The smartphone marketplace is crowded to say the least, but when Microsoft launched Windows Phone 8 it brought about something different than the rivals already had (iOS, android and blackberry) and although Microsoft partnered with Nokia to create smartphones and exclusive applications for Nokia phones, they decided in their wisdom to make HTC their official brand/launch partner.
And I have one of the devices in question for review, the Windows Phone HTC 8S which is the lower end device that HTC launched alongside its windows phone flagship the 8X.
Want to find out more about this little device and whether it can compete successfully in the marketplace? Well then please do read on, but first please take a look at the HTC 8S unboxing video from Matt.
What’s in the Box?
This device is a review unit so the retail packaging is probably much different to what I have but here is what I received anyway:
- Windows Phone 8S
- MicroUSB sync/charge cable
- 3-Pin UK charging adapter
- Wired headset
HTC Windows Phone 8S specification:
- 2G Network: GSM 850 / 900 / 1800 / 1900
- 3G Network: HSDPA 900 / 2100
- SIM: Micro-SIM
- Dimensions: 120.5 x 63 x 10.3 mm (4.74 x 2.48 x 0.41 in)
- Weight: 113 g (3.99 oz)
- Display: S-LCD capacitive touchscreen, 16M colours, 480 x 800 pixels, 4.0 inches (~233 ppi pixel density)
- Corning Gorilla Glass
- 3.5mm jack
- Beats Audio sound enhancement
- Memory: microSD, up to 32 GB
- Internal Memory: 4 GB, 512 MB RAM
- Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n
- Bluetooth v3.1 with A2DP, EDR
- microUSB v2.0
- Camera: 5 MP, 2592?1944 pixels, autofocus, LED flash, video 720p@30fps
- OS: Microsoft Windows Phone 8
- Chipset: Qualcomm Snapdragon S4
- CPU: Dual-core 1 GHz Krait
- GPU: Adreno 305
- GPS: Yes, with A-GPS support and GLONASS
- Battery: Standard battery, Li-Po 1700 mAh
The 10 Second review:
Product: Windows Phone HTC 8S
Price: from £149.99 pay as you go on various networks, from £11 on contract and from £159.99 Sim free.
Summary: This is a well-built great feeling and great looking phone that has some serious flaws, none more so than the internal storage.
Best of: Build quality, Design, price.
Worst of: 1.25GB available storage, camera not great, laggy at times
Buy from: Various
Also consider: Nokia Lumia 620, Huawei Ascend W1 (releasing soon), HTC 8X
On the top of the 8S is where the power/lock/unlock button and 3.5mm headphone jack are placed, it is nice to see the power button back on the top of a phone such as this instead of on the right or left sides.
On the left is just a nice smooth rounded edge.
The right of the phone houses the up/down volume rocker and dedicated camera key.
On the back is the 5 megapixel camera with led flash alongside it, we also have the customary HTC brand logo in the middle and then the beats audio logo and external loudspeaker beneath that.
On the bottom are technically 2 things, number one when the removable bottom cover is on there is the Micro USB slot for sync/charge and a little hole for the microphone. When the bottom is removed there are two slots: the Micro Sim and Micro SD slots, and as this is HTC the cover houses the antenna for network coverage control.
Finally on the front of the device is where we find the following, from top to bottom we have the speaker with a hidden LED, beneath that is the polished htc logo. Right below that is the 4.0 inch 480 x 800 display and then right at the bottom are the standard three windows phone capacitive buttons: Back, Home and search.
HTC are a company that has been struggling financially over the past year or so and i would say from my point of view this is down mainly to marketing, there isn’t enough recognition of the phones that they release and i think that people are really missing out because of this.
What we do know though is that the company sure knows how to design and build smartphones, they almost make that an art form with phones such as the recently announced HTC One which is simply stunning. The windows phone 8s is part of a duo of windows phones launched by HTC, the 8S is at the lower end of the smartphone spectrum. Though strictly from an aesthetic point of view when i opened the box there lay a beautiful looking phone with a gorgeous two tone colour in a compact design, so immediately i was excited to get started with using the phone and i can tell you that the feel of this phone in the hand is something that i have literally never felt before with a smartphone, the size and curved edges make the phone feel quite literally perfect in the hand.
