Introduction

Portrait photography used to be something people dress up for, now teens snap a few "selfies" before breakfast. HTC goes all-in on the selfie craze with the new HTC Desire Eye where front and back cameras pack equally impressive 13MP sensors. They also have a dual-LED flash each, so now photos of you get the same treatment as photos of other people.

HTC Desire Eye

HTC is continuing to experiment with camera setups - the Duo Camera of the HTC One (M8) was unique and the Desire Eye setup is rare to say the least. The front-facing camera appears massive, a cyclopic eye right above the screen. It's a 13MP shooter with its own pair of two-color LEDs, making it arguably the most impressive selfie cameras we've seen yet.

HTC Desire Eye
HTC Desire Eye
HTC Desire Eye

HTC Desire Eye official images

HTC says it's more than just selfies - plenty of 18-26 year olds spend a lot of time video chatting and even go as far as saying professionals can the capable front cam for video conferencing. There's a good deal of proprietary software to back up that claim and the same imagination that spawned Zoe is back with a new twist on dual-camera photos (dual as front and back, not two on the back).

HTC Desire Eye at a glance:

  • General: Quad-band GSM/GPRS/EDGE, quad-band UMTS/HSPA, LTE; nanoSIM
  • Form factor: Touchscreen bar phone
  • Dimensions: 151.7 x 73.8 x 8.5mm, 154 g
  • Display: 5.2" 16M-color 1080p capacitive touchscreen, 423ppi pixel density
  • Chipset: Qualcomm Snapdragon 801, quad-core 2.3GHz Krait 400, 2GB RAM, Adreno 330
  • OS: Android 4.4 KitKat with Sense 6
  • Memory: 16GB storage, microSD card slot (up to 128GB)
  • Camera: 13MP auto-focus camera, dual-LED flash; f/2.0 aperture
  • Front camera: 13MP auto-focus camera, dual-LED flash; f/2.2 aperture
  • Video camera: Full HD (1080p) video recording at 30fps with both cameras
  • Connectivity: dual-band Wi-Fi a/b/g/n/ac, Wi-Fi hotspot, DLNA, Bluetooth 4.0 with aptX, NFC, microUSB port, GPS receiver with A-GPS and GLONASS, 3.5mm audio jack
  • Misc: BoomSound stereo speakers on the front; IPX7 water resistance (up to 1m for 30 min); three microphones

Beyond that the HTC Desire Eye is the new flagship of the Desire family line. With its plastic exterior it can't rub shoulders with the One elite, but the Eye has a bigger screen (5.2") than the One (M8) and the same Snapdragon 801 chipset.

It's water resistant too - IPX7 for submersion up to 1 meter for half an hour - and HTC pulled it off without any flaps. The Desire Eye keeps the BoomSound stereo speakers, the LTE connectivity, the microSD card slot, the Sense-enhanced KitKat, basically all the best features of the new One flagships aside from the metal unibody.

HTC Desire Eye
HTC Desire Eye
HTC Desire Eye
HTC Desire Eye

HTC Desire Eye in our hands

We've not heard anything on pricing yet but HTC is well aware of how market segments and pricing works and we'll be very surprised if a Desire gets priced over the One. Time to market was another talking point so the launch date should be close.

The Desire Eye wasn't the only camera topic at the New York event, the company is entering the action camera segment. The HTC RE camera has a unique periscope shape and a simple interface. Gyro and grip sensors work in tandem to automatically activate the camera as soon as you grab it and puts it back to sleep when you put it down. There are a total of two buttons on the camera and you can use an Android app to control it remotely.

HTC Desire Eye
HTC Desire Eye
HTC Desire Eye
HTC Desire Eye

HTC RE camera

The RE camera itself shoots 16MP stills and 1080p videos. While HTC don't go after GoPro with video resolution, the company bets on digital stabilization and IPX7 water resistance with no cases (it goes up to IPX8 with a special waterproof cap).

