Today Adam and I got to spend some time with the new Windows Phone 8x and Windows Phone 8S. No, those aren’t new versions of Microsoft’s mobile operating system, they are names of HTC’s newest Windows Phone devices. And yes, Nokia is still Microsoft’s closest partner in their endeavor to sell as many Windows Phones as possible. Setting the newly announced hardware to the side for a moment (I’ll come back to that), today was a very confusing day for those of us that have been following the Windows Phone story.

Specifically, we became confused when HTC CEO Peter Chou and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer stood on stage and talked about how the new devices from HTC would be “signature” Windows Phone devices. I couldn’t help wonder about the consumer confusion that would ensue as shoppers wonder whether the HTC devices are Microsoft-made, or whether there are multiple versions of the Windows Phone operating system that comes on different devices, or whether they should be buying these “official” HTC Windows Phones and not those “other” Nokia devices. It’s also important to note that for the first time since the mid 2000s when HTC was still private-labeling phones, the HTC brand has taken a back seat. We thought for sure that HTC would refer to the new Windows Phone as the “HTC 8x”, even though HTC says it’s the “Windows Phone 8X/8S by HTC“. That just seems odd to us.

Enough about the confusion with the naming, let’s talk about the phones.

HTC did a nice job with the design of these devices. I was super surprised to hear that the 8X is 10mm thick. That’s really chunky. But the way the device was designed easily fools the user into thinking that it’s much thinner, thanks to very sharp edges and a tapered design. Not only that, but the 8X and 8S are particularly easy to hold, thanks to copious amounts of soft-touch plastic on the back. Both devices were light…too light, and perhaps a little bit cheap feeling because of this.

Both the 8X and the 8S have a wide-angle front-facing camera. This is brilliant, as the main use for front-facing cameras is the “hey-we’re-at-a-bar-let’s-all-get-a-shot-together!” type moments where you have no one to hold the camera but one of your friends with a long enough arm. The wide angle indeed does “see” much more than a regular front-facing camera. That’s super cool.

Another thing that impressed me was the loudness of the amplified speaker in the 8X. Not only was the volume higher, but the quality was there, too.  It reminded me of the HTC Surround. This amplifier also boosts the audio from the headphone jack, but really, do you need to listen to your music louder?

The displays looked nice. It is possible that the 8X has a similar display to what is found on the One X (it’s Super LCD 2); our HTC rep wouldn’t say. The 8X has a 4.3″ 720p display (making for a great PPI of 341) while the 8S has a 4.0″ WVGA display.

While today was indeed a bit confusing, we came away thinking that more than ever, Windows Phone stands a chance at being a strong third player in the mobile device wars. This fall, consumers will have a handful of cutting-edge hardware choices, running with one of the most unique operating systems around.

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