So that all of you who are ardent fans of various phones won’t feel slighted, I’ll start this review by saying I own the following phones…

(In no particular order)

1. iPhone 5
2. Android Samsung S3
3. Windows HTX 8x

Most of you who have followed me a while will be shocked to see anything other than an iPhone on this list, let alone a Microsoft product. But things change. And so do my needs and opinions. While I’ve been wrongly accused of being a Mac fanboy, the fact is, when I find something that works, I buy it, without regard for brand loyalty. In the past, Apple did a good job of making things that just worked well for me. So I bought a bunch of Apple products. All along, I continued to test other products. And for a long time, I didn’t find anything better. That has changed.

Lately, all things Apple have been disappointing to me. I’ve had struggles with quality control on the last four Apple products I bought, including the iPhone 5 (I got an unexplained blue line that ran down the left side of the phone and was on the screen at all times.) I got a new iPhone 5 and all the other Apple problems I’ve experienced were repaired with one exception, that being my MacBook Air which I just haven’t had time to deal with.

Since I have seen Apple also degrade or semi-abandon the pro market (along with many of the products I depend on,) I made the decision to break free (hard as it may be) from the Apple eco-system.

I started with Android. Sorry – but three strikes and you’re out. I went through several Android phones. The latest was the Samsung S3. While the S3 is a very capable phone (in the right hands) it’s not something I need or want. I know, I know – it’s blasphemy to say something bad about Android. Kill me. I’m okay with not being one of the cool kids. Android is kludgy and buggy. Period. There are no real standards (10 people told me I could do something I couldn’t because Android is implemented differently depending on the phone AND then depending on the carrier.) The Android phone is so unstable it reminds you to reboot it every two weeks. It doesn’t exactly instill confidence. Thanks but I will pass.

That left me few choices. A guy who works for me occasionally said he just got the Windows 8 phone and loves it. Well guess what…so do I! It’s an amazing phone. It is a great compromise between an iPhone and Android and for me personally, it does everything I need, and does it well.

Where Android is unstable, Windows 8 phones (like iPhones) are more of a closed architecture so you don’t have to worry about apps crashing your phone. The interface is easy, fun, flexible, fast and intuitive. More so than either the S3 or even the iPhone (which is a close second.)

The Windows phone (running on Verizon 4G LTE) is fast and responsive. It has good call quality (yes it is important since well – it’s a phone too you know.) I know it’s silly but I like the fact that it has a dedicated Dr. Beats amp built right into the phone – yes SHOCK! I have a pair of Dr. Beats headphones – I wear them on planes to cancel the noise of travel.

The apps you say? What about the apps? Like the iPhone, there are plenty of apps to suit me. With Dropbox included with (I originally said integrated which one of my pedantic readers pointed out was different than included – sorry for any confusion) the phone, you can automatically save all your photos and videos to Dropbox. There are tons of other apps available too, including many photo apps. The programmer/hacker/cool kids/phone geeks won’t ever be satisfied because this is (like the iPhone) a closed system, but all the apps most of you really need are available on a Windows 8 phone.

Before I evaluate the camera in the phone I want to talk about the screen, which is almost as important. Why? We photographers tend to like to look at and show our photos to people. And if the phone is all you have with you to show your work, that’s what you’ll end up using. So the screen matters. The screen on the Windows HTX 8X is an HD display at 720×1280. It’s spread over 4.3 inches, and in my opinion is as sharp as Apple’s retina display. I like it.

And now let’s get to the nitty gritty. How is the camera? I’ve read reviews that say it is sub-par when compared to both the S3 and the iPhone, but my experience is quite different.

There is a front facing camera (which I never use) and the standard rear-facing camera. It’s eight megapixels with a lens set at f/2.0. On the video front, the HTC 8X gives you a full HD camera at 1080p with 30fps.

I think the S3, iPhone 5 and the HTC 8X have good cameras and it all depends on the apps/software you get to run them when it comes to making a difference. I don’t think if I posted images from all three phones side-by-side, any consistent number of people could reliably tell them apart. The Windows HTC 8X has about the same camera specs as the others, but I actually think the Windows phone has an edge from a usability standpoint – thanks to a nifty little thing called lenses. (And I am not talking about the glass things you attach to your DSLR to take pictures.)

In Windows Phone 8, you can create a camera app called a lens. A lens opens from the built-in camera app and launches right into a viewfinder experience to help the user capture the moment. But not all lenses stop at capturing photos. Some lenses, called rich media lenses, provide a unique experience for viewing or editing photography. Other lenses use the camera as a gateway to a different experience. For example, a bar code reader lens might use the camera to scan a bar code and then display related data from the local folder.

There are plenty of phone apps based on lenses, and there are all the usual social media sharing apps like Twitter, Facebook, G+ etc. Using these apps, you can do anything from making panoramic photos (more on that in a minute) to advanced editing and effects manipulation. You can back these images up to Windows SkyDrive (think iCloud only it works) and you can share them with the tap of a button.

So far, my favorite photo app on the Windows 8 phone is Photosynth. This app blows away any other panoramic photography app I’ve seen and it’s not even close. It’s automatic. It’s powerful. It’s fun and it works.

You’re not limited to moving in one direction. You can start up high and finish low and the Photosynth app just stitches everything together.

There is an actual shutter button on the HTC 8X. While most phones are starting to implement this feature, I like the fact that you can go from a locked screen to taking a picture with a camera shutter key. You can also tap anywhere on the screen to take a photo.

The phone’s camera is as capable in my opinion as any smart phone camera I’ve tested.

Should you buy one? I don’t know. It depends on what’s important to you. No smart phone is perfect. The S3 had removable storage and a removable battery. While the removable bits weren’t something I needed often, I do miss those features. On the other hand, the Windows phone screen is great – the phone’s operations are rock solid and it feels good in the hand. I have yet to have it freeze on me. I’ve never needed to reboot it. I like the cool charging pad you just lay the phone on and like magic, the phone is charged.

I don’t buy smart phones based on their camera. I buy them because I need a portable phone. But I am glad the camera works as well as it does. I rely on my micro four thirds cameras when I want to do serious photography, but I do enjoy using the HTC 8X phone’s camera, especially with Photosynth.

This is the flagship Windows 8 phone. It’s well-built, and in my opinion, the best phone currently on the market.

Highly recommended. (And you can bet I never thought I’d be saying that about ANYTHING associated with Microsoft.)
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