Wednesday, January 30, 2013

HTC Windows Phone 8X review

It hasn't been a good 2012 for HTC. The Taiwanese mobile phone manufacturer started the year fine, announcing a new range of One series flagship phones at MWC, including the One X, one of my favourite smartphones of last year. They promised to streamline their products and not dilute the brand name. Such promises did not last long as they went back into their bowl of alphabet soup to dish out devices after devices with no real differentiation. Count them: Desire C, V, VC, VT, X, SV, U, One SU, SC, ST, X+, VX, SV. Phew.

Thankfully, HTC were much more restrained when it came to releasing their first Windows Phone 8 devices. Two smartphones were announced, the high-end 8X and mid-range 8S, both which adhered to Microsoft's strict chassis guidelines. Nonetheless, the two features unique design and more importantly, for me at least, a coherent naming scheme. The HTC Windows Phone 8X is what I will be reviewing here, and it is a wonderful thing.

  • Qualcomm Snapdragon MSM8960 SoC with dual core 1.5 Ghz Krait and Adreno 225 GPU
  • 1GB RAM and 16GB built-in flash storage (no expansion slot)
  • 4.3" Super LCD2 capacitive touchscreen with 720 x 1280 resolution (342 ppi)
  • Quad band GSM and 3G (LTE on select models)
  • 42 Mbps DC-HSDPA and 5.76 Mbps HSUPA
  • 8 Megapixel autofocus camera with single LED flash and 1080p30 video recording
  • 2.1 Megapixel front camera with 1080p30 video recording
  • Bluetooth 3.1 and WiFi 802.11a/b/g/n
  • GPS receiver with A-GPS, GLONASS
  • NFC and microUSB
  • Available in black, red, blue and yellow
  • 1800mAh battery (none user replaceable)
The 8X features a brand new polycarbonate unibody design by HTC, something they very rarely do. It is refreshing to see a HTC device with a very none-HTC look. Despite the design not setting my heart fluttering as their One X did, it grew on me. And thanks to the tapered edges, it feels great in my palm. The colour scheme is not exactly my cup of tea, particularly the decision to have the ear piece coloured. Either way, like the Nokia Lumia 920, the 8X is available in a wide range of colours. The choice of rubber'ised matte finish is certainly unique and is one that makes me happy. Finally, a flagship that isn't glossy.
With a resolution of 720x1280, the 4.3" Super LCD2 display offers a pixel density of 342 ppi and is immensely sharp. I am honestly surprised by the size of the display. With the trend moving towards 4.7" and 5" displays, it takes a lot of guts by HTC to release a flagship Windows Phone 8 smartphone with a now relatively small 4.3" screen. While I am no fan of the 16:9 aspect ratio chose here, it does have it advantages - namely, it makes the phone narrower, and thus easier to hold. Unfortunately, while the Super LCD2 display technology used is the same as the One X - the contrast ratio and level of blacks is noticeably less. It is still a great display, but I consider it a downgrade compared to even the iPhone 4/4S and Lumia 920.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

HTC Windows Phone 8X camera review

I have been using the HTC Windows Phone 8X extensively over the past two weeks, during which time my blog was unceremoniously, and rather cruelly taken off the web by Google with no explanations. It has since been restored, as you can see, again with no explanations. Rather than spend my time dwelling on how Google has completely dropped the ball, I spent the time not blogging with more time playing around with the 8X.

Last year's HTC One X was one of my favourite smartphones of 2012. The design was brilliant and the camera was stunning. While the 8X's design is an acquired taste, I have grown the appreciate it. The 4.3" size is also a welcome downsize from the ridiculous 4.7" form factor that every manufacturer seems to believe everyone wants now. HTC has set the bar high when it comes to image quality, so I was excited when the 8X landed on my lap. Here was a Windows Phone 8 device that can finally deliver on its imaging promise.

