Windows Phone 8X by HTC hands-on: Microsoft's modern mobile OS personified in polycarbonate

One thing's for sure: HTC's not playing it safe with the Windows Phone 8X. The flagship line, officially announced at its event in New York today, arrives emboldened not only by an array of lively hues, but also with the mark of the mighty Microsoft, itself. Yes, you need only glance at the handset's name to know this tapered, polycarbonate affair bears an intrinsic connection to the UI it aims to bolster; a symbiotic bond made all too apparent by the hard-edged, modern hull housing the equally modern, live-tiled WP8 OS. But a focus on fresh, eye-catching industrial design isn't the only tale being told by the OEM. There are specs to talk about -- compelling ones.

Departing drastically from the Mango forbears that attempted to blaze a path, the 8X boasts internals that position it competitively with other contemporary smartphones, ushering WP 8 into the tech industry's here and now. In keeping with its high-end ilk, the device sports a 4.3-inch 720p Super LCD 2 display (341ppi) powered by a 1.5GHz dual-core S4 and complemented by 1GB RAM, NFC, 16GB of storage, as well as an integrated 1,800mAh battery. It should be clear from that rundown alone that this is not your Windows Phone device of yore. So, follow along as we wrap our fingers 'round its California Blue body and report back with some first impressions.

Love it or hate it, there's no denying the 8X immediately grabs your attention. In fact, it practically begs to be looked at, and that's to HTC's credit. Carved out of the same polycarbonate that's given Nokia's Lumia line its signature look, the handset feels reassuringly solid in hand -- a sentiment reinforced by its unibody construction -- and fits comfortably while also making a design statement. It's that latter bit that's conspicuously intentional, as the OEM admits to hyper-targeting the style-conscious set with both the lower-end 8S and this premiere line.

It must be said that the 8X, no matter the color, takes a little getting used to, seeming at once futuristic and alien. Once you've come down from the initial shock, HTC's subtle flairs begin to peek out, like the solid colored speaker grill that serves to break the front face's expanse of glass with a shock of vibrancy. Or the steep tapers to the handset's edges that lend an illusion of thinness which undercuts its actual 132.35 x 66.2 x 10.12mm (5.21 x 2.6 x 0.39 inches) dimensions. That slight silhouette is also due in part to its integrated 1,800mAh battery which resides beneath the circuitry and away from the phone's back.

Where ports and hardware keys are concerned, HTC's done its best to keep the distraction to a minimum, carving those odds and ends out of the very same plastic as the chassis. The volume rocker and dedicated camera button are positioned along the unit's right side, with the power button and 3.5mm jack up top and a lone port for microUSB at the base. On back, the phone's been mercifully spared from brand overcrowding, with logos only for HTC and Beats Audio interrupting the monochrome. Placed neatly in the upper middle portion of its posterior, is the 8-megapixel rear camera (ringed with a gentle hint of blue) with side-mounted single LED flash.

As it was with the Lumia 920 and 820, so it is with the 8X -- that is to say, we weren't allowed to play with the OS. Much as we've said this before, it bears repeating: Microsoft's holding back elements of WP 8 for its own major reveal later this October. For that reason, we can't speak too much about the handset's actual performance, but in our brief perusal of the start screen and associated apps, we can say the dual-core S4 does a fine job making navigation brisk and speeding along those graceful WP transitions.

Sure, the 8X may seem an oddity now, but come the marketing onslaught that's surely waiting in the wings, this risky mobile proposition could end up doing for Windows Phone what the Lumias before it couldn't -- make it a bold-faced name. Whether or not you'll want to wed yourself to Microsoft's live-tiled OS largely depends on its yet-to-be revealed feature suite. But regardless, HTC's achieved a remarkable feat with this odd fleet: it's got all our eyes fixed on Windows Phone 8.

Update: To clarify, the Windows Phone 8X does not support microSD expansion. This is in no way an OS restriction.