Everyone’s snapping selfies these days, from Oscar-winning celebs to the president of India.

So it’s strange that it’s taken this long for a smartphone manufacturer to do the obvious thing and slap a decent camera on the front of the phone.

HTC has put 13MP cameras on both sides of its new Desire Eye, both of which are accompanied by a dual LED flash and bright f/2.0 lens. These aren’t UltraPixel snappers (UltraPixel sensors don’t play nice with the Desire Eye’s video call face-tracking, apparently) but HTC says they’re excellent in low light conditions. Incidentally, if you’re wondering if they use the same 13MP sensor as the HTC One Mini 2, they don’t – HTC claims this one’s new and better.

Yes we cam

The camera is designed to push video calling to new heights. The front camera’s wide angle lens can track up to four faces in a room simultaneously, cropping and framing each one separately in a grid layout, and there are no fewer than three dedicated microphones on board to boost voice clarity. The optional kickstand case will make propping it up on your coffee table so you can all Skype Auntie Anne in Adelaide very painless indeed. You can also screen share anything on your phone live over the video chat feed.

Bringing it back to selfies, the Desire Eye packs a pretty effective beautification slider with live processing, allowing you to preview your face to make sure you don’t overdo the digital airbrushing (finally, an end to the “You look like an anime character” insults on my Instagram feed). You can also use both cameras simultaneously with Crop-Me-In, a new feature that inserts your fizzog (taken with the front-facing camera) into the scene taken by the rear camera. You can even paste your face into your friend’s head. If you want to, like. 

The results, as you can see, can be terrifying.

Find the act of taking a selfie awkward? You don’t have to press the Desire Eye’s on-screen camera button: you can also trigger the front camera using voice prompts or have it snap automatically when it’s held suitably steady.

If you’re an HTC One (M8) owner a bit miffed that your phone isn’t getting all these lovely new camera features, don’t worry: a firmware update coming soon will solve that by bringing the “Eye Experience” software suite to the One.

An alternate HTC flagship phone

But enough about photos and video. There’s a lot more to the Desire Eye than imaging, and in many ways we get the impression that it’s an alternative flagship device for HTC – albeit one that’s likely to be more affordable than the One (M8). 

Sure, its unibody is plastic and a little less premium than the One (M8), but it also has the advantage of being IPX7 waterproof (you can dunk it up to a metre of water for up to 30 minutes), a few grams lighter, and of having a slightly larger screen (it’s a 5.2in 1080p display).

In the hand it doesn’t feel quite as ergonomic as the One (M8) – it’s larger and flatter, without the M8’s helpful curved back.

Specs and OS

On the specs front, it’s running off a Snapdragon 801 quad-core chip clocked at 2.3GHz with 2GB of RAM and 16GB of expandable storage (up to a further 128GB via microSD card). It seems snappy enough, but we'll have to wait for our full review for the final verdict.

There’s a 2400mAh battery that HTC claim delivers 20 hours of talk time and 538 hours of standby time, and BoomSound stereo speakers on the front face.

HTC Sense 6.0 returns too, withuseful news and social network aggregator BlinkFeed in tow.

Price and release date

You’ll be able to buy the HTC Desire Eye towards the end of this year. Pricing is yet to be announced.

Stay tuned for our final review for the full lowdown on the HTC Desire Eye.