Carrier branding can often do embarrassing things to even the most dignified phones in the industry, but fortunately HTC was the clear winner in this round of carrier-manufacturer negotiations; aside from the typical checkmark logo and LTE branding on the back, we were hard-pressed to find any cosmetic differences between Verizon's model and its global HSPA+ counterpart.
That doesn't mean it's emerged completely unscathed, but most of Verizon's tweaks are actually beneficial additions that make an already attractive phone even more tempting. For instance, this flavor of the 8X comes with Qi wireless charging built in, so you won't have any problem placing it onto a compatible pad, rather than fumbling around for a micro-USB cord.
As you'd expect, the Verizon 8X runs on the network's LTE service, as well as EVDO / 1x. Pleasantly, though, the 8X offers quad-band (850/900/1900/2100) HSPA+ and quad-band (850/900/1800/1900) GSM / EDGE radios, which Verizon has thankfully left wide open for global roamers and even customers on GSM networks in the US (namely, AT&T and T-Mobile). While the theoretical max is only 14.4 Mbps, this is still perfectly workable as an alternative for anyone who might want to swap SIM cards.
Verizon's 8X also includes access to Data Sense, a feature that's exclusive to Big Red until early next year. We've already discussed the app at length in our review of the Nokia Lumia 822, but in short, it's a clever feature that offers several ways to manage and monitor your data usage, in addition to compressing web pages in much the same way that Opera works on mobile devices.
Aside from those key differentiators, there aren't many carrier-specific initiatives to get frustrated over. You'll find a few small items of Verizon bloatware attached, such as My Verizon Mobile, VZW Navigator and NFL Mobile. Fortunately, they can all be easily uninstalled from the app menu, and as a bonus you won't find the same suite of Amazon apps that come preloaded on new Android devices. Fans of Google search, however, will be disappointed to discover that Bing is not only the default search engine on IE 10 -- it's the only search engine. If you want to go Google, your best bet is to download the search app or simply put Google's home page in your bookmarks for easy access.
This may come as no surprise to anyone, but the internal specs on the Verizon 8X are the same as its global counterpart, with the exception of carrier-specific radios. There's a 1.5GHz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 MSM8960 processor running the show behind the scenes, which is complemented by 1GB of RAM, an Adreno 225 GPU and 16GB of internal storage. It also offers a 4.3-inch display with 720p resolution (342ppi, for those pixel counters out there) and a 1,800mAh battery. For imaging, you'll have the same 8-megapixel rear camera with f/2.0 aperture, BSI sensor and autofocus, as well as a 2.1MP front module with a wide-angle lens.
Regardless of how you feel about the Windows Phone ecosystem, there are two areas in which the platform has always excelled: performance and battery life. As we expected, the Verizon 8X does great in both categories. We enjoyed incredibly smooth performance with no visible lag, speedy internet browsing and no indication that this particular unit suffers from the random reboot problem we've experienced on 8X devices in the past. Here's how it fares in the cold hard metrics:
Don't get too nervous about the two-hour battery life, as the number above represents how long it lasts on WPBench's CPU-intensive drain test. While it's a little shorter than its WP8 competition, we didn't find any reason to be terribly concerned -- the 8X got us through a full day of solid use with plenty of life to spare, and light users will likely get a day and a half. Phone calls sounded perfectly clear and static-free, and our LTE tests yielded average speeds of 18 Mbps down and 5 Mbps up.
Folks who are interested in getting a Windows Phone and are loyal to Verizon have but two choices: the HTC Windows Phone 8X ($200) and the Nokia Lumia 822 ($100). (Samsung is planning to release its WP8 device, the ATIV Odyssey, sometime this month.) You likely won't see a large enough difference in performance between the two devices, but the extra hundred bucks will get you a better-looking display and Beats-enabled sound. Additionally, we're much more fond of the 8X's fit, feel and design. Still, the less expensive Lumia 822 offers the same amount of storage and has a microSD slot, whereas the 8X does not. As you can see, there are quite a few pros and cons to juggle, but suffice to say, this is the best iteration we've seen of HTC's signature Windows Phone so far.