Windows Phone 8X and 8S by HTC first impressions

The Windows Phone 8X and 8S by HTC are an interesting pair of devices. They look fantastic – the 8S almost appears to be the spiritual successor to the Zune HD – and the 8X hardware is top-notch. But the most intriguing thing about these two handsets is that they’re leveraging the Windows Phone brand, rather than HTC. You’ll notice that the devices are called the “Windows Phone 8X/8S by HTC,” not the “HTC 8X.” In some ways, the HTC branding almost appears to be an afterthought. This is in contrast to Nokia and Samsung, which slap the Lumia and ATIV (formerly Focus) moniker on every device. It’s an odd choice on HTC’s part, but the result is something that’s simpler and almost seems more user-friendly.

The body of the device, however, has no Windows Phone branding to speak of (aside from the Start button). HTC and Beats Audio logos grace the front and back of the device, and HTC’s trademark clock is prominently pinned to the top of the Start screen. You can, of course, unpin or even uninstall the app if you so choose. I really like the look HTC has chosen for its new devices. They still feel very much like HTC smartphones, but the bold colors and other design choices make them feel fresh. Of course, one could make the argument that HTC is following in Nokia’s footsteps with the color choices and polycarbonate shell.

HTC’s Windows Phone 8 handset announcement is a little later than Samsung, which announced the ATVI S three weeks ago, and Nokia, which unveiled the Lumia 920 and Lumia 820 two weeks ago. While the four devices are similar in many ways, each manufacturer seems to be focusing on a specific aspect of the experience. The greatest strength of the ATIV S is its 4.8-inch display, 32GB of storage, and microSD SDXC card slot. So far, it’s the only high-end Windows Phone 8 device to support microSD, and that makes it the best choice for media enthusiasts. Nokia, meanwhile, has managed to bring wireless charging and its PureView camera technology to its devices, as well as a fantastic ecosystem of apps, accessories, and partnerships. And based on today’s announcement, HTC is going for the sound and imaging crowd, thanks to its Beats Audio technology and HTC ImageChip.

But while HTC may have been a little late to the party, the company had some exciting things to share. Microsoft is still keeping most of the Windows Phone 8 features close to the vest, along with information on pricing, availability, and supported carriers. Thankfully, HTC was able to confirm that the devices will be released this November – not much of a surprise there – on AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon in the US. Worldwide, the device will be available on over 150 mobile operators in more than 50 markets.  This might seem like a small thing, but it’s the first time any Windows Phone 8 handset has been officially announced for a carrier. This also had the effect of tripling Verizon’s Windows Phone lineup.

I haven’t yet decided which device I’ll end up going with this fall, but the Windows Phone 8X and 8S by HTC are certainly contenders.

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William Devereux

William Devereux is the former Microsoft editor at Pocketables, as well as a Microsoft MVP and SkyDrive/Outlook.com Insider. As his title implies, he wrote about all things from Redmond, including Windows 8 and Windows Phone. He is currently carrying a Windows Phone 8X by HTC and a Microsoft Surface with Windows RT tablet.