As soon as I saw the HTC Windows Phone 8X back in September, I knew. I tried to be pragmatic, talk myself into the possibility that the Nokia Lumia 920 was a viable competitor, but it’s not. Let me just be clear here: There is the HTC Windows Phone 8X, and then there is everything else. And this handset isn’t just better than the Windows Phone competition. It’s better than all smart phones. And it will be my day-to-day phone going forward.

I couldn’t be happier.

The HTC 8X, as I’ll call it, is the only smart phone on the market that edges past the iPhone 5 in terms of sheer beauty. It’s better looking, and it feels better in the hand, while offering the same benefits of a thin and tall design. Since hardware design was the iPhone’s biggest advantage over previous Windows Phone handsets, this is a huge accomplishment.

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Compared to other flagship Windows Phones, there’s no contest. The Lumia 920 is a honking beast of a machine that makes even the Lumia 900 look a bit tweenish by comparison. And the Samsung ATIV-S, despite a surprisingly thin form factor given the size of its screen, is plain looking. Not ugly. Just not interesting.

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The HTC 8X comes in three brilliant colors—the deep blue I’m using, red, and yellow—plus black, and as with the Lumia devices, the color isn’t painted on, it’s baked into the unibody design, and issimply gorgeous looking. More to the point, it’s the opposite of the iPhone in hand-feel: Where Apple’s machine has harsh edges, the 8X is soft and wonderful. It’s almost fetishistic. I can’t stop touching it. (Enough of that.)

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Long-time readers know I’ve become somewhat obsessed about smart phone camera quality. I’ve been taking photos with this thing since Monday and the picture quality is superb, easily the best of any smart phone I’ve ever owned. An impromptu camera test pitting the 8X against an iPhone 5 on Tuesday was inconclusive: The shots were nearly identical, which I take as a good sign. But I’ll be doing a more detailed comparison of the cameras in the 8X, the iPhone 5 and the Lumia 920. You can stay tuned for that, but it doesn’t matter. The 8X’s 8 megapixel camera is absolutely good enough for me, and when you combine it with the form factor advantages, the argument is simply moot. The 8x is the best overall Windows Phone 8 handset. And the best smart phone, period.

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Photo taken with the 8X

I’ve already written about the numerous improvements in Windows Phone 8 in Welcome To Windows Phone 8 and will continue to write about this amazing smart phone software in the weeks and months ahead via a growing series of tips and other articles. I’m also writing a free book about Windows Phone 8, which should give you an idea of how strongly I feel that this platform is the best mobile solution, bar none. So there’s no need to beat that one to death: The HTC 8X runs the world’s best smart phone software. Let’s move on.

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HTC does include a handful of apps on the phone. One I find surprisingly useful is simply called HTC, and I use it primarily to glance at the time, since it features a wonderfully large clock display on its tile. But this app can also be used as the lock screen background, which I’m using too, and there it features the local weather, which is certainly useful too.

HTC also includes converter, flashlight, photo editing, and Yellow Pages, apps—nothing too exciting if you’re familiar with Nokia’s rich Lumia-only apps library—and of course you get the AT&T apps prebundled, most of which I uninstall.

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From a tech specs perspective, the HTC 8X is fairly leading edge for a Windows Phone. It has a 4.3 inch screen with Gorilla Glass 2 running at 720p HD resolution (1280 x 720). It features a 1.5 GHz dual-core QUALCOMM processor, 1 GB of RAM, 16 GB of non-expandable internal storage, works with GSM/GPRS/EDGE and HSPA/WCDMA networks, and comes with GPS, digital compass, proximity, and ambient light sensors.

The HTC 8X also includes a built-in amp, and using it each morning to listen to music and podcasts as I get ready for work, I’m stunned by how loud and clear the internal speaker sounds. But it also includes Beats Audio: Plug in headphones or speakers and crank it up, because it sounds fantastic. This is the best-sounding smart phone I’ve ever used.

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Battery life has been on par with my Lumia 900 this week in heavy usage. And for once, this is real world usage: I’ve dragged this thing with me to four cities this week and really used the heck out of the device.

It’s not perfect. The HTC 8x lacks micro-SD expansion, and some may pine for that or at least more internal storage. The side-mounted hardware buttons—power, volume, and camera—are flush to the device and sometimes hard to press.

And … I’m pretty much grasping at straws here, trying to come up with something to criticize.

This phone is awesome. And once you see one in person, and hold it in your own hand, you’ll get it: Apple’s tired, repetitive hardware designs have finally met their match and the other Windows Phone handsets have been put to shame. The HTC Windows Phone 8X is the obvious choice. The only choice. And you’ll want one too.