The HTC 8S, or Windows Phone 8S by HTC to give it its ridiculous full title, sits several steps down from HTC's flagship 8X Windows Phone. Whereas the 8X goes head to head with Nokia's Lumia 920, the 8S doesn't really match up with Nokia's 820, as it's a fair bit cheaper.
It slots into a space between low-end and mid-range smart phones. It's certainly the most affordable route in if you want to taste Microsoft's Windows Phone 8 operating system as you can get it for free on a £17 per month two-year contract or buy it outright for around £230 SIM-free.
Should I buy the Windows Phone 8S by HTC?
If you fancy a phone that stands out from the crowd in terms of looks then the fun and youthful looking 8S certainly fits the bit. It's light and comfortable to use, and despite not being a power house in terms of processor speed, it still feels fairly zippy when you're powering through menus and apps.
The screen and camera don't really stand out from the crowd, as they're fairly run of the mill for a phone in this price bracket. However, the handset's slick and modern-looking Windows Phone 8 OS offers something different to those bored or indifferent about iOS and Android.
However, going the Windows route does mean that you'll have fewer good quality apps to choose from, so if you're the type that likes to download new apps to your phone on a weekly basis, it's probably not the device for you. All in all, though, this is a very likeable phone being offered at a sensible price.
In an age where smart phones seem to be getting ever larger and ever more similar in terms of design, the 8S standards out from the crowd. It's small and light standing just 120mm tall and weighting in at a feather light 113g, but more importantly it looks quite different to most other smart phones on the market thanks to the bold range of colours it's available in.
I had the red version, but you can also get it in green, navy and black. All the colours are two tone, so the red one has an orange base, for example, while the navy version has a blue base. They all look very distinctive and while they might not be to everyone's taste, they're certainly a refreshing break from the norm. The plastic used on the rear and sides of the phone has a slightly rubberised feel and the slimness of the chassis, plus the rounded corners, help it feel very slight and comfortable.
The headphone jack is positioned at the top of the phone, so the headphone lead doesn't snag as you take in and out of your pocket. Also, along with the usual power button at the top and volume rocker switch on the right hand side, there's a dedicated camera button. Holding this down launches the camera, even when the phone is in standby. This is a great feature that's common to all Windows Phone handsets, but it's still a brilliant idea as it means you're more likely to capture those impromptu one-off moments with the phone's snapper.
The base of the phone has a microUSB port for charging and syncing it with your computer and although the battery is fixed, a panel on the base of the phone slides off to give you access to the micro Sim and microSD card slots. The latter is still not all that common on Windows Phone handsets, so it's good to see HTC including one here.
OS and apps
The 8S runs on Windows Phone 8, the latest version of Microsoft's mobile operating system. Windows Phone has a very fun and modern feel, as it's centred around a single, scrolling homescreen that you place live titles onto for apps, contacts and shortcuts. These tiles are now resizable, with two or three different iterations to choose from depending on the type of app that they're associated with. You can also scroll left to view an entire list of all the apps stored on your phone and then pin them to the homescreen by pressing and holding their icon.
There are lots of nice graphical effects dotted throughout the OS, including a 3D tear away effect that's used to transition from the homescreen to the opening page of an app as you launch it.
One of the best features of the OS is its People Hub. This is a central place where you can view your contacts and social networking feeds from mates and colleagues. This works across a range of social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.
You can read more about Windows Phone 8's features in our HTC 8X review.
On Nokia's Windows Phone handsets you get quite a few extra apps, including Nokia Drive for voice guided navigation and the Nokia Music free streaming service. HTC doesn't offer anything comparable on the 8S. Instead you get a fairly boring HTC app that just shows weather information and news and stock updates.
There are also some simple HTC-only apps in the Windows Phone Marketplace, including a Flashlight app that uses the camera's LED flash as a torch -- hardly ground breaking stuff. You'll also find a Beats Audio option in the settings menu, but this a pretty basic bass and treble enhancer and not as good as the RSR effects available on the old HTC Radar.
The lack of a navigation app is a bigger issue, as although you can get turn by turn instructions in Bing Maps, you don't get voice guidance, so it can't act as a sat-nav.
