HTC is unveiling its flagship Windows Phone 8 handset today, the Windows Phone 8X. The branding might sound Microsoft-like, but there's a good reason for that — the two companies have joined forces on a marketing campaign that will make HTC the face of Windows Phone 8. HTC's 8X device is a fresh approach to a Windows Phone device from the company, one that was designed from scratch according to HTC's Graham Wheeler. "The designers actually took inspiration from the Start Screen and actually a live tile, they thought about a live tile and how that would look if that was actually a physical something you hold."

The 8X will ship in a choice of four colors in early November, ones that represent the bold colors of Windows Phone 8. California Blue, Graphite Black, Flame Red and Limelight Yellow will all be available — with accent colors in the Windows Phone 8 interface to match the hardware color. European operators will only stock blue, black, and yellow versions — and while HTC refused to reveal which operators will stock each color, it insisted that it is not restricting colors to certain carriers at this time. The 8X takes advantage of a 4.3-inch 720p HD super LCD 2 display with a 1.5GHz dual-core processor, 1GB of RAM, 16GB of storage, and NFC support.

Beats Audio finally makes its way to Windows Phone

Perhaps the biggest change from HTC's previous Windows Phone handsets is the addition of Beats Audio. HTC is shipping Beats Audio support on both of its Windows Phone 8 handsets, with an extra amplifier for audio out on the 8X to power larger headphones in the Beats range without distortion. A notification will launch the Beats Audio app on Windows Phone 8 once headphones are plugged in, allowing users to turn the Beats integration on or off.

On the camera side of things, HTC has opted to include an 8-megapixel shooter on the rear of the device with the usual LED flash. That's a fairly standard affair for most flagship smartphones these days, but HTC has gone one step further with the front facing camera. A 2.1-megapixel camera is available for Skype or forward facing shots, with an f/2.0 lens and BSI sensor to help with low-light shots. The 88 degrees wide angle lens will also work well for forward facing group shots and 1080p video recording. HTC is also including its usual customized camera modes on its Windows Phone 8 devices.

I got a chance to get some impressions of the 8X during a briefing recently and I came away impressed. HTC has clearly put some design effort into its latest Windows Phone, meaning it doesn't look like a clone of its previous Android models. The squared off edges, curved back, and color matching for the live tiles and outer handset are welcomed additions. HTC's inclusion of Beats also proves the company is taking Windows Phone seriously.

Ultimately, the Windows Phone 8X goes head-to-head with Nokia's Lumia 920. On paper, Nokia's device wins with its camera tech and wireless charging, but having held both I found the 8X more comfortable to use with its smaller 4.3-inch display and curved back. The 8X only weighs 130 grams vs. the 185 grams for the Lumia 920. The difference is noticeable too, something that might disadvantage Nokia against this HTC rival and Apple's iPhone 5 when consumers pick them up in stores.

No Windows Phone 8 handsets until November

As for pricing and availability, HTC is taking a different approach to Nokia. HTC tells us that Windows Phone 8 will be launched fully in late October by Microsoft and that it plans to have devices on shelves "within days of that announcement" in early November. In the US the Windows Phone 8X by HTC will be available on AT&T and T-Mobile, and Verizon will also stock the handset. European carriers include Orange, O2 Telefonica, MTS, Three UK, T-Mobile, and Vodafone.