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HTC 8S Review

Pros

  • Cute, quirky design
  • Comfortable curvy back
  • Expandable storage via microSD slot
  • Speedy dual-core processor

Cons

  • Fairly low resolution screen
  • Strongly constrasting colours won't be to everyone's taste
  • Only a 5MP camera

Key Specifications

  • Review Price: £220.00
  • 4in, 480 x 800 pixel LCD screen
  • 1Ghz dual-core processr
  • 4GB inbuilt storage + microSD card slot
  • 5MP camera + dedicated camera button
  • Beats Audio digital processing
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Introduction

HTC is one of the flagship phone-makers for Windows Phone 8. The HTC 8S is the mid-range model in the company’s line-up, with the HTX 8X
being the flagship model. It is far cheaper than Nokia’s middle of the
road Nokia Lumia 820, selling for around £220 SIM-free. It doesn’t have
the giant screen and oodles of features link on the top-end phones but its
keen price makes this 4-inch, dual-core mobile an excellent alternative
to a mid-range Android phone.

The HTC 8S is officially called the Windows Phone 8S by HTC but HTC 8S seems to be the term most people are using so that’s what we’re going to stick with for the rest of this review.

HTC 8S – Design

We were suitably impressed by the design of the HTC 8X, thanks to its bold styling, excellent build quality and comfortable, curvy chassis. However, it did look perhaps a little too similar to Nokia’s Lumia designs. The HTC 8S is a different. Its curves owe a
debt to the Nokia Lumia handsets, but overall it has a style all of its own.

The
cutie-pie HTC 8S is all about two-tone design. The bottom
of the phone, and the rims that surround the earpiece speaker and
camera lens all have a brighter tone than the rest of the handset. Most of the combinations aren’t exactly subtle – Luminous green and black, white and black – but we rather like the bold statment they make. Plus, there are a few choices if you do want something a bit less garish.

The
light and dark blue combo HTC treated us too looks fantastic to our
eyes. It’s eye-catching without being loud, clearly carefully designed
and refreshingly removed from the oh-so-serious looks of most top-end
phones like the Samsung Galaxy S3. It’s a friendly-looking phone. And unlike the Nokia Lumia 920, it’s not a whopper – just a shade over 10mm thick and 113g. HTC 8S 5
The
welcoming vibe bleeds into the HTC 8S’s ergonomics too. The back of the
phone is largely a single curved piece of soft-touch plastic. A soft
finish and absence of hard edges make the phone a joy to hold – the
single bodywork seam lies between the lighter and darker sections of
the phone.

The lighter plastic strip on the rear of the HTC 8S
can be pulled off to reveal the microSIM slot and microSD slot. It’s
obviously not designed to be taken off and on daily, but its fit is
easily solid enough that it should survive if you were too, plus it won’t accidentally slip off.
HTC 8S 6
Having
a memory card slot is an important feature of the HTC 8S because
there’s just 4GB of internal memory, and only 1.2GB of it is accessible
once the Windows Phone 8 system and HTC’s custom apps have had their way
with it.

The HTC 8S lets you store videos and music on an SD
card, but you’ll need to use the internal memory for apps and games.
That gigabyte and change won’t go far, either. If you’re a huge gamer
you may want to look for a phone with more memory.

Another common
casualty of the price cuts needed to make a mid-range phone is screen
size. However, this brings with it some real benefits too. The HTC 8S is
petite enough to let your fingers reach all the hardware buttons with
one hand. HTC 8S 11
The
power button up top and the volume rocker on the right edge are all
perfectly accessible. The HTC 8S’s one other button is the camera
shutter key, also on the right edge. It rests under the palm of
right-handed folk, but we found that accidentally pressing it wasn’t a
problem – it would be a humdinger if it was, as Windows Phone 8
automatically launches the camera app when it’s pressed.

Windows
Phone is keen on little ease of use tweaks like this, and one that
we’re glad to see implemented in Windows Phone 8 is the ability to
simply drag and drop files to the HTC 8S’s internal memory. Hook the
phone up to a computer with a microUSB port – the socket is on the
phone’s bottom edge – and the HTC 8S’s file system will pop-up, along with
folders for music, video, pictures and documents. There’s no need to
hook up to a bespoke piece of software, as you have to do with an iPhone
5
or Windows Phone 7 device.

HTC 8S – Screen

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.
HTC 8S 1
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.

HTC 8S – Interface

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.HTC 8S 17
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.

HTC 8S 16

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. 

HTC 8S – Wallet

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.

HTC 8S – Kids’ Corner

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.

HTC 8S – Apps and Games

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.
HTC 8S 1
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.

HTC 8S – Performance and Browsing

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.
HTC 8S 13
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 dual-core Snapdragon processor also makes
light work of Javascript. The Sunspider benchmark indicates how fast a
mobile will be able to deal with intensive web browsing, and with a
score of 1423ms the HTC 8S isn’t that far off the class-leading
iPhone 5, which scored 1001ms – the similarly-specced Huawei Ascend G330
scored 2260ms, significantly slower.

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.

HTC 8S – Camera

With a 5-megapixel camera and LED flash, the HTC
8S lands right in mid-range territory. There is no front-facing camera,
though, which is a real shame, ruling-out being able to video chat with
friends across the globe.

