Introduction

Reactions to the first news of HTC venturing into action cameras may have ranged from a few raised eyebrows to "GoPro or go home" chants but the Re camera isn't one to get easily upset. Cool-looking and friendly, the little gadget is the exact opposite of the tough, heavy-duty look of one of the potential main rivals.

It's a bold move anyway by a maker who isn't among the industry's standard-setters in terms of image quality. Worse yet, a company that has been struggling to cope with tough competition lately.

Then again, HTC insists on doing things their own way and haven't given up trying to innovate despite a few attempts that backfired. But while we're paid to be skeptical, we must admit there's something about the Re that makes us curious. Of course, there is the simple, friendly looks and the funny shape, bordering on stupid. But that's until you've held one and you have fired a few shots with it.

The peculiar curved tube ends on a f/2.8 aperture 146° wide-angle lens, with a Sony-made 16MP 1/2.3" CMOS sensor behind it. HTC has equipped the Re camera with a standard and wide angle option setting for images - both in the maximum 4:3 aspect ratio at 16MP.

The Re camera can capture FullHD videos at 30fps as well as 720p at the same framerate. It can also do slo-mo 720p at 120fps. Here go the highlights.

Key features

  • 16MP 1/2.3" CMOS sensor, f/2.8 aperture scratch-resistant lens
  • 146° ultra wide angle capture
  • 1080p@30fps and 720p@120fps video capture
  • Configurable timelapse capture and slow-mo footage
  • IP57 rating for dust and water resistance
  • Standard °" tripod mount
  • MicroSD card slot
  • Built-in speaker
  • HTC Re app works on Android and iOS

Main disadvantages

  • No 60fps option
  • No UHD video capture
  • Plastic tripod socket potentially less durable than metal
  • HTC Re app suffers the occasional lag

The periscope shape lets you hold the HTC Re and point like a gun when shooting handheld. And it's a perfect little thingy to use single-handedly. Just grab it and it'll turn on thanks to the grip and gyro sensors. Then press the key on the back - short press for photo, long press for video. That simple.

HTC has gotten the still-imaging side of things just right. The Re boasts a higher resolution compared to most of its rivals - the top-of-the-range GoPro Hero4 offers 12MP. But the video capabilities aren't quite up to par - most sports and outdoors enthusiasts are looking for higher framerates than 30fps.

A higher framerate option would've been more than welcome - 60fps at 1080p or at least 720p. A good action camera is supposed to capture all of the action, hard to do at only 30fps. There's no 4K video capture either.

OK, extreme action may not be the HTC Re's element but it may just be a good enough wide-angle, water-proof extension of your smartphone. It's like you're given the option to leave your _phone_ at home and only grab its camera. And it doesn't necessarily have to be an HTC _phone_ either. The Re can be used with an iPhone or any Android running 4.3 or later.

A peculiar form that makes sense

The HTC Re has an interesting form factor - it looks like a periscope, a 26.5mm wide tube. It's about 100mm tall, tipping the scales at 65.5g.

It's clear that HTC's main goal when designing the Re was comfortable single-hand use. Point and shoot taken literally, to extreme. It may look a little awkward in someone else's hand but there's nothing awkward about how it feels when using it. The shape lets you take photos and video with the Re much more comfortably than most other action cameras when shooting handheld.

HTC Desire Eye
HTC Desire Eye
HTC Desire Eye

HTC RE camera

The Re offers a wide-angle lens, which is near impossible to block with a finger thanks to the periscope shape of the device. The camera is at the end of the curved bit and features a 1/2.3" 16MP sensor behind an f/2.8 aperture 146° lens. Just under the lens (inside of the curve) there's a tiny button that toggles slow motion mode. A grip sensor takes the Re out of sleep as soon as you grab in in your hand.

The top has the main microphone - it's placed where you wouldn't accidentally cover it with your hands and muffle the sound. There isn't a second microphone on the HTC Re - it only records mono sound but HTC use a high 170Kbps bitrate and 48kHz sampling rate.

