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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  • yankeeDDL - Monday, January 28, 2013 - link

    Wow. This is the first time in ... what, 7? 8 years? ... since I read AnandTech, that I am disappointed about a review.
    I mean, what is this? Really? "A bit more editorial?" Is this a polite way to say that "objectivity" stays out of the door?
    Come on: the whole idea of a smartphone is to be able to use whatever app will increase its usefulness, productivity, or fun.
    If you need a phone to make phone calls and update Facebook you don't need a "smart"phone, or at least not one that sets you back $450!
    Yes, the lackluster app store is a chicken and egg problem: if you don't buy a phone devs won't have incentives to develop apps and it'll never work.
    But has anyone looked at the Windows Phone store? Top photo app "Photofunia"? Seriously?
    Top free game: "Ragdoll run"?
    Come on, I have tons of fun free games from my kids on my Android to keep them entertained when we travel. I have several books to read on the go (I prefer a larger phone than having to bring a phone and a tablet ... but that's just me).

    Personally, I would love to see some key benefit of using Windows' platform (screen expansion, live VNC, remote execution, ...), but rather than leveraging on existing Windows desktop ecosystem, Microsoft has created a the Windows Phone platform from scratch, and what's worse, is that it is showing it down the desktop as well, killing what it had already going.
    Reply
  • JPDVM2014 - Monday, January 28, 2013 - link

    So, you are saying that since the top free apps in two categories are something you don't think are fun or worthwhile, that this review is disappointing? Also, I believe that "editorial" does mean a certain amount of objectivity goes away. It is a personal opinion after all. I use a WP, and have tons of free games, and books to read on the go, so it must be just as good as android, right? Reply
  • yankeeDDL - Tuesday, January 29, 2013 - link

    No, I am not. I didn't want to bother listing all the top free apps on every single category, but I mentioned two that go a long way in Android and iOS in terms of popularity (Instagram? CameraZoon? PaperPhoto?).
    Instagram is a (was a?) booming social app for crying out loud.
    But again, I only wanted to say that the apps market is a deserted land, IMHO.
    That doesn't mean that someone can't find what is looking for but still, that does not change the fact that the offer/quality is abysmal compared to Andoid and iOS.
    For me this is an enormous deal.
    The article didn't even mention that Google went as far as negating WP support for most of his Apps, at least for now.
    I don't know you but I normally buy a phone planning to use it for 3~4 years or more: the thought of being locked into a sub-par apps market when there are two glaring alternatives seems a no brainer to me.

    Which goes back to my comment: I am sure there are plenty of people that prefer to use their smartphone more like a "dumb phone". Snap shome photo, call people and that's about it. Then I really don't see WP8 having any real limitations, but would it be worth the price? I say no, and that's my opinion.
    Reply
  • DukeN - Monday, January 28, 2013 - link

    I probably use Gmail and Google Maps the most out of just about any set of apps.

    How is the experience on WP8?

    (assuming the standard apps like ScoreMobile, Netflix, Kijiji, are available..)
    Reply
  • s44 - Monday, January 28, 2013 - link

    Not so great, mostly because Google isn't interested in boosting WP8.

    El Goog is cutting off the Exchange connector for new devices of non-paying Gmail users this week, so you won't get push until/unless MS implements IMAP idle (probably in another OS release that requires entirely new phones)...

    As for Maps, there's no official app, and mobile IE doesn't play terribly well with the mobile site (Microsoft proprietary vs. Webkit).
    Reply
  • zilexa - Monday, January 28, 2013 - link

    Thanks for this article, very nice and pleasant to read.
    I fell in love with the Lumia 920. But its rocky release was bad.. and availability was worse. Now it's finally in stores and I tested one in the store. Way too big. I don't mind the weight, optical stabilization is actually an outcome for me so the extra weight is the price you pay.
    But overall it's huge.

    if there was a smaller version with the same high end features, would be a big hit.
    Not like the 820, it's just lacks the good looks (I even think its ugly) and has a bad resolution: screen too big for such a resolution, definitely for a 2013 phone, which it is!
    Reply
  • prdola0 - Monday, January 28, 2013 - link

    I have to say it again - why does Apple very time get shiny nice photos of their products and EVERYONE else is getting these terrible, crappy pictures like the one in the articles overview and in the article? This phone looks really nice in reality. Even small tech websites have better and higher quality pictures without all that dirt and fingerprints. Why not you?

    I've been trying to be polite, but never got an answer before. But now I have to say it straight - Anandtech is BIASED.
    Reply
  • Dustin Sklavos - Monday, January 28, 2013 - link

    Actually, it's a much more mundane and probably disappointing answer for you.

    Anand has the space and the equipment to take stellar photos, and he's the one that usually reviews the Apple products. I don't (though I do need to buy a new backdrop, admittedly).
    Reply
  • prdola0 - Tuesday, January 29, 2013 - link

    Well then it is biased. Since one vendor gets in fact better treatment, it's quite unfair for the others, even if unintended. Why not send the gear to Anand for taking pictures after you're done with the review? Reply
  • crispbp04 - Monday, January 28, 2013 - link

    I'm confused on the part talking about not supporting multiple calendars. I have multiple calendars working just fine. Facebook, Live, Exchange, and Outlook.com all integrate fine and I can pick and choose my calendars. Maybe it's a limitation of google calendars? It could be due to a 3rd party and not the fault of msft. Reply

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