HTC, Microsoft announce 'signature' Windows Phone 8 smartphones

Windows Phone 8X and 8S smartphones will be available in November through 150 carriers in 50 countries

HTC, along with Microsoft, Wednesday introduced Windows Phone 8X and 8S smartphones that will be the signature devices for the software maker's upcoming Windows Phone 8 OS.

The Windows Phone 8X and 8S smartphones will have 4.3-inch screens and 4-inch screens respectively. The smartphones will support LTE, but availability of 4G will depend on wireless carriers, said an HTC representative showing off the phones at an event in New York.

Microsoft and HTC consider the devices as the "signature" smartphones for the Windows Phone 8 OS, said Jason Mackenzie, president of HTC. The 8X and 8S will be available starting in November through 150 mobile operators in 50 countries. It will be available on AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile in the U.S. Pricing for the smartphones was not immediately available.

Microsoft's Windows Phone 8, announced in June, succeeds the current Windows Phone 7.5. The updated OS supports more hardware, including dual-core processors. The 8X and 8S have Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 processors.

HTC becomes the third company after Samsung and Nokia to announce a phone with Windows Phone 8. HTC currently offers smartphones with Windows Phone 7.5.

HTC designed the product from ground up to showcase Windows Phone 8, said Steve Ballmer, CEO at Microsoft, during a short speech at the HTC event.

The company hopes the new HTC phones "will tell the story" of Windows Phone 8, Ballmer said.

Microsoft's smartphone OS had just a 1.9 percent market share in 2011, and the number is expected to creep up to 3.9 percent by the end of this year, according to Gartner. Microsoft's OS is in fifth place behind Google's Android, which led the market with a 46.5 percent share last year, and Apple's iOS, which held an 18.9 market share. Symbian and Research in Motion's Blackberry were also ahead of Microsoft last year.

The 8X and 8S have new features such as a high-end cameras and powerful audio features, said Scott Croyle, vice president of design at HTC.

The 8X has an eight-megapixel back camera and a 2.1-megapixel back camera. The smaller 8S has a five-megapixel back camera and no front camera. The smartphones cameras are optimized for low-light photography, Croyle said.

The smartphones have Beats Audio to improve the sound quality for music and movies. The smartphones deliver the best audio on smartphones today, Croyle said. These will be the first Windows Phone smartphones with Beats Audio, which is already available in headsets, HTC's Android smartphones and Hewlett-Packard's laptops.

The most publicized feature of Windows Phone 8 OS is the user interface, which allows more tiles to fit on the start screen. Users also have the flexibility to resize tiles to small, medium and large sizes. The tiles launch applications or can act as hubs under which common applications can be grouped. For example, a hub can show snippets of updated information such as Facebook feeds of social media updates.

A number of major phone vendors including Nokia, Apple, Motorola Mobility and LG have announced smartphones in the last few weeks.

Agam Shah covers PCs, tablets, servers, chips and semiconductors for IDG News Service. Follow Agam on Twitter at @agamsh. Agam's e-mail address is agam_shah@idg.com

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