On the back of the curved bit there is a big round shutter button with mirror surface. It falls nicely right under your thumb and offers great feedback. A press will take a picture but if you hold for a few seconds the Re will start recording video.

HTC Desire Eye
HTC Desire Eye
HTC Desire Eye

HTC RE camera

The shutter button hides another LED, which lights up in different color depending on the event. The RE will turn itself on as soon as you pick it up and the LED will glow green. While charging it lights up in orange, green when done. During a firmware update the LED shines in all supported colors.

HTC Desire Eye

Three of the four available HTC RE colors

A standard tripod socket is at the bottom alongside the microUSB port (for charging and file transfers) and the microSD card slot under a water-repellent cover. The latter is hard to undo but the IP57 rating for water protection warrants it.

The tripod mount is a great addition but we would've preferred it to be made of metal. The plastic mount may not be as durable and we fear it may give in if someone screw it on harder.

The HTC Re can easily stand upright on any flat surface - unless you need to plug a microUSB cable, of course.

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

HTC RE camera

The HTC Re has no viewfinder to speak of, relying on a smartphone equipped with the Re app, which we'll look at in the next chapter.

There's a nice set of accessories though - a must for any action cam. In the box you get a wrist lanyard that 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.


The retail package of the camera • some of the available accessories for it

Overall, the HTC Re camera is a pleasure to use. The form factor is perfect for simple and straightforward handheld shooting but also makes it easily attachable to a wide range of mounting accessories.

Battery life

The HTC Re will notify you if its battery is running low via the built in LEDs or directly through the app. In our testing, we found the Re to be a very good performer - it went on a single charge for around 6 hours of continuous use. We shot stills, videos and timelapse-sequences.

It actually managed to outlast the smartphone we were using as a viewfinder and it needed a recharge sooner than the action cam itself.

HTC Re app for Android and iOS

The Re app by HTC can be found both on Android and iOS and takes you through the connection in a few easy steps. Connecting the HTC Re to your smartphone is done through Wi-Fi Direct, though on iOS you need to connect manually to the Re's Wi-Fi hotspot and it isn't as seamless. The iOS app also tends to need several attempts before it connects to the Re even after you've went through the initial setup.

The app starts off with a view of all the photos you've taken with the camera in a timeline. You can share individual images, save some to your phone or delete others.

The most important section of the app is the Capture tab where you get a live feed of the viewfinder in camera, video or timelapse mode. The feed was smooth and constantly refreshed on Android but had some issues on iOS and showed fewer fps.

HTC Desire Eye
HTC Desire Eye
HTC Desire Eye

Adjusting RE camera settings from the app

The settings tab of the Re app allows you to backup images, update and reset the Re and also control the shooting parameters - resolution, aspect ratio (you can enable ultra-wide angle mode) as well as toggle the stabilization.

HTC Desire Eye
HTC Desire Eye

Browsing photos and videos from the phone • recording a video

The app has enough features for what it's supposed to, but one thing we noticed is that on the iPhone 6, the live viewfinder feed from the Re tends to tear up and freeze from time to time.

Image quality

The HTC Re offers a versatile camera in a user-friendly form factor, coupled with great battery life.

What matters the most however is the image quality and whether the camera can push its 16MP and 1080p video for a quality result.

The 1/2.3" CMOS sensor can capture photos at a maximum resolution of 16MP in 4:3 aspect ratio but you can also shoot 12MP stills in 16:9 aspect ratio with the respective reduction of the viewport in the vertical direction.

The Re captures images fast but doesn't offer burst mode. If you hold the shutter button the camera will start capturing video so the only way to get a fast sequence of snaps is by rapidly pushing the shutter button in succession, which isn't ideal.

The HTC Re outputs a lot of detail in its 16MP stills although it's not up to the standards of recent 16MP flagship phones (namely Samsung ones). Detail is nice and sharp in the center of the frame but there is some softness around the corners.

There is some fair bit of distortion in the images, even in those that aren't shot in the ultra-wide angle mode but that's to be expected - you can see this in stills from all action cams. The action camera is suited to capture people and action and as such it's not the best option for architecture snaps.

Colors look pleasing and the automatic white balance was able to sort out every scene correctly.

