HTC Windows Phone 8X (T-Mobile) review

The HTC 8X is the best-looking Windows Phone 8 handset on T-Mobile, but you'll pay extra for the design.
Photo of HTC Windows Phone 8X (T-Mobile)
599.99

Looks matter. HTC’s 8X ($199.99 with contract) both looks and feels better than its only Windows Phone 8 competitor on T-Mobile, the Nokia Lumia 810. The 8X is the most elegant way to experience Windows Phone 8 on T-Mo’s fast nationwide HSPA+ network. But you’ll pay a bit extra for design, and what you gain in screen resolution over the Lumia 810, you lose elsewhere.

We have a full review of the AT&T model of the 8X, and the T-Mobile handset looks and acts very similarly. I’ll focus on the differences between the AT&T and T-Mobile versions, and comparisons with other T-Mobile phones, in this review.

In brief: The 8X is a very attractive phone constructed from blue polycarbonate, with a palm-friendly tapered form and a sharp 4.3-inch 1,280-by-720-pixel Super LCD 2 display. The screen resolution is noticeably better here than on the Lumia 810, giving you considerably more real estate when browsing Web pages, but colors look pale and washed-out compared with the high-contrast, hyper-saturated colors of Nokia’s OLED panel.

Note: The slideshow below shows the AT&T model, but the T-Mobile model is identical other than the carrier logo.

While the 810 is almost comically boring looking, and the Editors’ Choice Samsung Galaxy S III is huge and plasticky, the 8X fits perfectly in my hand, stands out on a table, and feels like it’s made of premium materials. It comes in other colors on other carriers, but for now, T-Mobile only gets a deep blue. 

Call quality on T-Mobile’s network was just fine in my tests, with no distortion and volume on the high side of average. I found some interesting reception behaviors, though, where the Lumia 810 outpaced the 8X in connecting calls in a very weak-signal area, but the 8X consistently showed stronger signal and better Internet speeds with medium to strong signals. Unfortunately, Windows Phones can’t use T-Mobile’s Wi-Fi calling system, which is one of the best benefits of the carrier.

The 8 hours, 3 minutes of talk time I got on the 1800mAh battery was roughly in line with the 8X on AT&T, but falls short of the 9 hours, 12 minutes the Lumia 810′s same-size battery turned in. Also, the Lumia 810′s battery is removable; the 8X’s isn’t.

Apps, Performance and Multimedia
The 8X runs Windows Phone 8. It’s an easy-to-use, lively operating system based on Live Tiles that make it more configurable than Apple’s iOS, but less of a free-for-all than Android. Windows Phone 8′s one Achilles heel is that it doesn’t offer quite the range of third-party apps iOS and Android do; when I checked the top free and paid apps on the Apple, Amazon and Google stores against Microsoft’s store a few weeks ago, I found about 60 percent support.

Internet speeds are a bright spot, helping Web pages and apps to download faster on T-Mobile’s network than on the Lumia 810. The 8X blew out the 810′s speeds in both strong signal and weak signal areas, with results ranging from 1.4Mbps (with a weaker signal) to 8.5Mbps down (stronger signal); the 810 marked from 0.6Mbps (weak) to 6Mbps (strong). Both phones can connect to 802.11n Wi-Fi networks on both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands. The 8X works as a Wi-Fi hotspot with the appropriate service plan.

The HTC 8X uses the same 1.5GHz dual-core Qualcomm S4 processor as you’ll find in the most recent Nokia Lumia phones. But because its 1,280-by-720 screen packs about 2.5 times as many pixels as the 810′s 800-by-480 panel, the Lumia 810 benchmarks faster and shows higher frame rates in simulated gaming tests. Fortunately, the 8X can still keep up; at 33 frames per second in WPBench, games don’t look slow.