The build quality is simply astonishing, with the gorilla glass and polycarbonate soft exterior it makes the phone feel extremely expensive and surprisingly safe too which is something that people with iPhones I’m sure would like to feel when holding their devices. So from a build quality point of view the phone is faultless, I even commend the decision to choose the single removable cover at the bottom of the device, which is something that they haven’t done very well on phones such as the Salsa and Legend (I experienced breakages etc) but on the 8S the build part is again faultless and it is very secure when in place.
From a design standpoint then is there anything ‘wrong’ with the phone?
The answer simply is NO! but as this is a review i will expand a little, the external buttons: Power, volume rocker and camera shutter button are all in the perfect positions for one handed use which is also uncommon these days, and the phone just looks simply stunning..which says it all so I think I will move on now.
Windows Phone 8 is still something new to me as I have only used it a couple of times before this review, so you would imagine that it would still take some time to get used to the way that everything works? For absolute smartphone newbies I can imagine them finding a couple of issues with the OS but for me it took a matter of hours for me to have already set my e-mail addresses, contacts, apps etc up.
Once you have set the phone up for the first time you are greeted with the home screen with default live tiles set up, and for those of you reading this who aren’t aware of what live tiles are, they are tiles of applications that actively update with information from those apps. So an example is the Photos application, when you put the live tile on the home screen your photos move around like a small slideshow, and for the people app the tile will show you pictures of your contacts if you have pictures in their profiles. Its pretty cool really as it means that unlike operating systems like iOS and Android you don’t have to open an app to see information about them.
Here is the home screen the way that i enjoyed using it:
Speaking of the live tiles, the biggest difference for me between Windows Phone 7 and 8 is the fact that now you can resize the live tiles to: small, medium and large. This allows the app developers to create their apps to show more information on a bigger tile or if they really wanted to they could also have the tile show different information depending on the size that the user chooses, a prime example of this choice is the Facebook app which, only shows app information when the large tile is chosen, but other apps like the HTC app shows the same information when in medium or large mode and only shows the htc logo in small mode.
Moving onto where you access your pre-installed and downloaded applications now. These are accessed very simply by swiping to the left and the following screen will appear:
You will notice that this process is so completely different to other operating systems, and I think that’s exactly the point of the whole Windows phone 8 idea, simplicity. It is definitely the simplest operating system to come to grips with, I know iOS is also quite simple but there are quite a few settings to tweak on that platform where as on windows phone 8 you are essentially good to go out of the box.
This brings me perfectly onto the settings menu itself, you will hopefully be able to see how simple it is to navigate through below:
The screenshots above should give you a fair idea of what the settings menu offers, overall Windows Phone 8 isn’t all that customisable compared to the likes of Android, the only things you can really do with this platform are: change size of live tiles on the home screen, add photos from Facebook, twitter updates and messaging information to the home screen so that when any notification pops up from any of these then it will show on the lock screen. You can also change the theme colour.
This could be a stumbling block for anyone thinking about windows phone as their next device because a lot of people are now used to their devices being at least a little customisable, for example even on iOS you are able to change the background wallpapers on both the home screen and the lock screen where as on windows phone it only allows you to have your photos live tile and also your own photo on the lock screen but not on the home screen.
In everyday use the HTC 8S runs Windows Phone 8 very well and I only encountered a slight lag a few times, the only problem when I did get lag is that it was really evident and on a couple of occasions the phone’s display flickered to black but came straight back, I found that a little odd at the time but it was fine after that in terms of lag.
I am a major web browser, I mostly browse for things that I can’t afford but we can all dream right?! Anyway my point is that I browse on my phone a lot more than any other device that I own so I expect nowadays that the browser should be smooth and quick to load web pages..does the 8S’ browser performance come up to my standards?
Yes it really does actually, I have been pleasantly surprised at how responsive internet explorer is considering I am really not the biggest fan of the desktop version of the browser. The interface of it is very nice as the address bar and options are at the bottom of the page instead of the usual top view from other platforms such as Safari on iOS. The browser loads web pages relatively quickly but obviously as always this does depend on a fast internet connection, which incidentally I have had during my time with the 8S as I have been in areas with fantastic coverage (as you will see a little later on) but also I have had a fast fibre optic home broadband connection to play with, which has helped with my review as it has shown me what the browser can really do. Don’t get me wrong it isn’t as fast as Safari or on the high end android devices but it could definitely hold its own against most phones out there.
