Windows Phones

We compared the high-end Windows 8 phones from HTC and Nokia, the HTC Windows Phone 8X and the Nokia Lumia 920. Both feature a powerful dual-core processor, a unibody design, and a high-res display. We tested them to find out which one is best. See also: Group test: what's the best Windows phone?

In late October Microsoft launched Windows Phone 8, a new OS for smartphones. The interface of WP8 closely resembles that of version 7.5, but under the hood the engine of Windows CE has been replaced with the kernel from Windows NT. Existing phones will not receive an update to WP8, but a new generation of smartphones is now appearing with the latest Windows version. Hardware.Info compared the flagship models from HTC and Nokia, the HTC Windows Phone 8X and the Nokia Lumia 920. Both feature a powerful dual-core processor, a unibody design, and a high-res display. We tested them to find out which one is best.

By using the same Windows 8 kernel that's used for desktops and laptops, it should be easier to port apps to Windows Phone 8. The new system also has improved support for modern hardware, including multi-core processors, higher resolutions than 800x400 and micro SD cards. There is support for NFC, and the kid's corner feature makes it easy to restrict access. Standard apps include Nokia maps and IE 10, and firmware updates can be installed over the air (OTA). If you want to find out more about Windows 8, you can read our review here.

Perhaps it's the influence of Windows (Phone) 8 with its brightly-coloured tiles, but both HTC and Nokia have chosen to make their high-end Windows Phone 8 phones brightly coloured as well. You can get the HTC 8X in black and dark blue, but Nokia's Lumia 920 is available in white, red and yellow. Our test models were a blue 8X and a red Lumia 920.

From the front the two phones look fairly similar. The coloured unibody warps all the way to the front of both phones. The displays almost appear to lay on top of the unibody casing, have rounded edges and almost seamlessly flow into the rest of the body. Below the screen are the requisite capacitive back, home and search buttons.

From the side you can see that the Lumia 920 is slightly shorter and a bit thicker than the HTC 8X. The shape of the 920 is more rounded than that of the HTC 8X. The finish on the back of the phones is different, HTC used a matte surface while Nokia used a high-gloss finish. The disadvantage of a glossy surface is that you can see all imperfections very clearly. As you can see in the reflection in the photo below, the surface of the back of the 920 isn't entirely smooth for some reason. It's not an eye-sore exactly, but it does take away somewhat from the high-end looks of Nokia's smartphone.

Nokia fortunately chose to put the micro-USB connector on the bottom of the phone. HTC also did this, but here the connector is  turned 180 degrees. This seems to disprove the rumour that Microsoft was forcing manufacturers to put the USB port in the centre bottom of phones in order to make universal docks easier to constructs. That, or one of these phones will be facing the wrong way in the dock.

Both companies also left the left side unused, and put the 3.5 mm audio jack on top of the phone. HTC also put the power button here, but on Nokia's phone it's on the right side of the phone. The right side of both phones feature volume buttons and the requisite photo shutter release. Pressing the latter starts up the camera app, and of course takes pictures. It's a two-stage button on both phones. Half-pressing it lets the camera focus and set the appropriate lighting, pressing all the way takes the photo.

The Nokia Lumia 920 is quite heavy at 186 grams, which is even more than what Samsung’s Galaxy Note II weighs, and that phone is significantly larger. The somewhat smaller HTC 8X has a more typical weight with its 128 grams. It's unclear where Nokia's extra girth comes from, since the slightly larger battery only accounts for part of it. Perhaps it's the body and the display Nokia used.

For Windows Phone 7.5 manufacturers had the option of exactly one processor, and that was the single-core Snapdragon S3 from Qualcomm. Different versions with various clock speeds were available, so performance therefore did vary from model to model. Still, the market for Windows Phone 7.5 was not very exciting.

Thus far the same can be said about Windows 8. While WP8 in theory supports multi-core processors with up to 64 cores, the initial models all use the Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 processors. These Qualcomm processors have Krait cores that perform quite a bit better than the Cortex-A9 cores that are used in virtually all other ARM SoCs. Both the HTX 8X and Lumia 920 run on a dual-core processor with a clock speed of 1.5 GHz. In terms of pure processing power they're slightly below devices with a Tegra 3 or Exynos 4412 chip, but this is barely noticeable in practice.

The SoCs aren't identical, however. HTC used the MSM8260A chip, while Nokia used the MSM8960. These have the same processor cores running at the same speed, and the integrated Adreno 225 GPU is also identical. The difference is in the modem functionality. The HTC MSM8260A has 2G and 3G, while the Nokia MEM8960 also has LTE functionality. According to the specs from Nokia, the Lumia 920 LTE is compatible with 700, 800, 850, 900, 1700, 1700, 1800, 1900, 2100 and 2600 MHz bands, which means the Lumia 920 should be compatible with 4G networks.

Another advantage of the Lumia 920 is that it has 32 GB of internal storage, compared to the 16 GB of the HTC 8X. Both phones have 1 GB of RAM. Neither smartphone has an SD card slot. It's also possible to wirelessly charge the Lumia 920. We were not able to test this feature because we don't have a loading station.

The rest of this review you can read on Hardware.Info.