The dynamic range is especially good, which is of key importance for this sort of camera. The center of the images was always exposed correctly but we also saw a good amount of detail in the highlight areas such as the sky.

Toggling the shooting mode to ultra-wide angle mode will distort the image severely, especially around the edges. But this mode will allow you to capture more of your surroundings, which is great if you've mounted the camera on yourself or your gear for capturing some action scene video.

The following camera samples have been shot successively in normal and wide angle view mode.

HTC Re camera
HTC Re camera
HTC Re camera
HTC Re camera

HTC Re camera
HTC Re camera
HTC Re camera
HTC Re camera

HTC Re camera samples

Noise is a bit of an issue for the HTC Re even when there is sufficient light. In low light its noise performance becomes far from stellar, though the level of detail is still acceptable.

Here are more images taken with the HTC Re.

HTC Desire Eye
HTC Desire Eye
HTC Desire Eye

HTC Desire Eye
HTC Desire Eye
HTC Desire Eye

More HTC RE samples

We realize the HTC Re is a completely different kind of camera but we still felt compelled to compare it to something from the smartphone scene.

The Samsung Galaxy S5 takes 16MP images in the 16:9 aspect ratio and has a bit smaller sensor at 1/2.6". Nevertheless, it delivers much sharper results with superior detail compared to the Re. The Re has a wider field of view so there's certainly a trade-off.

HTC Re camera
HTC Re camera

HTC Re (16MP 4:3) vs Samsung Galaxy S5 (16MP 16:9)

If you're considering buying the HTC Re then video is likely very important to you. The camera can record 1080p footage at the basic 30fps and 720p at 120fps for slow motion.

You also get timelapse at 720p resolution. You can also choose the output file's fps (30fps is the smoothest).

Videos came out with good detail and look smoother than 30fps. They never stuttered and share the great dynamic range and solid white balance of the stills.

While definitely good, the detail level isn't amazing, even at 1080p. We would've preferred them to be sharper and noticed the same corner softness in the videos as well.

The HTC Re offers video stabilization but it doesn't appear to be too aggressive. We still witnessed a lot of shaking when we shot hand-held while walking.

Here's a timelapse video shot on the dashboard of a car (no stand or accessory).

You can also check out a 1080p@30fps (00:10s, 23.2MB) video straight out of the Re.

Final words

Imagine a phone with a detachable camera that will let you mount the lens on a helmet, with the phone safe in your backpack or, better yet, at home. Imagine a regular phone with a water-proof camera. For all we care, someone at HTC may have been imagining a dedicated camera upgrade of the otherwise near perfect HTC One (M8). Imagination brought HTC here.

So, they're venturing into a whole new territory with the Re. The action camera market has a few prominent names but is still in its infancy, GoPro being the premier option in consumers' eyes. It's a segment, which has lots of potential to grow - and not necessarily in the area of extreme action and outdoors mostly. Perhaps HTC is looking to offer something different than just another GoPro alternative.

While the GoPro is a sports camera that can use a smartphone as its viewfinder it can also go without one. The HTC Re is a sports camera accessory for your smartphone and doesn't make sense without one.

Key test findings:

  • Solid build quality, very practical body design, though we think the tripod mount should have been made of metal
  • Battery life is solid
  • The Re app works great on Android but has jittery live view and connection problems on iOS - even with the iPhone 6
  • The Re camera captures images fast and runs problem-free
  • Image quality is good but subpar compared to the best 16MP cameraphones out there, though the dynamic range is outstanding
  • Video is smooth with superb dynamic range but is only average in detail and sharpness

HTC made its camera to be used with an accessory, attached to yourself, your bike or a helmet, but when they designed it, they must have had holding it in hand in mind as its prime use case scenario.

The Re camera's form factor fits perfectly in your hand where the shutter button sits right under your thumb.

The camera can certainly serve you just as well as an action cam on a hike or bike ride but it will work best as a video logger in tight cooperation with your smartphone, allowing you to capture your routine unobtrusively from some interesting viewing angles.

