- Sharp screen
- All day battery life
- Cameras inconsistent
- Bulky build
We review HTC’s Desire Eye, a hulking selfie monster packing dual 13-megapixel cameras, plus some premium specs for a mid-range price.
If your main concern when seeking out your perfect smartphone is an awesome camera, meet the HTC Desire Eye. This 5.2-inch power-packing beast doesn’t just make do with a 13-megapixel camera ‘round the back; it also has one at the front, complete with a dual-LED flash for those drunken night/club selfies.
But is the Desire Eye more than just a pretty face-snapper? Let’s get this review started...
Design: Water ain’t no thang
If you have stubby little fingers or simply don’t like enormous phones, then the HTC Desire Eye isn’t going to float your boat, raft, dinghy or whatever form of watercraft you personally prefer.
This 5.2-inch phone is practically the same size as the Samsung Galaxy Note 4, a mighty 5.7-inch phablet, thanks to the wide bezels (which stretch significantly above and below the screen). That basically means that one-handed use is a write-off.
Still, for such a sizeable smartphone, it’s also suitably slender and won’t weigh down your pocket, at 8.5mm and 154g. I do like the design too, even though it's just two-tone soft-touch plastic stretching across the back and edges, rather than the shiny metal of the One M8.
Best of all, the Desire Eye follows in the soggy footsteps of the Xperia Z3 and Galaxy S5, with a fully water resistant body. It’ll survive for a full half hour underwater (up to a metre according to the official stats), and impressively that’s despite having open ports. You won’t find a single annoying rubbery flap over the charging or earphone sockets.
One of my only gripes lies with those SIM card and memory card drawers, which sit side-by-side on the left edge of the phone. They’re identical on the outside for a start, with no markings to tell you which is which, and they’re also a bugger to get open if you chew your fingernails to bits. Hence I gleefully spent ten minutes or so stabbing the Desire Eye with paperclips each time I wanted to change the memory card, only to eventually yank out the SIM card by mistake and watch it go bouncing across the floor.
As far as first world problems go, it’s not quite up there with missing your bus thanks to dawdling tourists, but it’s close.
Also, that soft touch back picks up grime and smudges quite easily, but it’s a lot less noticeable on the white model compared with the dark version.
Screen and media: Boom(Sound) shake the room
Although the Desire Eye is designed with photography in mind, it wouldn’t be much cop without a decent screen. Thankfully the 5.2-inch screen is a Full HD beast, to match most flagship rivals. The 1080x1920 resolution gives 424 pixels-per-inch (ppi) so photos look crisp and clean and movies are just as gorgeous.
Viewing angles are fantastic and the screen is spacious enough so a couple of heads can cram together and watch something. Good news if you want to keep your sprogs entertained in the back of the car.
On top brightness, the Desire Eye beams out enough light to cut through any kind of glare, although this obviously has an impact on battery life. Best just to let the automatic brightness tool do its job.
Another area that HTC has nailed down since last year’s HTC One is audio (Beats fans would argue that HTC has done awesome audio for much longer, but hey ho). The Desire Eye packs dual front-facing BoomSound speakers which blast out some surprisingly powerful sound, although they’ve changed a little from the BoomSound of yesteryear. Now the speakers have been shrunken into a tiny gap above and below the screen, so thin that you likely won’t even notice them. But they’re there alright and they’re just as impressive as ever.
Make sure to check your expectations, of course. You won’t be able to power a party with the Desire Eye, but you can certainly enjoy music while you’re sat at your desk or chill with a movie in bed and not have to worry about headphones.
Cameras: The ultimate selfie machine?
Now the truly unique part. The HTC Desire Eye is one of the only phones to pack the same camera tech on the front and back, so you get two 13-megapixel snappers, both with auto-focus and dual-LED flash.
Views on this will likely swing wildly between ‘OMG that’s well cool’ and ‘why the hell would you want that?’
We think it would make more sense to have a rotating camera lens that can be swapped from front to back, something that Oppo recently showed off in its N3 mobile. Still, there’s no denying that selfie lovers will get a kick out of that ridiculous front-facing lens, which takes insanely sharp pics. Good thing there’s one of them wacky beauty mode sliders right there on the interface, so you can digitally remove the bags from your eyes and basically look like some kind of plasticine alien.
As well as snapping standard selfies, you can capture four photos in quick succession which are then arranged into a montage, or even shoot a photo using both front and back photos at once. The latter mode doesn’t work as well as Samsung’s Dual Camera Mode, sadly, as the split-screen setup is fixed. Half of the screen is dedicated to each camera, and that can’t be changed.
