I admit I went into HTC's Windows Phone 8 launch on September 19 not expecting a whole lot. I say this as a HTC Trophy user who opted for this same-old, same-old phone because it was -- and still is a year-plus after I bought it -- the only Windows Phone on Verizon.
I came away pleasantly surprised and interested in getting a real hands-on with the HTC Windows Phone 8X and 8s, both of which are slated to be available in November on Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile here in the U.S.
No one has gotten an actual hands-on in the real sense with any of the Windows Phone 8 devices announced and shown to date, including the Samsung ATIV S, the Lumia 920 and 820 and/or the HTC 8X/8X. There have been some "reviews" and "hands on" videos around the Web. But no reporters or bloggers have gotten to do any real testing of any of these phones, as Microsoft is restricting the handset makers because they are hoping to have something unannounced to still announce on October 29, which is the official Windows Phone 8 "launch"
At today's HTC-reveal event, phones were locked, so we couldn't even scroll on them. But we did get to hold them and listen to music on them. At the recent Nokia Lumia Windows Phone 8 announcement, I wasn't allowed to hold a phone. I only was permitted to feel the weight of the Lumia 920 when a Nokia employee placed a locked phone on my outstretched hand. Not kidding....
The new HTC Windows Phone 8 phones are thin (see image, courtesy of WinSuperSite's Paul Thurrott, above). That is a shot -- with me as "hand model" -- of the Lumia 900 and the new HTC 8X -- stacked side-by-side. Like the Nokia Lumias, they are colorful -- red, blue, white, gray, orange, yellow, black and a couple of four different two-toned models thrown in for good measure. Because Beats audio is integrated into the phones, they have great audio. The HTC 8X will have a front- and rear-facing camera both; the 8S, a rear-facing camera only. But the 8S will have support for a removable microSD, while the 8X will not. If you want the spec list for the two new HTC Windows Phones, my ZDNet colleague Matthew Miller has a good list.
So the look and feel of the HTC 8X and 8S was a pleasant surprise. But the positioning of these phones was even more surprising.
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer made a guest appearance at the HTC launch today, just like he did at the recent Lumia Windows Phone 8 unveiling. But at the HTC event, Ballmer and the HTC execs both played up the "we" factor, citing Microsoft's influence on the development of the new phones. They also said the new HTC phones would be the "signature" Windows Phone 8 devices, and that HTC and Microsoft would work together on a massive integrated marketing and promotion campaign.
Here's a screen shot, supplied by @Brano_H from the HTC Elevate site that proclaims the HTC phones are the "first Signature Windows Phones" (implying more Signature phones may be coming... maybe?).
Maybe this was just talk to make HTC -- one of the four five remaining Windows Phone handset makers (along with Nokia, Samsung, Huawei and ZTE) -- feel like it's on par with Microsoft's premiere Windows Phone partner, Nokia. Or maybe it signifies HTC is getting more Microsoft love than any of the other three these days? I asked Microsoft to explain the significance of "signature," but haven't received any word back.
I don't care who Microsoft's favorite Windows Phone dance partner is these days. I will say I am relieved that as a Verizon user I will finally have more than one Windows Phone to choose this fall.