The shelves in the Windows Phone market place aren't exactly overflowing with quality apps. You will usually be able to find an app that does the job you want, but you won't be spoilt for choice in the way you are on iOS and Android. Also, premium games titles can take a long time to make their way to the platform and many never actually make the transition.
Processor, performance and battery life
This 8S is built on a dual-core 1 GHz S4 processor with 512 MB of Ram. It only has 4GB of internal storage, but the microSD card slot means that you can bump this up using cheap memory cards. However, it does lack NFC support, something that a lot of other Windows Phone handsets offer.
The dual-core processor 1 GHz processor puts the 8S towards the bottom of the tree in terms of raw hardware specs among the new crop of Windows Phone 8 handsets, as Nokia's 820 has a faster 1.5 GHz dual core chip.
The difference is plain to see in benchmark tests. Fro example, in Browser Mark V2.0 the 8S returned a score of 1373, while the Nokia 820 came in at 1,583 -- higher is better in this test. The 8S completed the Sunspider test in 1,410.6ms, while the Nokia 820 came in at 916.2 -- lower is better in this example. In the AnTuTu benchmark, which measures a phone's overall performance, the 8S lagged behind Nokia's handset coming in at 7,122 compared to the Nokia's score of 11,500 (higher is better).
But benchmarks only tell part of the story, as Windows Phone 8 is not as demanding an OS as Android and it tends to run very smoothly on even modest hardware. That certainly seems to be the case here as the 8S doesn't suffer anywhere near as badly from the stutters and pauses you get on some Android handsets running Ice Cream Sandwich, for example. Where you do notice a slight different is in the tiny bit of extra time it takes to open apps and render more complex websites. However, even at these tasks it still feels relatively zippy to use.
Battery life wasn't bad. You'll get around a day out of the handset's sealed 1,700mAh battery and a bit more if you allow Windows Phone to automatically turn on the battery saving mode once the phone's battery gets a bit low.
I had no problems with call quality while testing the phone and both the ear piece and mic deliver crisp and clean audio.
The 8S uses a 4-inch display with a resolution of 800x480 pixels. This is the exact same resolution as that used by all the older Windows Phone 7 generation handsets and Nokia's new 820 as well. While I expected more pixels from Nokia's handset as it's a pricier model, I think that this resolution is respectable, if not exactly stunning, for a phone in this price bracket.
Granted, similarly priced Android handsets, such as the Orange San Diego, have higher resolution screens, but I don't think anyone's going to complain about the screen on the 8S. It still looks fairly crisp, and although it could be a little bit brighter and have slightly better black levels, on the whole it delivers perky and natural colours. Its viewing angles are also pretty good so it doesn't wash out or look overly dark when you not staring at it directly head on.
The 8S sadly doesn't have a front-facing camera, so if you need a phone to make video calls to relatives in Oz on apps like Skype, it's not the phone for you.
However the rear-facing camera is pretty decent. It's got a 5-megapixel resolution and includes both autofocus and an LED flash. As I've already pointed out you can launch the camera, even when the phone is in standby, by simply pressing and holding down the dedicated camera button on the right hand side of the phone.
To focus the camera you can either just tap on the screen or alternatively press lightly on the hardware camera button. The autofocus is a little bit slower than on higher end Windows phones, but at least it is quite accurate when it does lock on and there isn't much shutter lag either.
Photos havenatural looking colours and the camera doesn't do a bad job of dealing with varying contrast levels in a shot. Detail levels won't knock your socks off, but they're pretty reasonable for a device in this price range. It does struggle bit more than most when it's dealing with low light situations, though, so pictures taken in less than idea conditions can look quite noisy.
There are some extra filters in the app that you can preview as you shoot, but they are pretty basic covering stuff like solarise and sepia effects. You'd be better off using the Photo Enhance app that HTC has preloaded to add better filters, but the downside is that they can only be applied after you've taken your photos. The camera app also lacks a panorama mode, which is a bit odd as this is something that older HTC Windows Phone handsets such as the Radar included.
If you're thinking of making the move to Windows Phone 8, then the 8S is certainly an affordable and stylish route into Microsoft's OS. It feels very smooth to use and looks quite different to most other smart phones on the market.
The lack of NFC and a front facing camera may bother some, but it does have the advantage of a microSD card, which the Nokia 920 and HTC 8X lack, and overall I think it's a good all round package for the money.