HTC RE Review

Pros

  • Small enough to carry in your pocket
  • Wide-angle lens takes in a lot
  • Water-resistant and hardy
  • Really easy to use

Cons

  • Image and video quality not good enough
  • Some connection and app issues

Key Specifications

  • Review Price: £130.00
  • IPX7 water resistance; 16-megapixel 1/2.3-inch sensor; 146-degree ultra-wide-angle lens; 8GB on-board storage; Bluetooth 4.0; Wi-Fi; microSD card slot; iOS or Android app

What is the HTC RE?

No, this isn’t a tech-head’s asthma inhaler –
the RE is HTC’s first standalone camera and was introduced with the HTC
Desire EYE
selfie phone last year.

This is far from a
conventional camera; it has more similarities with Sony’s Lens cameras
or action cams. But you’re not meant to use it like those. No, the RE is
a wide-angle companion camera. It’s a description we were initially
dubious about when HTC coined the term, but in the month or so we’ve
been using the RE, it’s been just that. This is a product you need to
live with for a while before you understand what it offers.


HTC RE 5

The
RE is a small and simple compact camera that you begin to use without
having to think about. There’s no need to unlock your phone and fire up
an app. Just point and shoot. You feel like James Bond just holding it.

HTC’s
gadget is a niche product, but one that’s fun to use and serves a
purpose. Is it necessary? Absolutely not. But it is fun to use and
achieves results that, while not better than some of the best flagship
phones, offer something a little different.

HTC RE – Design

If
you think the RE looks odd, you’re right, but the periscope-ish design
makes a lot of sense once you start using it. This isn’t an action
camera – it won’t replace your GoPro, even though the body is IPX7
water-resistant.
HTC RE 11
The
strange shape is well suited to one-handed use – the body fits neatly
into your palm while the lens points outwards. That leaves your second
hand free to use for other tasks, unlike  with a traditional camera or
phone. The shutter button rests on the curve in perfect line with your
thumb. Press once to take a shot, hold for two seconds for video, or
push a small button on the front to video in slow motion.

That’s it. The RE camera doesn’t even have a power button; it just turns on when you pick it up via a sensor in the grip.

The
design works well when taking snaps. Despite not having a viewfinder
it’s easy to keep an object in the centre of the frame and straight.
That’s something we struggled to do with our Sony QX10 Lens camera.

It
is surprising just how accurate you can be with it. Because the HTC RE
camera feels a bit like a pistol in your hand, you can aim it like one.
Unless you’re an Imperial Storm Trooper you should be able to take
straight, in-frame photos.
HTC RE 2
You
won’t be able to apply the rule of thirds to perfection with this
camera, but you will get a decent shot if you’re holding it high at a
gig. The total lack of awkwardness also means you stay right in the
moment, rather than looking at a screen and trying to press a tricky
soft button using both hands.

It does take a little getting used
to. It’s all too easy to press the button for a fraction too long and
start shooting video when all you want is a beautiful shot of the
landscape. It’s particularly apparent when you ask someone else to take a
photo for you. Aside from having to explain what the RE is every time,
you also need to give your helper a crash course to stop them videoing.
And because it’s so easy to activate that big button we found ourselves
with long videos of the inside of a pocket after a night out.

The
flat base of the RE lets you plonk it on a level surface and take shots
or video remotely using a smartphone via an app. This makes it a lot
easier to frame your picture and ensure a blur-free image. There’s also a
¼-inch tripod mount.

The microSD slot – 8GB card included, up
to 128GB accepted – and the Micro USB charging port are also at the
bottom. This makes it tricky to charge while the RE is on a tripod or
flat surface. Considering the RE app has a timelapse feature, this is a
bit of a problem – if you want a long-term lapse, that is.
HTC RE 6
Barring
a metal ring around the lens, the RE is plastic. It’s a good-quality,
hardy plastic that has managed to remain scratch-free in spite of often
getting tossed in a bag or pocket. This is a well-made little product –
all the more useful thanks to its water resistance.

