Microsoft just recently launched its Windows Phone 8 operating system, bringing with it a slew of new handsets to choose from.
Although Nokia has a partnership with Microsoft and supports its Windows Phone OS on all of its current handsets, other companies like HTC and Samsung also have offerings that are worth checking out.
Whether you’re interested in Windows Phone 8 or Windows Phone 7 devices, there are plenty to choose from, and they’re available on a number of different carriers. Here are the smartphones that are the cream of the crop, in our humble opinion.
#1 HTC 8X
Taking the cake here is HTC’s flagship Windows Phone 8 handset, the high-end 8X. Featuring a sleek build that’s available in a variety of colors, the 8X has a matte finish and a gently curved backing to make it comfortable to hold in the hand despite the fact that it has a roomy 4.3-inch Super LCD 2 screen. Some of its other quality specs include a 1.5 GHz, dual-core processor, Beats Audio, an 8-megapixel rear-facing camera, and NFC connectivity.
The highlight of the 8X, as well as many of the other phones featured on this list, is the new Windows Phone 8 OS from Microsoft, which brings myriad improvements to the efficient but flawed Windows Phone 7 platform. Whether it’s support for better hardware like multicore chips and NFC, or the improved suite of software from Microsoft (like SmartGlass, the ever-growing Store, or the rebranded Xbox Music), Windows Phone 8 takes everything that Windows Phone 7 offered and makes it bigger and better.
The HTC 8X is available to almost everyone, since it’s available on three of the four major networks, including Verizon Wireless, AT&T, and T-Mobile.
#2 Nokia Lumia 920
It was a close call between the Lumia 920 and the 8X for the number one spot, since both handsets are top-notch smartphones with the most recent version of Microsoft’s mobile OS, but the Lumia 920 got edged out due to a matter of personal preference. See, it features the same hideous build as the Lumia 900 that people like to call “unique,” as if it were a good thing, only with a slightly more rounded back. It’s marginally more comfortable to hold in the hand than the Lumia 900, but in the grand scheme of things, I still find it to be an ugly phone with its bizarre combination of rounded sides and sharp corners.
Its needlessly unorthodox design aside, the Lumia 920 is an excellent piece of hardware. It has a dual-core, 1.5 GHz processor, a beautiful 1280 x 768 display, and built-in wireless charging (but buyer beware, it doesn’t ship with a wireless charger; that’s sold separately). AT&T subscribers need only apply, however, as the Lumia 920 is exclusive to the carrier.
But the main attraction with the Lumia 920 is its 8.7-megapixel rear-facing camera, which features optical image stabilization (OIS) and Nokia’s Pureview technology. It sounds like it may just be a gimmick, but after seeing the imaging tech in action and how much it helps the Lumia 920 snap photos in low light, I can tell you that Pureview is the real deal.
#3 Samsung ATIV S
Admittedly, we’ve only spent a small amount of time with this particular handset in comparison to the other phones on this list, so it’s a little further down, but it made quite an impression nonetheless. Again benefitting from the brand-spanking-new version of Microsoft’s mobile OS, the Samsung ATIV S (the carrier support for which has yet to be announced) features a simpler, more traditional design than the quirky Lumia builds, but it’s undeniably handsome.
The ATIV S features a brushed aluminum back to compliment the smartphone’s black bezel, taking a much subtler approach than HTC and Nokia’s Windows Phone handsets, the colors of which some might find too garish. Also unlike the Lumia 920 and the 8X, the ATIV S doesn’t have a unibody design, giving users access to its 2,300 mAh battery and SIM card and microSD card slots, offering a little more flexibility than the competition.
The speaker grill that lines the bottom of the phone’s back is a nice touch, as is the physical home button that’s located beneath the display. The home button on Windows Phone devices is typically capacitive, so this makes for a welcome change, as it’s always nice to have the reliability of a physical button press. And despite the fact that the ATIV S, like so many big-name smartphones these days, is on the larger side — sporting a 4.8 inch, Super AMOLED display — it’s still surprisingly light and thin. Even for smaller-handed folk like me, it’s comfortable to hold…even if it’s still a little uncomfortable to cram in your pocket.
#4 Nokia Lumia 900
Okay, given the impending release of Windows Phone 8 devices in the US, the Lumia 900 is about to become a last-gen smartphone. But if you’re working with a particularly tight budget, it may not be a bad idea to invest in the flagship Windows Phone 7 handset from Nokia. After all, the AT&T-exclusive handset is now going for a mere $1 on the carrier’s website with a new two-year contract.
For that, you’ll get a phone with a impressive 4.3-inch AMOLED display that looks especially beautiful with Nokia’s ClearBlack technology, as well as 4G LTE connectivity. And Windows Phone 7 isn’t being completely left in the dust, so the Lumia 900 won’t be a completely irrelevant smartphone; its OS will eventually receive an upgrade to Windows Phone 7.8, which offers many of the new features of Windows Phone 8.
The downside here, of course, is that the restrictions of Windows Phone 7 leave the Lumia 900 with dated hardware that’s only getting older by the day. Nobody is going to be blown away by its single-core processor, lack of expandable memory, and the absence of some flashier, newer technology like NFC or wireless charging. Oh, and the camera is terrible, so we would definitely shy away from this one if you’re big on snapping photos with your smartphone.
#5 Nokia Lumia 820
The Lumia 820 and its carrier-specific variants — the Lumia 822 on Verizon Wireless and the Lumia 810 on T-Mobile — are essentially watered-down, more affordable versions of the Lumia 920. But given the exceptionally high quality of the Lumia 920, that still makes for a pretty solid phone.
One of the main differences between the Lumia 820 and its big brother is that it has a removable casing, which not only provides users with expandable memory in the form of a microSD card slot (not to mention access to the battery), it allows for some customization by swapping in different colored cases or even shells that enable wireless charging.
It has modest specs, like its 8-megapixel camera, which lacks the OIS and Pureview technology found in the Lumia 920, and its smaller, 4.3-inch, 800 x 480 display. But the Lumia 820 is still respectable, with a dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon processor (1.5 GHz), NFC connectivity, 1 GB of RAM, and LTE connectivity. And for what it’s worth, the Lumia 820 is both thinner and lighter than the Lumia 920, making it, overall, a more compact device.
Want to know which models are tops in the minds of Brighthand’s readers? Check out our Most Popular Smartphones list, based on traffic across our site!