Calling, Data and HTC BoomSound
Call quality on Sprint's network was excellent, and the HTC 8XT is one of the better voice phones on Sprint right now. Incoming and outgoing voice was loud, clear and full with no digitization or hiss. The speakerphone is fairly loud and full as well and HTC's BoomSound stereo speakers with Beats audio are here, though the phone isn't as loud and rich sounding as the flagship HTC One Android smartphone. The speakers are located above and below the display under small slits, and they do sound better than most other smartphone speakers on the market.
Data speeds on Sprint's young LTE 4G network were good for us outdoors, but speeds dropped when we entered the house (even on the top floor, 8 feet from large windows). Building penetration can be an issue for higher spectrum cellular data, and it's certainly noticeable here. According to Ookla's Speedtest.net app, we averaged 15Mbps down and 6.5Mbps up when outdoors and 5.2Mbps down with 4.9Mbps up indoors. While that might not come close to AT&T and Verizon's data speeds in our metro region, it's 5 to 10 times better than Sprint's sluggish EV-DO Rev. A 3G network speeds. Web pages load quickly using IE Mobile and apps download at a decent clip from the Windows Store.
As with all Windows 8 smartphones, the core apps are capable and useful. These include Microsoft's mobile version of Office including OneNote, Internet Explorer, full PIM apps with the excellent People app that integrates social networking, a camera app, photo viewer, XBOX gaming and XBOX Music + Videos. The app story is still a sticking point, though there are 160,000 apps on the Windows Store for phones, several popular titles like Instagram and an official Dropbox app aren't there. That doesn't mean you won't find popular and useful apps to enrich your phone. Netflix, Skype, Flixster, MLB at Bat 13, various YouTube apps, Dictionary.com, Skydrive, Pandora and TuneIn Radio are available now. If you're a software junky, Windows Phone still isn't ready for you, but users who aren't addicted to apps will likely get along nicely.
You can get your own music and video content onto Windows phones using Microsoft's desktop companion app (available for both Windows and Mac OS X), and you can even sync to iTunes content (except DRM protected content) that resides on your computer.
Camera with HTC ImageSense
The 8XT's camera is largely the same as the 8X's, and that's a good thing. This is a capable camera with HTC's ImageSense technology, a backside illuminated sensor, HDR mode, a fast f/2.0 lens and an LED flash. Photos have good color balance, are generally well exposed and low light shots aren't terribly noisy even if they can't compete with HTC's UltraPixel camera on the more expensive HTC One. The rear camera can shoot 1080p video and if you use HTC's camera app (pre-installed along with the default Windows Phone camera app), you can shoot panorama, burst and HDR photos. Newbies will doubtless be confused by two camera apps, and will probably wonder why options and settings have suddenly "appeared" or "disappeared". And you'll want to use both apps because they each have unique features: the Windows camera has text mode, while the HTC Camera app has HDR, panorama and color filters. The front 1.6MP camera has an f/2.2 lens and it worked well with Skype for video chat.
Here's where a relatively small display and well-mannered dual core CPU come in handy: the HTC 8XT has solid battery life. Sprint claims 14 hours of talk time, and though I suspect few of you use a smartphone primarily for voice calls, that's an impressive figure. In our tests that include 45 minutes of web browsing via LTE 4G, push email, watching three 10 minute YouTube videos, taking 20 photos and talking on the phone for 30 minutes, the HTC 8XT had 40% charge remaining at bedtime. Not bad.
As noted, the 1800 mAh Lithium Ion battery is sealed inside, so you won't be able to swap in a spare on the road, but you can use external battery packs that connect to the micro USB charging and syncing port.
Let's face it; if you're a Sprint customer, the HTC 8XT is your only choice among Windows 8 smartphones, though the Samsung ATIV S Neo should be coming by summer's end with largely comparable specs (except a bigger display) and a $150 on contract price tag. Even with competition, the HTC 8XT would be a very nice phone for the price: it's a great looking phone that's easy to hold and is well made. It has a colorful and sharp display (despite the not very impressive resolution), it performs well on Sprint's voice and LTE 4G networks and the camera is quite solid. For $99, it's a good deal if you're looking to try out Windows Phone.
Price: $99 with 2 year contract after $50 mail-in rebate
Websites: www.htc.com, www.sprint.com
HTC 8X Review
Nokia Lumia 1020 Review
Nokia Lumia 920 Review
HTC One Review