We’re not sure if HTC’s One S suffered from middle child syndrome. It certainly shouldn’t have. But if it did, it’s a hindrance the company spared its Windows Phone 8 line. HTC decided two was enough, and who are we to argue? It was back in October that we handled the flagship, but now its smaller, cheaper companion has arrived. At around £230 (about $370) SIM-free, this potentially represents one of the best value Windows Phone options around at the moment (at least in Europe and Asia). Sure, Nokia’s Lumia 620 will soon be gunning for some of its market share, but for now it’s got relatively little competition. So far, Windows Phone 8 has seen plenty of entries running dual-core, 1.5GHz Snapdragon chips. This time we’re looking at a slower clock speed (1GHz) and some more muted specs across the board (more on this later). Given that, did HTC get the budget-to-features balance right here? Read on to find out.
When we got our paws on the HTC 8X, it’s fair to say that we were smitten with the design. We’re happy to say we felt the same way when we first met the smaller, more colorful, 8S. Here too, HTC’s inspiration comes from Windows Phone 8 itself, with clean lines dominating the overall aesthetic. While much of the design language apes its larger sibling, the 8S does have an identity of its own, the most obvious difference being the chin, which has a different color than the rest of the handset. Our review model is black and white, but there are more vibrant options available, including the same blue shade offered on the 8X. Unlike its big brother, though, the 8S isn’t made from one block of polycarbonate, or if it is, it certainly isn’t one piece now.
That chin is removable, and hides the phone’s SIM and microSD card slots (this might be a good time to remind everyone that you won’t find a memory card reader on the 8X). We definitely welcome the option to expand the — somewhat limited — 4GB internal storage, and hiding it away here means that it doesn’t interfere too much with the overall design. The little plastic clip-on section, however, can be difficult to re-attach; it often took us several attempts. Once you’ve got it back on properly, though, it sits flush enough to create the illusion that the device is one solid unit. HTC might have given us access to our SIM and memory cards, but you’re out of luck if you want to get at the 1,700mAh battery, as that’s hidden away along with pretty much everything else.
The back has a soft-touch finish, and arcs out in a “pillow-like” fashion similar to the 8X. The 8S might be smaller diagonally (with a 4-inch, rather than 4.3-inch display), but it’s actually a shade thicker at 10.28mm (compared to 10.12). This isn’t particularly noticeable, but if you hold both in the hand at the same time, you can sense the 8S is a little… stouter feeling. The rear is also where you’ll find the 5-megapixel camera, embossed HTC logo, discreet Beats branding and drilled speaker holes at the bottom. The front is equally sparse, with the black screen and bezel only being broken up by the top grille which matches the main body color — somewhat less noticeable on the black version we have here…