Introduction

While almost all of the AnandTech editors are using Android or iOS smartphones as their daily driver due to the relative maturity of those platforms (and oftentimes bleeding edge hardware within), Brian learned I'd been using the Windows Phone 7.5-equipped Dell Venue Pro as my daily driver for almost a year. 2-year contract plans in the United States amount to highway robbery, but a no contract deal from T-Mobile is actually very reasonable. As someone attracted to Windows Phone's UI and someone who preferred the physical keyboard, the Venue Pro turned out to be a perfect fit.

Unfortunately, time has revealed Windows Phone 7 for what it was: a transitional offering that was practically end-of-life when it left the gate. Windows Phone 8 is Microsoft's real long haul darling, and when Brian discovered I was looking to replace my Venue Pro with something more robust, he asked HTC to send me their flagship Windows Phone 8 handset, the Windows Phone 8X. He's already run performance and battery tests, but we haven't really talked about what Windows Phone offers that Android and iOS don't, and how effective it can be as a daily driver. That changes today.

Android and iOS have both shown tremendous advancement and increased polish over their lives, but I had very good reasons for avoiding either. Whenever you buy an Apple product there's a very real concern about vendor lock-in, and since I don't run any Macs at home, that means having to suffer with the continually buggy Windows version of iTunes to manage an iPhone. The iPhone also isn't readily available on T-Mobile, currently one of the only vendors offering a reasonable no contract plan rate. Verizon's prepaid service starts at $80 for a smartphone, $20 more than T-Mobile and a paltry $20 less than their contract plan. AT&T is no better, asking $5 more than T-Mobile for a 1GB cap instead of 2GB.

What about Android? Android's main problem and uphill battle has been and continues to be fragmentation. With few exceptions, most of the vendors who add their own UI over the existing Android UI only wind up mucking up something that was mostly fine in the first place. Samsung, HTC, and LG aren't software companies, but they try to act like it. I'm also not personally fond of even the stock interface of Android, which is a bit too busy for my taste.

As a matter of personal preference, I went with Windows Phone 7.5 in the Dell Venue Pro, and then 8 with the HTC Windows Phone 8X. Metro Modern UI is mostly absurd in a basic desktop or notebook environment, but on a small touchscreen with limited real estate it makes a lot of sense. Microsoft's user experience is very clean and very snappy, but using WP7.5 as a daily driver did admittedly leave some things to be desired. The Venue Pro itself is a gorgeous smartphone, but the camera (and software) is awful, and the app ecosystem has been bare for some time. Room for improvement definitely existed.

This review is going to be a bit more editorial in nature than we usually do, detailing the experience of using Windows Phone 7.5 regularly, what Windows Phone 8 brings to the table that corrects WP7.5's flaws, and talking about what's still missing from the Windows Phone experience. But before that, a few words about the HTC Windows Phone 8X.

The HTC Windows Phone 8X
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  • Sabresiberian - Monday, January 28, 2013 - link

    What I want is a more or less pocket-sized computer that is also a great phone and camera. I want Win 8 on the phone to interface with my Windows desktops seamlessly. I want to run all the software I can run on my desktop on my phone, hardware being the only limit.

    If I just wanted a "phone OS", why would I choose the current Win 8 over Android? Well, there are a few reasons, but Win 8 is still mostly in the "catching-up" phase, and that's not good enough for me. I have every hope this rocket-ship is barely off the proverbial launch pad, and the end result will be more like a proverbial space station compared to the satellites of other phones, but it isn't there yet, for me.
    Reply
  • mutatio - Monday, January 28, 2013 - link

    Can you turn off the white on black awfulness that is the email and other portions of the UI? I really want to like this OS though some of the design cues are just poorly considered. I've said it before, run some white borders around those tiles and they'll look even more like traffic signs. Seriously? "eople" for contacts? There are just so many ways the design is trying way too hard to be hip. The odd thing is, I actually like the user interface in and of itself. If they could fix the awful design elements of it this would be a much more viable phone, IMO. Then again, they'd (MS) still have to get there apps up to snuff. Reply
  • maximumGPU - Monday, January 28, 2013 - link

    1) yes you can have black on white.
    2) it's "people", but the word is spread accross more than one page.
    Reply
  • steven75 - Monday, January 28, 2013 - link

    Why would you want a main title to be spread across more than one page? Reply
  • CaedenV - Monday, January 28, 2013 - link

    It is a design cue to tell you that there are multiple pages without the need for a separate scroll bar or something. You will see the same behavior with backgrounds as well. Reply
  • secretmanofagent - Monday, January 28, 2013 - link