The difference in performance between new Windows phones is more about the included apps, and here Nokia has an edge. Nokia Maps, Drive, and Transit are a very big deal, and you can’t download any of them on HTC phones. Microsoft’s built-in mapping app isn’t nearly up to the quality of Google Maps on Android. You get no voice-guided navigation, no transit directions, and a limited points-of-interest database with, in my neighborhood, at least, a lot of inaccuracies. Garmin StreetPilot is available, but it costs $30.

Nokia also seems to be working to grab exclusive games, utilities, and apps for kids. HTC’s most 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, which I immediately set as my default. T-Mobile also adds a stack of useless bloatware and promos that aren’t worth discussing, but are worth deleting.

We reviewed the HTC 8X’s camera and multimedia capabilities when we looked at the AT&T model of the phone, but I wanted to add some comparisons specifically to the Lumia 810. The 810′s camera isn’t quite as good as the Lumia 920′s, so the 8X camera comes out better in comparison. They’re both decent, not extraordinary examples of 8-megapixel phone cameras. For videos, you have to decide whether you want your low-light videos to be dim and smooth (on the Lumia) or brighter, but at a lower frame rate (on the 8X). Music sounds more emphatic on the 8X because of Beats Audio, which really improves clarity and punch.

Because of the difference in displays, HD video playback looks sharper but more washed-out on the 8X. The 810 also features Nokia Music, a free streaming/caching radio service like Pandora or Slacker. Of course, you can also download Slacker (but not Pandora, yet) on your 8X.

The 8X also only comes in a 16GB model, with 14.56GB of free storage and no memory card slot. Using a 32GB memory card, we managed to boost a Nokia 810 to 37GB total storage.

Conclusions
I like the Windows Phone 8X a lot more than the Lumia 810, because I think it’s gorgeous, and I appreciate the fast Internet connection and high-res screen. But you might prefer the Lumia 810 if you want voice-guided driving directions or have a large media library that would overflow this 16GB phone. Disregard the $50 difference between the gadgets, as these other considerations are more than worth the cash.

Ultimately, the biggest thing to think about when buying one of these phones is the Windows Phone OS. If you use and love Windows 8, Windows Phone 8 is a great choice: it uses a very similar interface and integrates very well with Windows 8 PCs. Ditto if you work for a company which uses Microsoft enterprise products like Sharepoint and Office 365.

For the rest of us, the question really comes down to: Are the apps you want available? When I checked a few weeks ago, about 60 percent of the most popular apps for Android and iOS were available on Windows Phone. You can check yourself at the Windows Phone marketplace portal.

Windows Phone 8 is easier to use and less fiddly than Android, the other major smartphone OS choice on T-Mobile. This very handsome phone could easily find a lot of happy customers; I intend to use one myself for a while. But you have to be willing to be a bit of a maverick to run with Windows Phone right now.

The Android-powered Samsung Galaxy S III and HTC One S are still our two top choices on T-Mobile. The world’s most popular smartphone, the Galaxy S III has a huge number of apps and is extremely customizable; if you’re looking for a smaller device, the One S doesn’t match the Galaxy S III’s screen resolution and expandable memory, but it fits more comfortably in the hand. Both use the more mainstream Android OS, which has all the apps you’re looking for.

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Specifications
Service Provider T-Mobile
Screen Details 1280-by-720 Super LCD 2 capacitive touchscreen
Bands 850, 900, 1800, 1900, 2100, 1700, 700
Physical Keyboard No
Operating System Windows Phone
Network GSM, UMTS, LTE
High-Speed Data LTE, HSPA+ 42
Form Factor Candy Bar
Megapixels 8 MP
Bluetooth Yes
Camera Yes
Battery Life (As Tested) 8 hours 03 minutes
Camera Flash Yes
microSD Slot No
802.11x 802.11 b/g/n
Processor Speed 1.5 GHz
Screen Size 4.3 inches
CPU Qualcomm Snapdragon S4
Storage Capacity (as Tested) 14.56 GB
GPS Yes

Verdict
The HTC 8X is the best-looking Windows Phone 8 handset on T-Mobile, but you'll pay extra for the design.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc