Earlier this week, I jokingly told Vlad that I was going to pen a "This is not my next" article on the HTC Windows Phone 8X to be posted to the site immediately after his This is my next was published. But the more I thought about it, the less it seemed like a joke and the more I actually wanted to put it together.
So here it is.
Actually, let me first start with the Nexus 4, which is also not my next. I want to like this phone, having owned every Nexus phone before it — I adore stock Android, and I'm excited about virtually everything that Google is trying to do with the platform right now (Google Now still creeps me out, but I'm slowly coming around). But just read our review: it's a painfully iterative device. It's the Galaxy Nexus version 1.1. Google had clear and present opportunities to blow us away with a device that fixed the Galaxy Nexus's biggest shortcomings, and it appears that they chose — by will of Andy Rubin's stubbornness alone, no doubt — not to. Why is the camera not stellar? Why is it only available in black? Why, for the love of God, is there no LTE?
And let me not overlook that last point. The LTE situation on the Nexus 4 has been discussed to death, and I don't want to belabor it again here. But let's be clear: this was a cowardly move on Google's part. Producing an unlocked HSPA device isn't hard anymore. With the Nexus 4, Google isn't "making a statement," rocking the impenetrable boat that is the US wireless industry, or putting anyone on notice. They took the easy way out, and wireless consumers — as usual — bear the brunt of the politicking.
If they'd wanted to make a point with this phone and force the industry to play its game (to the benefit of consumers), they needed to sit their asses down on the very spectrum that our carriers hold dear. Make AT&T put its money where its mouth is: when it says you can bring an LTE device to its network and it'll be allowed to work, it does so knowing full well that no such phones exist. Google — and few others — have the opportunity to change that. With the Nexus 4, it chose not to.
And yes, I understand that $299 is an incredible entry price for an unlocked phone of this caliber. But I'm not giving Google the easy out here: it needed to make an LTE version as well. Last year, LTE was optional; this year — for a phone that's presumably designed to hold Google over until late 2013 — it's not.
Ahem. Okay, onto the Windows Phone 8X.
My colleagues adore the design of this phone, and I understand full well that I'm in the minority here... but I've never loved the way the 8X looks, going back to the early leaks. In fact, I remember having a conversation with Tom Warren when the first image leaked: "this has to be a placeholder image, right?" We didn't really believe HTC would just make a square phone essentially devoid of visual chrome.
And yes, I get it: the square mimics Windows Phone's design language. Microsoft loves it, too, which is why Redmond is throwing so much marketing weight behind the 8X as a "signature" device. But there's a reason phones aren't this square. The corners are severe enough to be uncomfortable and awkward if one digs into your palm while you're holding it. The shape of the back — along with the heavy use of soft touch — make it surprisingly challenging to slip in and out of a pocket at times. And worst of all, the power button. Oh, the power button! To put it bluntly, it's terrible — it's invisible to the naked eye, essentially flush with the forward-facing part of the top edge, and endlessly annoying to push. What's worse, I find myself constantly triggering the volume rocker while trying to actuate the power button, which must be pressed to turn the phone on and off — there's no other way — so you really are constantly pressing it throughout the day. A button this important should be perfect: perfect feel, perfect position, perfect shape, perfect size. The 8X's is none of those things.
Mind you, this isn't intended to be an endorsement or preference for the Lumia 920 or the ATIV S in the Windows Phone 8 world — it's just an observation that the 8X isn't my cup of tea. It feels weirdly underdesigned. I'm not asking for a phone with more chrome or flair, just a phone that feels like it's been focus grouped a whole lot. This one doesn't.
There have been rumblings at Verge HQ this week that the GSIII and iPhone 5 could exit 2012 as the best phones available on any carrier, and I'm pretty sure I'm going to end up owning both since neither are perfect: the GSIII isn't running stock Android 4.2, and the iPhone 5 is running Scott Forstall's twisted (and aging) fantasy. But both have good cameras, great displays, and — most importantly for me — LTE. Doesn't hurt that the iPhone 5's hardware is the best ever on a mobile device.
Last year at the release of the Galaxy Nexus, I complained that we're still light years away from the perfect smartphone. I'm afraid that's still the case. Nexus 5, iPhone 5S, Windows Phone 9X, I await thee with open arms and an open wallet.