HTC WINDOWS PHONE 8S: Now for something fresh

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SummaryThis smartphone creates a niche for itself with a refreshing look and new OS—Windows 8.

Perhaps it was the sleek look of the phone in my hands, or the lightness I felt when I lifted it, or maybe it was the anticipation of finally using Windows 8 on a phone, but when HTC’s Windows Phone 8S came for review, I was excited beyond reason. In my experience, I have found that this excitement is often premature—sleek looks often cover an average processor, or a new, much-hyped OS fails to deliver—but I was pleasantly surprised to find that my continued use of the Windows Phone 8S met with none of these disappointments.

The 8S is one of the most eye-catching phones in the market, with a 4-inch capacitive multi-touch screen bordered at the bottom by a bright panel (colours ranging from red, grey and blue) which has three of the six physical buttons the phone provides. With the Back button, Home button and Search button on the panel, a camera button and volume keys on the right side and a lock button on top, the 8S has the perfect combination of touch screen and physical buttons. The curved back also adds a stylish and refreshing touch at a time when most phones are going the block-look way. And it really is light, weighing a mere 113 grams, so much so that my iPhone 4 felt downright heavy in comparison. It did take a little figuring out that it was the coloured panel at the bottom that slid out to house the micro-SIM card, though.

But that’s enough about the body, what about its brains? It’s pretty quick. The Qualcomm Snapdragon chipset and the dual-core 1 GHz processor deal with Windows 8 with ease. And then we come to Windows 8 itself. I must admit I was initially sceptical of any OS offerings by Microsoft given its poor showing in the past. But Windows 8 is an extraordinary attempt by Microsoft to reinvent itself in the OS space, and it succeeds. The layout, comprising multiple tabs on your home screen that are customisable in terms of size, colour and position, looks attractive and business-like at the same time.

And if you thought that a Windows OS would be limited in the ‘fun’ aspects Android and iOS excel in, think again. The OS comes with everything you could want to pass the time or entertain yourself—music player, video player, photo editing software, games, social networking, news apps, etc. In addition, the processor is quick enough to handle a 3G internet connection with ease, making loading pages and YouTube videos a breeze.

One objection, one that many users have against Windows on the computer as well, is that the default browser is Internet Explorer. Now, there’s no doubt that Microsoft has made considerable efforts to render IE more user-friendly, but many users still prefer Google’s Chrome, for example. You can’t download Chrome on Microsoft’s app store, which leads us to my next problem with Windows 8—the shortage of apps on its apps store. Rather, the shortage of quality apps. There are few news apps better than Google News, but every version of that app on Windows 8 was hard to use, or didn’t capture enough news to be comprehensive. The same problem arises with most other apps. And, as with Apple Maps, the Windows Maps app is far from the best in its field, with only the basic roads and landmarks being marked out. The battery life, on the other hand is quite good for a smartphone of its calibre, lasting about a day and a half.

Apart from that, the OS comes with the inherent advantages of being Windows. Connecting the phone to a Windows computer is one of the easiest things you could do. The computer recognises the phone almost as soon the USB cable is connected, and the transfer of photos, music and videos couldn’t be easier. In addition, the phone comes with Microsoft’s most popular product, Office. You can use Word, Excel, Powerpoint, etc, right on your phone and instantly upload all your documents to your SkyDrive account. Incidentally, apart from the internal memory of 4 GB (which is rather small), and the extendible memory of up to 32 GB, the Windows Phone 8S comes with added advantage of 7 GB free SkyDrive storage.

The camera, though a par-for-the-course 5 megapixels, renders extraordinarily clear photos and videos. But, given that the software comes with considerable business functionality, it is surprising that the phone doesn’t come with a front camera—so essential for video-conferencing, an increasingly popular mode of business communication.

Overall, though, the flaws of the phone and software are either minor or easily fixed. At R18,849, HTC’s Windows Phone 8S is a good phone to buy if you want something new by way of design and software.

Estimated street price: Rs 18,849

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