The Re will cost you $199 and is currently offered in two colors - white and orange. HTC showed a few other colors as well, so if you fancy any of them, it may be worth waiting a bit.

This sort of pricing is considerably less than what the current gen GoPro devices command - $499.99 for the GoPro Hero4 Black and $399.99 for the Hero4 Silver and neither of these offers built-in video stabilization. And while those certainly have richer options and better image quality, they don't work so well as hand-held camcorders and aren't water-proof without a case.

Most of all, the HTC Re can be a really fun auxiliary camera for your phone (especially if you're rocking a 4MP "Ultrapixel" device) that fits nicely in a pocket, has the battery to last and can capture those all-important moments in a fun way.

There's very little HTC could have made better on the Re. As an experimental device, it's really spot on and we are willing to forgive the lack of high-ramerate videos or 4K video recording.

What we would really like to see on the next generation Re camera is better image quality, less noise and better low-light performance. As things stand today, GoPro, Sony and the other action cam makers are not properly challenged just yet - mostly from an extreme sports and outdoor action perspective. But the Re camera is so unique as a smartphone accessory that there's hardly any direct competition to worry about.

A peculiar form that makes sense

The HTC Re has an interesting form factor - it looks like a periscope, a 26.5mm wide tube. It's about 100mm tall, tipping the scales at 65.5g.

It's clear that HTC's main goal when designing the Re was comfortable single-hand use. Point and shoot taken literally, to extreme. It may look a little awkward in someone else's hand but there's nothing awkward about how it feels when using it. The shape lets you take photos and video with the Re much more comfortably than most other action cameras when shooting handheld.

HTC Desire Eye
HTC Desire Eye
HTC Desire Eye

HTC RE camera

The Re offers a wide-angle lens, which is near impossible to block with a finger thanks to the periscope shape of the device. The camera is at the end of the curved bit and features a 1/2.3" 16MP sensor behind an f/2.8 aperture 146° lens. Just under the lens (inside of the curve) there's a tiny button that toggles slow motion mode. A grip sensor takes the Re out of sleep as soon as you grab in in your hand.

The top has the main microphone - it's placed where you wouldn't accidentally cover it with your hands and muffle the sound. There isn't a second microphone on the HTC Re - it only records mono sound but HTC use a high 170Kbps bitrate and 48kHz sampling rate.

On the back of the curved bit there is a big round shutter button with mirror surface. It falls nicely right under your thumb and offers great feedback. A press will take a picture but if you hold for a few seconds the Re will start recording video.

HTC Desire Eye
HTC Desire Eye
HTC Desire Eye

HTC RE camera

The shutter button hides another LED, which lights up in different color depending on the event. The RE will turn itself on as soon as you pick it up and the LED will glow green. While charging it lights up in orange, green when done. During a firmware update the LED shines in all supported colors.

HTC Desire Eye

Three of the four available HTC RE colors

A standard tripod socket is at the bottom alongside the microUSB port (for charging and file transfers) and the microSD card slot under a water-repellent cover. The latter is hard to undo but the IP57 rating for water protection warrants it.

The tripod mount is a great addition but we would've preferred it to be made of metal. The plastic mount may not be as durable and we fear it may give in if someone screw it on harder.

The HTC Re can easily stand upright on any flat surface - unless you need to plug a microUSB cable, of course.

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

HTC RE camera

The HTC Re has no viewfinder to speak of, relying on a smartphone equipped with the Re app, which we'll look at in the next chapter.

There's a nice set of accessories though - a must for any action cam. In the box you get a wrist lanyard that 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.


The retail package of the camera • some of the available accessories for it

Overall, the HTC Re camera is a pleasure to use. The form factor is perfect for simple and straightforward handheld shooting but also makes it easily attachable to a wide range of mounting accessories.

Battery life

The HTC Re will notify you if its battery is running low via the built in LEDs or directly through the app. In our testing, we found the Re to be a very good performer - it went on a single charge for around 6 hours of continuous use. We shot stills, videos and timelapse-sequences.

It actually managed to outlast the smartphone we were using as a viewfinder and it needed a recharge sooner than the action cam itself.

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