Will HTC's new Windows Phone 8X and 8S bring in the consumers?

It may be a bit old-fashioned of me, but until recently I considered Microsoft's main focus to be the business end of computing. Until the coming of the mobile revolution, it was largely Microsoft's operating systems that dominated the desktops and laptops in offices.

When it comes to mobile, though, Apple and Android are the dominant species, and Microsoft's Windows Phone OS has been a very distant third. I've been wondering whether Microsoft would, at any point, decide that its rather well-thought-out mobile OS -- soon to be upgraded to Windows Phone 8 -- might work better as something pushed as something for business -- something that IT departments could feel comfortable with while employees enjoy a well-designed interface and just enough consumer apps to suit most users.

Apparently, I was wrong.

Windows Phone 8X

Today, HTC introduced -- with the help of HTC CEO Peter Chou and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer -- two new smartphones bearing the Windows Phone imprimatur and a definite design push to the consumer. The Windows Phone 8X and 8S have colorful designs, higher-end cameras and improved audio; they are obviously meant to attract attention on store shelves and websites. I'm not sure, however, what the odds are that pretty colors and good audio will make users consider them over Apple's new iPhone 5 or Samsung's large-screen Note II, just to cite a couple of examples.

The specs for the phones are good, although they didn't have anybody really slavering at the press event today. The higher-end Windows Phone 8x will feature a 4.3-in. Gorilla Glass display capable of 720p (1280 x 720) resolution. It weighs a little under 4 oz., has a Qualcomm 1.5GHz dual core processor and 16GB of storage. A great deal of emphasis was put on the fact that it comes with Beats Audio enhancement and two cameras -- a back-facing 8-megapixel camera with an f/2.0 aperture, 28mm lens and 1080p video recording, and a 2.1-megapixel front camera with a wide-angle lens. The battery is a reasonable, but not impressive 1800mAh.

The smaller, less loaded Windows Phone 8s has a 4-in. WVGA (800 x 400) display (but weighs about the same); a Qualcomm 1GHZ dual-core processor, 4GB storage (although it also has a MicroSD card slot), a 1700mAh battery and the Beats Audio. Interestingly, this one only has one 5-megapixel camera with an f/2.8 aperture, a 35mm lens and 720p video.

This last is puzzling me somewhat. Considering that younger users love to take photos of themselves -- not to mention the increasing popularity of Skype, Google Hangouts and other video conferencing systems -- the idea of a consumer-centric camera not having a front-facing camera could be a real issue here.

There was no information on an exact sale date -- sometime in November -- or pricing.

I have to admit that the designs of the two phones are highly attractive. When I held them, I found the polycarbonate body was soft to the touch and comfortable to carry; I was pretty confident that the non-slick surface wouldn't slip through my fingers. The bright colors are eye-catching and quite appealing -- the 8X will come in blue, red, yellow and black, while the 8S will come in red, white, blue and black, with a couple of two-tone combinations as well. The three icons at the bottom -- back, home and search -- glow softly when the phone is on, which is a nice touch. The displays looked bright, clear and seemed (with my limited hands-on experience) responsive.  There is a dedicated camera button on the right side of each unit (something I always appreciate), below the volume rocker. 

Of course, the real proof is in the pudding -- or, in this case, the tryouts. We should have a much more complete review of either or both phones when they ship -- and a more complete look at the Windows Phone 8 OS (the representatives were reluctant to let journalists get a good look more than a couple of selective apps). But whether bright colors, smooth styling and the new Windows operating system will be enough to push these phones through the Apple and Android barriers remains to be seen.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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