SMARTPHONE MAKER HTC unveiled its affordable Windows Phone 8S handset today. While the firm remained tight-lipped about the handset's Windows Phone 8 operating system, we got a chance to play with a few of the device's features.
Design and build
The Windows Phone 8S features a significantly different design than its more expensive sibling, the Windows Phone 8X. This is largely due to the Windows Phone 8S colour scheme and smaller size.
The Windows Phone 8S, unlike the Windows Phone 8X, features a two-tone colour scheme. The device we got our hands on was predominantly black, with occasional splashes of white on its detachable backplate.
The backplate grants access to the Windows Phone 8S microSD and Sim card slots and gives it a significantly different look than the Windows Phone 8X, which looks a lot more like a cross between a Nokia Lumia 900 and an HTC One X.
A further consequence of the removable backplate is that the Windows Phone 8S feels slightly less sturdy and significantly less high-end than the Windows Phone 8X, which features a unibody design.
The Windows Phone 8S is also significantly smaller than the Windows Phone 8X, with a 4in screen rather than a 4.3in display. In hand this translated to mean that the smartphone felt much lighter than the Windows Phone 8X and much more comfortable when held in the hand.
Operating system and software
One key area that we didn't get to see was the handset's operating system. HTC locked all the demo handsets to a select few screens, meaning that we didn't get to check out either handset's key Windows Phone 8 software features.
The Windows Phone 8 operating system is set for release in October and adds a host of new features and services to Microsoft's mobile offering,
The upgrades include resizable tiles, multi-core processor support and improved security. Unlike Nokia, which has loaded its next run of Lumias with a slew of custom apps and services, HTC has left Windows Phone 8 all but untouched on the Windows Phone 8S and Windows Phone 8X.
Instead HTC's pulled the same trick it does with its Android smartphones, loading the Windows Phone 8S with custom Beats audio technology. It's worth noting that while it has Beats, the Windows Phone 8S doesn't come with the two upgraded amplifiers designed to improve the smartphone's audio quality that are featured on the Windows Phone 8X.
Instead the Windows Phone 8S features the basic software package, tailoring the audio to maximise sound quality. HTC claims it also serves to radically improve sound quality when listening to audio files using Beats earphones.
Unfortunately HTC has confirmed that the Windows Phone 8S will not be bundled with a set of Beats headphones, meaning that users will have to buy their own pair if they want to make the most of the feature.
We're a little disappointed by this, as even a cheap pair of Beats earphones can set you back £40. Considering the Windows Phone 8s unconfirmed "midrange" cost, we're apprehensive that buying Beats earphones could add another quarter to the smartphone's price.
The HTC Windows Phone 8S is powered by a 1GHz dual-core processor and features 512MB of RAM and 4GB of internal storage that can be upgraded via its microSD slot.
We didn't get a chance to really test the Windows Phone 8S handset's performance due to the constraints put in place by HTC at the unveiling. However, running Windows Phone 8 we're hoping that the Windows Phone 8S will live up to Microsoft's performance claims.
Microsoft has claimed its mobile operating system has been designed to minimise the load that some basic functions place on the processor. This leaves handsets with more capacity for running all-important apps - and as a result, Windows Phone 8 handsets should be able to match top-of-the-range Android ones on performance, according to Microsoft. The battery life should also get a boost.
The Windows Phone 8S features a stripped down 5MP rear-facing camera, boasting the same BSI sensor and F/2.0 lens seen on HTC's previous One series of Android smartphones. Unfortunately, the Windows Phone 8S doesn't feature a front-facing camera. HTC said it chose to remove the feature as a way to keep the handset's cost down.
Worse still the Windows Phone 8S won't feature any of the custom photo features seen on Nokia's Lumia series of Windows Phones. Chief among these is Nokia's City Lens service. The feature offers users an augmented reality display that gives dynamic information about users' surroundings and, as we found in our hands-on, is a big selling point differentiating Nokia's Lumia handsets from HTC's Windows Phone 8s.
Overall our first impressions of the Windows Phone 8S are positive. While we didn't get the same wow factor that we got playing with Nokia's new Lumia handsets, HTC's Windows Phone 8 series phones do look and feel nice and left us eager to get a chance to test them and their Windows Phone operating system more thoroughly.
Check back soon for a full review of the HTC Windows Phone 8S. µ