I shamelessly love the 8X lock screen, which randomly shows photos I’ve recently uploaded to Facebook. I’m also becoming a sucker for the Live Tiles – seeing rotating pictures of my friends on the People tile, and my own Facebook profile picture on the Me tile (which is my son, I’m not staring at my own mug). All that should come off gimmicky, but it doesn’t.

This is where Windows Phone 8 stands out, personalization and integration without customization, exposing every bit of feature out of my social/mobile universe.

Of course everything is integrated with Hotmail, Sky Drive, and Office. This is where the real battle is going to be fought, up in the cloud, versus Gmail, Google Drive, and Google Docs. Not that it shows on the surface, in fact, Windows synced with my Gmail calendar and contacts quite nicely. At the same time, Windows wanted me to integrate everything, including social feeds like Twitter, with my Microsoft account (which I never, ever use outside of the XBox) before I could integrate them with the device.

And I never thought I’d say this about a Microsoft product, but I was disappointed by the lack of customization available to me, like, I want to sync my email over the last 30 days and do that every 5 minutes from 8:00 to 5:00. Nope. Can’t. I’ve heard similar griping about the lack of user interface customization in particular, but I chalk the limits up to the Life Device thing. If you’re going to integrate that much functionality, you have to limit it elsewhere or things will start breaking pretty quickly.

You still have to use IE, but it’s not nearly as awful as it used to be.

Apps

OK. Done with the gushing. Here’s the million-dollar question. Is Windows going to have a legitimate app store?

The Windows Phone store, at one time built pretty much on Xbox Live gaming, now looks like a real app store, with everything from social stuff to Netflix and ESPN Scorecenter and Skype. But YouTube was just a mobile version of the YouTube site disguised as an app. Not cool.

The store is also nowhere near the depth of Android or Apple. So Windows Phone 8 is in this weird period where you get some of what you need, but not everything, and that sort of reminds me of the Android app store in the 2.x days.

It’s hit and miss – I got ScoreMobile, I couldn’t get HootSuite. No Instagram, no Runkeeper, no Google+, no Spotify. No free Angry Birds, yes paid Angry Birds.

This is going to be an issue. But if the 8X is any indication of some initial success of Windows Phone 8, it shouldn’t be long before the app developers come rushing in without being strongarmed and/or incentivized by Microsoft. Right?

The truth is, you never know. The Blackberry will make some additional noise soon, and the app development arena will then have doubled to four different OSs to optimize for, plus tablets. It remains to be seen, but if you can’t get the apps you want, all bets are off.

The 8X Experience

The HTC Windows Phone 8X is fast, packing a 1.5 Mhz Snapdragon S4, it breezed through every task I gave it and never appeared choppy or slow. Battery life was also not an issue. I got through entire days on medium use. On a heavy use day, about 2 hours of calls, some video, a bunch of testing, and a lot of social, I squeaked through the day but had to charge by about 8:00 p.m. The battery, like a lot of them these days, is not removable.

You get 16MB of storage, which is becoming the norm for these cloud-phones, and no SD card. It has what is now HTC performance-phone-standard Beats audio, NFC, Bluetooth, and everything else you’d expect. Its $100 from Verizon, also available for AT&T and T-Mobile.

The 8MP camera on the 8X is above average – not as hit-or-miss as the DNA but not as good, picture for picture, as the iPhone. Action shots? Difficult. And it’s pretty much take what you get on colors and softness. When it takes a good photo, it’s great, but you have to take a few to get there. This is exactly what I found with the HTC Droid DNA, only less so with the 8X, so I’m not shocked.

Using the camera, however, is pretty cool. When you tap on something on the screen, it not only focuses, but it takes a picture automatically. Again, little thing, nice touch. Also the dedicated camera button on the 8X, exactly where a camera button should be when you’re in landscape mode, should be standard on every phone.

There’s a 2MP camera in front for your video calling needs. The video camera was also very good, even in somewhat lower light, and a snap to use. Streaming video and gaming were on par with what you’d expect from a performance phone.

Call quality was excellent, and the speakerphone is one of the best I’ve heard on an HTC phone in a long time. It’s not perfect, but I can definitely use it like a would my landline phone.

The keyboard is excellent. I typed about half of this review on the 8X and totally dug the accuracy of the keyboard and the autocorrect.

Overall, the HTC Windows Phone 8X is a surprisingly awesome entry into the mobile phone universe and Windows Phone 8, minus some lack-of-customization drawbacks, pretty much lives up to the hype. If you’re not locked into Android or Apple, or if you are locked into Office/Hotmail, then you seriously couldn’t do much better than this phone as your mobile option. By the end of the week, I found myself wanting to pick it up and play around with it, especially to check in on my social circles. If that’s not the description of a Life Device, then I’m not sure what is.

Now the apps just need to catch up. If you want to take a gamble on that happening, then there’s enough available now to get by on. Is it going to happen? Who knows. It’s chicken and egg. The more people using Windows phones, the more apps will get developed. The good news is the 8X is finally a Windows Phone that people will want to use.