touch and gives the phone a grippy texture. It's relatively lightweight and very comfortable to hold. The industrial design features rounded corners and tapered edges, and the colours keep things light.

The 8X doesn't have quite the same gloss-factor as the Lumia 920, but it's a touch subtler. We know that's crazy to say about a phone that comes in chartreuse, but the slightly rounder corners and tapered back are just a bit less commanding, a bit quieter.

The phone's 4.3in 720p HD, Super LCD 2 display looked sharp in person. HTC notes that, at 341 pixels per inch, it's denser than Apple's "Retina" display.

The phone has an 8-megapixel camera along with HTC's dedicated ImageChip. The HTC One series phones, with the same chip, have performed well as cameras; their flagship feature is snapping a bunch of photos very quickly and letting you pick the best one. There's also a 2.1-megapixel front-facing camera with an f/2.0, wide-angle lens. And yes, the phone records stereo sound.

Windows Phone is a fast operating system in general, but the Windows Phone 8X is powered by a 1.5GHz, dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4, which should make for top notch gaming performance. It's the same chip that will be in the Lumia 920. HTC has worked closely with Microsoft to add its trademark Beats audio enhancements to the phone, which helps differentiate it from the Lumia line. Those include a 2.55-volt audio amplifier, which is supposed to deliver clearer sound through headphones and speakers than most phones do.

Other specs include 16GB of built-in memory (but no memory card slot), Wi-Fi 802.11b/g/n including the 5Ghz band, Bluetooth 4.0, an FM radio, and NFC.

HTC Windows Phone 8S

A number of these higher-end features needed to be toned down to cut costs for the less expensive Windows Phone 8S, though it too is a solid performer. The phone itself felt just as responsive as the 8X, although we didn't get a chance to run any apps on it. It won't be as fast overall, though, as its 1GHz dual-core Qualcomm S4 MSM8627 isn't as speedy a chip as the 1.5GHz affair powering the 8X.

The 8S has a similar tapered design to the 8X, and it's made of the same polycarbonate material, but it's smaller and flatter, with the speakerphone near the top of the back rather than the bottom. It comes in black, white, red, and blue. Two of the phones are two-tone, and they look great. We think the grey and yellow model, pictured above, looks particularly attractive in person. However, rather than having glass all the way down the body, the coloured plastic area below the screen signals that this isn't HTC's highest-end model.

The Windows Phone 8S features a slightly smaller 4in, 800 x 480 pixel Super LCD, which looked nice, though a bit dark. It has a 5-megapixel rear camera with 720p stereo video recording as well as HTC's ImageChip, but there's no front camera, so you won't be video chatting on this one.

Other specs include 4GB of storage (but a MicroSD memory card slot this time), Wi-Fi (but only 2.4Ghz), Bluetooth, Beats audio (but not the 2.55v amplifier) and that FM radio.

The HTC Windows Phone 8X and 8S will be available in November. While no official word has been forthcoming on pricing, the 8X has gone on pre-order for £400, and the 8S for a budget friendly £225.

Official confirmation of the exact release date and pricing should be announced at a Microsoft event towards the end of October.

HTC is squaring off against Nokia head-on with these devices. We can’t wait to get hold of these colourful new Windows Phone handsets, and put them through their paces with the full review treatment.