Remember HTC, the firm whose smartphones used to set the Android agenda? Well, it's back! Back! BACK! - and this time it's waving the Windows flag. In an interesting move, Microsoft has decided that the flagship Windows 8 phone won't be a Nokia; it's going to be a pair of HTCs, the HTC Windows Phone 8X and Windows Phone 8S.
The HTC Windows Phone 8X is the top of the line, a brightly coloured, Lumia-esque device with a 4.3-inch 720p display, 1.5GHz dual core processor, 1GB of RAM, 16GB of storage and Beats Audio. The camera also boasts a backside-illuminated sensor for better low light performance, and it's accompanied by a 2.1MP front-facing one for video chat.
Is it any good? John McCann's had the opportunity to put one through its paces, and while the OS isn't finished yet "the HTC Windows Phone 8X is shaping up to be quite a device."
The other HTC phone, the HTC Windows Phone 8S, is a more modest bit of kit: it's slightly smaller with a 4-inch display, a 1GHz dual core processor and 512MB of RAM. Once again its a Beats Audio effort, and John McCann's fingers have been all over it. "Design wise we reckon the Taiwanese firm is on to a winner," he says, but it's hard to call when the OS is still incomplete.
We'll reserve our final judgment until we've got finished phones and software, but if the sign of a good phone is the slagging it gets from rivals, then HTC's on to a winner: according to Nokia, the HTC phones are nyah nyah nyah, or words to that effect.
What about Motorola?
HTC isn't the only firm on the comeback trail. Motorola, aka Google's hardware division, is hoping for some smartphone action too. Its latest model is the Razr i, and the "i" may well stand for "interesting": as John McCann says, it's "the most important European phone of the year for the company."
Does it justify the enormous amount of money Motorola will spend promoting it? It's the first Motorola to run an Intel processor, and it's a speedy little number with an equally speedy camera, making it ideal for motion shots. According to McCann, it's shaping up to be "a quality mid-range phone with impressive performance, intuitive user interface, nice additional features and a hardy design"; if battery life is as good as Intel and Motorola claim, "this is a phone we can get excited about."
One of the biggest changes is in maps, with Apple giving its existing Google Maps app the boot and replacing it with its own one. We found it to be mainly reliable with a few mapping glitches, but some users are finding significant problems with it - and it seems that a storm of bad PR is brewing. By a happy coincidence, Google's own Android app has just received an update to make it even better.
If too many Apple mapping mistakes emerge, iOS 6 might have accidentally given Android a big boost. Luckily for Apple, if that happens it already has the perfect way to communicate its disappointment: the sadface emoticon which, like its sibling the smiley, has just turned 30. As Kate Solomon explains, "It's been 30 years since internet dwellers stopped bothering to communicate like adults and started relying on pictorial representations of emotions instead of using language properly. Er, :-)"
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