HTC turned heads last year with the 8X, a device that championed Windows Phone 8 on AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile with impressive hardware inside and out. Nearly a year later, HTC is set to crane necks once again with the 8XT. Available exclusively on Sprint for $99, the 8XT improves upon HTC's winning design in several ways with features such as HTC BoomSound. However, HTC made some compromises to keep the 8XT in a midrange price. Find out whether the trade-offs are worth it.
The HTC 8XT is wrapped in a soft-touch plastic colored in what HTC calls California Blue, but it has a purplish hue. No matter; we wish more phones were offered in this color. The phone's comfy, curved edges are a delight to hold and offer a firmer grip than competing aluminum and glass devices.
The 8XT sports a glossy black bezel surrounding its 4.3-inch, WVGA display, with a 1.6-MP camera above and to the left, and three capacitive, backlit buttons below. Dual speakers sit at the top and bottom of the phone's face. A rear 8-MP camera sits top and center in a circular aluminum setting that makes the 8XT stand out even more. Finally, popping off the 8XT's backplate reveals microSD card (up to 64GB) and SIM card slots, though removing the backplate was terribly difficult.
Measuring 5.2 x 2.6 x 0.4 inches and weighing 4.5 ounces, the 8XT looks svelte next to Nokia's $49 Lumia 925 (5.2 x 2.7 x 0.39 inches and 6 ounces). The $99 Nokia Lumia 928 (5.2 x 2.7 x 0.39 inches) also weighs a chunky 6 ounces. The HTC Windows Phone 8X, which inspired the 8XT's design, measures 5.2 x 2.6 x 0.4 inches and 4.6 ounces.
Where the 8X has a 1280 x 720-pixel display, HTC opted for an 800 x 480-pixel, 4.3-inch WVGA screen in the 8XT. By comparison, the Lumia 925 boasts a vibrant 720p AMOLED display.
As if to compensate for the low pixel count, HTC juiced up this display with off-center viewing and color enhancement. Windows Phone Live Tiles popped, and there was absolutely no color distortion when viewed at the widest angles.
When watching the latest trailer for "The World's End," the spurts of ink as Simon Pegg and friends bashed android heads displayed splashes of vibrant, rich blues. Unfortunately, it was tough to make out the finer details, such as the various gray strands in Martin Freeman's mop as he sauntered into a pub.
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The 8XT's display shone plenty bright at 403 lux on our light meter. This is a vast improvement upon the 8X's 327 lux and beats the Lumia 928 (343 lux), though the Lumia 925 was brighter at 429 lux. The average smartphone registers 388 lux on our Brightness Test.
While bright, we found text in emails and other Web content difficult to read outdoors -- the stark contrasts and primary colors of Windows Phone 8 weren't much help in this regard. We missed the sunlight readability feature on the Lumia 925 while out on a sunny day.
The 8XT is both the first Windows Phone and the first device since the HTC One to feature BoomSound. This is HTC's trademark for the dedicated amplifiers behind the phone's dual front speakers, which produce thumping volume and expanded range in conjunction with Beats Audio.
When listening to Daft Punk's "Get Lucky" with Beats Audio enabled, we heard slightly tinny guitar and synthesizer notes as they squeezed through the tiny speakers, but Pharrell came through crystal clear. We could feel the bass line through the phone, but it's the expanded range that's key. For instance, we could hear echoes bounce off of the claps in the bridge. These details were more difficult to notice when Beats Audio was turned off.
The same song on the Lumia 925's single rear speaker sounded about as loud, but without the same range and depth. It sounded as if Pharrell, Nile Rodgers and Daft Punk were hundreds of yards away. On the HTC One's dual speakers with BoomSound enabled, we noticed even more clarity, depth and range, though the cymbal notes were thin.
Like other Windows Phone 8 devices, we found the stock keyboard on the 8XT easy to use in both Portrait and Landscape Mode. However, in the latter mode, there's a quarter-inch of space on the left side that could be used to make the keyboard even larger. While we wish it included haptic feedback, we liked the emoticons and autocorrect was fast and accurate.
