The secondary Windows Phone 8 handset to appear out of HTC’s labs; the HTC 8S (or Windows Phone 8S by HTC to use its official name) aims to make Microsoft’s new mobile OS more accessible to a market of mobile users used to mid-range and entry level Android handsets for their basic smartphone needs. The HTC 8S aims to condense premium design and usability into an affordable package.
HTC 8S – Design
With regards to the two new Windows Phone 8 handsets from HTC, the company spent time and care, constructing the new design language from the ground up and indeed the 8S is unlike anything we’ve previously seen from the company’s design team. Inspired by the distinctive tile interface of Windows Phone, the ‘pillow’ shape of the 8S feels sculpted, smooth and ergonomic, despite its squared appearance head on.
The soft touch back provides enough grip and all the hardware controls are unobtrusive yet easily accessible. The most distinctive element, despite its smaller size, which sets it apart from the HTC 8X is the ‘dipped paint’ effect on the lower portion of the body. The four colours which the 8S comes in feature complimentary shades on the lower sections which carriers on around the back and over the capacitive buttons below the display. It makes for some striking looking devices and the fit and finish of the entire phone feels very high quality.
The ‘dipped’ portion of the handset also distinguishes the removable portion of the casing, underneath which a microSIM and microSD card can be slotted fitted. The HTC 8S is one of only a select number of the new batch of Windows Phone 8 handsets which in fact allows for removable memory.
Rounding off the design, the size and weight in the hand is very well balanced and with the pillowed curvature on the back, it sits easily in a pocket too.
HTC 8S – Screen
Compared to the new flagship Windows Phone 8 handsets which have arrived on the scene, the display on the HTC 8S isn’t going to blow you away. Having said that in its own right it’s a very competent hardware choice by HTC.
Offering up a 4-inch WVGA (480×800) S-LCD panel, the HTC 8S features excellent colour reproduction and holds up well in bright scenarios, although the glass is a little too reflective which can cause issue outdoors and at more extreme viewing angles. For an LCD, whites aren’t as bright as you may expect but it’s nothing significant and in daily use won’t pose as a problem or disappointment.
HTC 8S – User Interface
Being one of the first Windows Phone 8 handsets from the Taiwanese manufacturer, it seems as if HTC are still finding their feet with establishing the means in which to provide a more uniquely ‘HTC’ user experience. The basis of Windows Phone 8 is a simple tile design, that unlike its predecessors, makes use of three significant tiles sizes. The smallest tile type seems at home on the 4-inch display, but any smaller and it wouldn’t become difficult to use.
The added functionality in the UI is a welcome addition and HTC have done little to warp the stock experience. One of their biggest additions is HTC Hub, which serves as a clock, weather, finance and news Live App. The large and medium Live Tiles display both a large clock and the temperature at the user’s current location, whilst opening the app offers up a weather feed with six pre-defined major cities across the globe in addition to the local weather. Swiping to the left shows the latest stock values on a range of indexes and for a range of companies, with the option to add your own choices by hitting the plus icon at the bottom of the screen.
The third and final screen within the HTC app is the news feed, which congregates stories from well known sources like CNN and Yahoo, but lets the user choose from hundreds of additional sources defined by categories like Entertainment, Business and Technology. What’s more, being a live app means that it can run on the HTC 8S’s lockscreen with local weather and temperature information.
One of the most consistent aspects of Windows Phone which has been true since the first devices launched a couple of years back has been its stock keyboard. The simple, squared design as well as the large key sizes and decent prediction capabilities make it one of the best stock keyboards around.
HTC 8S – Camera and multimedia
The 8S should suit those who want a simple and effective multimedia tool. The music playback experience has undergone the most additional work thanks to its Beats Audio integration offering an EQ tweak here and there when listening to tracks with headphones, beyond that however the music player remains the same. With Beats Audio on, there’s a definite boost on the mids and low frequencies as well a pure leap upward in volume.
On the back of the device sits a 5-megapixel camera, this being the only camera on the 8S (no front facing camera for video calls). In indoor testing, it doesn’t take too well to artificial and low light environments, with details getting lost, likely in an attempt to stabilise the image. Things are better in bright, naturally lit conditions and colour reproduction in all cases was good, but understand that there are more capable 5-megapixel cameras out there.
Shooting in 720p HD video is completely usable but again, suffers from some of the same drawbacks as with the still, image stabilisation and struggling with low light, video looks lacklustre, however audio is decent.
HTC 8S – Storage and connectivity
As we mentioned earlier the lower portion of the phone snaps off to reveal a slot for the microSD card. With the 4GB of inbuilt user storage and the content you’ll likely want to store on your 8S, the option of expandable memory is extremely welcome. In the short time we had to 8S, we were able to practically max out the onboard storage with photos, videos and app in about a week.
The nature of Windows Phone 8’s removable storage setup means that users can bring photos, movies and music onto their device but unlike Android, apps can’t make the jump and have to remains on the phone’s local storage. As such we’d recommend pushing all media to the SD card, leaving more room for apps and updates.
Like its bigger brother, the 8S comes complete with WiFi, Bluetooth and 3G radios, but unfortunately wasn’t lucky enough to feature a 4G radio like Nokia’s new Windows Phone 8 handsets.
HTC 8S – Performance and battery
One of the greatest advantages of Windows Phone 8 is its support for multi-core processors. With the potential of dual and even quad-core chips boosting performance on an already fast UI, the relative low-end specs of the 8S prove more than ample in providing a smooth slick user experience. Whilst the rest of the current WP8 flock utilise 1.5GHz dual-core processors, the HTC 8S is the only member with a less 1GHz dual-core, but despite what on paper would been seen as a weakness, it, paired with other more reasonable aspects of the hardware result in superior battery life to say its flagship counterpart the HTC 8X.
Some more demanding apps are off limits to the 8S due to the hardware on offer, such as Mirror’s Edge with its 3D gameplay, but the key smartphone favourites such as Facebook, Twitter and Skype are all there and work absolutely fine. The 8S’s modest hardware does ensure that the phone can go a full day between charges without issue and the quality of the user experience still feels premium, despite the lower specs.
HTC 8S – Conclusion
The HTC 8S isn’t an over achiever, it does exactly what it was designed to do and nothing more and for the money, that’s ideal. HTC haven’t overpowered the handset to make up for the incompatibility of the OS as indeed, Windows Phone 8 is shaping up to be a far more competitive platform that its predecessor and some elements like the UI and physical design mean that the 8S appears to be punching above its weight. Diving into some of the key features however, like the camera, show the phone in a more truthful light, a mid-ranger that should help entice people into Microsoft’s new mobile eco-system, before they move on to harder stuff (Nokia Lumia 920).
Its availability across every major UK network is its greatest strength and with a PAYG price of around £180, it’s one of the most accessible new handsets around.