Some people love selfies. Some people loathe selfies. Some people put cameras on sticks to get better selfies.
Whichever camp you’re in, there’s no denying that in a world where so many lives are micro-blogged into oblivion, selfies have become important. The HTC Desire Eye is one of the most obviously selfie-obsessed phones ever made.
Phones are starting to use higher-res sensors for their front cameras, but the HTC Desire Eye jumps all the way up to a 13-megapixel sensor, with a dual-LED flash. That’s more than many ‘main’ phone cameras get.
You’re probably thinking — this can’t be good news, a phone that’s all about a single gimmick? Well the big surprise here is that the Desire Eye is almost the inverse of the Facebook-bothering narcissist it might appeal to. Yes, the front camera will grab a few headlines, but almost every other element of the phone is rock-solid, making it a real contender in the £400 weight class.
Object of Desire
Just a few years ago, the Desire range was where you’d find HTC’s top phones. However, these days it’s packed with mid-range mobiles with a slightly more fun, less fashion- and spec-obsessed feel to them.
We see the lighter approach of the Desire range throughout the Desire Eye, but it’s most obvious in the more basic design. While HTC’s One phones are made of aluminium, the Desire Eye embraces plastic much in the way Nokia Lumia phones do.
The smooth, soft, two-tone finish of the Desire Eye isn’t out to make its mark the Eye out as a pocket-size status symbol, but it feels great and has a cheery disposition that’s instantly likeable.
Would we change anything? Sure. There’s a fair bit of space above and below the screen and slimmer bezels would give the Desire a sleeker look, but we’ve no serious complaints on looks. Even the front camera is about as low-key as the hardware allows.
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The Eye desires a dunking
We’ll let you in on a little secret: in many respects the Desire Eye is a match for the One M8. Just don’t tell HTC we told you so.
It’s even better in one respect, too. The Desire Eye is certified to IPx7, a water resistance standard that means the phone can be dunked in water to a depth of a metre and left there for 30 minutes with no ill effects. While we’ve seen videos of the HTC One M8 being submerged without heading straight to the great Carphone Warehouse in the sky, it doesn’t officially offer any water resistance.
The best bit about the Desire Eye’s waterproofing ability is that it doesn’t need any extra flaps over the microUSB or headphone ports. It’s the best kind of weatherproofing: the kind you can completely ignore.
Not as taken with the blue shell of our review sample as we are? There’s also a red/white version out there.
The only thing to note is that while this is one of the friendliest-looking phones HTC makes, it’s still fairly large thanks to its 5.2-inch screen. And despite being just 8.5mm it feels quite chunky compared to the latest, slimmest smartphones around.
Screen spec inspection
Other than being just a smidge bigger (5.2in to 5in) the Desire Eye’s display is very similar to that of the HTC One M8. It’s sharp, and offers natural-looking rather than over saturated, super-vivid colours. That’s definitely a good thing as far as we’re concerned.
Within a few short months, QHD resolution will probably be the normal resolution for phones of £400 and above, but for now we’re perfectly happy with the 1080p resolution offered here. 424ppi is plenty for now, thanks very much.
It’s not quite perfect, though. The HTC Desire Eye doesn’t have blacks anywhere near as deep as OLED phones such as the Nokia Lumia 930 or Samsung Galaxy S5, resulting in distinctly lower contrast. It’s not just OLEDs it has to compete with, either — the Sony Xperia Z3 offers better blacks and better contrast, and it uses an LCD screen. It’s no deal-breaker - contrast levels are similar on the much-loved One M8 - but black level aficionados might appreciate knowing.
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The software is also shared with the HTC One M8 which means the Desire Eye runs Android 4.4.4 with HTC’s custom Sense interface.
It’s a neat interface that makes some interesting changes to stock Android. On the light and fluffy side, it makes your apps menu scroll vertically rather than horizontally — because everyone likes being contrarian once in a while — and directly under the spotlight sits BlinkFeed.
This is a homescreen that offers a reel of the latest updates from Facebook, Twitter, your favourite websites — whatever you choose to put in. It’s a handy extra, but in our experience it’s a real love-it-or-hate-it thing, and HTC makes sure getting rid of it is easy enough.
We’ve always liked Sense and it works well on the Desire Eye, but it does feel like it’s now due a bit of a pep-up, especially in light of the Lollipop launch. Simplicity is the order of the day, and HTC’s interface is now looking just a touch fussier than it might.
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Operating System: Android 4.4.4 with Sense UI
Screen: 5.2in LCD with 1920x1080 resolution (424ppi)
Processor: Quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 @ 2.3GHz
Storage: 16GB (expandable by up to 128GB with microSD)
Camera: 13MP front with dual-LED flash, 13MP rear with dual-LED flash
Connectivity: NFC, Wi-Fi b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0 with aptX
Dimensions: 152 x 74 x 8.5mm
Spec-wise the Desire Eye is well equipped. Its combination of a Snapdragon 801 processor and 2GB of RAM isn’t boundary-pushing (the Snapdragon 801 is at the end of its days, about to be booted out by the Snapdragon 805 and even more advanced 64-bit chipsets) but that doesn't stop it from being a very powerful CPU for right now.
