The HTC Windows Phone 8S is a likeable little handset. It clearly isn't one of the platform's headliners, but it may be the right thing to help the fresh Windows Phone 8 conquer some new territory.
The 8S was meant to make the WP OS more desirable and accessible, and it seems the HTC engineers did a pretty good job of cutting the right corners. The display may not be the standard-setting stuff that we saw in the One X, but it isn't half bad either. The chipset has a down-clocked CPU and half the RAM, but WP8 still feels pretty comfortable on it. And while full HD video recording didn't make the cut, 720p capture should still be enough for the majority of users.
No phone is perfect, much less in this price range, but we can't see anything we can't live with on the list of cons.
With excellent build quality and a fresh youthful styling, the HTC 8S will easily get most people's attention. The Windows Phone 8 UI is also novel enough and, while it might lack the versatility of Android, it offers an arguably better looking alternative to those keen to try something new.
It will not be able to win the fierce battle in the mid-range all by itself, but the 8S is showing the right attitude. With iOS offering nothing in this price range, a reasonably priced WP8 handset is HTC's best bet on gaining back some lost ground.
If you are willing to explore the alternatives, you might want to start with the Samsung Galaxy S III mini. Costing virtually the same as the 8S, the mini has double the RAM, but a less capable CPU. Thanks to its Jelly Bean platform the S III mini is every bit as smooth as its WP competitor, but it doesn't look as good. It's the classic case of looks versus features.
If you'd rather try a bigger screen, the LG Optimus L9 should be on your list of options. Bringing the screen size up to 4.7" and the resolution to qHD, this one has the same pixel density as the HTC 8S. There's also a larger user-replaceable battery to offset the extra power consumption and 1080p video recording, so it's probably one of the best-equipped offerings in the price range. It's launching with ICS though, so it's got no Project Butter to take advantage of.
The Sony Xperia P is another interesting alternative, offering an aluminum unibody and a WhiteMagic screen with great outdoor performance. The Xperia P costs less, has a superior camera and is looking forward to Jelly Bean. If it wasn't for the non-expandable storage the Xperia P would be an extremely easy recommendation here.
Finally, if you dare venture in the less known corners of the market, Acer will reward you with a 720p screen and a more powerful chipset than what the 8S has. The CloudMobile S500 got us duly impressed a few weeks back when we reviewed it and seems to offer more bang for your buck.
Power users will certainly find better value elsewhere. The droid army has plenty of options and it's far easier to find the one that best suits your needs without reaching deeper into your wallet. However, if you aren't obsessed with benchmarks and specs, the 8S is here to provide a fresh looking alternative. It's the cheapest way into Windows Phone 8 and the cool styling might just help it become one of the surprises of the season.