Hands on: HTC Desire Eye review

The HTC Desire Eye is a phone that presents more questions than answers when you first pick it up.

It's a phone with two 13MP cameras, front and back, that represents one of those moments in the smartphone game, the moments when a brand makes a jump forward by putting technology in a place where it wasn't before.

It's not quite on a par with the first cameraphone, or even the first front facing snapper on a handset, but it is an interesting idea that does raise some questions about what people are looking for with mobile photography.

HTC Desire Eye review

The other thing that confuses is the name: it's a Desire phone, the branding usually reserved for the sub-premium, non-One range. However, with the powerful Snapdragon 801 CPU, larger battery and 13MP camera, along with a Full HD 5.2-inch screen, it's hard to see where the compromise has really been made here.

HTC Desire Eye review

In fact, it seems that this phone is designed to replace the HTC One E8, which has all the same hallmarks but arguably has an inferior design - HTC is clearly getting confused over where its phone brands should be sitting.

This is also the first Desire phone that's not got a string of numbers involved - however, it's clear that this should be the flagship Desire phone given it looks so much like a One device, at least in spec.

Design

The HTC Desire Eye might be clad in polycarbonate, but it's an attractive device nonetheless. The rounded casing is not only pleasant to hold thanks to being more matte than glossy, but it's also a very light yet balanced design.

I particularly like the two colour design (there's a red/white or blue/black option) which is a result of HTC's 'Double Shot' fabrication that came with the Desire 820.

HTC Desire Eye review

It makes the phone look nice and more premium than you'd expect - when you learn it's also IPX7 rated, so you can lob the HTC Desire Eye in a bucket of water without a worry, it becomes a really well made phone.

The great thing is that HTC's joined the ranks of forward-thinking designers in working out a way to leave the charging port uncovered without harming the water resistance. If only Sony would do the same thing.

HTC Desire Eye review

The little covers over the nanoSIM or microSD slots are strangely hinged, which HTC tells me is 'to do with the waterproofing' - although I've no idea why.

While a little large in the hand, it's impressive that HTC has managed to put in the whopping camera on the front of the phone, yet keep the Boomsound speakers that have marked its phones for years.

HTC Desire Eye review

What's more, despite the fact the grilles are so much thinner (placed as they are above and below the screen in a very thin strip) the sound output is comparable to the HTC One M8 and others, which means that hopefully the brand can do away with the extra bezels on the One M9.

Camera

Come on, I know that's why you're here. You want to see how good the camera is on this phone, front or back.

I'll summarise now: the rear camera is pretty good without being stunning. The front-facing camera is overpowered and clearly a marketing tool that actually hurts the brand in terms of output.

HTC Desire Eye review

Perhaps saying it causes harm is a little unfair, but the truth is that the pictures you get from the front camera, especially in low light, aren't as good as those on phones like the iPhone 6 or even the HTC One M8, which you'd have assumed this would be superior too.

However, that's not to say you won't enjoy the results - it's just that if HTC had out an 8MP option on here, a sensor that was optimised for low light and working to create a really balanced picture, it would have been a nicer photo set to share.

HTC Desire Eye review
HTC Desire Eye review

That said, we've already seen such things from Chinese brands already, so HTC clearly felt the need to go one better to stand out in a crowded market.

But that aside, there are a lot of clever camera additions that make the HTC Desire Eye the ultimate selfie phone. (I'm doing my utmost to gloss over the fact that the narcissistic trend even exists – we don't need to see you at a place to know you were there, but that's by the by).

New modes

There are a number of really fun modes to play with on the new HTC Desire Eye – although the new modes will be coming to other phones in the future too, which makes the fact they're a headline feature here slightly redundant.

HTC Desire Eye review
HTC Desire Eye review

The most fun is 'Crop-me-in', which allows you to take a front facing picture and move it into the rear facing one.

This is cropped to just your head, and although it mostly cuts your hair out, will result in some really funny options to keep you entertained.

Split selfies

A bit like putting yourself in the picture, a mode we've seen since the Samsung Galaxy S4, this makes more sense as it's a real half and half. You can choose to take both at the same time or asynchronously, and the results are pretty fun and good to share.

HTC Desire Eye review

One of the real advantages of having similar cameras front and back.

Video chat

HTC is also making a big play about the fact you can have a video chat with four people all looking at the same phone, and the Desire Eye can work out who's there and give each their own frame.

It's literally one of the only reasons I can find for this higher-res camera on the front of the phone, beyond marketing, and it does promise to make it seem more professional if you're having a business meeting with your phone (which is the only reason you'd need to split people out).

HTC Desire Eye review
HTC Desire Eye review

Beyond that, there's the Face Fusion mode that we first saw on the HTC Desire 820 a month ago, which is lots of fun to play with and I'm glad to see making its way to more phones.

The HTC Desire Eye camera is… OK. Both front and back. It's nothing special, but given the lower price, it's not a bad thing. It's just not really a primary reason to buy the phone.

Verdict

Do I like the HTC Desire Eye? I think so. Lovely and vague, right?

The thing is, I don't really know what it's for. It's a really powerful phone, one that competes with the One M8. It's got a great screen, and I'm a fan of the Double Shot colour.

But I don't want 13MP cameras front and back – and I don't think the output quality from either would attract any consumers. The One M8 has a better front facing camera in low light, and given the close subject proximity, the resolution is redundant.

This is a phone that's more marketing exercise than truly compelling solution, but it's not a bad smartphone underneath – let's wait and see the final price before deciding whether the Desire line has another confusing addition or not.