HTC Desire Eye hardware

The HTC Desire Eye has a unique face - the 13MP front-facing camera takes up nearly the entire bezel above the screen. The imposing size serves to underline how important the front-camera is to the _phone_ - you're no longer peering down a tiny pinhole.

HTC Desire Eye
HTC Desire Eye
HTC Desire Eye

HTC Desire Eye

The dual-LED flash feels equally strange above the screen, it's as if someone took the top part of the _phone_ and twisted it 180° around. But it too sends the message that selfies are equally as important as general photos, the motto of the Desire Eye.

HTC Desire Eye
HTC Desire Eye
HTC Desire Eye

A close-up of both cameras

The phone has three microphones - one at the bottom for calls as usual and then one for each of the two cameras. Selfie photos are not the only focus of the Desire Eye, videos of your handsome mug are equally as important.

It doesn't look like it from the photos (you can barely tell in person too) but there are front-facing stereo speakers, HTC's trademark BoomSound setup, on the front around the screen. HTC's newfound focus on photography doesn't mean the company is backing away from their music-centric image.

Still, with a large camera and two speakers on the front the phone is rather large. It measures 151.7 x 73.8 x 8.5mm, that's taller than the 5.5" LG G3 and nearly as wide and thick too. At 154g it's heavier than the LG flagship as well. Here's how it stacks up against the HTC One (M8) for Windows.

The design of the HTC Desire Eye divides the body into three segments. It's clearly seen in the blue version - the front is white, there's a light blue rim around the phone and a dark blue back. The other version we got to see is white on the front and back with a bright red in between.

We like the front and middle plastic, it's Nokia-style polycarbonate that are great to touch. The back quickly becomes a smudgy mess though - taking some points off the overall feel.

HTC Desire Eye
HTC Desire Eye
HTC Desire Eye

Both color versions

The camera setup on the back is more spread out since there's plenty of room and little else besides the HTC logo. The camera is in the upper left corner, the dual-LED flash below it and there's a microphone a bit to the side.

The Desire Eye is IPX7-rated but you can't tell just by looking at it. The audio jack and even the microUSB port are left uncovered, meaning nothing will get in your way when charging the phone or connecting it to a PC.

HTC Desire Eye
HTC Desire Eye

microUSB 2.0 port and microphone on the bottom • 3.5mm audio jack on top

A small giveaway is the hardware shutter key on the right side of the phone - touchscreens don't work underwater so water-resistant phones often have hardware keys to let you snap underwater images. On the same side is the volume rocker and the Power key.

The opposite side houses the two card slots - nanoSIM and microSD. The phone comes with 16GB of built-in storage and you can add up to 128GB more with a memory card.

HTC Desire Eye
HTC Desire Eye

Two card slots on the left • Hardware buttons - including a shutter key - on the right

With all this talk about cameras, we almost forgot about screen - and given how good it is we really shouldn't have. It's HTC's first 5.2" screen and with 1080p resolution it has 423ppi pixel density, which in practice looks as good as the 441ppi screen of the HTC One (M8).

HTC Desire Eye benchmarks

We managed to run a couple of benchmarks on the Desire Eye and it scored impressive results. It performs virtually on the same level as the HTC Butterfly 2 (even though that one has the overclocked Snapdragon 801 version) and it easily stands up to flagships like the Samsung Galaxy S5, Sony Xperia Z3 and LG G3.

Basemark OS II

Higher is better

  • HTC One (M8)
    1126
  • HTC Desire Eye
    1122
  • Sony Xperia Z3
    1109
  • HTC Butterfly 2
    1107
  • Samsung Galaxy S5 (S801)
    1082
  • LG G3
    945
  • HTC Desire 816
    520

GeekBench 3

Higher is better

  • HTC Butterfly 2
    3065
  • Samsung Galaxy S5 (S801)
    3011
  • HTC Desire Eye
    2946
  • Sony Xperia Z3
    2860
  • LG G3
    2687
  • HTC One (M8)
    2367
  • HTC Desire 816
    1510

Desire Eye Camera

We called the front and back cameras identical but that's not entirely true. The back camera has an f/2.0 aperture and 28mm field of view, while the front camera has a 22mm f/2.2 lens. Either way, the cameras are very fast, photos are snapped with impressive speed.

