HTC Windows Phone 8S review: Icebreaker

GSMArena team, 18 December 2012.
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Photos with SkyDrive

The Photos hub is also pretty much the same as we left it in Windows phone 7.5. You can set a single photo as a background for the hub (it used to be the last photo viewed) or you can set it to shuffle different photos.

And of course, the point of hubs is that they are the go-to place to do things, instead of apps. Apps can integrate into the Photos hub, so for example, a photo effects app can make its options available right in the hub. Devs need to enable that into apps, however.

The main view of the Photos hub offers four options - camera roll, albums, date and people. A swipe to the left reveals what's new, which displays your Facebook friends and liked pages' new picture galleries. Another swipe shows your favorites section, where the photos you've faved are displayed.

HTC Windows Phone 8S
Pictures hub

Albums feature the camera roll, the preloaded system pictures and all of your Facebook albums. A flick to the left shows all your pictures sorted by date. You can't sort individual camera roll photos into albums, though.

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Camera roll Album, date and people views

The people section is where you can select your friends and contacts whose Facebook galleries you want to display right in your Photos hub. It's a nice feature for social network users but will be only an empty section for those that aren't too fond of Facebook.

The camera roll presents your entire collection of photos and videos captured with the device in a 4x5 grid. You cannot change the layout. Viewing a photo can be done in either portrait or landscape mode. Zooming in on a photo is done by either double tap or a pinch. The camera roll doesn't downsize pictures and you can enjoy them in full resolution.

Sharing options include messaging, email, Facebook and the cloud-based SkyDrive.

While uploading photos to Facebook or Windows Live, the OS will detect any untagged faces and allow you to tag them before proceeding with the upload.

The camera roll has a dedicated auto-fix setting, which tries to improve your photo automatically. It's a nice feature but one that produces less than stellar results at times.

The Music + Videos hub in charge of all multimedia

Windows Phone has both music and video combined in one interface with the Music + Videos tab.

The default Windows Phone 8 media players are on board too. They reside together in the Music + Videos hub, which now bears the Xbox logo or the last played media thumbnail. When you start it, it shows the History, which gives you quick access to the last two items played, or you can go to the full menu and start the music or video player, listen to or watch podcasts, or go to the Marketplace.

The music section is made up of albums, songs, playlists, genres and artists. Videos features all, television, music videos, films and personal - think of them like more as categories you can assign your videos to when syncing with Zune. The third section is where you can store all of your downloaded audio and video podcasts.

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The Xbox music hub

The music hub has a simple and straightforward interface. You won't have any difficulties using it. However there are some things missing, like an equalizer. Another missing feature is the ability to scrub through a song - you have to press and hold on the FF/rewind buttons to simply skip back and forth.

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Browsing the music library Now playing screen

Update: Since the GDR2 update, the 8S now has FM Radio support, as well.

As a music player, it's pretty standard - your tracks are sorted by artist, album, playlists or you can view all songs. Under the album art it lists the next three songs to be played - really helpful if you're using shuffle. There's no way to manually reorder the upcoming songs, but you can reshuffle them if there's one you don't like.

The video player is integrated into the Music + Videos hub. It has a very simple interface - you have fast forward and rewind controls, a timeline and a video size button that toggles full-screen.

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The Video tab Video player in action

Video support on the 8S was spotty and we again had problems getting all XviD videos to play smoothly, if at all. We were also unable to get 1080p videos to work properly, where they would oddly play at about 1/10 of the normal speed. MOV files played and that's a rare occasion in our tests.

Since Windows Phone 8 is no longer Zune dependent, you can easily upload videos off your computer in USB mass storage mode.

Individual items can also be pinned to the homescreen - like a song or video.

The loudest audio output around

The most impressive part of the HTC Windows Phone 8S audio output is its loudness. The smartphone is the loudest we have ever seen (except for the good old Nokia N91) both with and without headphones attached to it. If volume levels are what you are after this is the handset for you.

Sadly, the output isn't perfectly clean - the distortion levels are above average, while the noise levels and dynamic range are nothing to write home about either.

The stereo crosstalk wasn't the best in the first part of the test, but increased only a little when we plugged in a pair of headphones, so it's good overall. The frequency response was spot on in both cases.

Check out the numbers and see for yourselves.

TestFrequency responseNoise levelDynamic rangeTHDIMD + NoiseStereo crosstalk
HTC Windows Phone 8S+0.16, -0.10-79.780.00.011 0.385-75.3
HTC Windows Phone 8S (headphones attached)+0.02, -0.26-79.679.80.283 0.391-64.4
HTC Windows Phone 8X+0.06, -0.55-83.283.20.0096 0.286-74.8
HTC Windows Phone 8X (headphones attached)+0.05, -0.54-82.682.50.011 0.288-59.8
Nokia Lumia 920+0.13, -0.12-78.979.50.0099 0.385-75.0
Nokia Lumia 920 (headphones attached)+0.53, -0.03-78.378.70.012 0.743-64.4
Nokia Lumia 820+0.27, -0.03-82.282.10.0036 0.019-81.4
Nokia Lumia 820 (headphones attached)+0.31, -0.24-81.581.40.0057 0.699-48.9
Samsung Ativ S+0.07, -0.07-90.388.40.0089 0.384-92.2
Samsung Ativ S (headphones attached)+0.18, -0.05-90.088.20.031 0.390-60.0
LG Optimus G+0.13, -0.11-82.582.50.0092 0.022-81.6
LG Optimus G (headphones attached)+0.05, -0.30-80.880.90.012 0.061-59.4
Apple iPhone 5+0.06, -0.51-91.391.30.00150.0093-76.5
Apple iPhone 5 (headphones attached)+0.00, -0.26-90.690.60.00350.111-56.2

HTC Windows Phone 8S frequency response
HTC Windows Phone 8S frequency response

You can learn more about the whole testing process here.

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