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
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  • steven75 - Monday, January 28, 2013 - link

    "Yes, the social media stuff on WP is a big innovation. You get one unified feed of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn. This is a far better model than going into individual apps."

    Why would you want this? You can't "like", view photo albums, or events on twitter, you can't hashtag search or trend search on facebook. You basically lose each services most useful features into something extremely dumbed down.
    Reply
  • Myrandex - Tuesday, January 29, 2013 - link

    You can like, comment, and view photo albums from the unified feed for facebook posts...have you even used one of these devices before?

    Jason
    Reply
  • Belard - Tuesday, January 29, 2013 - link

    Get Launcher 7 or Launcher 8 for Android.. comes in free or paid versions. Reply
  • karasaj - Monday, January 28, 2013 - link

    Er... no. 335 ppi is indistinguishable to the eye without a magnifying glass. It doesn't matter if you smash your nose into the screen; you won't see it. And if you do, you're convincing yourself through a placebo effect.

    You can't shrug off the point of WP8 lol. Live tiles are certainly better integrated with the OS than widgets on Android or nothing on iOS. I don't see what you consider to be a standout point to Android. I love Android, I used stock, several Cyanogen Mod's, and another ROM whose name I don't remember, but I like WP8's UI more. It's cleaner, fits more on one screen, and I think it is definitely a better "average social" kind of phone. Sure, if you're an enthusiast, you get Android, root the phone, and have fun. But that isn't everybody.
    Reply
  • GoodToGo - Monday, January 28, 2013 - link

    Err except that it is not. Here is an article clearly refuting why 300ppi is no where close to good.

    http://www.cultofmac.com/173702/why-retina-isnt-en...
    Reply
  • hahmed330 - Monday, January 28, 2013 - link

    Firstly, live tiles are barely informative. Widgets are far superior then live tiles as they are interactive and are very practical. For example youtube widget, I can scroll down tabs of my favorite youtube channels and access it in 5 seconds without ever accessing youtube app itself. (lets assume that there will be a youtube app on WP8) You would have to have a separate live tile for each of the channels.

    Secondly, Microsoft has too much of a control over their OS itself. How are companies going to differentiate themselves? The biggest reason why android has been so successful. Of course this is also a bad thing as well, but for the end user it is also a good thing because whatever works for you best is the best policy there is. Because android is here you have more choices as Samsung, HTC, Sony, LG, Huawei, Pantech... e.t.c. All of their smart phones can be differentiated, but not WP8 based phones.

    Thirdly, android evolves very quickly by the time there will be windows 8.5 we would have 3 revisions in android. The changes in android have been quite substantial each time. Difference between WP7 vs WP8 is like difference between Android 4.0 and 4.1. While android evolved form gingerbread to jellybean in the same amount of time.
    Reply
  • Alexvrb - Monday, January 28, 2013 - link

    Both Android and WP8 have their advantages. In my family I have a couple of iPhone users and a few Android users. I'm the only one with a WP device, and that was only very recently.

    Live tiles give me what I want in at a glance. I don't just have one live tile. At a glance I can see all kinds of stuff, and with a touch you can dig further into any of them. They're not perfect but I like them quite a bit, and like just about everything on WP8 they are designed to be battery-friendly . If Google was playing nice with Youtube, we would already HAVE a proper Youtube app.

    Too much control over the OS? I can see that point of view, but personally I disagree. When I buy a PC, I don't want OEM junkware or modifications. For my personal desktop machines, I build, so this isn't an issue. I feel the same way about phones. I think PC OEMs have managed to differentiate just fine without relying on gimmicks. If anything, it has forced them to concentrate on the hardware more. I see no reason why smartphone vendors can't do the same. In fact, in the WP field, they're doing just that. I chose a Lumia 822 over the 8X because the 8X lacked a removeable battery and SD slot.

    As for updates, frequent updates don't necessarily mean more substance. You're definitely wrong about WP7 vs WP8. WP7 went through multiple significant updates before we even arrived at WP8, and the platform has improved significantly over time. I'd say this is really a wash, and not strictly an advantage for anyone.
    Reply
  • steven75 - Monday, January 28, 2013 - link

    In what way are Android widgets different than live tiles?

    What good is "integration with the OS as far as social media" when you can't even reply to someone on twitter using the built-in twitter mechanic? I mean this is basic stuff. Same for Facebook. The built-in social media support is about as basic as it gets which is why everyone installs an app anyway, pretty much taking away any advantage WP8 has.
    Reply
  • s44 - Monday, January 28, 2013 - link

    I think you're on to something.

    Leave aside how Windows is or isn't superior, though, how do they make their brand *feel* superior? Most people don't *want* to think of themselves as the tech idiots whose VCRs used to flash 12:00 and need a Smartphone For Dummies, even if they are. (Look how Apple has spun that image to flatter their customers -- and how Samsung has successfully played the old/unhip/un-saavy card on Apple and BB.) Having middling celebs do down-to-earth stuff doesn't really associate WP ownership with awesome.

    The recent Droid/LG Optimus ads are sort of dumb, but at least they aren't this:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedd...
    Reply
  • Belard - Tuesday, January 29, 2013 - link

    I agree with much of what you have to say. The HTC 8x looks like colorful versions of the Once X. When MS first came out with WP7 "Metro" - I like the interface for a phone... and I ran a METRO launcher on my Android 2.x phone for almost 2 years until I got a new Motorola Atrix HD (4.1) - I still have that old phone as a part time mini-tablet.

    With Android 4.x, I didnt feel the need to use Launcher 7 (or 8). The widgets do what I need and I love how Motrola has designed their UI (Almost pure Android).

    When I use a friends SGS3... its different UI isn't as nice... but that is more opinion and personal preference.

    Win8 is a whole eco-system designed to revamp Microsoft in all market points.. it does nothing great. I think its still great for a phone and is actually original compared to Android and iOS... Okay for a tablet... horrible for a desktop.
    Reply

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