HTC Windows Phone 8X, 8S first impressions


What do you do when you’re HTC and you’ve found your market share gobbled up by competitors like Samsung, LG and others despite putting great products like the HTC One X out there?

Differentiate yourself, preferably without relying on the same software that all of your competitors (except Apple) are using.

This might well have been the thinking behind today’s announcement of two new smartphones from HTC powered by Microsoft’s brand new mobile OS: Windows Phone 8.

The HTC Windows Phone 8X and 8S are two interpretations of what a Windows Phone 8 handset should be. The 8X is a 4.3″ touchscreen phone that boasts HD resolution, 8 and 2.3 MP rear and front cameras and NFC. It has 16GB of unexpandable internal memory and 4G/LTE cellular connectivity. The 8S for its part, is smaller at 4″ in diagonal measurement, is limited to 4G speeds and lacks a front camera. Its 4GB of memory can however be expanded via MicroSD up to 32GB. Both phones have non-user replaceable batteries.

Specs aside, it’s the design that really sets the 8X and 8S apart – at least in terms of HTC’s previous efforts. Rounded edges, super-smooth screen surfaces and a slightly rubberized back surface all make for a very pleasing phone to hold. But while these Windows Phone 8 handsets look different from other HTC models, they bear a striking resemblance to the other company that is going all-in on Windows Phone – namely, Nokia.

The Windows Phone 8X will come in a variety of colors including California Blue, Graphite Black, Flame Red and Limelight Yellow.   The Windows Phone 8S by HTC will be available in Domino, Fiesta Red, Atlantic Blue and High-Rise Gray.

Too close for comfort? The Nokia Lumia 900.

Aside from a few minor differences, HTC’s 8X and 8S look for all intents and purposes like the Nokia Lumia line of handsets.

This similarity has not gone unnoticed by Nokia, who have already chimed in with their opinion. They’re not impressed.

HTC disputes the similarity. HTC’s North American president, Mike Woodward claims that no one looking at the two phones could mistake one for the other.

We had a chance to go somewhat hands-on with the new devices at HTC’s well-attended launch event in New York.

I say somewhat because while we were able to hold the units and even listen to some audio tracks to get a sense of how the integrated amplifier and Beats Audio enhancement worked, we were not able to try out many of the Windows Phone 8 features such as web browsing, email or instant messaging.

The HTC Windows Phone 8X and 8S side by side

What we were able to experience was the exceptional feel that HTC has managed to engineer into these phones. The screens were vivid and bright, without being over-saturated. They felt lightweight without feeling cheap, plasticky or fragile. The 8S will be particularly attractive to those with small hands, with its slightly narrower and shorter physical dimensions.

Also of note is the front-facing camera on the 8X. It has a unique ultra-wide angle lens which lets users compose self-portraits with way more room in the frame for friends or other background details.

HTC wasn’t offering any details around pricing beyond saying that the handsets are expected to be in market with Bell and Rogers in Canada for a November timeframe. However it would be reasonable based on the phones’ specs to expect something in the neighbourhood of $100-$175 on a contract.

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