    As someone who was stuck with 7.5 for a while, here's my questions:
    1. 7.5 supported multiple calendars under the settings for it. You're saying this is gone now?
    2. Does messaging receive properly now messages from Facebook contacts that are NOT currently using chat? 7.5 gives no notification whatsoever about that, and neither does the pinned Facebook app.
    3. Is there a way to disable the infernal search button? I've hit it accidentally so many times, and never use it.
    4. Does Nokia Drive still initially provide an incorrect distance before starting navigation? It's usually about double the distance it says it is initially.
    5. Does Skype function properly in the background? This killed 7.5 for me completely.
    6. How well does tombstoning for it work now? The experience for me has always been unpleasant, with its "resuming" and not being exactly where I left it.
    7. Back button confusion. Did they address how the back button you usually have no idea where it will take you?
    8. I haven't used Nokia Drive in a little bit, but do they give you multiple route options yet?
    9. Toast notifications. If its gone, is there any way to see what it actually was?
    10. Will tapping on the Live Tile launch a new instance of the program still, or can it be customized so that if it's in the recent, it'll go to where you left it? This is an easy source of frustration for me, since it has to reload everything.
    Reply
  • banvetor - Monday, January 28, 2013 - link

    Ha, as an WP7 user myself, you got some good questions there...

    I was also confused with what the author said regarding #1, but to be honest I'm betting the author got confused instead of MS removing this. Note to the author: to synch multiple Google calendars, you need to enable this in Google Mobile Setup (or something like this, don't remember the exact name).

    Regarding #4, I need to defend Nokia here a little bit: my TomTom GPS does the same thing; it is just because, before calculating the route, it shows you the direct line distance to the destination... the alternative would be simply to not show anything.

    #5 is also what bothers me the most with WP7... You'd have imagined that after MS bought Skype, they could give them special access to OS APIs and let Skype do a proper app... which leads to my final and most important point:

    Since MS completely changed the APIs with WP8, neither will Skype nor anybody else develop anything substantial for WP7 anymore... we're stuck with what we have! Given the compatibility track record between Android and WP, I think you all can guess what my next smartphone will be...
    Reply
  • CaedenV - Monday, January 28, 2013 - link

    1) you can toggle different calendars on and off, but they all show up on a single unified calendar. Personally I like it this way, but many want to have separate calendars which display different things simultaneously.
    2) FB chat works where if nobody is there to receive the message then it simply shows up the next time they log in. My wife got frustrated because I don't use FB chat on my phone, but FB chat is always on on my PC, which means she would send me a FB message thinking I recieved it, but unless I am next to my PC then I would not get it. I changed it so she just sends me SMS messages now, and we have not had a problem.
    3) nope. "Your not holding it right" lol. Seriously, this is not a WP problem. I have had the same issue with Android.
    4) Never seen that problem. Only complaints about Nokia drive is that there is no traffic info (though I understand the infastructure is there to add it in the future), and it kills battery very quickly (which is just a GPS thing).
    5) Skype seems to work just fine for me, but video chat is another thing which will destroy your battery life very quickly.
    6) It depends on the app, and if the program is set in standby, or if it is closed. If you still have ram available, and the program is written correctly, then it works very well. If you run out of ram, then the OS will close the program and the next time you open it is just like opening it fresh.
    7) Maybe? I have never been terribly confused by it personally. If you open a program, navagate about in it, and then back out then it will back through the app's menus first, and then close out to the start screen. Lets say you are multitasking between apps like contacts, to nokia maps, to nokia drive. Then back will take you go back to nokia maps at the point where you jumped to it (which may or may not be the root menu of the app), and then back to contacts at whatever point took you to nokia maps to begin with (which again, may or may not be the root menu of the app). Think of it more like the back button on a browser where it is a history of what you have seen, it is not like a back button on a file browser where it is specific to whatever program you happen to be in at the moment.
    8) Not that I know of, but if you have an idea of the route you want to take it is a lot faster at recalculating than my Garmin ever was.
    9) Nope, it is just gone. I would love to see a notification history for both the WP8 as well as win8.
    10) It depends on ram usage. If the program is already open and in ram then it will pick up where you last were and the tile acts as a program switcher. If the program has been closed (by the system to free up resources, or by the user by backing out of the program) then the tile acts as an app launcher and will open a fresh instance.
    Reply
  • augustofretes - Monday, January 28, 2013 - link

    It seems like you're being overly positive regarding WP. While its indeed a beautiful operating system it lacks features all around, and you severely underestimate the importance of the ecosystem, for example, I live in Mexico and there're thousands of apps designed specifically for this area, I can find every single one of them on iOS or Android, but none on WP, I couldn't recommend anyone WP8 until it has a decent ecosystem.

    Multitasking is weak, the ecosystem is weak, the email experience is weak, the calendar experience is weak. the gaming experience is pathetic, it's not a flexible platform at all, etc.

    Maybe in the future WP8 will be more than just a pretty face, but for the time being looking good won't be enough, Android post-4.0 looks very good (arguably better in most places), iOS looks sometimes great sometimes awful, but both are much stronger offerings.
    Reply
  • SilthDraeth - Monday, January 28, 2013 - link

    I am not sure if it is just Android, or if it is a Samsung skin that allows me to organize my Apps. However, I organize them via an Alphabetical list, instead of tiles that are sorted randomly, or alphabetically. Reply

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