Nokia Lumia 820 and HTC Windows Phone 8S Review: Part 2
Ever since Nokia, HTC and Samsung unveiled their Windows Phone 8 devices, much of our collective attention has been very much focused on the high-end flagships, namely the Nokia Lumia 920, the HTC Windows Phone 8X and the Samsung ATIV S. Somewhat famously, Nokia’s cheaper Lumia 820 was relegated to a footnote during their New York City presentation on September 5th of last year, and even at the launch event here in Singapore, much of the focus was still on the Lumia 920 and its PureView camera. When the Lumia 820 and HTC Windows Phone 8S (hereafter referred to as the HTC 8S) arrived at my doorstep within a day of each other, I decided that the best thing I could do with both of these devices in the house is to review them together and discuss which of the two gives you more bang for your buck; if you’re considering a Windows Phone device but don’t feel like laying down a large chunk of cash on a smartphone, I’ll tell you which of the two I consider to be a wiser purchase… at the end of this review.
This review focuses primarily on the hardware aspects of the Nokia Lumia 820 and the HTC 8S, with brief discussion about Windows Phone 8 and device-specific software features. I will be documenting my experiences with Windows Phone 8 in a separate editorial, so do look out for that sometime next week!
[quote_left]Mid-range devices are no longer rubbish[/quote_left]The Nokia Lumia 820 and the HTC 8S are very similar, yet very different devices. The Lumia 820 has a recommended retail price of S$699 (~Rs. 31k), while the 8S is priced at S$418 (Rs. 18.6k); the Lumia 820 has a dual-core 1.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 CPU coupled with 1GB of RAM while the 8S makes do with a dual-core 1GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 CPU coupled with 512MB of RAM. The Lumia 820 has 8GB of internal storage with around 4GB of available storage out of the box while the 8S has 4GB of internal storage and slightly more than 1GB of available storage out of the box; the Lumia 820 is LTE-capable while the 8S is a 3G smartphone. At the same time, both devices share the same display resolution, both support expandable storage, both are positioned a step below their respective flagship devices, both provide a very similar user experience, and both devices represent the growing trend of mid-range smartphones being very decent and capable devices in their own right; gone are the days when mid-range smartphones were compromised in terms of internal specifications, had a noticeably degraded user experience compared to flagship devices and built from bargain-basement materials. This is Part 2 of a 2-part series, and we’ll be taking a close look at the HTC 8S and concluding this review.
[quote_left]It’s lovely to hold[/quote_left]I fell in love with the HTC 8S at first sight. In terms of design, it is very much a miniature HTC 8X, and I was immediately impressed by how it looked and how it felt in my hand. The physical size of the device is perfect for one-handed use, and the soft-touch materials used on the 8S are similar to what is used on the 8X and it makes the device feel absolutely fantastic. As opposed to the Lumia 820 and its glossy white plastic back, the 8S feels every bit as premium and solid as the 8X; the curved back makes the 8S feel much slimmer than it actually is, and the weight is just right. I’d actually recommend that you head to a store and hold an 8S in your hand – it will surprise you.
[quote_right]I panicked while trying to extricate my SIM card[/quote_right]Yet, a few issues let the 8S down. The microSIM card slot is possibly the worst-designed in the world; while spring-loaded, it’s extremely difficult to remove the card because the mechanism does not eject the card far enough for you to pull it out and there’s no space or traction to slide the card out without a tool. I solved this issue by sticking a piece of tape on the plastic side of my SIM card and making a little tab to pull it out, but it was still a pain. Unlike the Lumia 820, the 8S does have an inset LED in the earpiece that indicates charging status… and nothing else. Meanwhile, all of HTC’s Android devices also use that LED to indicate incoming notifications. The 8S also lacks a front-facing camera and NFC, which might or might not matter to you; what might matter to you is the 480×800 Super LCD display, which looks slightly washed out and is merely average in terms of sunlight visibility and viewing angles. You probably won’t notice if you’re looking at the 8S on its own, but the difference is clear the moment you compare it with other devices.
[quote_left]I have 300MB of internal storage remaining right now[/quote_left]Still, the physical controls on the 8S still offer decent press feedback despite being thin and nearly flush with their surroundings, and the single speaker on the back of the device cranks up to a decent volume. There’s microSD expansion and you’re really going to need it, because starting with 1GB of available storage out of the box isn’t enough room for anyone, and you’re best conserving that storage for apps and games which cannot be stored on a memory card. Battery life on the 8S is largely similar to the Lumia 820, as I found that the 1700mAh internal battery lasts for at least an 8-hour day at school on a charge with moderate use.