Operating System and UI
We love Windows Phone 8 for its highly customizable Live Tiles and how well it merges professional needs with personalization. WP8 front-loads important information such as emails through Live Tiles and calendar reminders from the lock screen. And thanks to Live Tiles, WP8 simply seems more alive than competing operating systems.
Save for HTC's own Blink Feed for Android, services such as Facebook and Twitter are more deeply integrated into WP8 than they are on competing platforms. The dedicated People app compiles your contacts and social networks into a single experience, which we appreciate.
Another plus is that the Kid's Corner Mode on WP8 makes protection simpler than on iOS and Android. Users can easily designate what kind of apps and content are accessible in Kid's Corner Mode as well as disable all purchases.
However, Windows Phone 8 doesn't handle multitasking as well as Android and iOS. Pressing and holding the back button brings up a series of app panels. However, there is no way to close an app from this menu. Windows Phone 8 also puts critical info a tap away, such as your signal strength and battery life.
For as much as we enjoy Windows Phone 8, we're just as bummed by the paltry app selection. Even with more than 160,000 apps, Windows Phone still lags well behind Android and iOS. For instance, neither Instagram nor Vine are available on Windows Phone 8, though the latter is said to be in the works.
That said, HTC and Sprint stuffed a number of apps into the 8XT, some more useful than others. For instance, Sprint offers entertainment apps such as Sprint Music Plus and Sprint TV and Movies. While these apps are visually attractive, you're still better off with Xbox Music, which follows you across devices.
HTC packed the 8XT with its own self-titled app, which offers weather, stocks and news updates, which you can customize to your liking and location. Aside from three camera apps -- HTC Burst, HTC Camera and Photo Enhancer -- HTC showed some respect for the puny 8GB of onboard storage in its WP8 flagship.
Microsoft squeezed the mobile Office 365 suite onto the phone, and provides 7GB of storage on SkyDrive. Also included is OneNote, a lightweight note-taking app that syncs with your other Windows devices. We love the convenience of Microsoft's Data Sense app, which reports your data usage down to the app level and allows you to set limits.
Also included is Scout, a free navigation app by Telenav that provides turn-by-turn directions and offline navigation through a $4.99 monthly subscription fee (or $24.99 a year). Of course, Microsoft has its own Maps app, though it doesn't offer turn-by-turn directions. Neither offer public transit data, but Nokia's HERE suite of navigation apps does for free.
The 8XT supports NFC for initiating data transfers, but uses Bluetooth for the actual transfers. To share a photo, just pull up the settings menu on an image, tap Share and then touch Tap+Send. Doing this, we were able to send a photo from the 8XT to another WP8 device, but the transfer took several seconds; video simply wouldn't happen.
With a 1.4-GHz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 chip and 1GB of RAM, the 8XT was snappy enough during everyday use. Gameloft's "Asphalt 7: Heat" ran like butter as we activated a blazing nitrous boost across a sun-drenched Miami track. However, the phone locked up on a few occasions, especially with multiple apps open and as the phone lost and regained signal.
On the synthetic CPU and GPU test WPBench, the 8XT scored 232, beating both the category average (188) and the Lumia 925 (224). The Lumia 928 scored 227.
The 8GB of onboard storage on the 8XT won't get you very far. Fortunately, the included a microSD card slot that accepts up 64GB of additional memory. But again, accessing it is rather difficult.
The 8XT is the first Windows Phone 8 device that can connect to Sprint's slowly growing LTE network -- 151 markets and counting. While not officially available in Manhattan (parts of Brooklyn and the Bronx are covered), we tested the 8XT in one pocket of LTE coverage on the east side of the city. On the SpeedTest.net app, the 8XT averaged 6.8 Mbps for downloads (7.45 Mbps max) and upload speeds averaged 1.8 Mbps (2.84 Mbps max). On T-Mobile's LTE network, the Lumia 925 saw download and upload speeds as fast as 19 Mbps and 8.5 Mbps, respectively.