HTC Desire Eye

Taking a photo with the HTC Desire Eye

To further highlight its importance, the front camera is the one that launches by when you press the hardware shutter key. The HTC Desire Eye also has multiple camera modes designed around using the front camera or both. Some of those are useful, others are gimmicks good for one or two photos.

Split capture divides the screen in half, one piece for each camera, and lets you snap photos or record videos. You can shoot simultaneously with both cameras but you don't have to, you can capture each side in turn, which makes good framing easier and more comfortable.

HTC Desire Eye

If the split-screen effect is too jarring, the Crop-me-in feature can also try to composite you into the shot - cut you out of the image taken with the front camera and paste you into the image with the back camera. In our (admittedly limited) experience with this feature the software isn't perfect in tracing your outline but does kind of okay for an automatic process. Like Split capture, this feature works for both photos and videos.

HTC Desire Eye

Face fusion is another attempt at an automatic Photoshop job - it takes two faces (one from each camera) and melds them together. You get a slider that controls how closely the final result will resemble each of the faces.

HTC Desire Eye

A decidedly more useful feature is Video Chat Control. It can track up to 4 face at once and keep them consistently centered in their frame, which is good for teleconferencing. You can also share a video of the phone's screen during conference calls.

HTC Desire Eye

We managed to snap several samples with both the front and back cameras. Yes, HTC took us a helicopter ride, so note that the aerial shots are through glass, which mucks up the image quality a bit.

HTC Desire Eye
HTC Desire Eye
HTC Desire Eye

HTC Desire Eye
HTC Desire Eye
HTC Desire Eye

HTC Desire Eye camera samples: Back camera

We made comparison shots with the front and back cameras. The front-facing camera is noticeably wider than the back camera, which puts it at a bit of a disadvantage but the overall image quality between the two cameras is very closely matched.

HTC Desire Eye
HTC Desire Eye

Back camera • Front camera

Finally, here's a quick video sample we shot. At the end you can see the digital zoom in action, the result looks pretty good.

We have some good news for current HTC owners: the company promised to distribute some of the custom camera modes to existing devices, though obviously the results won't be as good even on the 5MP selfie cameras that HTC is employing lately.

HTC RE hands-on

The RE is HTC's foray into the action camera field. The company went for a unique design that you sort of hold and point like a gun when shooting handheld. The camera can be propped up on a level surface but at the bottom there's a standard tripod mount that can be used with a wide array of accessories.

HTC Desire Eye
HTC Desire Eye
HTC Desire Eye

HTC RE camera

The overall shape of the device is like a periscope - a 26.5mm wide cylinder that's curved 90° on the top. The whole thing is a bit under 10cm tall and weight 65.5g. The camera is at the end of the curved bit and features a 1/2.3" 16MP sensor behind an f/2.8 aperture and 146° lens.

HTC Desire Eye
HTC Desire Eye
HTC Desire Eye

HTC RE camera

Such wide lenses naturally create a fisheye effect, but you can set the camera to automatically correct it. Of course you can choose to keep the fish eye look (which captures a bit more of the scene). You can also go for the crop mode (which reduces the field of view but produces geometrically correct result by default.

HTC Desire Eye
HTC Desire Eye

Wide and narrow mode FoV comparisson

The HTC RE camera records 1080p@30fps videos or 720p 4x slow-motion videos (that's 120fps). Slow-motion mode is triggered with the button in the front, the one below the camera. Audio is captured via the single microphone on top of the camera. We're no fans of mono sound, but at least HTC used a high 170Kbps bitrate and 48kHz sampling rate.

