Windows Phone 8 has been having a hard time cracking the stranglehold that iOS and Android have on customers at the moment. The Nokia Lumia phones have caught the eye with their bright colours and pretty, big icons, but the fact that they weigh the same as a VW Beetle probably hasn’t aided their adoption. HTC though have a much slimmer offering for those who fancy their digital bread buttered Windows side up.
The 8X is the champion set to battle it out among the Finnish heavyweights and from the outset you can see that the design ethos is very different. Whereas the Lumias feel sturdy and fat in the hand, the 8X is light, very thin, and far more of an elegant approach. It isn’t all smiles though as the flush buttons can be tricky to find and holding the unit in your hands sometimes feels a little uncomfortable due to the subtly sharp edges of the slight design.
The software itself is probably the area that will decide whether you like the phone or not. Windows 8 Phone is very pretty, and the fonts used in the apps are beautiful, but after a while the novelty wears off and you realise that it just seem to take more user selections to get things done than feels necessary. Many of the built in apps are fine for light use and the range is slowly growing to include more mainstream favourites, but when compared to Android or iOS the functionality seems restricted by the absence of high quality applications. The phone does integrate well with other Microsoft software, and the Skydrive app is as useful as ever for storing and sharing files online. A continuing area of concern though is Microsoft’s inability to get developers interested in its mobile platform. In these days of app centric customers this could be damaging in the long run to the success of the OS. One advantage that Windows 8 phone offers is that all the handsets I’ve used that run it are fast and smooth due to the singular implementation of the software – something that isn’t generally true on Android. At the moment Windows Phone 8 does feel like the poor cousin of the other main mobile platforms, but Microsoft is an immense company and has far too much artillery to be counted out easily.
Otherwise the 8X offers a reasonable camera, all day battery life, and a rather fetching purple livery. Performance is snappy and the 8X does catch the occasional eye when you’re out and about due to its unique appearance. With Windows Phone 8 not yet drawing the crowds it also means that you can pick one of these up rather cheaply (we’ve seen them go for £150 barely used through online retailers like http://www.smartfonestore.com). As long as you’re happy with the currently limited nature of the platform, then the HTC 8X is a smartphone that’s dependable, cool, and will run Facebook, Twitter, while gathering your emails without fuss. Pretty much what most people need, without the big bills to match.
With Samsung currently dominating the Android market for phones, it can be easy to forget that not so long ago HTC were the big kids on the block. With models like the Legend and Desire the Taiwanese manufacturer quickly made fans of UK Android users, including myself who toted a Desire for couple of years. That phone was lovely to hold, had a great screen, but quickly succumbed to the paltry amount of internal memory. This left me having to avoid updates to large apps such as Facebook and Google Maps, while always having to juggle which app I could consider using in case it filled up the usable storage. Subsequent Android system updates that allowed some apps to be moved to the SD card was a welcome relief, but of course all the big ones didn’t offer this convenience. By the end of my contract I was glad to jump ship to iOS where the memory/storage issues didn’t cause the same headaches.
During my absence Android has quietly continued to refine its innards, becoming the dominant operating system on the mobile platform. It’s also resolved many of the issues that caused me anguish in the earlier days, so much so that I find my eyes wandering back to the greener side of the fence. It was with interest then that I took delivery of the new HTC One SV, a mid-range Android phone that seems a cut above some of the cheap and nasty devices I’ve come across in this area.
In the hand, a rather important aspect for a device you’ll be holding all the time, the SV is a slim, light and comfortable handset to use. Its gently contoured back and grippy plastic casing means you don’t have the constant subliminal tension that your handset is going to leap from your grasp at any given moment, which is always nice. Perhaps one of the things that aids this sensation of inertia is that HTC has eschewed the current trend of hilariously large screens and instead fitted a 4.3” one to the SV. I must admit that I’ve yet to use a 5” screen that I didn’t find cumbersome, but this size seems almost like the perfect compromise between pocket and eye friendly design. It’s big enough to make me look at my iPhone 4S with a sense of inadequacy, but small enough to mostly navigate with one hand. Downloading the new Google keyboard helped in this fashion as the swipe feature (entering text by dragging your finger from key to key rather than hitting individual letters) meant that typing was also accurate and felt like a little game every time I wrote a text message.
