Although we view carrier customizations much in the way Lady Macbeth views her hands, Windows Phone brings a welcome change of pace, what with its staunch disavowal of OEM skinning. So, the software experience across WP8 devices is pretty consistent. Still, bloatware is alive and well. This particular 8X retains the small handful of standard HTC applications (Hub, Flashlight, Photo Enhancer and Converter alongside settings for Beats Audio and attentive phone) seen on the AT&T and global models. But where it diverges from its network-locked counterpart is in the number of carrier apps it hosts -- about eight in total -- encompassing 411 & More, Bonus Apps, Caller Tunes, My Account, Scout, Slacker Radio, T-Mobile TV and Zynga Games. Thankfully, at least, all of it can be uninstalled with a simple long-press. That's not new for Windows Phone, but it still excites us all the same.
Of the three 8X variants in the wild, T-Mobile's hardware takes a hybrid design approach, melding facets of its siblings. On its front face, the 8X appears identical to the global version, bearing HTC's logo just beneath the earpiece. Flip it around and you'll find the minute tweak that marks it as a US model: the shifting of the Beats Audio logo upwards and, in its former place, the presence of T-Mobile's logo above the speaker grille. Superficially, that's pretty much it.
If it weren't for a minor radio swap, the spec sheet for this 8X would read almost completely the same as its siblings: 4.3-inch 1,280 x 720 Super LCD 2 display, 1.5GHz dual-core Snapdragon S4, 1GB RAM, dual 2.1-megapixel front-facing / 8-megapixel rear cameras, and HTC ImageChip. But whereas all three variants sport a quad-band GSM / GPRS /EDGE radio, T-Mobile's unit adds AWS to its quad-band UMTS / HSPA+ radio (850, 1700, 1900, 2100MHz) and drops support for the 900MHz band just as AT&T did for its model. So, while both US variants will work around the world and can lay claim to 4G speeds in the states, only AT&T's will actually run on LTE.
With an identical chipset and no OS customization to speak of, we weren't surprised to see this 8X notch similar benchmark results as its brethren. In fact, the very same can be said for its performance versus that other Windows Phone 8 flagship, the Lumia 920. Of course, the explanation for this lies in their under-the-hood similarities. But, as always, synthetic scores don't paint the whole picture. Indeed, there's something amiss in T-Mobile's variant that keeps it from achieving real-world performance parity with our past 8X reviews. In two specific instances, we encountered app freezes that resulted in a reboot; both spurred by the simple deletion of a photo from within the gallery. Note that we didn't have any other apps running at the time, so we're not quite sure what caused this hiccup, nor could we replicate it.
Pay little attention to that rundown score above. Two hours and 17 minutes is not the sort of rating you can expect from the 8X's 1,800mAh integrated battery. We suspect this result has more to do with WPBench being a native Mango app and not updated with the WP8 kernel in mind. That said, battery life shows no meaningful variance from the LTE demands of the AT&T model, both falling just 15 minutes shy of the global's longevity. As a daily driver, you can expect about a full day's charge from the handset -- potentially even longer with more conservative use.
As a WP8 value proposition, there's no topping Nokia's aggressive Lumia 920 pricing on AT&T: $100 on-contract is tough to beat for the same specs or better. As an alternative gateway to Nokia's Apps that won't have you jumping carrier ship, there's always the Lumia 810 on T-Mobile. But what you get in custom software on the handset, you trade down for less competitive internals. Strike that option from the equation and you're faced with a choice of two 8X's. And with both AT&T and T-Mobile carrying the 16GB model for $199 on-contract, the only thing separating the two is your preference for AWS or LTE. If you'd rather have T-Mobile's low monthly service fees than AT&T's faster speeds, feel free to sign on the dotted line.