Windows Phone 8S by HTC hands-on: a bright Windows phone that holds promise (video)

HTC is making a two-pronged attack on Windows Phone 8, and while it may not match up to the specs on its new flagship, the Windows Phone 8S by HTC (yes, that's the official moniker) has some charm all of its own. The screen is a pretty underwhelming Gorilla Glass-coated 4-inch WVGA LCD, with a similarly middleweight 5-megapixel camera peering out from the other side. Given that it's looking to be priced closer to the One V than the One S, we're not all that surprised. The phone itself is a good-looking slab, thanks to the breezy color schemes and while the build is certainly solid enough, we'd be hard-pressed to put it in league with the 8X, which felt at home in our hand from the start. The 8S is cocooned in a matte plastic finish, arriving in four different color options -- depending on carrier and territory.

The two-tone color scheme, aside from a few color licks around the lens and ear piece, keeps the second color limited to the bottom edge and the detachable cap. This offers access to the microSD slot (upgrading the built-in 4GB of storage up to 32GB), but like the 8X, no access to the battery. Yep, these new Windows Phones look nothing like HTC's One series, and while the same design studio is responsible, this time, it took its inspiration from Microsoft's tile interface. There's a dual-core 1GHz Snapdragon S4 processor inside, but the phone wasn't quite ready to be put completely through its paces. While the software was still locked down, you can take a video tour -- and read more of our hardware impressions -- after the break.

Unfortunately, until Windows Phone 8 gets its official release next month, HTC is keeping the software out of bounds. There are some things we can glean from the specifications of the device, however, including the lack of a front-facing camera on the 8S. Given that the Microsoft-owned Skype looks likely to be a core feature of the new Windows mobile OS, it seems a shame to not include -- if not the wide-angled front-facer of the 8X -- then something a little tamer. While HTC has apparently entered into a "close relationship" with Microsoft and Windows Phone 8, there will be nothing to match the scale of HTC's Sense additions to Android. You can expect an FM radio inside, while the Windows Phone staple, a two-stage camera button, is also reliably housed along the right edge with the volume rocker. The power button is along that tapered top edge, alongside the headphone socket, while charging and data transfer is handled by the micro-USB port along the bottom.

That colored strip along the base also reminds us ever so slightly of the Xperia U from Sony, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. At least, if nothing else, we can be sure that mid-range phone designers think the cool kids want colored chins. That very same section houses the central Windows key (complete with new logo) as well as back button and search key. These are touch sensitive, so fear not, the design remains flush and lip / ridge free. If you flip the phone over, and remain gazing at the derriere, you'll be greeted with the familiar beats logo. The 8S might not have the deep integration, and extra amplification that the 8X sports, but the Doctor's touch is still present here, meaning that extra musical "oomph" is also on offer.

What else is there to say about the Windows Phone 8S? Well, much like its bigger X-rated sibling, we won't really know until that shiny new operating system gets to see the light of day. Until then all we know is that this is a bit of a curious cocktail. Simple, solid, geometric design, middle-weight features and a few dashes of colorful spice to make it easier on the eye. We just won't know the kick it holds until we've spent some time with it.

James Trew contributed to this report.