The screen itself is also a respectable effort. It’s not quite up there with the retina displays of the world, and you can see jagged edges to text, but its perfectly usable and the size means apps look clean and clear, with bright colours. The HTC Sense 4+ skin is still one of the better adaptations available, but as usual I dropped it quickly in favour of the Go Launcher which I used to customise my layout. This really is something you forget about on iOS, just how easy it is to completely change the look and feel of your device on Android. Within ten minutes I’d personalised the entire UI, and I could change it back again with a couple of quick swipes. Brilliant. All this fiddling didn’t seem to bog down the SV, as the handset was snappy and responsive throughout the time I spent with it. One regret is that the version of Android running on here is 4.1.2, but that’s not surprising when previously premium models like the Samsung Galaxy S3 are still awaiting their upgrade to 4.2.2. The SV does have a standout feature though, that of 4G compatibility. For those lucky enough to live in the rarified areas of the UK that offer this provision of fast mobile data this will be a tempting offer. Of course the handset can do nothing about the prices that EE charge for access to the mobile superway, the monthly payments for which I imagine they must be collect via a masked man on horseback waving a loaded flintlock pistol at the terrified customer.
Sadly the camera is nothing more than average on the SV. Images are lacking definition, somewhat washed out, and not always properly focussed. I say sadly because otherwise this is a very alluring handset. Many times I had my iPhone 4S and the SV sitting on the table and I’d find myself reaching for the HTC, and not just because I was reviewing it. I’m in love with the screen size, the light weight, and the possibilities that Android offer for tuning a UI to your particular preference.
The SV delivers on many levels as a workhorse handset, and if you only occasionally use the camera on your phone then I can’t see why you’d need to spend a lot more on a device. Those who want all the newest features that Android have to offer will be better suited with the Nexus 4, HTC One, or Samsung GS4, but if you just want a really good handset that’s pleasing to use and offers you a micro SD slot to store all your music on, then you wouldn’t go far wrong with the HTC SV.
The mobile phone industry is the ultimate in ‘shiny things’ thinking.
No sooner have you bought a device, usually via an expensive ongoing contract, and learned to master the complexities of the modern smartphone with its many splendours, then your contract is heading towards renewal. Your provider then entices you with another, sleeker, lighter, whizzbangier model to replace your now brick-like technological equivalent to a rusty lawnmower. Giddy with excitement at the impending device nirvana you sign a new contract and begin the whole sorry tale once more. Thus it ever was and ever thus shall be.
Or is it?
Last year I took the rather unusual step of not signing up for a contract when my old one matured. Instead I decided to buy a second hand phone, secure a cheap monthly contract which didn’t subsidise the costly device, and see how it would work out. The results have been, well, cool.
Rather than run the gauntlet of eBay I opted to pay the premium of an established S/H online store (replete with short warranty) in my search for a new handset. The iPhone 4S had recently become last year’s model so the 16GB version was available for £380. Now this is a hefty sum of course, but by avoiding the expensive monthly contract I worked out that over two years I could save around £300 – not too shabby – and of course that saving would then pay for the next phone. Suddenly I had become a financial genius. Next I plan to dabble in futures, derivatives, and no doubt impoverish my family.
In the year or so since then I’ve enjoyed my iPhone and am very glad that I took this route. So much so that I’m doubtful I’ll ever go back to a subsidised plan again. This then opens up intriguing possibilities. As we all know smartphones have advanced so much in recent years that almost any decent model will do everything we need on a day to day basis without issue. So starting to shop in the S/H markets means you can get some very good units for a lot less than your contract would demand, and if you avoid the Apple models (with their premium price tag) you can even bag a real bargain.
A quick perusal on http://www.smartfonestore.com (the site where I bought my iPhone) shows that you can pick up some terrific devices for great prices. One that I was particularly interested in was the HTC One X, which had run the iPhone close last year and which could be bought now in mint condition for just over £200. Thankfully HTC where willing to lend me one for a few weeks, thus saving me having to wipe out my savings in the interest of journalistic endeavour. So, the question was how does the One X fare a year and bit on from it’s release?
