Since I had it, I decided to give it a real test. 1 week as my only phone. I got a nano-sim to micro-sim adapter and I put my iPhone 5 on a shelf. Here are my thoughts.
HardwareThe first thing I noticed is the slightly larger screen. It's 4.3 inches, and I think it's my personal limit. Some people like the really big phones, but I am not one of them. I really like the thinner width on the iPhone. That being said, I like the 4.3 size. It's not so big that I can't hold it comfortably, but it does provide a nice big screen for watching videos etc.
The second thing I notice is the plastic case and hardware buttons. I like the iPhone 5's aluminum case better, but this phone feels really good in my hand. It's shaped nicely and it works well without any sharp corners. I do not however like the hardware buttons. The sleep/power button is basically flush with the top and it takes more effort than I'd like to find and push it sometimes. The camera button on the side (which I generally think is a pretty good idea) tends to be much easier to find and push when I don't actually want to.
Overall, I think the hardware is really nice, though not quite to the quality of an iPhone. The software is where the real differences are. I really like Windows Phone 8. I said a few years ago when it came out that I liked WP7 better than Android. This is still true with Windows Phone 8, more so now though. The live tile paradigm is better and more pleasant than the iOS icons and the Android widget + icon paradigms IMO. It's pretty slick and easy to use. The live tiles give it the advantage over iOS since it lacks widget functionality, and the simplicity gives it the advantage over Android for me.
Built in Apps
An very important part of a smartphone is the built in apps. These are generally some of the most important and most used apps that rarely have 3rd party alternatives at the same level.
1. Phone App - This is something I wouldn't have noticed without actually switching to it as a phone for a week. The built in phone app isn't very good. There is no speed dial / favorites option, and that is something I use all the time. It has a recent calls section, and a button to get to contacts. Clicking on the contact there still doesn't call them. It brings up another contact specific screen, and from there you finally get to make a call. 3 clicks to make a call. On my iPhone it's 1. Not a complete deal breaker, but it was annoying for me. I spent an hour and built my own phone app that I like much better.
2. Email - The email app is really nice, though it is missing a few features. Nothing huge, but for instance, it doesn't have an archive option for my gmail. I like to keep my inbox pretty clean, but I don't delete things. Again, not a deal breaker, just a minor annoyance that won't effect everyone. Overall it's a pretty slick app.
3. Maps - In my short tests, the maps had better data than my iPhone in searching, but the interface isn't as nice. Now that Google released their maps for iOS, the iPhone wins here. That being said, they aren't bad at all.
4. Camera - Seems to be pretty decent. Not as good as the iPhone 5, but not really a big deal for me. I hear the new Lumia 920 has a great camera though.
Third Party Apps
The app store is a bit barren compared to iPhone and Android. As a dev that is what attracted me. Even if there are a lot less phones out there, it's much easier to get seen. If Windows Phone 8 does happen to take off, the early devs that are already here will be in great shape. That being said, the store is by no means empty. It has most apps that you are likely to want, it just doesn't have 500 of them like the other stores. It has 10-50 of them. I decided to go through my iPhone and look at the apps I really use on a regular basis. It's a much smaller number than the total number of apps on my phone.
Email - see above
Hacker News Reader - my own app, so nobody to blame but me if it's not there, but there are good alternatives.
Safari - IE seems to be mostly fine. I had no issues.
Bike Ride Tracker - A few that I recognize from iOS, though far less options. This is another of my apps that I use, and I just submitted my Windows 8 port yesterday.
Maps - see above
CNBC - No app. This is very sad. I did find a pretty decent portfolio app, but i really like CNBC'siOS app for the breaking news push alerts.
Camera - see above
To Do List - I use my app on iOS, but there are decent alternatives here. Again, just not a lot of them.
ESPN - They have an app, and it seems to be pretty good
Pandora - No official app, but there is a third party app that works well. Brings up an interesting point, the speakers are really nice.
Amazon - They have a good app
Weather - weather channel app is good
Flashlight - built in, works fine. It's amazing how often I end up using the flashlight apps on my phone. Really useful.
Glassboard - Sadly no app and no plans to build one.
Find My Friends - I actually end up using this app a decent amount. My family and closest friends all have iPhones so this is sadly missed. I didn't actually check to see if there is a Windows equivalent, but it doesn't matter if everyone else is using an iPhone.
That is pretty much the extent of my app usage on a regular basis. The Windows 8 store has great replacements for all but 3.
I really like Windows Phone 8 and the HTC 8x. I think I like it better than Android, though I don't have a comparably new Android phone to test with. I'm just going off my short time spent playing with friends phones and the old Droid I use to test with. If anyone from Google wants to send me a Nexus 4 I'd be happy to try that for a week and report back (clarky07[AT]gmail[DOT]com - I could always use a new test device).
In the end, I've switched back to my iPhone 5. I like a few things about it just a bit better. I like the hardware and the form factor slightly better, a few of the built in apps are just a bit better, and Windows was missing a couple of apps. That being said, I didn't really miss the iPhone 5 much while I was testing this device. It is really good, and for most people it should be given serious consideration when looking at new phones. It wasn't "better" than the iPhone 5 for me, but it could be for some people, and it's definitely not too far behind.
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