Verizon is last to the party with the HTC Windows Phone 8X. But as the first version of this phone to feature wireless charging, Verizon definitely has a few tricks up its sleeve. Other additions include an exclusive color option and a helpful data tracking app. However, is that enough to divert attention from Android, iOS and other Windows Phones?
The California Blue HTC Windows Phone 8X strongly resembles a stretched out Live tile. The soft-touch rear panel gently surrounds the 4.3-inch black display. Verizon also offers the phone in red and black.
On the front, a 2.1-megapixel camera sits in the top right corner, next to a blue speaker bar, which stands out on the glossy obsidian surface. Capacitive buttons (Back, Start and Search) are located along the bottom. Instead of tagging the front of the device with excessive labeling, HTC places all insignias (HTC, Beats and AT&T) on the rear panel, a nice touch. Here also is an 8-MP camera, flash and a speaker.
A power button and headphone jack sit along the top edge of the phone. A volume rocker and dedicated camera button sit on the right, along with a pullout tray for the SIM card. The microUSB slot is tucked away on the bottom of the handset.
The 8X cuts a slim profile at 4.6 ounces and 5.2 x 2.6 x 0.4-inches. The Nokia Lumia 822 is thicker and heavier at 5.0 x 2.7 x 0.44 inches and 5.1 ounces.
The 4.3-inch Super LCD 2 display on the HTC 8X has a resolution of 1280 x 720 (341 ppi), which made maps, images and Web pages look great. Text on Cracked.com was crisp on the 8X. TheLumia 822's 800 x 480 display was a different story with rough jagged text.
Watching a high-def trailer of "Oz The Great and Powerful" on the 8X offered wide viewing angles. Mila Kunis' red hat and coat popped as did the majestic Emerald City. However, we noticed pixelation during darker scenes.
In terms of brightness the Windows Phone 8X's display registered 312 lux on our light meter, barely beating the smartphone average and Lumia 920 (both 310 lux). The Lumia 822 easily outshined both results with 410 lux.
Considering that HTC owns Beats Audio, it's only natural that this technology be included in the 8X. The software is only activated when headphones are connected to the phone. Unlike Beats headphones, this app boosts both mid- and lower tones, but evenly, for a richer sound.
We heard strong, vibrant piano chords, crisp percussion and Anthony Davis' silky tenor over our Sol Republic Track headphones. Without the headphones, the track sounded loud and somewhat tinny.
Pressing the physical volume controls displays a little drop-down window that lets you advance, rewind or pause tracks. At its largest size, the Music + Video Live Tile displays a picture of the artist, as well as his or her name scrolling horizontally and vertically.
Windows Phone 8
People looking for a user-friendly alternative to Android and iOS will like the software experience HTC has to offer. We're big fans of the visually appealing, customizable Live Tiles. There are lots of tiles users can pin to their Start screen, including people, apps, websites, photo albums, music albums, notes, directions and more. Live Tiles can now be resized to one of three sizes. Just long-press to make a tile smaller or a large rectangle that stretches across the screen.
Where Windows 8's Modern UI is designed for landscape navigation, Windows Phone 8 was designed with one-handed, portrait-mode use in mind. The main screens, as well as some Microsoft apps (People, Music + Videos, and Games, to name a few) only work in portrait mode. Fortunately, other apps that can involve a lot of typing (such as email and messaging) can rotate to landscape mode.
The new Rooms feature lets you set up a virtual network with selected contacts to privately share photos, calendars and send messages. Inviting someone to a room was as easy as selecting them from our contacts list. From there, sharing photos, notes and sending messages was a simple matter. We can see this being a very helpful tool for both families and employees alike. We'd like to see Rooms migrate to Windows 8 as well.
Parents will appreciate the Kids' Corner feature, which lets you set up a protected area for your child. They'll get their own Start screen with the apps, games, videos and music that you approve.
As attractive as Windows Phone 8 is, there's room for improvement. For instance, you need to press the top of the screen to see your battery life and signal strength. And while it's easy to switch apps, it takes more steps than we'd like to close them.
The Windows Phone app store is a work in progress, featuring more than 120,000 apps. Third-party apps such as YouTube, Evernote, USAToday, Accuweather.com and Netflix are available. However, Windows Phone has a long way to go in order to match Android or iOS numbers.
HTC supplements the Windows Phone apps store with its on branded apps store. There is also a HTC-branded hub with weather, stock and news updates from CNN and Yahoo. Photo Enhancer, a photo filter app reminiscent of Instagram is also included along with Converter, which can convert most common forms of measurement.
Verizon also makes its presence felt with a small cache of apps, including VZ Navigator. My Verizon Mobile enables users to check and pay their latest bill, view usage and change plans. There's also NFL Mobile for football fans that want to keep up with their favorite team's news and scores.
Word Flow Keyboard
The on-screen keyboard on the 8X looks much the same as on previous versions of Microsoft's mobile OS. In portrait mode, the small rectangular keys were relatively easy to type on, as were their squarish landscape-mode counterparts. A new addition is the keyboard's predictive feature, which helped correct our spelling as we typed. We wish there was an option for haptic feedback, especially considering the three buttons below the screen gently buzz when pressed.
The HTC Windows Phone 8X has a NFC chip, which let us share photos, websites, contacts and other content by touching the phone to another NFC-enabled device. Tap & Share -can also be used to pair the phone to other devices.
The process has a few more steps than we would like. In order to share a photo, you have to open it, press the three dots on the screen to access settings and select Tap+Send from the Share menu options. With Android devices, it's much simpler; simply tap on the image while the two devices are touching.