In the LG G3, you could shoot a selfie using gestures - just clench a fist and the phone counted down from three before snapping. It’s an almost essential feature when taking selfies in a group, especially when you’ve had a few and can’t quite push the shutter button with your arm outstretched, without dropping the phone on the WKD-encrusted dancefloor.
The Desire Eye can’t do that sadly, and the smile shutter feature (smile and it takes a photo) doesn’t seem to work - either that or my Mr Burns-style grin is just too terrifying for the phone to pick up. However, there are plenty of other options for taking a shot, so you’re bound to find something that works. There’s a voice shutter (just say ‘cheese’ and then wonder why everyone around you gives you funny looks) and a ‘stand still’ shutter (just stand still, not too easy if you’re a bit tipsy) and a use-the-shutter-button option too.
I found that close-up photos were often a disappointment with either camera; the focus occasionally struggled to latch onto our subject, even if it was still and well-lit, giving a soft overall finish. Use the flash, and they’re often over-exposed.
However, more general shots came out well. There’s plenty of detail packed into everyday snaps and the lenses cope, just about, with lower light situations. When it works, it works really well. I just wish that performance was more consistent, as too many of my final snaps were either blurry or in some way useless.
Fans of the HTC One’s Zoe mode will be glad to hear that it pops up again on the Desire Eye in the form of a simple app. If you don’t know what Zoe is, it’s basically an interactive, animated summary of your week, holiday, bar mitzvah, vasectomy or whatever else you’ve snapped on the go. Just select which photos you want added, pick your theme and music and Zoe throws the photos at your face in a funky fashion. It’s more exciting than your usual holiday slideshow effort, at least.
Features: Familiar territory
If you’re already sporting an HTC phone from the last couple of years, you’ll know exactly what to expect here. Android 4.4 KitKat is neatly presented with HTC’s subtle visual tweaks, and not-so-subtle BlinkFeed page, which streams whatever social media and news content you like direct to your desktop. Thankfully, unlike Samsung’s Magazine UI, you can remove BlinkFeed if you’re not a fan.
That’s not the only little change HTC has made. Swapping over from any other phone is a breeze thanks to HTC’s migration tool (found in the settings), which even works with iPhones, Blackberrys and other non-Androids. And there are plenty of shortcut gestures hidden away in the settings too, which allow you to quickly answer your phone, reject a call and so on.
You can pack in plenty of storage space thanks to the memory card slot, which is just as well as there’s only 16GB built in, a chunk of which is used by the OS. And of course you get all the standard phone features you’d expect packed away inside, including 4G LTE support and built-in NFC to share files with other mobile devices.
Performance and battery life: Solid effort
A Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor is packed inside the HTC Desire Eye, so it’s no slouch when it comes to performance. You can happily run photo and video editing apps, if you want to get your snaps and home movies looking pixel perfect before uploading them.
Battery life is another highlight, great news if you’re always on the road. We found we could just about tease two whole days out of the Desire Eye between charges, if we were restrained with our fiddling. If you love to regularly surf the web and play with apps, however, you should still get a full day and a half of use.
And if you want to stream your mucky movies over Wi-Fi? Well, the Eye fares a little less well when the screen is constantly on, but you’ll still manage around six hours of video playback from a full charge, which is a little better than the smartphone average.
Like the Samsung Galaxy Note 4, the Desire Eye also charges up to half battery life in very little time, in case you suddenly realise that it’s almost dead just twenty minutes before leaving the house.
I really, really like the HTC Desire Eye, and I’m not even a fan of selfies, unless I’m a bit tipsy. Take or leave that 13-megapixel front facer, because the rest of the phone is a joy. Between the solid performance, uber-long battery life, spacious HD screen and likeable waterproof design, the Desire Eye is a bloody great all-round portable pal.
The cameras, despite being the Desire Eye’s obvious selling point, are actually the weakest point - at least in my experience. Selfie fans will enjoy the sharp flash-enhanced front camera and more often that not you'll get sharp, attractive photos, but the results are too inconsistent with both lenses, and too many shots ended up soft or blurry or over-exposed.
- Full HD (1920x1080)
- 155 grams
- Android 4.4 KitKat
- 2.3GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 801
- 2GB RAM
- 16GB. Expandable via microSD up to an additional 128GB
- NFC, IPX7 water/dustproofing