This camera takes wonderful photos, with plenty of detail. Color balance and exposure are extremely accurate even in the most difficult conditions. Low-light performance is strong thanks the fast f/2.0 lens and backside-illuminated sensor -- noise, while sometimes noticeable, rarely becomes an issue. It's also the fastest Windows Phone shooter we've used yet, although there's still room for improvement with the autofocus speed when taking closeup shots. Video is captured in HD at 1080p / 30 fps with mono audio, continuous autofocus and an average bitrate of 20.5 Mbps -- unfortunately this drops to 15 fps when recording at night. The results are generally decent, but low-light video performance is rather disappointing. Like all Windows Phone handsets, the 8X comes with a dedicated two-stage camera button which locks focus and exposure when half-pressed. While this key is a bit too narrow and too flush with the edge of the phone, it's still better than nothing -- Android manufacturers, take note.
We're not going to get into the details of what's new with Microsoft's latest mobile OS -- that's what our ultra-thorough Windows Phone 8 review is for. Still, coming from Windows Phone 7, this new OS feels like an evolution, like yet another minor version bump. Of course, there's a lot more going on under the hood, changes that should allow Windows Phone 8 to grow and mature. The seeds are planted, but will they blossom? That really depends on how this mobile OS is received by developers. Case in point: seamless Google integration, or the lack thereof -- it's impractical for most of us at Engadget to use a Windows Phone handset as our daily driver. There's no way for us to do our jobs without proper support (including notifications) for advanced Gmail features, multiple private Google calendars, Google talk and Google Voice. Even the latest Twitter and Facebook clients are eons behind what's available in Android or iOS -- not to mention the lack of official apps for Google+, Google Music, Instagram, Dropbox, Flipboard, Uber and Square, to name but a few.
HTC does provide a few in-house apps and additional settings on the 8X but these look identical to what the company previously bundled on its Windows Phone 7 devices. There's an app simply called HTC which aggregates up-to-date weather, stocks and news along with a matching Live Tile. Connection Setup helps with APN configuration: select your country and carrier and the app handles the rest. Flashlight is exactly what you'd expect -- it turns the LED flash on the back of the handset into a torch with three levels of brightness. Photo Enhancer lets you apply filters to existing pictures complete with an Auto Enhance option. Converter offers a quick and easy way to convert between various units and currencies. The 8X also gains a couple of entries in the settings menu with a Beats Audio switch and the "attentive phone" toggles (Quiet ring on pickup, Pocket Mode and Flip to mute ringer).
There's no doubt that HTC's Windows Phone 8X is a worthy flagship. It combines phenomenal looks, solid construction and high-end specs in a relatively compact and delightfully colorful package. We're impressed with the speedy Qualcomm dual-core Snapdragon S4, great battery life, beautiful 4.3-inch 341ppi Super LCD 2 screen and strong 8-megapixel camera. Yes, the 8X is a fantastic ambassador to Windows Phone 8, but after using it for several days, we're longing for a similar phone from HTC running Android -- at least until a stronger app ecosystem develops for Microsoft's latest mobile OS. Still, if you're betting on Windows Phone 8 it really comes down to the 8X's exquisite design and reduced footprint versus the Lumia 920's better camera, larger screen and wireless charging. Which one's right for you? Stay tuned for our upcoming review of Nokia's flagship.
Update: We've also spent time with AT&T's version of the HTC 8X, and taken a look at the differences right here.