HTC Desire Eye

Three of the four available HTC RE colors

The camera has no interface really, you just grab the camera and it activates (thanks to the grip and gyro sensors). Then you press the mirror key on the back - short press for photo, long press for video. A small, hard to see LED blinks when you press the shutter key and the speaker produces a sound to assure you that you're recording.

HTC Desire Eye
HTC Desire Eye
HTC Desire Eye
HTC Desire Eye

HTC RE camera

The RE can connect to Android (v4.3+) or iOS (v7+) smartphones for remote viewfinder and controls. The iOS app will only be available next year, though.

HTC Desire Eye
HTC Desire Eye
HTC Desire Eye

Adjusting RE camera settings from the app

Besides the usual shooting modes, the app also enables time lapse photography. Photos can be viewed on the phone and while connected the RE camera, the app can share photos and videos on your favorite social network and automatically back up the files on a cloud account for safe keeping.

HTC Desire Eye
HTC Desire Eye

Browsing photos and videos from the phone • recording a video

Another way to get at your images is through the microUSB port on the bottom. Photos and videos are stored on a microSD card hidden in the slot at the bottom. There's an 8GB card out of the box but you can use up to 128GB cards.

The microUSB port and microSD card slot have been sealed well enough to earn an IPX7 rating - water resistance up to 1m for half an hour. Keep in mind that this is for fresh water and chemicals (even soap can damage the microUSB port). There's protective lens cap and a screw on cap for the bottom that covers the port and card slot and bumps the water resistance to IPX8 (up to 3 meters of water for two hours).

In the box you get a wrist lanyard that also screws in the tripod mount. Additional accessories include various mounts (suction cups, bike mounts, etc.), an extended battery pack (prolongs capture times by 4 times) and a charging stand. The stand keeps the RE camera upright, making it suitable for time-lapse videos.

HTC Desire Eye

By itself the camera's 820mAh battery is rated at 1,200 photos or 1 hour and 40 minutes of straight video shooting. There's an LED on the front that shows the battery status - when you pick up the camera it will glow green if the battery has 25% or more charge, orange if less.

Here are a few sample shots we took with the HTC RE camera.

HTC Desire Eye
HTC Desire Eye
HTC Desire Eye

HTC Desire Eye
HTC Desire Eye
HTC Desire Eye

HTC RE samples

We had a brand new GoPro Hero4 Black, the top of the line model announced just a week ago. We took a quick shot with each - unfortunately we didn't have time for more and the weather wasn't great but here's a first head to head shot. The GoPro is noticeably wider (170° in ultra wide angle mode) but you can easily see the distortion in close by objects.

HTC Desire Eye
HTC Desire Eye

HTC RE camera • GoPro Hero4 Black

The RE uses a digital stabilization (only available in the crop mode) that works quite well. We quite like how it works compared to a GoPro camera (which lacks any stabilization options). HTC still has work to do on the RE camera so we'll leave video comparisons for when it is ready.

Until then, here's a video sample shot with the RE camera for you to enjoy.

We also set up for a quick time lapse, though strangely it came out at 720p resolution.

First impressions

Other manufacturers have tried to chip in the selfie craze but most attempts we've seen have been halfhearted, some don't even go up to 5MP and almost none have a front-facing flash (electing to use the screen as a source of light instead). Last year Oppo introduced the N1 with a rotating 13MP camera with dual-LED flash that services both regular and selfie photos but the phone never had much presence in the west.

This makes the HTC Desire Eye the first selfie likely to reach the western audience phone done right. And we think it's clever of HTC to slip it under the Desire brand - the plastic body may elicit some sneer from One owners but you can shut them up by sticking the Eye underwater.

HTC Desire Eye

Feature-wise the Desire Eye is every bit as good as the HTC One (M8). Better even, since the Duo Camera was a bit of a gimmick. Not that some of the camera modes on the Desire Eye aren't gimmicky but most will be much more useful if the phone is in the right hands.

Don't let the "selfie" buzzword get all the attention, the HTC Desire Eye will do great for video calls thanks to its high-resolution camera and video light if it's too dark. The same goes recording videos of yourself, this has the potential to become a favorite among budding YouTube stars.

