The HTC 8S has a 4-inch S-LCD display. Owners of top-end phones may look down on this, as they tend to offer screens as large as 4.8 inches, with either IPS-based or Super AMOLED screens.
S-LCD isn’t thought of as quite as snazzy, but the latest generation of S-LCD offers image quality virtually indistinguishable from IPS. Both are designed to offer excellent viewing angles, and better colour reproduction than cheapo screens.
The HTC 8S’s display is a solid performer, in spite of its limited specs. Contrast is strong, with blacks only appearing greyish in pitch-black rooms, and colours are vivid. Resolution is not great at 480 x 800 pixels, but as we found with Windows Phone 7 mobiles, the limited resolution isn’t too apparent in the phone’s menus.
It’s only when you go off-piste, into the browser for example, that the low resolution becomes apparent – small text is far less readable than on a more pixel-packed display. But you can certainly get by.
The key selling point of the HTC 8S is that it runs Windows Phone 8, the new-born successor to Windows Phone 7.
If you’ve owned a Windows Phone mobile before you may be surprised at quite how similar it is to its predecessor, given the hoo-hah made about its release and how older phones are not upgradeable to the new software. The biggest aesthetic difference is that the home screen now allows smaller Live Tiles.
New to Windows Phone? The front-end of the system is a scroll of coloured tiles that act as shortcuts to apps and phone features, or more specific things like contacts or web pages. But they're not just passive links as they can also show 'live' information from the app, like how many messages you've got or your agenda for the day. What makes this funactionality particularly powerful is that the tiles can be made larger to show more information, stretching from fingerprint-sized squares to screen-width filling rectangles, all with just a few taps.
The other half of the system is accessed by swiping right-to-left on this home screen – taking you to the apps list, which lays out all your apps in a single column.
The Windows Phone 8 look is stark, but it’s a pretty accessible interface that should only cause problems for real tech beginners. Its lock screen is handy too, displaying much of the info you’ll need without having to actually use the phone. It shows the time, date, the next event coming up in your calendar and any notifications, such as new emails or texts.
Windows Phone 8 is great at bringing together info, and it does a good job of knitting together social networking updates too. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and most email accounts can be signed into without having to download any extra apps. And any social updates work their way into the People app.
This holds all your latest tweets and Facebook updates, as well as everyone’s contact info. As joining up Facebook and Twitter can be a little too much to handle, the HTC 8S also lets you sift through social updates one network at a time. Like most of Windows Phone 8, the People app is hyper-stylised and therefore takes a bit of getting used to, but you can always download the official Facebook and Twitter apps if you prefer.
The People app was present in a similar form in the last version of Windows Phone, though. One thing that’s new is Wallet.
At present it’s a place to store your debit card details (dodgy at the best of times) and notes on any bargains you’ve found around town. Not terribly useful, although it can interact with other apps – such a deal finder, perhaps.
The plan is that Wallet will be used with NFC to let you buy things on the high street. However, the HTC 8S does not feature NFC, so that’s a non-starter for this particular phone. NFC stands for Near-Field Communication, and it’s used as a wireless payments standard by several high street chains.
Another tent pole feature of Windows Phone 8 is Kids’ Corner. This let's you create a child-friendly login so that you can hand over your phone to a youngster without fear of what they might find or them wrecking your phone. You can specify apps - such as games, the camera or the web browser - for them to access as well as files such as music, videos and pictures. It takes a little while to setup but once done so is very useful.