Update: We had more hands-on time and got to dive into the OS at the Windows Phone 8 event in San Francisco – here are some further thoughts from U.S. Associate Reviews Editor Alex Roth.
HTC has doubled down on Windows Phone 8, creating two colourful handsets, the compact HTC Windows Phone 8S and the more powerful HTC Windows Phone 8X. Both devices are available in four colours that help them stand out from the smartphone pack, although consumers might confuse them with the also splashy Nokia Lumia 920.
We’ve already reviewed the HTC Windows Phone 8X and found it to be a slightly mixed bag that’s more good than not. Now, at the Windows Phone 8 launch event in San Francisco, we took a hands-on look at the 8S, just weeks ahead of its rumoured November release date.
Other than perhaps those distinctive Windows 8 Live Tiles, the first thing you’ll notice about the HTC Windows Phone 8S are those bold colours it’s available in. Gray, black, red and blue are the four primary colours on offer.
Unlike the 8X, which comes in a single solid colour, the 8S has a two-tone look. The bottom of the phone’s face and the rear cover each sport a lighter hue. Red is met by orange and blue by a lighter blue. Black has a white stripe, giving it an Oreo cookie look, and gray with lime green, which comes of a bit like a crossing guard’s vest.
Holding the 8S, we were struck by its feel in more ways than one. Its polycarbonate construction has a distinctly rubbery feel. It’s grippy and honestly fun to hold. There’s an unmistakably plastic feel, but not the flimsiness you’d find with a budget phone.
That rubbery quality is a nice touch, but did have us worrying that it might pick up lint in our pocket and make the 8S lose some of its trademark luster.
The phone’s Gorilla Glass face, rounded backside and highly tapered edges give it a sleek appearance. This makes the feel of its easy-to-hold rubberized body all the more surprising.
The Windows Phone 8S by HTC has good specs for what will likely be a moderately priced device. While we don’t have a firm word on costs yet, it will undoubtedly go for less than the 8X, which is $560 as a full priced, no contract device.
In the processor department it has a very standard 1GHz dual-core Snapdragon processor. The display is a rather sharp 4-inch, 720p screen. For memory there’s 512MB RAM and 4GB of onboard storage, with room for an additional 32GB via microSD expansion. That actually puts it above the 8X, which is stuck at 16GB of space thanks to its lack of expandable memory support.
As with the 8X, the Windows Phone 8S’s lock button is found on top of the phone. Depending on what sort of device you’ve grown accustom to, this placement may take some getting used to.
There’s a volume rocker on the right side with the standard issue Windows Phone 8 dedicated camera button below it.
That two-tone space on the rear is actually a pop-off panel, allowing you access to a microSD slot. Again, the 8X lacks such a feature, and the 8S is only a tiny bit thicker for having a more open design. It’s 0.41-inches (10.3-mm) thick, as opposed to 0.40-inches (10.1-mm).
This small, removable panel is easy to slide off thanks to the phone’s rubberized build. While the lack of removable battery will disappoint some consumers (the cell is only 1700 mAh, after all), the miniature hatch design is yet another distinct design decision for the Windows Phone 8S.
In addition to what Windows Phone 8 offers, HTC has contributed some software of its own. Its Live Tile behaves like an Android widget, displaying a forecast, temperature and the time at a glance.
Jumping into the app gives further information on those subjects as well as stocks.
In settings you’ll find Attentive Phone, which has a selection of intuitive ringer options. The Windows Phone 8S can be set to ring louder when tucked away in a pocket or purse, automatically quiet down or shut up altogether when you pick it up or turn it over.
Like all devices running Windows Phone 8, HTC’s 8S has a dedicated camera button. Pushing it opens up the 5-megapixel camera, which can also shoot 720p video.
If you feel like slapping some Instagram-style post-production on your snaps, HTC has included its own Photo Enhancer app. It has a number of filters to choose from, including the all-popular vintage style.
Alas, this is not a phone for video chat fans as it lacks a front-facing camera.
The Windows Phone 8S has surprisingly good external speakers. We were able to crank pre-loaded tracks to a high a volume without getting distorted, crunchy sound. While any music aficionado would surely use headphones, a representative reminded us that these speakers benefit the speakerphone function as well.