As for the HTC RE camera, the current electronics market sees companies jump into the smartwatch field so an action cam was a bit unexpected. However, it's one of the most user-friendly action cams out there and it starts off at a reasonable price of $200 (but you'll also need a few accessories for the full experience).

While we like it as a product, we don't think the RE camera will become a hero product for the company. Certainly not if HTC puts out more water-resistant phones like the Desire Eye and Butterfly 2. And pros and semi-pros consider high-frame rates a must, resolutions over 1080p would be considered a welcome bonus too and the HTC RE has neither.

While the event wasn't bathed in limelight like MWC and IFA events typically are, what we saw was much better. The Desire 816 at MWC and Desire 820 were interesting but strictly mid-range. The HTC Desire Eye is a flagship in disguise and the most innovative HTC since the wave of One (M8), (E8), (M8) for Windows clones.

HTC Desire Eye hardware

The HTC Desire Eye has a unique face - the 13MP front-facing camera takes up nearly the entire bezel above the screen. The imposing size serves to underline how important the front-camera is to the phone - you're no longer peering down a tiny pinhole.

HTC Desire Eye
HTC Desire Eye
HTC Desire Eye

HTC Desire Eye

The dual-LED flash feels equally strange above the screen, it's as if someone took the top part of the phone and twisted it 180° around. But it too sends the message that selfies are equally as important as general photos, the motto of the Desire Eye.

HTC Desire Eye
HTC Desire Eye
HTC Desire Eye

A close-up of both cameras

The phone has three microphones - one at the bottom for calls as usual and then one for each of the two cameras. Selfie photos are not the only focus of the Desire Eye, videos of your handsome mug are equally as important.

It doesn't look like it from the photos (you can barely tell in person too) but there are front-facing stereo speakers, HTC's trademark BoomSound setup, on the front around the screen. HTC's newfound focus on photography doesn't mean the company is backing away from their music-centric image.

Still, with a large camera and two speakers on the front the phone is rather large. It measures 151.7 x 73.8 x 8.5mm, that's taller than the 5.5" LG G3 and nearly as wide and thick too. At 154g it's heavier than the LG flagship as well. Here's how it stacks up against the HTC One (M8) for Windows.

The design of the HTC Desire Eye divides the body into three segments. It's clearly seen in the blue version - the front is white, there's a light blue rim around the phone and a dark blue back. The other version we got to see is white on the front and back with a bright red in between.

We like the front and middle plastic, it's Nokia-style polycarbonate that are great to touch. The back quickly becomes a smudgy mess though - taking some points off the overall feel.

HTC Desire Eye
HTC Desire Eye
HTC Desire Eye

Both color versions

The camera setup on the back is more spread out since there's plenty of room and little else besides the HTC logo. The camera is in the upper left corner, the dual-LED flash below it and there's a microphone a bit to the side.

The Desire Eye is IPX7-rated but you can't tell just by looking at it. The audio jack and even the microUSB port are left uncovered, meaning nothing will get in your way when charging the phone or connecting it to a PC.

HTC Desire Eye
HTC Desire Eye

microUSB 2.0 port and microphone on the bottom • 3.5mm audio jack on top

A small giveaway is the hardware shutter key on the right side of the phone - touchscreens don't work underwater so water-resistant phones often have hardware keys to let you snap underwater images. On the same side is the volume rocker and the Power key.

The opposite side houses the two card slots - nanoSIM and microSD. The phone comes with 16GB of built-in storage and you can add up to 128GB more with a memory card.

HTC Desire Eye
HTC Desire Eye

Two card slots on the left • Hardware buttons - including a shutter key - on the right

With all this talk about cameras, we almost forgot about screen - and given how good it is we really shouldn't have. It's HTC's first 5.2" screen and with 1080p resolution it has 423ppi pixel density, which in practice looks as good as the 441ppi screen of the HTC One (M8).