Possibly one of the most welcome changes that Windows Phone 8 brings is that it now supports multi-core chips. As such, the 8X is powered by a dual-core, 1.5 GHz processor that absolutely crushes the performance of last generation’s phones. To get some hard numbers, we used WP Bench to get some benchmarks, but bear in mind that it’s technically a Windows Phone 7 app, so it may not be 100 percent accurate.
The CPU speed test produced a benchmark of 229.29 marks, a performance that is miles ahead of the next-highest Windows Phone benchmark, the Windows Phone 7-based HTC Titan II with its 94.51 marks. Browser performance was exceptional as well, with the 8X’s Sunspider numbers (909 ms) again blowing the Titan II’s 6,445 ms out of the water (lower numbers are better).
Unfortunately, while expandable memory is now a feature that Windows Phone 8 supports, it’s optional, not mandatory. As such, the 8X, what with its unibody design, features no expandable memory. There’s a decent 16 GB of storage onboard, which should be enough for most users, but serious music/video junkies might find themselves strapped for space at times (though I suppose that’s what Microsoft’s cloud service, SkyDrive, is for).
The 8X is, obviously, one of the first phones to run Windows Phone 8, which has a wealth of new features and tweaks, all of which are outlined here. As I mentioned in our review, the OS is still clearly in its early stages, so there are the occasional bugs here and there, like my CNN app closing down immediately upon starting, or Facebook notifications not clearing long after I’ve viewed them. But there are certainly highlights, like the credit card/coupon storing Wallet app (made possible by the 8X’s NFC connectivity, a mandatory feature on all Windows Phone 8 devices), Kid’s Corner, Rooms (a nexus that you can set up with any of your contacts to share documents, photos, calendar entries, and chat), and improved live tile functionality.
The improved live tiles may be the most welcome change at all, since they’re the very essence of what makes the Windows Phone OS unique. Not only can they be resized for more customization options, apps can be “optimized” for Windows Phone 8, which allows for better live tile functionality. The ability to enable push notifications from optimized apps ensures that they’re updated more frequently and that they provide more information. This, of course, actually makes them useful and effective at quickly providing information at a glance, rather than just repeatedly showing you content that you’ve been aware of for the past hour, which was a common occurrence on Windows Phone 7.
Since Windows Phone 8 is still young, it’s true that the app selection in the Store isn’t as robust as it should be at the moment. But as usual, AT&T has loaded up the 8X with its own suite of apps, including myAT&T — for viewing data plan details, but it requires an AT&T account — AT&T Radio, AT&T Navigator, and AT&T Code Scanner. The built-in Bing Vision feature, which is now part of Windows Phone’s Bing search, can scan QR codes, rendering the Code Scanner app useless, while Bing Maps and its navigation features ensure that you’ll never use the Navigator App. Oh, and nobody cares about the radio. (Quick! Head to the forums!)
One other software aspect that deserves mention is the new desktop syncing app from Microsoft, now simply dubbed the Windows Phone App. Yes, the Zune software a thing of the past, and while I never had a huge problem with the Zune desktop application, I can safely say that I prefer the Windows Phone App.
It’s still technically in beta, which might have something to do with the fact that the first Windows Phone 8 handsets won’t even be released in the US until the end of this week, but it works well and is easy to use. There’s nothing special about it at all, but to me, it’s beautiful in its simplicity. The app, which can be downloaded from the Windows Store online, is a little fancier and fleshed-out on Windows 8 or Windows RT, what with its tile-based setup, but it also works just fine on Windows 7.
Aside from telling you your phone’s current charge percentage, the app also provides a breakdown of what’s taking up your device’s storage, sorted by media types. And syncing is a snap. There’s a tab for “PC” or “Phone” and then sub-tabs under each option for music, photos, videos, ringtones, or podcasts. Every item under each category has a checkbox by it; all you need to do is tick off the stuff you want to take from your phone and put on your PC (or vice versa) and hit sync and you’re done.
The battery life of the 8X is exactly what you would expect from a 4G LTE handset; that is to say, it’s good, but not great. Most users will likely through the day with no worries, but will probably find themselves charging the phone every night with heavy or even just moderate usage.
One thing to keep in mind is that Windows Phone 8 now supports push notifications from “optimized” apps, so this serves as yet another source of battery drain to take into consideration when trying to ration out your charge. Like most aspects of the OS, apps seem to use battery life efficiently — supposedly the new Skype app, for example, will be able to run its code in the background to take video calls at any time but without killing your battery — but it’s still a factor.
To see how much life I could squeeze out of a single charge, I set the brightness to maximum (rather than auto), kept location on, and had push notifications active for everything (so not just my email, but also all my apps that support the feature, including Facebook, CNN, etc.). I also used the phone for sustained periods of time without ever putting it on standby, as I was toying around with all of Windows Phone 8’s new features when working on my review. Under these conditions, the phone couldn’t even last a full day. I began using it around 11:00 A.M. and received a notification that the battery was critically low around 9:00 P.M.
The front-facing, 2.1-megapixel camera has the potential to offer video calls with some good looking feed, but since the new and improved Skype app has yet to be released for Windows Phone 8, I couldn’t really test it out (all that’s available at the moment are a bunch of lousy, poorly-rated third-party video chat apps in the Store right now). The fact that it has face recognition and will always keep the caller’s face in focus is great for video chatting, so I look forward to getting to try it out.
The rear-facing, 8-megapixel camera, however, is mostly forgettable. It’s not bad by any means, but it pales in comparison to that of the competition, the Nokia Lumia 920. Where the Lumia 920 receives the benefits of Nokia’s Pureview imaging technology — which is great for low-light shooting — and OIS, the 8X has neither of these features and is decidedly average in its performance. Video especially could use the help of OIS, as the slightest bit of hand shake (combined with some pretty intense motion blur) made my test videos borderline unwatchable at times.