“The Desire Eye aims to be a godsend for the selfie obsessed. But is that all it's good for?”
The Oxford Dictionary proclaimed it as the word of the year in 2013. American broadcaster ABC launched a sitcom with this name. Hollywood starlet Kim Kardashian launched a coffee table book dubbed Selfish made up of her hand-picked selfies. Time magazine counted the selfie stick amongst the top 25 inventions of the year 2014.
These are just a few examples which highlight how a word, which was virtually unheard of a couple of years ago, has become one of the world's biggest trends. Taking notice of its surging popularity, manufacturers have started equipping their smartphones' front cameras with powerful sensors to help users to shoot better selfies. But Taiwanese giant HTC's offering, the Desire Eye, aims to trump them all with its front snapper, which boasts almost exactly the same confirguration as its primary shooter at the back.
But of course, no matter how big the selfie phenomenon is, the smartphone should excel in other aspects as well. Can the HTC Desire Eye find the correct balance between the two? Here's what we think.
|Short on time? Check out our pictorial review of the HTC Desire Eye|
Unlike HTC’s high-end One series, which is acclaimed for its premium aluminium unibody construction, its Desire phones decidedly target budget and mid-range segments. But that doesn’t mean that the phones aren’t lookers, as they appear stylish even with their plastic body. With the Desire Eye, the company is taking this series to a higher price range, and it shows in the design department as well.
The HTC Desire Eye stands out from the crowd thanks to its cleverly-designed dual-tone finish. Our review unit is dipped in white, but a bright red colour runs along phone’s edges lending it a unique style. The device is being sold in another interesting colour combination of black and blue.
Housing a large 5.2-inch display, the Desire Eye falls into the phablet segment. However, HTC has made sure that the device fits easily in one hand thanks to its reduced width. Unfortunately, it's quite tall, which makes it difficult to reach the corner of the screen with one hand. Part of the reason is that apart from the display, the fascia of the device also plays host to the 13-megapixel camera sensor and dual-tone LED flash at the top. The bottom is bare since the phablet offers navigation through software keys.
The Desire Eye also comes with the brand’s trademark BoomSound speakers to provide loud and clear sound output, but you won’t be able to see them readily. Unlike other devices from the company which have noticeable speaker grilles on both the top and bottom, the Desire Eye's speakers are located just above and below the edges of the display panel, which makes them quite indiscernible. But that doesn’t affect sound output, and they offer the same commendable audio performance.
Thanks to IPx7 certification, the HTC Desire Eye is amongst the very few few high-end devices that are resilient to dust and water. The device can withstand depths of up to 1m in water for up to 30 minutes.
Coming to the sides of the phone, its right edge gets the power key followed by the volume buttons, with a dedicated camera button further below. Yes, while many manufacturers are foregoing the shutter key on their devices (we’re looking at you, Microsoft), the dedicated button comes in handy for taking a quick shot, as well as shooting underwater where the touchscreen is rendered useless. The left side houses ejectable trays for a nano-SIM card and a microSD card. Up top, you’ll find a 3.5mm audio interface, whereas the micro-USB port is available at the bottom. Unlike Sony’s Xperia series which has flaps for protecting the open ports, both the micro-USB and audio socket are waterproof and saving HTC from using the cumbersome plastic flaps for protection.
At the rear of the unibody smartphone, there’s a 13-megapixel primary camera along with a dual-tone LED flash. Because of the glossy plastic, the device is susceptible to dust and can also be slippery if you suffer from sweaty palm syndrome.
Overall, the HTC Desire Eye manages to steal our attention with its distinctive design, and its waterproof capabilities earn it additional brownie points.
Being the most expensive smartphone in HTC’s Desire lineup, the device bears a full HD resolution unlike most offerings which have 720p resolution or below. This results in a rich pixel density of 424ppi on the Desire Eye’s 5.2-inch display. The display reproduces excellent colours and sharp text, along with good viewing angles. It has appropriate brightness levels, and though it is reflective, we were able to view it outdoors as well.
Protecting the display against scratches is a layer of Corning Gorilla Glass 3. The multi-touch screen is quite responsive too. However, at times, the touchscreen became unresponsive and we had to lock and unlock the device to bring it back to working condition.
