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printed October 31, 2014
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Review: HTC Windows Phone 8X for AT&T

Form Performance Basics Extras Wrap-Up Comments  

Media

The 8X provides the same tie-ins to Microsoft's XBox entertainment services as before. The music experience has always been good on Windows Phone devices, and the 8X is no different. The media player is a solid piece of software that syncs with iTunes, Windows 8, and older Windows desktop systems with ease. The addition of HTC's Beats Audio is icing on the cake. Music playback sounded great through my favorite headphones.

Video is another story. Windows Phone 8 will not work with iTunes movies, and the XBox Store doesn't offer video content. Your best choice for renting movies is to use the Netflix application, which is a third-party service that you need to download yourself.

The 8X doesn't even ship with YouTube. Both Microsoft and HTC make separate YouTube apps. The HTC one is far superior. I'd recommend it over the Microsoft one.

Camera

We provided an in-depth look at the new Windows Phone 8 camera app here. The big changes are faster performance, more space in the viewfinder, and compatibility with third-party "Lenses" for applying certain effects to photos. The 8X only ships with two lenses: Bing Search and CNN's iReport. (The lenses are more like augmented reality than Instagram.)

As far as the 8X in particular is concerned, the camera is extremely quick. It has the same dedicated HTC ImageChip that appeared on the company's One series devices earlier this year. Pressing the camera button -- even when the phone is locked -- starts the camera app in about two seconds. It focuses quickly, shoots quickly, and saves quickly.

There are more settings available in the software for tweaking the behavior of the camera, such as setting the resolution, white balance, etc. You can also apply some effects (B&W or Sepia) before taking pictures.

 

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Photos

The 8X has an 8-megapixel shooter. Images are 8 megapixels if you shoot full frame 4:3 images. If you want to shoot 16:9 images - which better match HDTVs and PC monitors - images are 6 megapixels. Whichever you choose, pictures are good, but not great. I thought focus and white balance were sharp and accurate, respectively, but exposure was all over the map. Images taken in low light were particularly grainy and lost detail. The 8X has a flash, but as with most phone cameras, it doesn't light up much beyond about 6 feet.

Bottom line: There are better camera phones out there, but the 8X's camera suffices.

 

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Video

The 8X captures video at a maximum resolution of 1080p HD. Results mirror those of the still camera. Focus and color are spot on, but there's more grain than I wanted to see. You'll be pleased with results taken outside on a bright day, but stuff captured indoors with little light is going to be a hazy mess. Again, the 8X suffices, but there are better options on AT&T's network.



Picture Hub

The Pictures Hub is all about the community experience. It lets you easily upload images to Facebook, SkyDrive (Microsoft's photo upload service), Flickr, or send them along via MMS or email. Microsoft wants users of Windows Phones to spread the photo lovin'.

The native gallery app only offers a few editing tools, which are limited to crop, rotate, and "auto-enhance." All this does is fix exposure, white balance, color, etc. The 8X also comes with HTC's Photo Enhancer app for those who like to spend time touching up their photos before sharing them. This separate app is a rich photo editor with a vast set of features that include crop, rotate, fix brightness, fix contrast, fix color, etc.

 

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Apps

Microsoft boasts that the Windows Phone Store is home to more than 125,000 apps. The most important thing you need to know is this: Older apps written for WP7/WP7.5 will run on Windows Phone 8 -- but not vice versa. If you're buying the 8X, you don't have to worry about app compatibility. They will all work. Microsoft has some exciting apps lined up for WP8. The biggest of which are probably Pandora and Instagram. They'll be available soon, but not immediately. There are a half dozen AT&T-branded apps on board (Family Locator, MyAT&T, AT&T Radio, etc.), but they can all be deleted if you wish.

Bluetooth

The 8X supports Bluetooth 3.0 with the typical set of profiles, such as stereo Bluetooth, object push, and phone book access. The 8X paired easily with other Bluetooth devices, including mono and stereo headsets, and other computers. I thought phone calls routed through Bluetooth headsets sounded OK, but not great. The experience was rather hit or miss. One time the 8X disconnected from the headset in the middle of a call. Music didn't sound all that great when sent to Bluetooth speakers.

Browser

The new Internet Explorer 10 browser is a significant step up from IE9. Full details about the new browser are available in Phone Scoop's full review of Windows Phone 8. In sum, it has more features, is better at rendering web pages, and absolutely flies on the 8X thanks to the speedy processor and LTE data. I still think the Android and iOS browsers are a bit more feature rich (for example, syncing tabs across devices), but IE10 will surely make fans of Windows Phone happy.

 

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Clock

As with most smartphone platforms, the 8X has a nice digital clock on the lock screen, It also displays the day of the week and the date. I wish the clock were bigger -- or at least customizable -- but it is not. Thanks to the bright display, it is pretty easy to see outdoors.

GPS

My favorite feature of Nokia Maps (which is the new mapping product on Windows Phone devices) is that you can download individual US states or other countries directly to the phone. They are then fully accessible when the device is offline. Downloading the maps also makes the GPS and Maps app perform faster because it doesn't need to talk to a server across the network. Trust me when I say that Maps on Windows Phone is second to Google Maps, but just barely. It offers an incredible array of tools and functions for managing locations, sharing points of interest, and routing directions. It's all free.

The GPS radio itself performs flawlessly. It pinpointed me quickly and accurately no matter where I was.

 

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Kids Corner

Kids Corner is a new feature in WP8 that lets parents cordon off a special area of the phone for their kids. Basically, parents put the phone into a mode that only lets kids access certain apps and features, such as cameras and games. It's meant to prevent kids from wiping their parents' phone or emailing pictures to their entire inbox.

 

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