The HTC Windows Phone 8S is a relatively inexpensive Windows Phone 8 smartphone with a 4in display. As such it brings a welcome note of variety to the Windows Phone 8 market, as the smattering of handsets available on the latest Microsoft platform tend toward the premium (think of the Nokia Lumia 920 and the HTC Windows Phone 8X).
That's not to say that the HTC Windows Phone 8S is a bargain-basement handset, far from it. But you can pick it up for around £26 a month on contract, making it the first mid-range Windows Phone 8 device we've tested. (See also: best deals on Windows Phone 8S.)
Not that you'd know it to look at the HTC Windows Phone 8S. It has a stylish and slim two-tone design and benefits from decent build quality. Storage is limited but you can upgrade with a microSD card slot, and there's a solid if unspectacular smartphone camera, with a decent media player that enjoys branded 'Beats' audio.
If you want Windows Phone 8 but are not prepared to break the bank, this could be the phone for you. (Everyone else should check out Group test: what's the best Windows phone? and Group test: what's the best smartphone?)
HTC Windows Phone 8S review: hardware and performance
Let's talk about specs, baby. The HTC Windows Phone 8S sports a 1GHz dual-core processor, and 512MB of RAM. If this was an Android phone those specifications would look a little wan, but Windows Phone is kind to hardware and requires less ammo in order to perform. We'd still prefer to see 1GB RAM, however.
General performance is similar: there's nothing wrong with the HTC Windows Phone 8S, it's just not super fast. Using it at the same time as using the Nokia Lumia 820 on occasion we noticed an almost imperceptable lag when loading menus on both handsets. But the Lumia 820 costs more, and it's not a problem for the 8S. You get what you pay for.
What may be a problem is that you get only 4GB of onboard storage with which to play. There is, however, support for microSD cards of up to 32GB, so all is not lost. Another concern is that the battery is a relatively tiny 6.3Wh (1,700mAh) cell. In our experience it just about gets through a day with moderate use.
Rounding out the hardware specification is the camera. That's right: there is only one, a rear-facing 5Mp camera capable of capturing 720p video. Of which more on the next page...
HTC Windows Phone 8S review: display
The HTC Windows Phone 8S benefits from a 4in Super LCD Gorilla Glass display. In this world of large-screened smartphones that is no longer a big display, but it will prove sufficient for all but the most screen-hungry users. The resolution is similarly middle of the road: by our calculations 480x800 pixels means 233 pixels per inch.
It's perfectly usable and Windows Phone 8 looks as bright and cheery as ever. And it's probably worth pointing out that the 8S's pixel density is better than the Nokia Lumia 820's 217ppi - it just can't compete with the Nokia Lumia 920's 332ppi (or indeed the iPhone 5's 326ppi).
HTC Windows Phone 8S review: design and build
We like the design of the HTC Windows Phone 8S. it comes in an understated two-tone chassis with a rubberised polycarbonate finish. At 10.3mm thick it is far from the thinnest phone around, but we didn't feel it was particularly bulky. In part that is the smaller than average 4in display. But the Windows Phone 8S also benefits from curved edges that give the impression of slimness. Factor in the solid plastic construction and that rubbery finish and you won't feel that you need a case, either. The screen does attract a lot of finger marks, however.
The HTC Windows Phone 8S measures 63x120.5x10.3mm. From the front it is mostly screen, with a relatively thick bezel at the top, and the usual touch panel with three Windows Phone icons at the bottom. Above the screen is the single speaker - a long thin strip - and an HTC logo. Below the screen, the bottom strip of the Windows Phone 8S is a different colour to the rest. In our case most of the phone's body is black, with a white section at the bottom, but we've also seen it in black and blue. It's a nice touch, making the Windows Phone 8S a little different from the norm.
Around the back of the HTC Windows Phone 8S is a smooth- and rubbery-feeling black panel. At the top is the camera lens and LED flash. Further down is a black HTC logo and a small Beats icon. And then you get to the white strip. On the back this serves a purpose - push down and away from the rest of the phone, and this panel comes away to reveal a SIM tray and microSD card slot. This mechanism feels robust but, unlike a SIM tray, it does also leave you open to losing the cover. Replace the flip off cover and you can use the microUSB connector.
Around the sides of the HTC Windows Phone 8S is arrayed a camera button, volume rocker, and on/off switch. These are all hardware buttons with sufficient travel to make finding them easy enough, although for some reason the on/off switch at the top is almost snug to the top of the phone. Also on the top is a 3.5mm jack audio output.
HTC Windows Phone 8S review: connectivity
Wireless connectivity options for the HTC Windows Phone 8S are 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, as well as Bluetooth 3.1, 3G and GPS. You can expand the storage with a microSD, and there is a microUSB port for charging and synching with a PC. The latter is important - as with Android, you can use your Windows Phone 8 device like a USB drive, dragging and dropping media files. It's a welcome relief from the tyranny of iTunes if your only experience of smartphones is using an iPhone. There's also the standard 3.5mm jack for headphones and speakers.