Introduction

While almost all of the AnandTech editors are using Android or iOS smartphones as their daily driver due to the relative maturity of those platforms (and oftentimes bleeding edge hardware within), Brian learned I'd been using the Windows Phone 7.5-equipped Dell Venue Pro as my daily driver for almost a year. 2-year contract plans in the United States amount to highway robbery, but a no contract deal from T-Mobile is actually very reasonable. As someone attracted to Windows Phone's UI and someone who preferred the physical keyboard, the Venue Pro turned out to be a perfect fit.

Unfortunately, time has revealed Windows Phone 7 for what it was: a transitional offering that was practically end-of-life when it left the gate. Windows Phone 8 is Microsoft's real long haul darling, and when Brian discovered I was looking to replace my Venue Pro with something more robust, he asked HTC to send me their flagship Windows Phone 8 handset, the Windows Phone 8X. He's already run performance and battery tests, but we haven't really talked about what Windows Phone offers that Android and iOS don't, and how effective it can be as a daily driver. That changes today.

Android and iOS have both shown tremendous advancement and increased polish over their lives, but I had very good reasons for avoiding either. Whenever you buy an Apple product there's a very real concern about vendor lock-in, and since I don't run any Macs at home, that means having to suffer with the continually buggy Windows version of iTunes to manage an iPhone. The iPhone also isn't readily available on T-Mobile, currently one of the only vendors offering a reasonable no contract plan rate. Verizon's prepaid service starts at $80 for a smartphone, $20 more than T-Mobile and a paltry $20 less than their contract plan. AT&T is no better, asking $5 more than T-Mobile for a 1GB cap instead of 2GB.

What about Android? Android's main problem and uphill battle has been and continues to be fragmentation. With few exceptions, most of the vendors who add their own UI over the existing Android UI only wind up mucking up something that was mostly fine in the first place. Samsung, HTC, and LG aren't software companies, but they try to act like it. I'm also not personally fond of even the stock interface of Android, which is a bit too busy for my taste.

As a matter of personal preference, I went with Windows Phone 7.5 in the Dell Venue Pro, and then 8 with the HTC Windows Phone 8X. Metro Modern UI is mostly absurd in a basic desktop or notebook environment, but on a small touchscreen with limited real estate it makes a lot of sense. Microsoft's user experience is very clean and very snappy, but using WP7.5 as a daily driver did admittedly leave some things to be desired. The Venue Pro itself is a gorgeous smartphone, but the camera (and software) is awful, and the app ecosystem has been bare for some time. Room for improvement definitely existed.

This review is going to be a bit more editorial in nature than we usually do, detailing the experience of using Windows Phone 7.5 regularly, what Windows Phone 8 brings to the table that corrects WP7.5's flaws, and talking about what's still missing from the Windows Phone experience. But before that, a few words about the HTC Windows Phone 8X.

The HTC Windows Phone 8X
POST A COMMENT

118 Comments

View All Comments

  • jeffkibuule - Monday, January 28, 2013 - link

    No multi-calendar support if you are using Google calendar. Reply
  • bman212121 - Monday, January 28, 2013 - link

    Not true. You need to open up the browser to m.google.com/sync and it will bring up a customized page that you can select which calendars you want to display on the phone. It's not very well documented so I'd guess a lot of people don't know about it. (I didn't even know until recently) There should be a help item somewhere inside the calendar to open the browser for that setting to make it much more obvious. Reply
  • Myrandex - Monday, January 28, 2013 - link

    I am surprised about your lack of comment on one of the worse migration experiences available when going from your Venue Pro to your HTC 8x. I adopted the LG Quantum first, and migrated to a Lumia 920, and I was extremely dissapointed that no tool or utility was produced to help migrate settings and data from a WP7 device to a WP8 device. All SMS was gone, all accounts had to be recreated from scratch, and all apps that were compatible had to be redownloaded 1 at a time. Microsoft should be able to leverage their power to make this type of process smooth rather than cumbersome. My wife is keeping her old WP7 device around just to refer to SMS messages she received their that might be needed for legal purposes due to no way to get them off of there properly.

    Also comparing XBox Music to Zune (the media player app on the phone, not on PCs), there are numerous examples of short comings there. There are lots of forum posts etc. out there where people are upset with the music program, with getting album art and ID3 information incorrect.

    Syncing software has also taken a step down in my opinion. You mentioned about direct file access, which is awesome, but true synchronization is really lacking. Zune on the PC was superior to any syncing software Microsoft has released for WP8, plus now wireless sync over WiFi doesn't work anymore either.

    Oh and you mentioned Words with Friends being a terribly written program...it is true, but that isn't exclusive to WP8. The WP7 version was like that as well, as it loves to lock up and crash devices left and right without discrimination.