Those used to the diminutive charms of the iPhone will notice straight away that the One X is a big phone, mainly due to the 4.7 inch screen. Now I’ve been rather skeptical of the current trend of devices that can double up as surf boards, and in many ways the One X did little to persuade me otherwise, but in some instances I can really see the appeal. Over the last year or so I’ve noticed that I don’t really watch Youtube videos on my iPhone. The reason for this is that the 3.5 inch screen just feels a bit too small for this activity. On the One X it suddenly made sense. HD videos looked superb and the impressive viewing angles meant sharing the experience with friends was far more likely than with my Apple alternative.
The screen itself is gorgeous. Colourful, bright, and capacious, it made interacting with the handset a very pleasant experience. Typing is dramatically improved since my days on the HTC Desire, again probably aided by the generous acreage of space. But this expansive ocean of gorilla glass also meant that I had to adjust the positioning of the phone in my hand more than I ever do with the iPhone, and the usual habit of typing one handed while walking down the street was a much harder feat to achieve successfully.
The Android operating system, which has been upgraded to 4.1.1 Jelly Bean, is smart, efficient, but still has the occasional lag, although much improved from previous incarnations. Android has come on leaps and bounds in the past couple of years, with plenty of the top apps such as Instagram, Kindle, Facebook, Twitter, Temple Run, and the ever gorgeous Google+ being present. Actually Google’s suite of apps (Maps, Youtube, Now, Voice Search, etc…) all look great and work brilliantly on the One X, meaning that most important tasks are now easily covered. There is still the delay in top apps reaching the platform though, so if you always want the latest and greatest then the iPhone still remains the place to be.
I’d read on several forums that the battery life on the One X was a bit of a let down, but during the weeks of testing this was never an issue. With an average day including sending and receiving several emails, posting and checking social media sites, listening to an hour or two of podcasts, and even – heaven forbid! – the occasional phone call, the battery always had a bit left in the tank by the end of the day (which is often about 1am in my discipline void existence).
If there was one area where the One X lost a few points it was the camera. Now for many things it’s perfectly fine, but when compared to the iPhone (which does pretty much always have one of the best cameras available) it lacked a bit of sharpness and focus at times. That said it would be totally acceptable for everyday use and you’d only notice the difference if you had an Apple device on hand to compare it to.
So there it is. As the One X has now been superseded by the One X + you can expect the prices to continue to drop, which is great is you’re looking for a superb handset that offers cracking performance and will not cost you a small fortune. It might be getting long in the tooth when measured by the insane upgrade cycles that we now find ourselves terrorised with, but it’s still a terrific phone with plenty to offer.
Technology is a bit of a thing of mine. As I look around my home there’s barely a few feet between gadgets, appliances, or some other techno-marvel designed to improve my life and serve its various needs. My television is a gateway to the internet, my mobile phone acts now as a personal assistant, email recipient, and podcast player, while my iPad is a pile of books, magazines, and games packed into something small enough to lose under a newspaper. Technology has become a prevailing part of modern life, as you know by reading this blog that was written in a coffee shop using free wifi and a free software platform from WordPress that then reached you through, I’m guessing, a similar route.
But is this technotopia all that it’s cracked up to be? You see for all the marvellous advantages I now experience thanks to the likes of Apple, HTC, Samsung, Google, Amazon, and a host of others, living with the future can have its frustrations and disappointments.
So, here’s the reason for the blog then. I’m no computer expert. I can’t code, I get lost around acronyms like TCP/IP, AMOLED, and SCSI, plus I’m not exactly rolling in money by western standards and have to pick my devices with great care – Just like most people who actually use technology on a daily basis. In light of this I figured that we needed a voice. A place to talk about our victories and injuries, somewhere it’s safe to ask stupid questions and find that most other people are wondering the same thing.
Hence ‘Living in the Future’. It shall be a canary in the digital cage, trying new things and pondering the use of stuff that’s been around for a while so that we can carry on our adventures together in safety and, hopefully, a little less confusion.
If you fancy the journey then please come along, lend your voice, and increase the wisdom of us all. Send reviews of things you actually own and have to rely on. Tell us your worries or hopes for the digital age, and share links to helpful articles or tips that you find along the way.
I shall be writing about the things I see and tech that I encounter. Let’s have some fun in the digital playground, and maybe together we can make the future a little less frightening…