The HTC 8X is this year's 'flagship' Windows Phone 8 device, and it's as bright, colourful and flawed as the OS itself.
It is just over a centimetre thick at the centre, but with tapered edges it feels smaller and slimmer than that. The screen has a matt, rubbery feel on the back, which is apparently tuned to be different for each of its colours - blue, black or yellow - and it has a straightforward, plain front. The overall effect is of a confidently designed, straightforward but solid device, which has been made with care and thought.
Sadly, the handset we tried was the black model, which compared to the more colourful blue and yellow variations looks relatively lifeless. It's just a problem with black phones - we've all seen far, far too much of them. HTC knows this, which is why it's made such a play on colour with the 8X and the mid-range, two-tone 8S (which is arguably the more handsome device). But it's a shame that the black model doesn't boast the same charisma.
The screen is a 4.3-inch, 1280x720 pixel screen with a resolution of 342ppi, which is about the same quality as the iPhone 5 and has a similarly stunning colour performance.
In camera terms the handset features an 8MP rear sensor, and a surprisingly high quality, 2.1MP wide-angle front camera. That front-facing snapper might go unnoticed, but it's an oddly notable improvement on competitors like the iPhone 5, being able to take in a far wider scene and more detail - great for those arty hipster shots of yourself looking moody on a bridge at sunset, Facebook fans. Video recording is up to 1080p on both, and video calling looks great.
The phone is powered by a 1.5GHz Qualcomm S4 dual-core processor, and it's a powerful beast that originally debuted in the HTC One X. It's more than enough to cope with the best games WP8 has to offer (which isn't a huge amount at this stage), while day-to-day performance is pretty much perfect.
The worth of the inclusion of Beats audio into the phone is trickier to judge. It certainly gives the speakers and headphone port a boost via an increased voltage in booth, but it's difficult to tell whether the result is a genuine qualitative bump or just an added emphasis on bass and volume. We could go either way - and if you're into Radio 4 podcasts more than Dub Step, you might just turn it off anyway.
In software, the HTC phone doesn't boast as much extra goodness as Nokia devices. Aside from the Beats audio there's the HTC news, weather and stocks app, and a Photo Enhancer. That's it - and it's pretty superficial. In that is reflected the wider problem of the Windows Phone 8 proposition - not enough apps.
Overall the 8X is a very solid option if you're looking for a no-nonsense WP8 device. It's a big jump on the overall quality of the previous best-in-class Windows Phone, the Nokia Lumia 900, and compared to the Nokia 920 and Sony Ativ S it certainly holds its own. This is a good step forward for both Microsoft and HTC. Whether its enough to convince fans of Samsung, Apple or other top-tier phone makers remains to be seen.
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