Steve Ballmer bounded onto stage to greet HTC CEO Peter Chou Wednesday to signal Microsoft's massive support for HTC's two newly hatched Windows Phone 8 smartphones. But if these pastel HTCs are the flagship Windows Phone 8 phones — uh oh.
The 4.3-inch 8X and smaller 4-inch 8S will be sold by AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon in November.
So, it's not that the 8X and 8S aren't pretty to look at and presentably high-tech. But with their emphasis on style similar to the rainbow-hued Nokia Lumia 920 and 820, HTC is clearly targeting not the usual tech early adopter — these geeks have clearly chosen either iPhone or Android — but the less tech sophisticated, undecided smartphone buyers.
A positive step forward here is the 8's polycarbonate body, which feels slightly rubberized — and not an artistic-but-functionally-stupid slick plastic or metal/glass enclosure. The 8's stickier bodies, plus their vague pear-shape — they're both thin around the sides and a bit thicker in the middle — provide a surer grip for the klutzes among us.
The problem for Windows 8 is that these un-smartphone consumers will likely follow the advice of their geek friends rather than take a chance with a new operating system.
Which is a shame, because I love the whole Windows Phone 8 gestalt. Its colorful live tiles make a home screen look as if it's teeming with life compared to the ghostly tombstone icon tone of iOS, which Android mimicked.
But enough about that — let's dig into the HTC 8X and 8S.
8X & 8S Specs
Gear-heads can ignore the 8S — it's got a lackluster 4-inch 800 x 480 WVGA screen, a 1 GHz dual-core processor, 5 MP rear camera and no front camera. It looks pretty in a variety of two-tone colors (each color pairing — black with white, blue/black, red/orange, gray/lime yellow — looks as if it had been dipped like an Italian cookie), but is technologically vacant.
The 8X is the meatier of the pair: a 4.3-inch HD touchscreen, 1.5 GHz dual-core processor and Gorilla Glass II protection for its 1280 x 720 pixel display. Not exactly technologically groundbreaking, but in the ballpark.
Its camera might be the 8X's most advanced bit: 8 MP with an f/2.0 aperture for improved low light photos, and an ultrawide 88-degree view to widen the scope of a self-portrait taken at arms-length — not just faces in your crowd, but a bit of the background so you know where you all were.
Its front camera is even more impressive in its own way: it's an 2.1 MP, f/2.0 lens capable of recording full 1080p video.
HTC has also partnered with Beats. No, no headphones of any kind will be included, but there's an on-board Beats amp that boosts output through earphones (as if I wasn't going deaf enough) but especially through the speaker so a group of folks can gather 'round the phone and hear what's going on without aurally squinting.
8X only comes in solid colors: red, lime yellow, purplish blue and basic black. Whether this colorful array will be the rainbow that attracts Microsoft's target audience remains to be seen. Pricing has not been announced for either phone as of this post.