The RE can
stay under up to 1m of water for no more than 30 minutes. You won’t go
scuba diving with HTC’s camera, but you can feel safe using it on the
beach or a typically muddy Glastonbury Festival. There’s no cover on the
Micro USB port, but the microSD remains free of the wet stuff thanks to
a rubber-sealed flap.

HTC RE – App

If you do want to
see what you’re shooting, or to take a shot remotely, you need to use
the built-in Bluetooth 4.0 and Wi-Fi to connect it to your phone. This
isn’t a camera designed just with HTC mobiles in mind, though. The RE’s
mobile app is available for iOS and Android, so you can use it with the iPhone 6 or Samsung Galaxy S5, just not Windows or Blackberry ones.
HTC RE Test Shots
Connecting to the RE can be tricky, but the app works well once you’re in

You
need to first open the RE app, which connects your phone to the RE via
Bluetooth, then you need to access your Wi-Fi settings to find the RE.
There’s no Wi-Fi pass through, which means you’ll have use your mobile
data connection for live streaming or backing up online. The whole
process is a little convoluted and irksome.

Connection isn’t
guaranteed, either. We found we had to constantly connect our RE as a
new device, adding a password with annoying regularity on both iOS and
Android. A firmware update has improved stability significantly, but it
still sometimes happens. Not ideal when you’re having a party and
everyone has to wait while you set up for a group shot.

There’s
lag between what you seen on screen and where you’re pointing the RE,
too. It’s OK if you make slow movements, but anything more than that and
you have to wait a few seconds on a frozen frame while the phone
catches up. It’s no different to our experience with the Sony Lens
camera or a phone-connected GoPro, but it just makes it that bit harder
to get the shot you want.
HTC RE app
The app can straighten wide-angle photos. It’s fast and results good

The
app provides various other tweaks and settings, including the
resolution of photos – 8.3, 12 and 16-megapixel – and videos, and a
wide-angle lens toggle. Advanced settings include digital video
stabilisation and firmware updates. This is where you should update the
RE if you’re having the connection issues we experienced.

Oddly
these firmware updates can only be downloaded while connected to the RE.
They’re only a few megabytes in size, but we’d still prefer not to have
our mobile data leached for this task.

The app gallery lets you
upload images to your favourite social media outlet and straighten the
fish-eye effect caused by the wide-angle lens. The RE app uses software
to do this, but it’s fast and you wouldn’t notice a photo’s been
straightened. Very clever indeed.

HTC RE – Picture Quality

The
16-megapixel 1/2.3-inch sensor on the RE isn’t too far off the specs of
the Galaxy Note 4’s camera. There’s no optical zoom or optical image
stabilisation (OIS).

The lack of OIS is a bit of a problem. For a
camera meant to be used on the go and to capture moments as they
happen, the RE doesn’t cope well with movement. If your hand is moving
more than a little when you take a picture, the result will be a blurry
mess. When we first got the RE the ease with which you can take pics
made us a bit blase. We’d swing our arms around or walk and take a pic.
Suffice to say this doesn’t work. You still need to treat the RE like a
camera – you need to frame your shot and stand still.

So what’s
the point of having the RE if you’ve already got a top smartphone with a
decent snapper? Aside from the convenience and ease with which you can
use the RE, it also has a 146-degree wide-angle lens that lets you take
in a whole lot more of the scenery.

The proof is in the
pictures, though, so we took the RE out to Las Vegas to get some shots
as you would on holiday. When we got back to London we also tested it
against two of the best camera phones on the market right now – the
iPhone 6 Plus
and Samsung Galaxy Note 4.
HTC RE Test Shots
That wide-angle lens
lets you get more of the scenery in the frame than you can with a
traditional smartphone camera. If you’re at a football match you can
even get the whole pitch in a shot. Something’s got to give when a
camera takes so much in, and in the case of the RE that thing is detail.

