HTC decided to take a new on a new strategy with the announcement of the RE action camera, focus on camera software, and the release of the HTC Desire Eye. The HTC Desire Eye aims to provide a great camera experience on both the front and the back, both being 13 MP shooters with dual LED flash. I got the chance to use this phone as my daily driver for a couple of weeks. Lets dive in.

HTC Desire Eye Review

Design

The HTC Desire Eye is an interestingly designed device. Along the top you have your headphone jack. On the left side towards the top you have your SIM and SD card tray that pull out by using your nail. On the bottom is the micro USB port on the right side. The right side is where things are a little different. Starting from the bottom, you have a camera button, and then a little bit up you have the power button, and then the volume buttons at the top. The configuration of the power and volume button is different from most devices these days. I’m sure it is because you use the power button more often, and HTC felt they should put that lower because of the height of the device, but I often found myself pressing the wrong button since I’m so used to the opposite.

Speaking of the height, because of the camera hardware at the top and its 5.2″ screen, The HTC Desire Eye is very tall at 151.7mm. While HTC did its best to shave down the size by having small bezels on the side and making it pretty thin (8.5mm), the height was noticeable. It made one-handed use difficult, and I often felt as though it was going to topple out of my hand.

On the front you have a 5.2″ FHD screen which has on-screen navigation buttons. The screen was nice to use overall. Pictures and text were crisp and clear, and colors were true on the LCD display. However, there were a few times I felt the screen was too bright, with even the lowest setting being too much. At the top you can see the massive 13 MP, dual LED flash, and various sensors. On the back you have the same thing: 13 MP camera with dual LED flash. Also on the front right above and below the screen you have HTC’s signature BoomSound front-facing speakers.

The color scheme is not to my personal preference, as it has a white front and back, and a coral coloring on the sides. In fact, a lot about this phone tells me that it was designed with a focus on women, but more on that later. What is nice is the phone is IPX7 certified, so getting the device wet and dirty shouldn’t be a worry. Overall, the device felt well-built.

Camera

Next, lets talk about what this device was built for: the camera. Or rather, the cameras. As I said before, on the front and the back you have a 13 MP both with dual LED flash. The full specs for each camera are as follows (from the HTC Desire Eye page):

Main Camera:

  • 13MP
  • BSI sensor
  • f/2.0
  • 28mm lens
  • wide-angle
  • HDR capability
  • 1080p Full HD video recording
  • Dual LED Flash

Front camera:

  • 13MP
  • Auto-focus with zoom capability
  • BSI sensor
  • f/2.2
  • 22mm lens
  • wide-angle
  • HDR capability
  • 1080p Full HD video recording
  • Dual LED Flash

Pretty good for a smartphone. My biggest complaint here is they are without optical zoom, but that is impossible when you are also trying to make the phone thin. Overall I was pleased with the pictures I took, though. Below are some of the pictures I took. Note: I do not have very many, as I had technical issues when backing up the photos. If you’d like some more pictures, please see this review.

What was cool about the fact that the front camera has the same resolution as the rear, is I could use it to see the viewfinder. The camera also has a built-in auto capture features. I’m not quite sure how it works, as it supposedly takes a picture when you are still. However I found that it seemed to take pictures at random intervals. Another feature that worked was saying “capture” or “cheese” will take a picture. That is how I took the family picture above, and it worked quite well.

The camera is feature-packed with a lot of software features that enhances your photo-taking experience. One cool feature is the built-in ability to take a picture from both the front and rear camera, much like the app Frontback does. Navigating these features was a little un-intuitive, but that’s how I feel about HTC’s Sense UI as a whole. Another feature that tells me this phone is geared towards women is a “make-up level”, that adjusts your make-up in the picture to your preference. I have no idea if this works or not, but for those who love taking selfies will be glad to know this is an option.

Performance and Usage

Here is where the phone disappointed. With a Snapdragon 801 (Quad-core, 2.3 GHz), Adreno 330, and 2 GB of RAM, this phone is packed with power. Yet, I still found that the phone would lag and stutter at times. Most often it was when opening the multi-tasking window and graphics-intensive games. Also, when using navigation and streaming music, the phone would often freeze. I almost missed an exit the first time this happened as I didn’t realize it had done so. It took powering the screen off and back on, and exiting the navigation for it to be usable again. Odd. It may be a bug, but it happened often, even after restarting the phone.

Otherwise I had no issues with searching the web, watching videos, and other normal usage. So as long as you’re not looking to do heavy gaming (or evidently a lot of navigation), you should be good.

When watching videos, the speakers proved very nice. Not the best speakers, but anytime the speakers are facing forward it significantly improves the experience. However, what another weird design choice HTC made was using the top speaker as the earpiece during phone calls. I’m not sure why exactly, but talking on the phone was uncomfortable. People sounded far away and tinny, and it almost hurt my ear. I tried lowering the volume, but then they sounded too quiet. So you get great speakers at the cost of a terrible phone earpiece.

As far as battery goes, I never had any major issues. It has a 2400 mAh battery, and I easily made it through a day of use (7AM-10PM). I could play some games (when they worked well), use the camera, surf the web, and watch videos and still be above 15% at the end of the day. I averaged about 3 and 1/2 hours of screen on time each day, so not bad.

HTC has included a Power Saver and Extreme Power Saver into the software. You can set the Extreme Power Saver to kick in at a certain percentage to squeeze out those couple of extra hours. I didn’t find a big difference when using the regular Power Saver feature, but the Extreme Power Saving mode did help it to last a little longer.

Conclusion

The HTC Desire Eye is a different approach to a smartphone, with particular focus on the camera. Unfortunately, it seems as though they tried to squeeze too much into one package if you ask me. At the end of the day, it seems to me that the HTC Desire Eye is a better camera than a smartphone.

If you are someone who needs a good camera on your smartphone, or like to take a lot of selfies, but don’t necessarily need a powerhouse, but just a phone that can surf the web, than this phone is a good choice. With front-facing speakers, decent battery life, and IPX7 certification, it makes this a good device to travel with.

However, with the odd design choices, and weird performance from pretty good specs, I wouldn’t recommend this to those trying to find a somewhat cheaper Android smartphone that performs well.

You can get the HTC Desire Eye off-contract for $549, or $149 on a new 2-year contract from AT&T.

HTC Desire Eye

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