Windows Phone mobiles have generally
excelled at making their cameras easy to use – much like an iPhone. You
simply tap on the part of the scene you want in-focus and the HTC 8S
will both try to focus on that object and take a snap, or of course you can use the hardware shutter button.
HTC 8S 8
It
is simple to use, but autofocus is slower than most higher-end Windows
mobiles. HTC has never quite been able to perfect its phone cameras in
the way Samsung has, and the HTC 8S doesn’t change matters.

Image
quality is respectable among its mid-range peers, with pleasantly vivid
colours providing lively-looking shots. The level of detail captured
isn’t anything special, though, which is no surprise when the phone
rocks a mere 5-megapixel sensor (although the phone’s optics are also to
blame).
HTC 8S
HTC 8SHTC 8S

Additional
features offered by the HTC 8S camera app are also sparse. There are no
fun filters beyond the basics like Negative and Sepia, no HDR mode and
no Panorama. When these are considered standards by rival systems, it’s
disappointing that they’re left out of Windows Phone 8.
HTC 8S 3
HTC
includes its own photo-fiddling app called Photo Enhancer. This offers a
host of Instagram-like filters, but is a pretty basic, fluffy piece of
software. The HTC 8S camera’s video capture maxes out at 720p too, and
without stabilisation the quality of video it pumps-out is nothing of
note.

HTC 8S – Multimedia

It’s not a great gaming phone, or a
great camera, but the HTC 8S does make a relatively good media player.
One of our favourite upgrades here, over former Windows Phone 7 devices
like the HTC Mozart, is that you can easily transfer media files. You’re
no longer tied to the Zune sync software – both the memory of any
inserted SD card and the internal memory show up as drives within your
computer.

The slick interface of Windows Phone 8 makes flicking
through a music library quick and easy, with neater-looking transitions
than either iOS or Android. You can easily keep music playing when
you’re not in the music app proper, and playback controls appear on the
lock screen too.
HTC 8S 2
Codec
support has seemingly not improved since the last version of Windows
Phone, though, so you won’t be able to play audio enthusiast formats
like the lossless FLAC. This is a Beats-branded phone, which means it
bears the Beats logo and has the Beats Audio DSP mode.

This mode
tweaks the sound when you plug-in headphones, ramping up the bass and
treble presence. However, it can clog up the upper bass a little with
some headphones, so isn’t really something that’ll put a smile on the
faces of audio-holics.

Video support has been ramped-up a notch. Don’t expect miracles – MKVs still won’t play without an additional app – but basic DivX and Xvid files will.

The
HTC 8S also has access to the Windows music store, which sells albums
for around £6.99 and songs for 99p. There’s no companion movie store,
though.

HTC 8S – Connectivity

Next to the latest £500 phones, the HTC 8S
offers fairly basic connectivity. There’s no 4G, no NFC and no FM
radio. You do get Wi-Fi tethering, pretty snappy mobile internet, GPS
and a 7GB chunk of free SkyDrive storage. This is Microsoft’s cloud
storage solution, letting you upload photos and other files for
retrieval later on a computer.

HTC 8S – Battery Life

The HTC
8S has a non-removable 1700mAh battery. This is a fairly standard
capacity for a phone of this size, and in our experience Windows Phone
has offered better power management than, say, Anrdroid.
HTC 8S 9
You’ll
get a full day’s charge out of the phone, but moderate-to-heavy users
are still some way off the smartphone Holy Grail of two-day use. As
ever, switch off 3G and you’ll sail through two days easily enough.

HTC 8S – Value

Next
to the other Windows Phone 8 handsets currently available, the HTC 8S
looks like a bit of a bargain. It’s prettier than the comparably-priced
Nokia Lumia 620, and also compares well with many rival Androids,
especially in design terms.

However, it is significantly
hamstrung by its limited internal memory, and while Windows Phone 8 is a
joy to use in many respects, many of its old problems remain. App developer
support is a problem, and that Windows Phone 8 has made this even
worse when it’s not all that much different from Windows Phone 7 feels
unnecessary. HTC 8S 10

Verdict

The
HTC 8S is an attractive early entry to the world of the new Windows OS.
It looks and feels great, and sells at a very reasonable price. It also
has the power to make Windows Phone 8 as quick as it should be, aside
from the occasional glitch. Look too close, though, and you’ll realise
there are a few tasty bits you miss out on. 4GB of internal memory isn’t
enough for the system to thrive on, there’s no user-facing camera and
the lack of NFC will lock your out of some potentially exciting future
developments in Windows Phone 8.

We continually check thousands of prices to show you the best deals. If you buy a product through our site we will earn a small commission from the retailer – a sort of automated referral fee – but our reviewers are always kept separate from this process. You can read more about how we make money in our Ethics Policy.

Trusted Score


Score in detail

  • Performance 8
  • Camera 6
  • Design 9
  • Usability 9
  • Value 8
  • Features 7
  • Screen Quality 8

General

Operating System Windows Phone
Height (Millimeter) 120.5mm
Width (Millimeter) 63mm
Depth (Millimeter) 10.28mm
Weight (Gram) 113g

Display

Screen Size (inches) (Inch) 4in
Screen Resolution 480 x 800
Touchscreen Yes

Storage

Internal Storage (Gigabyte) 4GB
Expandable memory microSD
Camera (Megapixel) 5 Megapixel
Front Facing Camera (Megapixel) No Megapixel
Camera Flash 1 x LED

Connectivity

Bluetooth Yes
WiFi Yes
3G/4G Yes
3.5mm Headphone Jack Yes, on top edge
Charging/Computer Connection microUSB

Processor and Internal Specs

CPU 1Ghz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4

Misc

App Store Windows Phone
GPS Yes

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