Here it is in action:
Using the HTC 8S to browse the web was an absolute joy and I am very happy that I got the chance to use it for a prolonged period of time because I began to grow fond of the little device over time, the jury is still out though on whether I could choose a windows phone 8 device over an iOS or android device based on the other platforms having slightly better overall features and usability, but the browser on windows phone 8 is definitely a winner!
There was quite a bad problem that I did encounter and that was the following error:
It happened a couple of times when I used the search function, it must not like you searching for an android phone! It was a very rare occurrence but I encountered the error twice during my time with the phone.
The e-mail ‘application’ in windows phone 8 is a good one, very simple to set up your email accounts and even simpler to send/receive your e-mails. It isn’t the most exiting app on the platform but then again does it need to be? at the end of the day it’s the things you receive in the mail that are more important than how the interface looks.
Speaking of the interface here it is:
When looking at an e-mail you generally have to press on an area where there should be an image and ‘Download pictures’, this is a security feature that quite frankly annoys the heck out of me because it is so unnecessary! Why not just download the images automatically and if the person feels they are inappropriate then give them the option to delete? Anyway also when looking within an e-mail you can pinch to zoom which is a feature that has only recently been added to the android Gmail application so to have it there ready is a good thing. Other than that I think that is all you guys need to know, its a fully functioning decent e-mail application that ‘does what it says on the tin’
As I haven’t done so already I thought I would show you the keyboard from Windows Phone 8, unfortunately as Windows phone isn’t at all customisable by manufacturers we don’t have a lovely HTC made keyboard like we see on their android phones so the only keyboard option here is the stock one, which you can see below:
In portrait orientation the keyboard is really lovely to use, I must say as well that the 8S is a fantastic phone for one handed typing which makes for much faster text messaging, of course the keyboard does help with this. The capacitive touch display is extremely responsive too which means that you very rarely miss the letters that you aim for, the keyboard also has a mediocre word correction and suggestion function, it is mediocre simply because it works very slowly compared to others that I have seen, Swift Key for android being the greatest example of this function working seamlessly, but this just doesn’t work well so i would advise typing more accurately so that you don’t have to rely on the correction.
So on iOS we simply have the App Store, on android we have Google Play, on Blackberry 10 we have Blackberry world and finally on Windows Phone 8 we have the Windows Store. All of these stores work basically in the same way as each other, you browse for apps/games/music etc. then you download them..simple really. The only differences between all of the stores are the interfaces they all have, and of course the variety of applications that they have differs tremendously when you compare them all.
The array of applications within the windows store are growing yes, but there still aren’t nearly enough of what you would call ‘Big name’ apps like Instagram, Temple Run, Dropbox, Sky+ and so on and so forth so although the store is catching apple and Google up in terms of quantity of apps in their store, it is the quality of app that is severely lacking and because of this I have been very disappointed. I found there are a lot of apps I use on android and iOS which simply aren’t there so I haven’t been able to use the 8S as I would use my own phone due to apps not existing.
The look and feel of the store though is very nice, it is designed in much the same way as most of the apps for the platform, so without further ado here it is:
Apps are such a huge reason for someone choosing a platform these days and the obvious choices for sheer quantity are iOS and Android, but the Windows store is catching up on that side of things but how is the quality of apps available? Well firstly lets take a look at the built in applications both from HTC and the Windows Phone 8 ones too.
This application is something that HTC seemingly insisted on having pre installed on the 8S because I suppose they just wanted something with their brand name built in as opposed to having no third party apps. The app is similar to the Android apps where by it shows you the weather for both your current location and you can also add places around the world too, the app also shows the stock market levels and you can also customise news feeds to browse through, it’s almost an RSS feed but not quite as it doesn’t update that quickly but it’s a nice change from having to download a news application especially due to the lack of storage available. The application also has a Live Tile which shows you the weather for your current location and the current time too, here it is in action:
HTC Connection Setup:
This is an app that I found very useful, especially because the O2 Sim card I was using in the device didn’t automatically download the settings but I opened up this app and hey presto it set everything up for me, all it took then to get going was to accept the request to restart the phone and when it came back it worked on the internet no problem at all.