HTC RE Test Shots
In general photos look good, if a little muted. There’s none of
the warmth of the iPhone or the detail of the Galaxy Note 4, but we
found ourselves taking a lot more photos with the RE than we do with a
phone simply because it is so unobtrusive to do so. 
HTC RE Test Shots
We took this picture underwater to test the RE’s water-resistance

We took the
same photos – standing in the same place and taken within seconds of
each other – with the RE, iPhone 6 Plus and Galaxy Note 4 to see how
they compare. We left HDR mode off the phones to keep the test like for
like.

Before we go into detail, we should look at just how much more the RE fits in frame.
HTC RE comparison
The RE captures more of the scenery. Photos taken from the same location. Note 4 picture inset

In
the following test we digitally zoomed in and cropped a section of each
photo to see how much detail the camera managed to capture.

HTC RE comparison

St
Paul’s Cathedral dome, shot over the river Thames, is noisy and there’s a
massive difference between the Note 4’s sharpness and the RE’s fuzzy
crop.

HTC RE comparison
In lower light, things don’t get much better, as this
photo of a statue in a dark room shows. The HTC RE just can’t compete
with these top phones. The RE’s photos aren’t bad, it’s just that these
phones take better photos under a variety of conditions.

READ ALSO: BEST CAMERAS

HTC RE – Video and Audio Quality

The
RE doesn’t shine on the video front either. It struggles with changes
in brightness and shows some signs of stuttering as we moved and shot. The 120fps
720p video works well enough, but suffers from the same issues normal
Full HD video does.

Audio capture comes courtesy of a single
mic, so it’s mono. It’s not bad, but you might be disappointed if you
want a cheeky memento of your favourite song sung live at a gig.

Watch the test video of the HTC RE:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aI4TNyeVARI

HTC RE – Battery Life

The
820mAh battery charges lasts for 1200 full-res photos or an hour and 40
minutes of Full HD video, according to HTC. That’s pretty close to what
we achieved, with 700 odd photos and several short videos being taken
before we had to tie the RE down to a plug socket.

Unfortunately
the ease with which you can take video also led us to holster the RE
while it was still shooting. Pulling it out of your pocket to take a
beautiful landscape shot only to realise you’ve killed the battery is a
real disappointment.

The good thing is that it charges in less
than two hours and you can use a portable power pack to top it up on the
go. Using the RE also means that you won’t be draining your phone’s
battery.

Should you buy the HTC RE?

This isn’t a product
for everyone, and neither is it cheap enough to buy on a whim or as a
stocking filler. However, the RE is perfect for those happy snappers who
want to take pictures or video without detaching themselves from what’s
going on there and then.

There are similarly priced, or
cheaper, action cams that can withstand more abuse (and water) than the
RE, but that’s missing the point. This isn’t an action cam; it’s more
akin to a compact camera before the age of the smartphone. The Sony Lens
camera is the RE’s closest rival. While we prefer the shots the Sony
takes, and its optical zoom, it doesn’t have the immediacy and ease of
use of HTC’s camera.
HTC RE 3
If you have a top-end phone with a good
camera on it then the RE makes little sense. It’s not that much more
difficult to take out your phone and take a picture, and the result will
be better. It’s a bit like the current swathe of smartwatches. Yes you
can read a text message without taking your phone out of your pocket,
but does that functionality warrant the cost? In our eyes it doesn’t.
That said, the wide-angle lens allows you to take better selfies and get
more into a picture than any phone camera we’ve used.

Where the
RE makes a lot of sense is if you have a budget smartphone. Many of
these, like the Moto G2 or Sony Xperia M2, provide great phone
experiences, but sacrifice camera performance. Pair one of these with
the RE and you almost get the best of both worlds at half the cost of a
flagship. It’s also a useful camera to take to a music festival or event
where you might not want to take an expensive and fragile smartphone.

READ ALSO: BEST CHEAP PHONES

Verdict
Despite
the fact that our phones take better pictures, we keep finding
ourselves using the RE to take quick snaps instead. If HTC can improve
the image and video quality in a sequel then it could be a real winner.

Limitations and software niggles aside, the RE is a great camera companion to a budget smartphone.

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