[alert type=alert-blue]Technical details[/alert]
SPECS Android 4.4 KitKat
SPECS 2.3GHz quad-core
Screen 5.2 inches
Resolution 1080 x 1920 pixels
Memory 2GB RAM
Micro SD compatible? Yes
Rear-facing camera 13MP
Front-facing camera 13MP
Dimensions 151.7 x 73.8 x 8.5 mm
Battery 2,400 mAh
HTC’s never been quite clear about what the Desire line is meant to be. A few years ago, the Desire was its top of the line Android smartphone range. Then as the One series was rolled out it was relegated to the mid-range: Android smartphones without the specs or the screen size of HTC’s very best efforts. This lead to more than a bit of confusion, especially when HTC began launching its One Mini series of phones. What is a HTC Desire?
The HTC Desire Eye doesn’t answer that question very well, but it does at least do things differently. Acting not particularly quickly to cash in on a trend, HTC’s new midrange phone has been built with selfie fanatics in mind. Unusually, its front-facing camera is just as large and powerful (13 megapixels) as the one on the back, meaning those shots of you with your friends will come out just as clear and sharp as your #nofilter landscape snaps.
It might sounds as frivolous as posting shots or yourself in a nightclub booth to Facebook, but we’re surprised at how useful it actually turns out to be – though we can’t help but feel that by introducing the concept in a Desire handset, HTC is not going to give it the chance to shine that it deserves.
For this is a modern HTC Desire handset through and through. HTC’s top of the range One and One M8 smartphones are absolutely beautiful, machined metal handsets with the elegance and precision of Apple’s aluminium MacBook Pro laptops. The Desire Eye? Eh, not so much.
While it still retains the narrow, tall body and curves of its bigger brothers, it switches out the metal for plain old plastic, HTC presumably hoping that the vibrant colour schemes (white and bright red or electric blue) will distract you from the cheap feel of the phone. They do not.
Not that there’s anything wrong with its construction – it’s still handsome, there’s no telltale creak – and it’s always nice to be able to pop in a micro SD card, and the whole thing is water resistant, even the headphone jack. Nor its visuals and audio: the 5.2-inch display is almost identical to that found on the One M8, with a crisp full HD resolution that means you’ll never see the rough edge of a pixel again, while the booming front stereo speakers remains the best on the market.
But that ‘wow’ factor is gone, and it is too big: the One M8’s large bezels remain (in part no due to the massive selfie camera sensor), meaning that the Desire Eye is actually the length of a phablet with a substantially larger screen. It grabs fingerprints like a forensic scientist, and offers no software options for one-handed use like the iPhone 6 Plus does. It’s bulky, and we’re not sure why HTC felt the need to cloak this phone in particular in waterproof clothing. Are selfie takers always dropping their phones in their drinks?
For a mid-range phone, the HTC Desire Eye is admittedly impressively powerful. We’re used to seeing yesteryear’s internals chucked into handsets like this but the Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 chip inside absolutely flies. You’ll have no problems with games, and there’s more RAM in the mix than we’d typically expect, for seamless multi-tasking. One disappointing aspect is the meagre 2,400mAh battery, which will just about see you through a day, but not any more.
HTC remains one of the most aggressive tinkerers with Google’s open-source operating system meanwhile, for better and worse: its Sense 6 home screen launcher looks completely different, but isn’t exactly any more tricky to use. Its default keyboard, on the other hand, is awful, and if you prefer to get your news from specific sites or RSS readers, you’re probably going to hate its BlinkFeed homescreen widget, which pulls in blog posts it thinks you’ll like along with the latest from your social feeds. Android being Android of course, you can replace and remove all of these blights if you don’t like them – it’s a truly customisable OS.
Android being Android, it’s also fragmented, and the Desire Eye runs Android 4.4 KitKat rather than the newer, slicker 5.0 Lollipop update – an upgrade is on the cards however.
Which brings us to the cameras, two almost identical snappers (the front has a slightly wider angle f2.2 22mm lens). This is a better solution than the twisting individual camera on the Oppo N1 which can rotate to the front, since it’s less messy, and lets you toggle between views as you please. There’s no faff, and they’re both pretty good – as you’d expect from a mid-range mobile. It’s amazing how much dual-tone LED flash and accurate face detection can improve your selfies taken of an evening, while the rear camera’s stills come out crisp and respectably noise free, even during bleary British winter.
Really though, it’s HTC’s camera software that impresses most. Toggling between sensors is easy (you can even shoot with both at once in a split-screen view), and every shooting and editing option, from HDR to slow-mo video, red eye remover and a whole host of Instagram-esque filters, is available to both. You can even launch the camera just by picking up your phone in standby and pressing the volume button, a real time saver for impulsive photographers.
All that said, the Desire Eye is still a mid-range phone, and slightly overpriced: the HTC One M8 is approaching a year old now, but in many ways still better specced (faster, better looking, sports an Infrared sensor), and can be had for the same price off contract. So while we love the concept, in practice, we can’t help but wonder what might have been if an HTC One – or the HTC-made Nexus 9 tablet – offered this tech instead.
Having a camera as powerful on the front as the back is a boon not just for the vain, but for all Instagram types and those who like to experiment with photography. We’d love to see this feature appear on more top end smartphones and tablets, however the Desire Eye’s build quality and price make it a tougher sell otherwise.