[quote_right]5 megapixels of mush[/quote_right]The 5-megapixel camera on the 8S is perhaps the biggest piece of evidence that this device was built to a cost. While images and videos look fine when viewed on the phone’s display, a closer inspection of the photos captured by the 8S on my PC reveals an absolute lack of detail and evidence that aggressive noise-reduction algorithms were applied. In addition, the camera app takes up to 3 seconds to save a photo after the shutter button has been depressed fully, which I thought was rather frustrating. You probably will not want to use the camera on the HTC 8S for anything remotely serious or important other than photos destined for social networks; auto white balance can go wrong, there’s a lack of dynamic range, there’s no dedicated macro mode and HTC does not include any “lenses” for the camera app unlike Nokia’s Panorama, Smart Shoot and Cinemagraph apps. Check out the samples below for a better idea of how the 8S’s camera actually performs:
[title type="h4"]See more photos shot with the HTC 8S[/title]
[quote_left]That unit converter looks like it came straight out of Windows Mobile 6[/quote_left]The 8S is marketed as a “signature” Windows Phone 8 device, and it provides a largely similar user experience as the Lumia 820, albeit without Nokia’s suite of Windows Phone apps. Instead, HTC has put on some utilities of their own, such as the HTC Hub (which is responsible for the Sense-like clock on the homescreen) that provides weather and stocks info and can serve as a basic RSS reader as well. The weather info is presented below the clock display and can also be displayed as a lockscreen background, which I think is rather cool. There is also a preloaded unit converter, photo editing app and a flashlight app, and I’m inclined to credit Nokia for their strong suite of additional apps such as Nokia Maps which I do miss on the 8S. The stock Windows Phone 8 Maps app doesn’t even come close.
[quote_right]Resuming…[/quote_right]While the 8S has a slower CPU compared to the Lumia 820, it feels virtually as speedy and lag-free as the more expensive device in daily use, with no evidence of lag or stuttering in scrolling, switching between apps and navigating around the user interface. I do see a few more instances of apps needing a few seconds to resume compared to the Lumia 820, but the 8S does not feel like a severely compromised device in everyday situations. For more on Windows Phone 8, do check out our full review here.
[quote_left]You won’t be disappointed by either… unless you don’t like Windows Phone 8[/quote_left]Make no mistake about it: both the Nokia Lumia 820 and the HTC 8S are great smartphones. In fact, your mind might already be made up regarding which of these you’d rather have: if you need LTE, or if Nokia’s exclusive apps are extremely important to you, the 8S is not an option. If you’re in a market where postpaid contracts are a norm and you want a free phone to go with your 2-year renewal, the Lumia 820 is not an option. Both devices have their merits, and the Lumia 820 is a very strong entrant in its own right. It has a great display, a usable (if average) camera and excellent performance. However, when all is said and done, I would actually recommend the HTC 8S over the Nokia Lumia 820.
[quote_right]The HTC 8S offers a great user experience for a relatively low cost[/quote_right]You see, if money was no object, I would absolutely have the Lumia 820 over the 8S. Who wouldn’t? But in reality, we are often constrained by a budget when choosing a new smartphone, and the 8S offers more bang for your buck compared to the Lumia 820. Yes, you do make compromises with the 8S as I’ve detailed above; you can’t install tons of apps and games, you shouldn’t depend on its camera to capture anything of importance or value, you lose NFC, LTE and a front-facing camera, and you won’t have access to Nokia’s suite of apps. If you can’t accept those compromises the 8S is probably not an option, but if you take a step back and consider the 8S for what it is, you would realize that the 8S provides similar capabilities and a similar user experience as the Lumia 820 does for a mere fraction of the cost without compromising on design, build quality, materials or battery life. It’s perfect if you want to dip your toes into the Windows Phone ecosystem without putting up a huge investment right at the outset without knowing whether you will like it or not.
The forthcoming Nokia Lumia 620 might turn out to be an even better proposition than the HTC 8S at the midrange, but right now I do feel that anyone considering the Lumia 820 should seriously think about saving up a bit more money and going for the Lumia 920 instead. Be sure to look out for my upcoming editorial about my experiences with Windows Phone 8, but in the meantime, do tell me what you think of this review in the comments section below!
[title type="h4"]Return to Part 1[/title]