HTC ‘Make More Space:
Now the name of this app is bad enough, but the reason it’s installed in this phone is even worse as it is here simply to ensure that you are able to delete apps/games or move photos, music, videos over to an SD card because there is a shocking 1.25GB of internal storage available to the user.this is not acceptable in this day and age I am afraid, for the money you have to pay for this phone i would expect a minimum of 4GB of ‘available’ storage not 4GB in total!
Music + Video:
This is an application that could have been brilliant, but quite frankly it has turned out to be quite bland. This is the app where all of your music and video files installed on your SD card are shown for you to use, it’s just so boring though! They could have at least spruced it up enough to make it interesting?? Looks apart though the app works well and produces decent sound quality through music playback, and video files show well provided that you have the video in the correct format (MP4 for video and MP3 for music I found was the easiest to use).
As always with Windows Phone 8 applications the menu system looks very similar and also is similarly simple to use and if you look below you will see the app interface:
The games app is something that Microsoft have got right on the money, it looks great, works great and more importantly for gamers it allows users to connect your Xbox 360 gamertag and gain achievements for selected games that you download from the store! When you sign into your Xbox 360 account your custom avatar will arrive on screen too, along with your friends list, achievements list and you can also customise your avatar too! All fun stuff.
As for the actual games there aren’t too many Xbox games available and what are available are either old or very expensive, apart from angry birds collection and cut the rope which are 79p each. Gameplay is as good as can be with a 1GHz dual-core processor, it’s nothing ground breaking but it isn’t awful either so if you do buy this phone then you won’t be disappointed that games don’t run well enough.
Here’s the app in action for you:
The calendar is something that every smartphone owner uses at some time or another so I thought I would tell you a bit about the Windows Phone 8 app and also show it to you.
Overall the application is something that looks nice and clean but also works very well, when you have signed into your Microsoft account the calendar app will fetch your calendar updates from that account, it will also fetch calendars from any other e-mail address that you synchronise. The information that is fetched varies depending on what you have used them for in the past, in my calendars for example I have birthday updates courtesy of that account also being linked to my Facebook account, but my Gmail account has a manually updated calendar with phone numbers and certain birthdays etc. When you create an event in the calendar app it gives you the option of choosing a specific time and location, and also you can choose when the app reminds you of this event and the whole process is very painless which helps. One feature that I really liked about this application was the ability to change the theme colour for your different calendars and you will see the options of colours below, what changing the theme colour does is when you create an event it will show in the theme colour on the calendar itself to ensure that you are aware which calendar it is for, neat.
It’s definitely one of the better calendar applications I’ve used on a smartphone platform before and below you will see it for yourselves. You will notice the white theme, well I thought I would mention that you can also choose to have the background in black.
Microsoft Office/One Note:
As this phone possesses a Microsoft operating system things just wouldn’t be right without the customary office software, well lucky enough it comes bundled with every windows phone 8 device so users can start logging their important documents on the go right away. In practice the office app is very basic but functional enough to write small notes or sections of a paper for assignments etc. but to think that this is an application for writing whole essays or log reports from work, well you won’t be getting that because of how basic and slightly annoying the app is on the whole.
Let me elaborate a little for you, on a windows or Mac desktop the Microsoft office software is fully featured with all of the functions that you could think of, like font sizing and easy access to the bold, italic, underline buttons and so on and so forth, but on this app the functions aren’t easy to access, you have to go through the menu every single time you want to access something. A prime example of this is the bold and underline functions, these are two that I access at the same time almost all of the time on the desktop software but on the app you have to go in and out of the settings menu every time you want to apply something or change a function, so I would go into the settings menu and press Bold but then it would go back to the page you are writing on, so I have to do the same thing again and this is frustrating.
Aside from that annoying feature office is fast, reliable and you can upload your work straight to SkyDrive or you can also save it to the phones memory (not recommended) or even send it in an email to yourself, so you are always safe in the knowledge that your work is safe and secure. The Office app also contains the ability to create Excel spread sheets, great for businessmen/women but not so great for people like me who has not got a clue! I have taken a screenshot of the excel interface though.
