Windows Phone 8: One Week In with the HTC 8X

It looks long, but it's one quick flick of the thumb to access what I need.It looks long, but it’s one quick flick of the thumb to access what I need.

As a random, and unexpectedly happy, Mothers Day present, my wife and I were able to get an early start on our “phone upgrades”. I had been wanting to check out the Windows Phone 8 ecosystem for a while now, and my wife went ahead and made the plunge as well. Now we’re one week in and I’m happy as a clam. My wife says she’s about 92% there. Here are a few thoughts about it all.

For those of you that like the TL;DR: approach, here’s what I’ve boiled a week of usage down to.

The Fabulous

Family Room – My wife and I have our own chat room, photo gallery, notebook, and calendar all in one place! We can access it over the web if needs be, and we get notifications when things are updated. The days of e-mailing that fun picture of the kids that I only want her to see and then having to check e-mail or some other source are gone. My “honnie do” list and the “grocery list” are now in one spot. The need to share/link/coordinate calendars across accounts are gone.

Quick Camera Use – Having a dedicated button to take pictures (and do a quick focus) has saved me time and made it a lot easier to snap a batch of photos at the perfect moment.

Live Tiles – It lives up to the hype. Having your updates right on screen (and not a tiny icon at the top) saves time from launching apps you may (or may not) need at the time. The ability to change the size of your live tiles lets you customize your “home screen” a bit and provide the proper level of notification you need. For my e-mail tiles, I only need a count update. for my best friends group tile, I like to see what they are saying.

The Good

Speech Support – The voice commands work really well. I can even launch apps, which I couldn’t do before. I like how while I have by bluetooth headset on that text messages can be read to me. I can also say commands like “Reply” and “Send” to compose messages using my voice. WP8 is smart enough to read back what it said before I confirm sending, so I don’t have auto-correct nightmares.

Contact Integration – Take the time to clean up and merge your contacts so that one person has all of their profiles attached. When you do, the people hub makes it easy to get updates on everybody, and see what a particular person (or group) is up to.

Kids’ Corner – I know this one has been hyped on commercials and on the site. I’ll admit I have set up my corner (adding a few games), but I’m still too “protective” at this point with the phone to let my kids touch it. 8^D One thing I do like is the ability to add music and videos to the corner, so I can keep a couple handy for their listening/viewing in addition to the games.

Apps – For all the complaints about lack of apps, the core OS does 95% of what I need it to do. All of my major apps (Evernote, WordPress, Endomondo) are available. While I did install Facebook/Twitter/LinkedIn, I don’t really use them, thanks to the People Hub. I have them there in case I need to do some “deep digging” and I don’t have Emtrey (my Nexus 7) handy. I REALLY wish SugarSync will get a Windows 8 app running though. My cloud has been displaced for the moment while I figure out what to do. I’m not a heavy gamer/app user on my mobile phone these days, so I really don’t think it’s as big of an issue as folks like to complain about.

Needs Work

API Lockdown – This might be a little more “geeky” than what most folks care about, but digging through the API a bit brings up the fact that some features you take for granted (like being able to write an app to silence your ringer during nighttime) is unavailable since that part of the OS isn’t available to developers. I understand the security/usability risks involved, but I think there are precautions you could take to make these available. In the meantime I need to try to write an app that comes close to what I need. 8^D

Speech Support – Yes it’s good, but my wife points out that she was able to dictate her blog posts through the WordPress app on her Android. It seems his and miss here.

Navigation – True true, Google had maps already with navigation, but something would be handy. It appears that Nokia has a free map/navigation suite out in beta, I’ll give those a try.

…and for those of you who want a little more details…

The Hardware

I really like the HTC 8X. I’ll admit that it’s not a fair comparison against our aging HTC Thunderbolts, which did not handle 4G in our area well, but so far things are amazingly fast. The phone is lighter and thinner than our old Thunderbolts, which makes me glad a case is coming in the mail. However, the additional vertical screen space is welcome and the 8X is far less bulky in my pocket.

Some reviews have criticized the battery life of the phone, but so far I’ve been able to go about a day and a half to two days before needing a recharge. I generally recharge at night anyway, but it’s good to know that if I forget, or am doing some heavy travel, I won’t have to worry about losing the battery. Plus not having 4G drain your battery is a big plus.

The camera is very nice. It handles low light really well. Sometimes the auto flash gets a little confused in those situations, creating a washed out image. However, simply turning it off solves that problem. ┬áIt can focus really quick so that you can get that perfect shot when your kids are running around. The HTC 8X (and I think all Windows Phone 8 devices for that matter) has a dedicated camera button. Click the button on the bottom right hand side of the phone and it instantly launches. You can start clicking away like crazy simply using the button. This is helpful when I’m in “paparazzi dad” mode with my kids. After a few clicks in, a message popped up notifying me that if I hold the button down half way, the camera will focus for me. Bingo! My blurry paparazzi photos are now clear and beautiful!

Windows Phone 8 – Live Tiles, Hubs, and More

More importantly than the phone hardware is the operating system and ecosystem itself. Over the years I’ve become agnostic to what OS is the “best.” However, the concept of having your common updates available on screen and quickly visible (through live tiles) really intrigued me. Seeing it in action, I really like it. I have my basic weather forecast through Weatherbug alternating between the simple conditions and the forecast for the day. No need to open up the app unless I’m looking for full week projects (and I can get those too). I have my personal e-mail accounts in a “linked inbox” and my work e-mail in a separate account, so when the notification ding occurs, I can quickly identify where it is coming from. I also have my “best friends” setup in a people hub group (more about this in a moment) and pinned in a wide live tile, so whenever they post and update to Facebook or Twitter, I see it right there without having to launch anything.

I also think that Windows Phone 8 is taking a different approach to the mobile experience through their concept of hubs. Instead of launching several apps to track your friends photos, updates, etc., you simply launch the people hub. From here you can get their photos, their status updates, even contact information at a glance. When you link up your social network profiles, you get a nice aggregated list of everything going on quick and easy. Your messaging is aggregated as well, so your text messages, Facebook chat messages, and others are all in one place. I’ve really enjoyed this when I’m texting my wife and doing a Facebook chat with a friend at the same time. In your people hub you can also create “groups” which allows you to see what is going on (and contact) a subset of people, even across multiple mediums (e-mail, twitter, facebook). I’ve setup a “best friends” group which comes in handy since a few of them don’t use facebook, but I can still keep in touch with them quick and easy. I’m also working on setting up a group for immediate family and extended family. The “Family Room” is a private group and one of my absolute favorite things (more about this in a moment).

The hub concept is pushed to your games and photos as well. My photo hub has my “camera roll” as well as any albums I have saved on my SkyDrive. It also will aggregate photos from my social networking accounts to provide a “What’s New” feed of those. Even my contacts have special tiles if I want to view any photos they have recently updated. While I’m not a heavy gamer, my “Xbox Live” games and “Standard” games are all in one place, and I can launch them when ready, instead of having a whole tab or folder for them.

Conclusion

I’m very very happy with my switch to Windows Phone 8 and my wife is getting there. I knew there would be a bit of “who moved my cheese”, but it hasn’t been that bad. While originally my wife and I were to have different phones, some of the best features came when we grabbed the same phone system (using a “tap to send” a photo is so handy!).

Hopefully this gives you some ┬áinsights from a “hands on” approach to Windows Phone 8. I think you’ll be happy if you switch!

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