    The Lumia 920 is a solid device with an amazing camera, and I am happy with the device, but Microsoft needs to keep up with innovation and updates or else I could see people not having faith in the platform given some of the blunders they have caused with 8.

    Jaosn Cook
    Reply
  • rburnham - Monday, January 28, 2013 - link

    The big omission in this article in the handling of music and podcasts. For those of us who use our phones as media players (kind of a "Zune Phone," if you will), WP8 is lacking in those areas.

    The Zune software is to many of us the best media management software around, but the new WP8 software pales in comparison. Podcasts can only be managed directly on the phone, not via desktop software. You cannot manually add podcast feed URLs as you could in the Zune software. Apparently even playlists are not working correctly, if at all.

    The new phones are impressive, no doubt, but for me the problems I listed mean I will not be buying one until these issues are fixed. I don't know why Microsoft is suddenly against giving us some quality desktop phone management software. Or just add WP8 support to the current (and awesome) Zune software. Heck, rename the software if you want, re-skin it... whatever, just let us have the all-in-one functionality it provides.
    Reply
  • Jeff7181 - Monday, January 28, 2013 - link

    When are you guys going to get your hands on a sample of a new Ubuntu phone and share some details? Ars has already done a couple articles on it... Reply
  • antef - Monday, January 28, 2013 - link

    Other than UI preferences, the author's main complaint about Android is "fragmentation" and companies like Samsung and LG being involved in the phone's software. In that case why not just get a Nexus device? Especially since you like to be contract-free. I know you got this phone for free to review, but how much would it cost normally unsubsidized? At least 500 bucks I'm assuming? You can get a 16 GB Nexus 4 for $350. Google is the only one pushing phone prices down, the Nexus 4 is the perfect pairing with a no-contract plan. Then you get stock Android, and absolutely no hurdles if you choose to root or whatever.

    Regarding WP, I had the original Palm Pre, I know what having a 1.0 operating system is like. Lack of features everywhere you turn. This is WP's third revision since launch and I still get the same feeling with it. Just too sparse. Some of the other commenters have done a great job of pointing out the types of shortcomings that you don't realize until you use the device every day. Unfortunately MS seems to be content with this level of features right now, instead of putting more effort into crap like Xbox integration which I couldn't care less about.

    I appreciate this type of review however. Most reviews lack actual usage experience, making them mostly worthless. I can read lists of specs anywhere.
    Reply
  • miahshodan - Monday, January 28, 2013 - link

    thanks for mentioning the resolution difference. That was actually one reason I chose the Lumia 920 when replacing my Titan (that replaced by Dell Venue Pro). The closer to square the screen gets the more screen real-estate you have for a given diagonal measurement. Also when used portrait (required to read many webpages) it makes it more usable.

    That other reason for choosing the lumia was watching the drop tests videos. HTC phone feels much better though.
    Reply
  • CaedenV - Monday, January 28, 2013 - link

    I had a hard time choosing between Android and WP, but ultimately I picked WP8 device (Lumia 920) because I don't want that much flexibility in my phone, and because I believe MS has a more clear road map for the future of all of their platforms.

    I love my PC, and all of the customization in hardware and software that it brings. It is my baby and my toy, and it will never be a finished machine. However, my phone is primarily an appliance. If I screw up my desktop it is not the end of the world, I have other PCs I can pull out and slap HDDs in and make it work again... but if I mess up my phone then I am in a whole world of hurt because I rely on it for the bulk of my communication. So simply put I chose WP BECAUSE there are less options, and if I had an android I would be far too tempted to mess with things. And to be honest WP8 has been good enough where I have not needed to mod it anyways.

    For the rest of it, the phone works 'well enough' as it is, but I feel that the features of WP8 hold more promise than the android platform. The whole move to get WP to the NT kernel, and the NextBox will also suposedly be on the NT kernel, really opens up a whole lot of potential integration of features and services across devices. And from what I am seeing being done with outlook.com, office 2013/365, WP8, Windows 8/RT, and services like skydrive, Xbox games/music/etc. it would seem that they are going to integrate as much as they can as fast as they can so that when the NextBox launches then they will have a unified front across devices that will hopefully be nice and compelling, while still being open to accepting things from other services (like google).