Here area few images of the app for you:
One Note is the other Microsoft office style app that’s available here, and this is basically a fancy note taking app that is actually quite useful. It’s very much like the notes app on iOS only with a little more functionality, for example it has the list function which allows you to make a bullet or number pointed list for shopping or anything else, but there is also the option of creating a to-do list which is very useful, and I imagine that could be a function that businessmen and women would use every day in their busy lifestyles. It is a very nice app that also allows you to share your lists etc via e-mail which can be useful if you don’t want to forget anything.
There isn’t really much else to say about One Note so I will show you the app instead:
In Windows Phone 8 social media is made easy with the people hub, well it is meant to make life easier at least but for me personally its just a hassle because it is so confusing. It becomes very confusing when you are signed into all of your social networks at once and the feed then becomes clogged with so many messages and tweets etc. and I think it is a hassle that when you are all signed in if you want to make your feed less confusing you have to choose to only see what you want, I prefer separate applications for Facebook and Twitter to be honest with you. The other annoying thing about the people hub is the fact that this is the area for your contacts too, why not just create separate applications like the other operating systems? separate contacts and social apps just make sense to me.
Here is the people hub:
There is however a light at the end of the tunnel because there are official apps for both Facebook and Twitter, the latter of which has just had a huge overhaul to create a much better application as you will hopefully be able to notice in a little while.
Facebook first then, this is an application that ordinarily I look at no more than twice a day so my review of the windows version will be the same as any other I am afraid, that’s not to say that I didn’t try and use it a little more during the review of course because I definitely did and found that the app firstly requires the same sort of update that both the iOS and Android versions received not so long ago. This is because it just feels a little dated in comparison, mainly because to refresh the news feed you still have to press a refresh button whereas on every other platform it has been changed to swipe down to update which is so much more efficient. The application other than that though still works well enough, its simple to swipe through your news feed and to look at friends profiles, basically it is very simple to use it just needs some modernisation, overall though it is definitely a better app to use for Facebook than the people hub which I felt was the most important thing here.
Here it is for you guys:
Twitter is an entirely different proposition, in fact it is a simply brilliant application that brings it more in line with other platforms. Before the huge update the interface was clunky and slow and you refreshed your twitter feed with a refresh button, but after the update it is absolutely brilliant, they have added all of the much loved features from the iOS, android apps like: pull down to refresh, shortcut buttons instead of swiping and the ability to have multiple twitter accounts synchronised at the same time. The biggest difference from the old to the new though is the look of the app, unfortunately I am only able to show you the new and improved interface as I didn’t take a screenshot of the old look so I do apologise for that but hopefully you will have seen the old look before and will simply enjoy looking at the new.
I’m not going to go into too much detail about the camera on the 8S, that’s not to say it isn’t a very good camera it’s just that I’m not sure a huge article about a mid-range 5 megapixel camera would be worth reading.
So without further ado here is the camera interface, it is a nice, simple interface and does the job very nicely indeed:
The array of settings to change to improve image quality etc. aren’t really in abundance here but on a mid-range device it’s not really required, although a macro mode would have come in handy as you will see in the close up photo the quality isn’t fantastic, it’s passable but would be better with the correct focus mode. Now that I’ve mentioned the camera’s interface I will show you some photos that I captured with it:
The three images above were all taken using the ‘Auto’ settings and you will notice that particularly in the flower photo that it is slightly out of focus which would be fixed with a macro mode in my opinion, one feature that I haven’t mentioned is that you can pinch-to-zoom to zoom and the camera will still try it’s best to focus on what you want it to and I took a sample for you guys, which is below:
So the only thing left to talk about the video camera function within the camera application, the 8S is capable of 720p HD footage and I took the liberty of taking a short video so that you guys could see for yourselves that the footage that you can get from this phone isn’t really up to scratch. I took around 6 different videos in different lighting and locations and this was the only one that was passable to show to you. This is simply because the autofocus doesn’t seem to be constant and there isn’t image stabilisation built in, so that combination makes for both a grainy out of focus yet also jerky video, unless you stay completely motionless of course but who does that really? most of the time people want to capture important moments which more often than not require them to move to get the video.