As the familiar “B” logo suggests, there’s Beats by Dre branding here, which likely plays into the strong audio output. However, the 8S does not boast the volume-boosting amplifiers of its big brother the 8X.
If we had a to pick a favourite aspect of the Windows Phone 8S by HTC, it would have to been its overall look. Between the iPhone 5, Galaxy S3 andDroid Razr M, we live in a sea of polished aluminum. In the past, we’ve claimed to prefer its feel, but HTC’s 8X and 8S have proven that a little aesthetic variety is indeed nice.
It’s a compact phone that’s still got reputable specs, and the option for microSD expansion is an unexpected plus, given the 8X’s completely sealed design.
We do wonder what its battery life will be like with a 1700 mAh cell, and the lack of front-facing camera is rather strange. A special version of Skype has been one of Microsoft’s major bragging points with Windows Phone 8, and it seems the 8S won’t be able to enjoy all the benefits. This could be a corner that was cut to make a highly affordable device, making us all the more eager to get firm pricing numbers, and equally eager to give the 8S a full-blown review.
Below is our original and early hands-on look at the Windows Phone 8S by HTC.
The Windows Phone 8S by HTC, which is its proper title don’t ya know, launched alongside the HTC 8X at a special HTC event in New York, where the Taiwanese firm unveiled its first Windows Phone 8 handsets.
Both, we’re told, will go on sale in early November and the Windows Phone 8S will be available in a range of two-tone colour options; California Blue, Graphite Black, Flame Red and Limelight Yellow – the latter being the one we’ve laid our hands on.
Design wise the 8S can be compared to the One V and Xperia U, with a separate chunk below the screen – although it stays flush with the device instead of curving forwards as on the V.
Like the Windows Phone 8X, the HTC 8S isn’t the slimmest handset at 10.3mm, but the taped edges provide the illusion that it is thinner than it is, and the tidy 120.5 x 63mm frame gives a sleek finish to decent looking device.
The Windows Phone 8S sits comfortably in the hand and at 113g it’s nicely weighted without feeling like a cheap toy.
The 4-inch, WVGA (800 x 480) display dominates the majority of a relatively minimalist front, which also features the Windows, back and search soft keys on the colour bar below and the matching earpiece above.
There’s a power/lock key and 3.5mm headphone jack sitting on top of the 8S, while a volume rocker switch and camera button reside on the right hand side of the handset.
The buttons are easy to hit, and thanks to the small stature of the HTC 8S you don’t need to stretch your fingers to far to reach any part of the handset.
A microUSB port is found on the base of the Windows Phone 8S, and you can slide the rear of the coloured section off to reveal a microSIM slot and a microSD slot – allowing you to build on the 4GB of internal memory.
There’s no access to the 1,700mAh battery though, which may annoy some of you who like to stick bigger power packs in your phones, but it should keep you going for a whole day with a decent level of usage.
We’d expect the 1GHz dual-core S4 processor and 512MB RAM to run Windows Phone 8 without too much of a fuss, however as we were only able to access the lock and home screens on the HTC 8S, you’ll have to wait for our updated hands on review to find out how it gets on.
That said, the display was still clear, and although not as pin-sharp or vibrant as on its bigger brother the Windows Phone 8X, it’s still a perfectible acceptable for what we expect to be an affordable smartphone.
Round the back there’s a 5MP camera, with single LED flash and 720p video recording, and HTC has ensured it comes with a f/2.8 aperture and 35mm lens for improved picture quality.
It’s good to see the dedicated physical shutter button on the side of the 8S, allowing you to launch the camera app and snap photos easily – something we find easier than trying to tap the onscreen alternative.
As we mentioned at the start, we’ll update this review later today with our findings from the fully working version of the Windows Phone 8S by HTC, after we’ve spent some time with it at the event.
It’s obviously difficult to give a proper early verdict at this point, but once we’ve had a play with the final device today, we’ll update this with a more informed outlook.
Design wise we reckon the Taiwanese firm is on to a winner with the HTC Windows Phone 8S, but we’ll reserve proper judgement until we’ve spent some time with the fully working device in New York.