Equipped with an f/2.0 lens and backside illumination, the 8XT's 8-MP camera promises excellent stills in low light. But you'll only get to take advantage of these features through HTC's dedicated camera app -- not in the stock WP8 camera.
When shooting images of various colored toys in low light, the HTC Camera didn't perform very well on its basic settings. Images of a pink plush Kirby, a red gift bag and a green plush Peashooter from "Plants vs. Zombies" barely came through the extremely dim lighting.
However, the HTC Camera features an HDR composite image setting. This feature vastly improved image quality, increasing the lighting considerably, though there was considerable noise and an overwhelming red hue. The Lumia 925's 8-MP, Carl Zeiss PureView lens has no HDR setting, but it doesn't need one, producing low-light stills with more realistic color reproduction, slightly less noise and more depth.
When we shot photos of plants on the roof of LAPTOP's offices, the yellows in the 8XT's images were far too bright, blown-out and the image lacked depth. The Lumia 925 produced a much more detailed image with vibrant coloration and, again, much more natural depth. Also, the Lumia 925 is capable of producing stills at 3,552 x 2,000 resolution, while the 8XT reaches just 3,264 x 1,952.
At least the 8XT camera records video in 1080p. Not only were we impressed by the minimal blurring in a video of a passing subway train, but the color reproduction was spot-on. However, we couldn't help but noticed how it failed to render the gravel underneath the tracks -- it looked like a texture map from a video game.
The 1.6-MP camera up front impressed as well. A selfie in the well-lit LAPTOP offices managed to capture the grays peppered throughout our hair. We just wish the camera were centered rather than so far to the left.
HTC touts that its Multi-Shot Burst Mode allows the camera to take action shots without missing a beat. Simply press and hold the shutter to take either 20 or 60 frames within a matter of seconds. However, we weren't terribly impressed. For one, the feature is only available in the Auto lens setting, which doesn't capture subjects in motion well. Burst shots of Manhattan traffic on Fifth Avenue produced blurred details, such as the NYC logo on a passing taxi.
We do appreciate, however, that the HTC Burst Shot app allowed us to pick through each image captured after holding down the shutter button. The app can also select the best image and delete the rest in a given set. Unfortunately, we simply don't see Burst Mode being used much. The Lumia 925 camera offers a more useful Smart Cam feature to take multiple shots of a still subject at various settings. The Cinemagraph tool is also a blast to play with, and you won't find that on the 8XT.
HTC offers its Photo Enhancer app, which allows users to apply several filters and effects to their photos, on the 8XT. With cheesy filters and little in terms of actual enhancement, this doesn't make up for the lack of Instagram on WP8.
Sprint promises 14 hours of talk time through the 8XT's 1,800 mAh battery. On the LAPTOP Battery Test, which continuously browses the Internet over LTE at medium brightness, the 8XT lasted a respectable 6 hours and 43 minutes. This beats the 6:07 category average and the Lumia 925, which lasted 5:47 on T-Mobile's HSPA+ network.
The 8XT is priced at $99 by Sprint, but that includes a $50 mail-in rebate card, which isn't valid until after 30 days of use (or your first bill). Plainly speaking, the phone costs $150 up front on a two-year contract.
On Sprint's new Unlimited, My Way plan, customers get unlimited talk, text and data for $80 a month for the first phone. Over 24 months and including the $150 down payment, the 8XT will cost you $2,070 on this plan. On the new My All-in plan -- which bundles 5GB of hotspot data with unlimited talk, text and data for $110 per line per month -- the 8XT will end up costing $2,750 after two years.
Although it looks much the same as the 8X, HTC cut some sharp corners getting the 8XT into the sub-$100 price range, such as equipping it with a subpar display. That it's exclusively paired with Sprint, the nation's smallest LTE carrier, doesn't help either.
Still, we like that the 8XT has expandable memory -- a rarity for Windows Phones -- good battery life and above-average audio. The 8XT is a solid choice for the audiophile on a budget and is certainly the best Windows Phone option on Sprint, but we recommend the T-Mobile Nokia Lumia 925 for its better camera and display at half the price.