Here is the video:
The settings for video recording are much the same as for still photos so i didn’t think you would appreciate me showing them to you twice, overall the camera interface is very simple both to look at and to use, but it certainly isn’t for budding photographers to take insane photos and videos with I’m afraid.
Ah yes before i forget, the gallery on Windows Phone 8 is beautiful indeed, it orders photos and videos very well and is easy to use, it is a portal for all photos and videos not just from the camera itself but from SkyDrive, SD card and any mobile uploads you do with Facebook, Flickr or Twitter. The gallery creates a new album for anything new that you do, for instance if you upload a photo to Twitter it will create a whole new album for that photo so that you know it worked, this is a really nice feature actually as otherwise the gallery would become just as confusing as the people hub.
To show you how nice the app is I’ve taken some screenshots for you:
This is a section when reviewing that I really do usually enjoy the most, but with the 8S I just didn’t for some reason. Maybe I could put it down to the screen for video playback or the provided headphones for music playback, the screen is mediocre at best so video from YouTube and my own videos look awful compared to iPhone 5 or HTC One X screens, and the provided headphones aren’t brilliant to say the least, although the wire is brilliant as it is a tangle free flat material. The actual ear pieces are the simple in ear style and not the in ear canal type which means that after around 15 minutes the ears become in pain due to the harsh plastic used.
So does the playback improve with a decent set of headphones iI hear you ask? A resounding yes is the answer to that, and this is all down to the built in Beats audio which enhances any set of headphone/earphones that you connect up to the 8S and it creates a much clearer sound quality which makes for a more enjoyable time. I Think the biggest problem with the 8S for music is simply the fact that it has an uninspiring feel to it, it doesn’t make you feel happy when you are listening to music, not like an iOS device or higher end HTC device does anyway, it is a lot better than most phones at this price point though which is a good thing but I really do think that music lovers wouldn’t like it as much as an iPod, sorry to say.
Video playback is obviously not in HD which isn’t the end of the world as for such a long time customers were used to this type of resolution anyway, the problem is that the screen just isn’t very good. The colours don’t jump out of the screen like on an AMOLED display, but overall this display just seems dull to be honest, so the quality of playback is the first problem and the second is the simple fact that there isn’t a YouTube application! This is disgraceful to be honest as this is the place that millions of people visit every single day to watch and upload videos, what Microsoft have provided is something of a ‘Fob off’ they have created an ‘App’ but it is just a link to the mobile YouTube website! Not cool!
The video playback is average on the mobile website, it’s watchable but I wouldn’t watch it like I do on my own phone or tablet that’s for sure, and the buffering times sometimes even on a fast fibre connection are just awful! Not a happy bunny.
This is something of a sore point for me as I just don’t understand why manufacturers haven’t figured out how to prolong battery life yet in smartphones and even tablets. Anyway that’s for another time as we are here to discuss the battery life of the HTC 8S, it’s not superb but it really isn’t the worst I’ve seen as I managed to get around 12 hours of battery life out of it with medium use and around 6 with heavy use, which is about the standard for smartphones these days. One thing that I did notice about the battery though is the fact that when it hit 20% remaining it simply plummeted to 0% within an hour, and this is with no use at all so I am unsure if it’s down to the software or whether the battery doesn’t like being left until empty? I just found it a little odd so I thought I would mention it.
Wow! The end of the review already, with the 8S I decided that I would use it for at least two weeks before I finished the review to give you a much better reading of what the phone is like for sure. I hope that my review helps anyone who was considering this phone for themselves as it has sure been an eye opener into how not to make a smartphone! 1.25GB of available internal storage is just not acceptable today so I expect HTC to fix their mistake in any other mid-range Windows Phone 8 device otherwise they will have many complaints on their hands.
As for whether I would recommend the device to anyone? Yes I think it is definitely aimed at the younger generation and first time buyers, whether they be buying a smartphone in general for the first time or buying a windows phone 8 device for the first time. It is worth a look at to see what an elegantly made phone feels like in the hand though as the design and build quality of this phone is fantastic and i commend HTC whole heartedly for that.
Review by: Chris