    But there are some things I am a bit annoyed about, and which need improvement:
    Metro/Modern UI needs to be standardized more across devices. Right now you have 4 Metro UIs in the wild (xBox dashboard, WP7, WP8, and windows8/RT). I understand that WP7 UI will just go away with the 7.8 update and attrition, and the xBox dashboard on the NextBox will probably just be the windowsRT interface (or at least very similar to it), but there is some crossover I would love to see between the WP8 and windows8 interfaces:
    -Win8 needs 1/4 size tiles. Especially for older winXP programs that have low res icons, nothing looks worse than a bunch of poorly alpa-keyed programs blown up, and as most of them are not super important for me to use all the time I would love to have them there as nice small tiles that are available but out of the way.
    -WP8 needs some sort of background art similar to win8 start screen so you know how far down the screen you are. And I would love to be able to assign a picture or some artwork to that myself as I am not a huge fan of any of the stock art provided in win8 (though I like the idea).
    -WP8 needs the picture password and regular password options just like Windows 8. I need a password for my phone, but I want something with more options/characters than a 4 digit pin.
    -Themes need a sync option across devices. If I change my colors on my phone, or my lock screen, or password, or whatever on one device, then I would at least like the option for it to propagate across all of my MS devices. It already does this across my PCs, but now we need it on the phone and console.
    -WP8 tiles are mostly squares. The nice thing about squares is that they are... well square... so why on earth can we not rotate the start screen squares if the phone is being held sideways for when you are web browsing or watching videos? It just seems like a no-brainer.

    Some other features are nice, but need major improvements:
    -xbox music on my phone and PC should know what podcasts and videos I am in the middle of, and ought to work together on keeping me up to date on all devices to have the next episode available, and being able to pause on one device, and pick up where I left off on the next one. I also want to be able to use my PC as a server. If it is on my PC then I should have the option to browse, stream, or DL the media to my phone without services like Skydrive. I have my own RAID, and I have my own internet connection that is fast enough to do this without needing to pay MS to host it for me. Also, if it could read the song order on the metadata on my MP3s rather than just putting things in alphabetical order then I would be a happy camper. I understand they are trying to get me to redo all my music as WMA or whatever, but I have well over 20GB of music, and I am not about to re-rip all of that any time soon!
    -NFC payments are perhaps the coolest things ever invented, and MS Wallet is a great system that (at least on the surface) seems much more secure and reliable than Google wallet. The only problem is that it simply DOES NOT WORK YET!!! No banks support it, and no service providers have the secure sims to support it. Almost every major retailer and gas station in my area can take NFC payments, and I am seeing more and more of them all the time. They need to get this working. I can understand it not being available for launch, but I have heard nothing new about it since last summer... and that is a bit disconcerting. If they do not have it ready in 2 years when my contract is up then I will move to Android because to me this is a "must have" feature.
    -Xbox gaming. It is great that there are some 'Xbox' titles available, but I want more of them, and I want cross platform support where the same game can be on the phone, console, and PC, and different players can be on each medium and play together. I know it cannot be done with everything due to input and hardware limitations, but surely things like 'arcade' and social games have no excuse to only be available on only some platforms and not others. But it has been growing, so hopefully this will mature quickly. I am not a console gamer (though I just resurrected an old xbox360 and may try a few titles on it), but if there is a rich xbox ecosystem on the PC and phone then that will be a major consideration in 2-3 years when my kids want a console and I make my selection.
    -Smartglass is another thing that is a really neat idea. It lets you use your phone as a remote for your console, and also can give supplementary info about things on your phone without distracting what you are doing on the console itself. This needs to come to the PC! I downloaded a neat little app that lets me use my 920 as a touchpad and keyboard for my HTPC, and it is really really cool. Only problem is I don't know how secure it is, so I am not about to put it on my big systems. But this type of 'one portable device to control all' which smartglass potentially brings to the table needs to be baked into the system. It seems silly, but it is actually really really neat.

    The problem with Android? They don't have a console or desktop, and I don't need a phone AND and tablet, so in the end my Android phone would most likely just be a phone, where my WP8 phone has a lot more potential to have more interaction with my other devices.
    Reply
  • Da W - Monday, January 28, 2013 - link

    Windows phone is good. Period.
    As is Android.
    And as is iOS.

    There is no point in entering a pissing contest in the comment section of a techsite about why android is so much better and why everything Microsoft does is pure crap.
    I would suggest every Microsoft hater send me their gaming rig for free, i'll provide my adress.
    Reply
  • deathgod - Monday, January 28, 2013 - link

    I've only read the first page of this post thus far and had to make a comment.

    Firstly, I'm tired of hearing all this talk about fragmentation issues with Android. It's really not as much of an issue as people make it out to be. Most Android phones come with either ICS or JB now. Yes ICS isn't as good as JB, but its still good. If you've never used JB, you wouldn't know what you've been missing and you'd be probably be happy with ICS. If you really wanted JB, it's really easy to install a custom rom and get it. So if you didn't buy a phone with the latest and greatest, root your phone and install it. I know not all phones have JB custom roms, but chances are if you buy one of the popular brands you'll find one.

    Secondly, you said the stock android interface is a bit too busy for you. How so? The good thing about Android is you can make it as simple or as customized as you want. I'd think the live tile interface of windows phone would be more busy. Plus there are launchers that can emulate the iphone or windows phone look if that's what you want.
    Reply

Log in

Don't have an account? Sign up now