In the smartphone world of today, there are certain truths– at least among geekier buyers. Paramount among these is the commonly-held belief that bigger, faster, and more powerful is always better.

We’ve talked about this kind of thinking before, in the context of size (Where Have All The Small Phones Gone?), in speed (Why Is Dual Core Sometimes Faster than Quad Core?), and all forms of “power.” Consumers, understandably, tend to want devices they perceive as more able. Manufacturers pander to this desire by putting all of the high-end, headlining features into larger packages and devoting their marketing attention to puffing up those “deluxe” smartphones, devoting only a quarter of their time and energy to talk about mid-range devices.

But sometimes, the lower-tier devices have a lot to offer. Sometimes, the party really is a lot more fun in steerage than in first class. We’ll talk about this more broadly next week; examples abound in the smartphone world. For now, though, let’s keep our focus confined to the hot, fresh, colorful news of today: HTC’s new Windows Phones, the midrange 8S and the high-end 8X.

Here’s three reasons you might want to consider pinching pennies and going for the smaller package this time around.

It’s Got Removable Storage

Compared to its larger, more bombastic sibling, the 8S offers a slower CPU -1GHz vs 1.5- with accompanying downrated GPU, half the ram, no LTE support, and only 4GB of onboard storage. Any one of those things could be a disqualifier for power users, and together the list of disadvantages is downright crippling for all but casual users, but there’s one important distinction: the 8S features a microSD card slot. The 8X doesn’t.

That means the 16GB-only 8X, HTC’s “premium” hardware, offers less than half the theoretical top storage of the lower-specced 8S, along with none of the portability of that memory. By contrast, an 8S owner could pop a 32GB microSD card into his device and enjoy double the memory, with double the versatility should he or she decide to transfer that memory to another device. For those without enough consistent network coverage to rely on cloud solutions, or those who like to keep their storage portable for other reasons, this is a serious feather in the 8S’ cap.

Its Design Actually Says Something

I talked a little bit about the design of HTC’s Windows Phone 8 offering as a whole in a piece earlier today. Overall, I find the shift in HTC’s design direction incredibly refreshing. It’s nice to see the manufacturer make a serious effort to differentiate on hardware.

That said, the company is definitely falling into a familiar pattern with regard to where that differentiation takes place. In accordance with this conservative thinking, the high-end hardware -in this case the 8X- is treated almost with kid gloves, its larger body given fewer accents and touches of flair, the whole affair looking quite nice, but almost dull in its stark featurelessness. This, folks, is the extreme side of the once-vaunted “minimalism.” It’s not ugly, but it is somewhat … dull.

Especially compared to the fancy touches the 8S brings to the table. The colored band around the bottom of the lower-end device is a welcome break in the monotony of the casing, setting off the capacitive buttons on the front and recalling the distinctive “chin” of HTC’s past. The earpiece and camera bezel are molded in the same color as the bottom band, retaining the visual unity of the hardware while adding a fun bit of pizazz to the upper regions.

As always, this is a case of your mileage varying depending on your own tastes. Indeed, our editor-in-chief Brandon Miniman told me he doesn’t at all like the look of the 8S hardware when compared against the 8X. Different strokes for different folks. But whether you find it tantalizing or toy-like, it’s hard to claim the 8S’ design isn’t the bolder of the two. And I like me some bold choices.

It’s A Windows Phone. It Doesn’t Need To Be A Spec Beast.

Windows Phone 8 is a new operating system built on an entirely new foundation. It’s also only been handled by a tiny handful of the press, and even then only for fleeting minutes at a time, and only under supervised conditions. It’s obviously not finished software, and drawing conclusions on its performance at this point is decidedly premature.

That qualifier out of the way, what we’ve seen so far seems to indicate its performance is on par with Windows Phone 7 as far as fluidity and other UI responsiveness. That is to say, it looks incredibly buttery. And that’s been one of Windows Phones’ calling cards ever since its launch; the platform has always been one of the smoothest out there– some might say the smoothest.

That one-to-one, lag-free responsiveness has been in evidence on most Windows Phones I’ve handled and seen reviewed, regardless of the divergent specs of the hardware between those various models. Even the super-low-end Nokia Lumia 610 we reviewed a while back delivered excellent UX performance (though its very skimpy spec sheet did hobble it in other areas). If Windows Phone 8 is anything like its forebear in this regard, then the 8S’ reduced specs won’t hurt it much, if at all, in day-to-day usage. If that trend holds, all but the most hardcore of gamers and multitaskers should expect to be satisfied by this lower-tier hardware.

Am I saying the 8S is a truly practical alternative for someone in search of a high-end experience in a smaller package? No. If you’re someone who puts a lot of load on your smartphone, be it in terms of processing power, battery life, screen size, or if you’re really in need of souped-up speakerphone audio only a Beats amplifier can provide, the 8X is still the way to go.

But for those with less on their plate, who might value removable storage and bolder visual design, who don’t care as much about video calling or filling a subway car with the loudest rendition of “Call Me Maybe,” the 8S might be a solid alternative to its showboat-y bigger brother.

Which would you choose?


HTC 8s photo source: The Verge

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