First Impressions: The selfie obsession continues

If you think selfies are a blight on society then hide your face with your hand paparazzi style – this isn’t the _phone_ for you. HTC’s Desire EYE is a selfie photographer’s dream. It comes with not one but two 13 megapixel cameras – one at the front and one at the rear. And these are traditional cameras, not the low-megapixel/large pixel affairs that HTC has packed into the HTC One and newer HTC One M8.

We’ll dive into the cameras, and all their clever tricks, in a moment but let’s focus on the _phone_ first.

Launched next to the HTC RE camera, the HTC Desire EYE is at the top of Desire range and as such the specs match some of the best Android phones on the market as opposed to the mid-range ones the Desire name typically signifies.

The 5.2-inch screen has full-HD resolution and looks good in use. Such a large high-res screen needs some decent power behind it and HTC has obliged by packing a Snapdragon 801 quad-core 2.3GHz and 2GB RAM in the Desire EYE. That’s the same processor as the HTC One M8 has and means that the EYE will be a phone powerful enough to run smoothly and play the most demanding of 3D games. The Desire EYE is a high-spec phone.

And the high quality components continue with the inclusion of stereo Boomsound speakers that aim to provide the impressive sound quality found on the One M8. We’re not sure whether these are the exact same speakers, but they should provide some decent sound.

It doesn’t have a metal chassis, though. Instead, the HTC Desire EYE has a tasteful two-tone polycarbonate body – dark blue with light blue trim or white with red. HTC has used a single piece of plastic to form the body, which feels solid and grippy. Like the Samsung Galaxy S5 it’s also water-resistant, but the Desire EYE does not compromise good design to achieve its IPX7 certification. There’s none of the annoying flaps you’ll find on the Samsung or the Sony Xperia Z3, but you still get protection from submersion in up to 1m of water for 30 minutes.

I like both the heft and the size of the Desire EYE. It’s a big phone but it’s thin at 8.5mm and easy enough to handle while feeling like it can survive a knock or two.

In terms of connectivity the HTC Desire EYE comes laden with 4G, Bluetooth 4.0, Wi-Fi (802.11 a/b/g/n), NFC, DNLA and HTC Connect. You also get 16GB of on-board storage with the option to expand that by a further 128GB using a microSD card. Battery life should be decent if not outstanding. The 2,400mAh battery is a little smaller than the one on the M8, which is one of the better phones for stamina.

Now back to those 13-megapixel cameras. Both have dual-LED flashes and both shoot full-HD video. But they’re not identical in every respect. The rear camera has an f/2.0 28mm lens while the front uses an f/2.2 22mm lens.

The wider focal length on the front camera makes sense since you’ll generally be taking these shots from around an arm’s length away. The wider angle this allows means you can get more in the image from a short distance. The smaller aperture also helps with selfies as it offers faster shots, which reduces the likelihood of a blurry image when you’re taking unsteady one-handed shots.

In practice both cameras work well, although we only viewed our resulting pictures on the phone itself. We’ll need more time to figure out quite how good these cameras are.

Next, there’s video calling. Most people prefer to use a laptop because it’s a bit easier to keep in frame, but prop the Desire EYE up and you can move around while you’re on a Skype call. Face tracking zooms onto your head and follows you around, making sure you’re always in frame.

In fact, up to four faces can be tracked so that if you’re calling as a family everyone is visible. This works on every video calling app and so does screen sharing. The Desire EYE can flip the feed from the camera to the screen so the person on the other end can see what you are seeing. This is a feature Skype has on its desktop app but not its mobile one. Useful stuff.

We’ve seen front and rear cameras being used to provide image-in-image shots and videos before, but you get a small thumbnail of the front camera imposed on the larger back image. HTC has given equal footing to the cameras on the Desire EYE, allowing them to shoot in 50/50 split screen mode.

The selfie cam can even crop you and place you into a shot you’re taking using the rear camera. Spotted Jay-Z and Beyonce out at lunch? Then just wedge yourself between them. If you don’t live in New York it’s also a great way of getting yourself in a picture with all your mates if there’s no-one else around to take the shot.

Most phones these days allow for a hands-free activation of the selfie camera, but the HTC Desire EYE also lets you activate video, using your voice, by shouting out “action” or “rolling”. In addition, you get FaceFusion which launched with the HTC Desire 820 and allows you to create unholy blends of two faces. The burn-it-with-fire results can be truly terrifying when the only people in the room are technology journalists.

There’s no definitive HTC Desire EYE release date or price yet but it will be available from early November and we expect it to cost more than the Desire 816 which retails for around £250/$299.

Next read: Best Phones of 2014