Cape Town - I'm a fairly anti-establishment kind of guy, which is why it's difficult for me to admit that I really like Microsoft's new Windows 8.
Microsoft have traditionally been the established brand on the scene and I've always had a leaning towards the underdog. But when it comes to the Windows Phone 8 and the Windows Phone 8X by HTC - the first signature phone for the new operating system - I have to admit I really, really like the whole package.
From the very first time you see it and put it into your hands, everything about the Windows Phone 8X by HTC appeals to you. The square look of the phone is designed to fit in with the 'tile' look and feel of the operating system, so from the get-go it feels as if this isn't just a phone with an operating system on it, but that you're really holding Windows in your hand. And truth be told, it never feels as if Windows or the phone ever gets in the way, something I can't say for previous iterations of Windows Phone.
The 8X feels thin, light and robust, thanks to some design brilliance where the back of it curves and is made of a kind of rubber. It slips into the pocket nicely but the rubber makes you feel that much more confident that it won't slip out easily. Sitting in the hand it feels like the right size and the buttons are placed at the right spots to make it pretty easy to use.
The 8X is one of the few phones I've ever seen that has really appealed to me in a big way from a style perspective. HTC are also releasing it in various colours. Now usually colours can make a piece of hardware look cheap, but the designers have chosen the right colours to suit the operating system and make the phone not look cheap but stylish. Unfortunately, though, we'll only see black in South Africa for now and it's up to the service providers to bring in more colours.
Moving on from the design, I found the front-facing camera on the 8X to be something worth talking about. HTC have put on a 2.1MP wide-angle lens for the front-facing camera that can also record video at 1080p. This allows for more people to get into the shot - great for group shots - and also allows for more people in the video when you're making a video Skype call.
The primary 8MP camera takes great shots as well. HTC says it can take in 60 percent more light than previous iterations and when you look at a comparison you can really see the difference.
The 8X also includes Beats audio integration, which has worked well with Android - see Steve Whitford's review of the HTC One X and Beats. You can hear the difference between using Beats and a normal set of head / ear phones straight off, without fiddling with the EQ settings, so if you're one who uses their phone a lot to listen to their music it's a combination worth thinking about.
But I must admit, as an audiophile and musician I don't find it all particularly impressive - it sounds great but not amazing. If I was going to choose between buying a pair of Beats or Sennheisers, I would probably choose the latter. It seems to me that the Beats audio integration is more of a pre-set EQ setting and if you fiddle with your EQ settings in your player on your phone and you have a good set of headphones, you don't really need the whole Beats package. But it is a stylish package and you can look like Chad le Clos at the pool if you have the whole set up at least.
Windows impresses me - for the first time
I've had a fair amount of experience with Windows throughout the decades and all of Microsoft's Windows Phone iterations. I had several Compaq PDA's in the 90's and early 2000's with Windows CE and upgraded to several HP smart phones with Windows Mobile and its many versions.
Then eventually I moved to HTC with a later version of Windows Mobile / Windows Phone (with its confused branding) and loved the phone but not so much the operating system. When you still have to use a stylus to send an SMS and navigate while your friend can just do everything with their fingers on the iPhone and look stylish doing it, you start feeling like you're definitely losing out!
Now I'm on Android and love it. But what I saw yesterday at the Windows Phone 8X launch really impressed me and I think Microsoft have finally got it.
Let's talk firstly about just the look and feel of the operating system. Microsoft have gone for something entirely different when you compare it to the iPhone and Android and quite honestly, I feel like I'm in Star Trek when I have the Windows Phone 8X in my hands. Applications being accessed through tiles (which you can resize and move around) just works. I don't actually miss not having a wallpaper background on the phone.
The idea is that information comes to you rather than you having to go looking for it. So, for example, you can make the tile for an app you use regularly quite large so that the information feeds to you straight away without you having to actually click the tile and access the application. Apps like Skype and Facebook integrate very well with contacts too, so that you can just browse your address book and keep up to date with where people are at on their social networks and if you call them on Skype the interface looks and feels the same - all that changes is that you'll see a little Skype logo in the corner.
A lot of what Windows Phone 8 does isn't new - despite the marketing and PR we're fed - but the look and feel of it is just that much slicker, in my opinion. Furthermore, there are two features which are new and I think are worth highlighting.
I love the look, feel, speed and overall experience of the Windows Phone 8X by HTC. A lot. Much more than I ever expected. HTC are really doing well with what I'm seeing coming from them on both the Android side and now the Windows side. I really think this is a phone worth talking about.
Incidentally, HTC will also be releasing the Windows Phone 8S, which is the little brother for those who want something easier on the wallet. We'll have to see how that measures up when we get one of those.
All-in-all, even if you don't like Microsoft or Windows 8, check out the Windows Phone 8X by HTC. I believe it's really worth considering. - Do Gaming