The HTC Windows Phone 8X's 1.5-GHz dual-core Qualcomm S4 CPU and 1GB of RAM delivered zippy app launches and OS navigation. The 8X notched a 7.9 on every section of the Benchmark Free CPU app. That translates into a cumulative score of 47.4, matching the Lumia 822. On the WPBench app, which measures CPU, data and GPU performance, the 8X notched 233, topping the 148 Windows Phone average. The Nokia Lumia 822, which also has a 1.5-GHz dual-core Qualcomm S4 CPU delivered 246.
We also ran the AnTuTu Benchmark app, which measures CPU performance, 2D graphics, and read/write performance. The 8X scored 11,045, which was enough to beat Lumia 822's 10,143.
The HTC Windows Phone 8X comes with 16GB of storage. Unfortunately, there's no microSD slot for storage expansion.
4G LTE and Web Browsing
Verizon continues to deliver fast speeds and load times. We saw an average download speed of 11.2 Mbps on the My Speed Test app on the HTC Windows Phone 8X. The average upload speed was 7.9 Mbps. Loading mobile websites such as NYTimes.com, CNN.com and ESPN.com was nice and swift, taking 2.5, 2.8 and 3.5 seconds to load. The desktop version of Laptopmag.com loaded in 8.1 seconds.
The new Skype app for Windows Phone 8 has all the video chatting and instant messaging you've come to expect, but now it's integrated with Microsoft's new OS. The app remains on in the background -- even when the phone is locked. Additionally, Skype contacts added all of our contacts to the People hub.
In side-by-side shots with the Lumia 822, the Windows Phone 8X's 8 megapixel rear-facing camera delivered sharper details. Zooming in on our holiday ornament shot showed every shiny branch on the glittery trees. We could even see the tiny stars at the top of the miniature trees. However, we preferred the color in the 822's shot. Despite shooting under florescent lighting, the 822 managed to produce a whiter background with more brighter color.
Thanks to HTC's dedicated ImageChip, the 8X's camera snapped photos in less than a second after pressing the shutter. After you take a shot, we could share it with others via messaging, our various email accounts, Facebook, OneNote, SkyDrive or Twitter. Editing options on the phone let us perform a quick fix, crop or rotate. If you want to make heavier adjustments, an Apps link let us easily open the photo in the photo-editing programs installed on the phone.
Within the photo app, pressing the icon that has two arrows facing in opposite directions lets you access Lenses, a fun feature that adds various filters to the camera. (Think Instagram, but there's a lot more potential as developers catch on.) Some lenses--such as CamWow--are frivolous, adding fun-house effects and such, but others such as CNN iReport let you upload video straight to CNN.
You can activate the camera from the lock screen merely by holding the shutter button for two seconds. You can also take photos without unlocking the phone, but doing so only gives you the ability to view (and delete) the photos you just took.
We like the 88-degree wide-angle lens for the 8X's front camera, which is optimized for taking self-portraits. We could more easily fit more people in the frame than on the iPhone 5. The 2.1-MP camera also took fairly good shots. While images captured in a slightly dim room were on the grainy side, colors were generally accurate.
Battery Life and Call Quality
The HTC Windows Phone 8X lasted 5 hours and 4 minutes on the Peacekeeper Browser Battery Test. This is an hour longer than the Windows Phone 8X on AT&T's network (4:04). The Nokia Lumia 822 konked out after a measly 3:54.
The Verizon 8X has the unique distinction of being the only Windows 8X phone to feature wireless charging. The phone began charging approximately 1 second after being placed on a charging mat. Charging plates cost about $50.
Test calls over the Verizon network were clear on both ends in calls to New Jersey, New York and California. When we switched over to speakerphone on the California call, there was a small amount of echo.
Data Plans and Data Sense
Verizon's Share Everything plans bundle unlimited talk and text with a set amount of limited data. The $50 1GB plan offers 1GB of data and the 2GB plan costs $60 monthly. Heavy data users with a number of gadgets can check out the $120 20GB plan. We don't recommend the 300MB $40 plan; it doesn't include enough data for most users.
The bundled Data Sense helps you set limits and use less data. Our favorite feature mapped out the nearest Wi-Fi locations. The feature also automatically compresses data-heavy information (such as pictures) as you approach your limit. The utility will also allow you to see how much data individual apps are using; for instance, when we set a 30MB limit for the day, NFL Mobile accounted for 17MB of usage. In our experience, the app did an excellent job ensuring that critical information, such as text, remains legible even as images became increasingly grainy. With only 2MB of data left in our daily limit, we could still clearly read articles on NYTimes.com.
The $199 HTC Windows Phone 8X is everything you want in a Windows Phone. You get a sleek design, swift performance and wireless charging built in--something the other carriers don't offer for this phone. We also like that Verizon is out in front with Data Sense, which can help users from going over their monthly limit. Thrifty Verizon shoppers can purchase the $99 Nokia Lumia 922, which is $100 cheaper than the 8X. However, they'll have to deal with a clunkier design, lower-resolution display and significantly shorter battery life.
Those not wedded to Verizon looking to spend less on a Windows Phone may want to take a look at the $99 8GB version of the 8X on AT&T. While heavier, the $99 Lumia 920 on AT&T delivers wireless charging, exclusive Nokia services and a better camera for $99. Overall, though, the 8X is easily the best Windows Phone on Verizon Wireless and the best 8X available for any carrier because of its wireless charging advantage and longer battery life.