Just check out its Geekbench 3 result: 3037 points puts it in the same league as the HTC One M8 and Sony Xperia Z3, and not too far behind the Galaxy Note 4. Sure enough, gaming performance is great too. A 5.2-inch display and plenty of power is great news for gamers.
There’s another neat little gaming extra too, and it’s not one you might spot at first glance. The HTC Desire Eye actually fits in a pair of BoomSound speakers, hidden behind tiny little slits above and below the screen.
The voicing of these speakers seems to be a little more conservative than the HTC One M8’s despite them being both tagged with the mighty BoomSound name — the sound seems a little less beefy — but they’re still much better than average.
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I have an eye on you
By now you’ve probably cottoned on to the fact that the Desire Eye is a lot more than the one trick pony some may have been expecting, but let’s get onto the main event, the cameras.
The HTC Desire Eye is the first camera we’ve looked at to feature 13-megapixel cameras on the front and back. Both have dual-LED flashes too, each LED using a different tone to avoid blowing out people’s faces, much like Apple’s TrueTone flash.
Your first assumption might be that they’re exactly the same, but they’re subtly different. The front camera has a wider-angle lens with a narrower aperture. Look carefully at the lenses and you can actually see the difference in aperture size.
While the rear 13-megapixel main sensor may seem like a downgrade from the UltraPixel one used in the HTC One M8, we’re pretty happy with what you get here.
We’ve used a few pretty sluggish camera phones recently, but the Desire Eye is quick. Focusing is snappy and shutter lag is virtually non-existent, making it feel like the camera is capturing a shot the exact moment you press the shutter button.
This is also one of the few recent Android phones to offer a dedicated shutter button, something that’s often left out these days. It’s a bit stiff, but it’s hugely useful and there’s no obligation to use it if you find it a bit finicky.
The software behind the Desire Eye’s camera is much the same as the HTC One M8’s, which means it looks cool, even though buries the HDR mode a little too deeply for considering it’s such a useful day-to-day tool for mobile snappers.
Image quality is pretty good for the most part, though. Both the front and rear cameras use the same Sony IMX214 sensor seen in phones such as the OnePlus One, and it’s pretty comparable with the IMX135 sensor used in the LG G3 — more advanced in fact.
In daylight your shots will have loads of detail, and we found day/dusk metering to be pretty good. Add this to the very good shooting speed and you have a camera that’s bags of fun to use.
The only obvious weak point is that for night shooting, the Desire Eye doesn’t radically brighten-up images to make them clear. Truly dark scenes will remain more-or-less black unless you switch the flash on. It’s a shame, but at least the two-tone flash provides more natural-looking results than a standard white-LED one.
We also had some minor issues with the Desire Eye taking photos before it has really achieved focus, but this is a predictable result of being so desperate to be speedy, and can be solved by just taking a few more ‘security’ shots.
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Get ready for your close-up
So, around the front — how good are the Desire Eye’s selfies? They’re great, and the wide 20mm angle of the lens makes taking selfies of multiple people easy enough.
Having a sensor as strong as the IMX214 on-board for selfies means it’s not all about resolution without added detail — some higher res sensors hardly seem to actually get you much more detail than a bog-standard one. As long as you have a bit of light to work with, the Desire will render each hair, wrinkle and crease with depressing accuracy.
If it all gets a bit much, though, there’s a ‘magic’ slider that smoothes-out those bits that might remind you too much of your own mortality.
There are a few other selfie-specific modes too. Photo booth takes a quartet of shots which are then woven together in one nice, Facebook-able image, while Split Capture takes the output from the front and rear cameras and spews them out as a single image.
There are improvements to be made in the HTC Desire Eye camera setup, but it’s probably less problematic than the HTC One M8 in day-to-day use thanks to its more reliable metering and all-round greater detail capture. Plus you can really use the front camera to work out how dreadful you really look on those post-party mornings.
Juice me up
Battery life is surprisingly good given the 2400mAh battery unit sounds pretty small. We’ve been getting a solid day and a half from a charge, getting you that occasionally vital second-day buffer.
To double check the Desire Eye’s stamina we set it to play a looped video fully charged to see how long it’d last. Sure enough, it soldiered on through twelve full hours of Twilight at 720p resolution — enough to turn anyone into a gibbering wreck.
Getting this out of a 2400mAh battery is seriously impressive. HTC has clearly put some work into optimisation to get this kind of longevity.
There’s no shortage of little tech wingdings, either. The Desire Eye has NFC, 4G, aptX and fast battery charging tech. It really doesn’t miss out on much compared to the HTC One M8, apart from an IR blaster.
HTC Desire Eye verdict
The HTC Desire Eye is the sort of phone that might initially make you groan. A phone based around selfies? You must be joking.
However, it’s turned out to be one of this year’s pleasant surprises, performing well in just about every respect with the selfie skills there to provide a bit of attention grabbing pizzazz.
Were it not for the current crop of absolutely beltingly brilliant phones that are now available for similar or less (we’re looking at you, Moto X and LG G3) the Desire Eye would be getting the full five stars. As it is, we’re looking at a very capable, very likeable four starrer that should be promoted to first choice by those who really love a selfie.