The selection of in-built apps in Windows Phone 8 is certainly enough for your day to day with the full compliment of a good web browser, snazzy contacts and photos apps, maps, music and video downloads and much more. But, when it comes to adding to that roster - whether with games or more useful apps such as train timetables - Windows Phone 8’s app store currently comes up a bit short.
Several app staples including Spotify are missing, and while the porting process from Windows Phone 7 to this latest version probably isn’t that labour-intensive, not having these on the HTC 8S from launch is an annoyance.
Like any Windows phone, the HTC 8S gets its apps from the Windows Store and its games from a separate portal that hooks into an Xbox Live account, if you have one.
Games are split into two categories. The Xbox-branded section offers titles guaranteed to be of fairly decent quality – there are around a hundred at the time of writing. Plenty of mobile classics are available here, including Contre Jour, Plants vs. Zombies and Angry Birds.
The other side is the non-Xbox branded gaming hub, the no-man’s land of the Windows Store. There are some decent titles here, but – as with Android’s Google Play store – you have to wade through a deep stream of doo doo to find the doozies.
Combine the two gaming areas and the selection of worthwhile games is tiny compared with what you get on iPhone iOS. Just to re-iterate – tiny. In spite of the neat Xbox branding and integration, keen mobile gamers are better off with an iPhone or Android phone for the time being. They’d also be better off with a different Windows Phone 8 handset, as the limited internal memory means you can only have a handful of games installed at once.
Xbox owners will want to check out the Xbox SmartGlass app, though. This lets you use the HTC 8S as a controller for the Xbox, and uses the phone as a second screen to give you additional info on what you’re looking at on the main console.
Windows Phone 8 loosened several hardware restrictions that were in place in Windows Phone 7. Screen resolutions can now go above 480 x 800 pixels (although that’s what you get here) and dual-core processors are allowed. The HTC 8S uses a dual-core 1GHz Qualcomm Krait processor.
Its sheer power won’t worry the muscular Samsung Galaxy S3 or iPhone 5, but it’s enough power to make Windows Phone 8 sing pretty sweetly. Aside from the occasional glitch, that will hopefully be resolved with a firmware tweak or two, general performance is great - menus fly by under your fingers.
However, the HTC 8S doesn’t really have the game developer support to test the processor’s mettle. That the iPhone 5 has Asphalt 7 and the HTC 8S has to make do with Asphalt 5 pretty much sums up the issue. The 3D games we tried experienced only minor frame rate drops, and not frequent ones either.
The HTC 8S uses Internet Explorer, Microsoft’s own browser. Although ridiculed in the past in desktop form, it’s a competent mobile browser. You can request desktop sites, rather than mobile ones, it’s snappy and lets you hone in on columns within articles. Unlike the Android browser, though, it won’t reformat text to fit the screen if you zoom in.
One of the most browser-enhancing parts of the HTC 8S is something not specific to its internet browser, though. The Windows Phone 8 keyboard is fantastic. Like Apple’s iPhone keyboard, it has aced its key layout, making typing fast, accurate and comfortable. We only wish there was an option to use Swype-like gesture typing, where you drag a path over the constituent letters in a word.