Well, not quite. Based on the specifications, the 8X and One X's 8 Megapixel camera are essentially the same, but short of gutting the two phones, I can't be sure. What I can for sure is thanks to HTC's own proprietary ImageSense chip, the camera is fast. On my previous WP8 phone, the Lumia 920, where it would take a second or two to focus, and then another to defocus, the 8X tends to require about a second, from focusing to capturing. Even my dedicated digital compact, the Canon S90, can't do that. The settings does not appear to be quite as extensive as on the Lumia 920, but you will have access to the white balance and ISO dials.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Nokia Lumia 920 review

Nokia's first Windows Phone device, the Lumia 800, was a beautiful thing. In fact, it is often heralded as a piece of design marvel, one engineered almost to perfection, at least when it comes to what you could get out of a piece of polycarbonate. Despite being a disappointing seller (and also a phone at times), the design was iconic, so much so that for its follow ups retains the same basic design with some tweaks. Nokia's Windows Phone 8 debut, the Lumia 920, follows this formula.

But first, for specification lovers:
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon MSM8960 SoC with dual core 1.5Ghz Krait and Adreno 225
  • 1GB RAM and 32GB built-in flash storage (no expansion slot)
  • 4.5" LCD IPS capacitive touchscreen with 768 x 1280 resolution (332 ppi)
  • Quad band GSM and 3G (LTE on select models)
  • 42 Mbps DC-HSDPA and 5.76 Mbps HSUPA
  • 8 Megapixel autofocus camera with dual LED flash and 1080p30 video recording
  • 1.3 Megapixel front camera with 720p30 video recording
  • Bluetooth 4.0 and WiFi 802.11b/g/n
  • Qi contactless charging, NFC
  • microUSB
  • 2000mAh battery
The Lumia 920's design doesn't differ much from the Lumia 800. The microUSB port has been moved to the bottom, which is an improvement. It is weighty, perhaps too much. At around 185g, the Lumia 920 sits right on the the heavy end of scale. I have nothing against heavy phones but the Lumia 920 is just a tad too heavy for me. The 2000mAh battery is respectable in size, but could have been larger. After all if Motorola can do it, why couldn't others? Still, the battery life is somewhat okay, capable of lasting a full day on moderate use. Power users will want to look into investing into a portable charger.
In any case, the Lumia 920 is a brilliant designed phone, just a tinge over designed compared to the Lumia 800. With a resolution of 768x1280, the curved 4.5" IPS display is one of the biggest yet seen on a Nokia device, and also one of the sharpest. As I personally abhor the 16:9 aspect ratio on smartphones, I am glad the display here has a bit more horizontal pixel than normal. The IPS display coupled with Nokia's own ClearBlack filter is close to the brilliant of the iPhone 4S, but comes just short of the magnificence shown on the HTC One X. Still, it's an amazing display and I am glad Nokia has finally ditched AMOLED. The display's touchscreen features a technology stupidly called PureMotion+ HD, which turns the sensitivity up so it can be used with a pair of gloves or any other materials.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

My Netflix Christmas

A belated Christmas and Happy New Year to you all. This past Christmas holiday we discovered Netflix. To be honest, I've never been a fan of streaming services, but for only £5.99 a month, we were able to escape the dreadful fodder put out by the terrestrial television services.

The film catalogue isn't expansive, but it was still enough to get us through, but what we did find awesome was the number of TV series on it that we use to catch up. As someone who could never get past the second season of Lost, this allowed me to catch up. In fact I might just finally be able to get through the entire series after all. Newer series are missing, but big hitters like Dexter, 24Californication, Weeds and Firefly are all on it. Also, old classics like MacGyver and Knight Rider, which will surely win us old timers.
Netflix for Windows Phone
Rather surprisingly, despite the low price, there were a number of newer films on the service as well. The Woman in Black, Warrior and the ridiculously stylish Drive appeared to be popular films on Netflix. Still, it's primary strength appears to be a mixture of quality rather than quantity. You wouldn't find big new blockbusters on Netflix, but combined with Amazon's LoveFilm, the two services together do make an effective argument against the monopoly that is Sky.