In the case of the HTC Desire Eye, the software duty is handled by company’s custom skin dubbed Sense. The latest version of Sense is based on Android KitKat 4.4, and brings with it a different UI than the stock Android interface, as well as several additional features.
We have already covered the user interface in detail in our reviews of HTC devices such as the One (M8), Desire 816, and others, so we won’t discuss much in this section. Some of the key features of the custom skin are BlinkFeed – a dedicated homescreen that aggregates news and your social feeds at one place and Zoe – which lets you creates short videos. Additionally, the Desire Eye supports Motion Launch gestures, which are quite useful for unlocking the Desire Eye or accessing the BlinkFeed homescreen directly by simple swipes, even when the phone is asleep.
The calling card of the HTC Desire Eye is its front camera, which features an impressive 13-megapixel BSI sensor. This hardware choice makes the phablet amongst the very few devices with a good selfie camera, apart from options like the OPPO N1 (review) and N1 Mini (review) which have swivelling cameras. With an f/2.2 aperture, the sensor can let in more light, and you can also make use of the dual-tone LED flash for shooting in badly-lit conditions. HTC has also offered a plethora of software settings to improve your selfies such as the option to automatically enhance them. Here are some sample shots taken from the front snapper of the HTC Desire Eye.
For your usual photography needs, the device packs in the same 13-megapixel camera at the back, however the BSI sensor has a slightly wider aperture of f/2.0. There’s also a dual-tone LED flash to supplement the main shooter. HTC’s custom camera interface, as discussed in our One (M8 Eye) review, offers a number of settings and modes to improve your photos.
Take a look at some of the images captured by the 13MP primary camera of the smartphone.
As can be seen from the shots embedded above, both the shooters are adept at capturing good images. However, as highlighted in our camera review of the HTC Desire Eye, the rear camera suffers from a poor metering mechanism which is biased towards the center, resulting in blurriness towards the sides. The front camera, although good for taking selfies, isn’t the best, but gains an edge thanks to its powerful flash that lets users capture self-portraits even in completely dark environments.
Both the cameras can record videos in full HD resolution at 30fps. Apart from that, like all HTC devices, the Desire Eye lets you capture short videos through Zoe.
With the Desire Eye, the Taiwanese company is blurring the lines between its Desire and One range – and that’s evident when we talk about its internals. The smartphone is equipped with top-notch hardware – the same processor and RAM combo that powers the One (M8) (review) and the likes. The Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor offering four cores ticking at 2.3GHz along with an Adreno 330 graphics chip easily takes care of performance requirements. The device can also handle multiple tasks together thanks to the ample headroom available in its 2GB of RAM.
In our usage of the phone for the last two weeks, there was nary an instance of a slowdown with the HTC Desire Eye. Day-to-day tasks worked like a charm even when seven to eight apps were running in the background, and so did the high-end games. We played titles like Riptide GP2 extensively on the smartphone, and we never found any performance issues. However, like most phones, the phablet starts heating up from the upper part of the back panel within 15 minutes of playing. The heating issue is also rampant when the handset is used constantly for a considerable amount of time.
Fulfilling your storage needs is 16GB of flash memory, which offers around 9GB for installation of apps or saving of multimedia files. If that doesn't meet your requirements, you can make use of the available microSD card slot to insert cards up to 128GB in capacity.
For connectivity purposes, the HTC Desire Eye comes with the usual suite of options including dual-band Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, DLNA, NFC and GPS. The device also supports next-gen 4G networks along with 3G and 2G. Unlike devices in the One range however, the phone misses out on the IR emitter functionality, which means it can’t be used to control TVs or other electronic appliances.
The HTC Desire Eye is perfect in most departments, however it’s battery performance isn’t up to the mark. It draws power from a 2,400mAh embedded Li-Po battery, which may not be low in terms of capacity, but fails to keep the phablet running for long periods. It hardly manages to last an entire day with basic use, and if 3G, Wi-Fi tethering or GPS is on, it gives up in a matter of a few hours. Although, it fared pretty well in our standard video loop battery drain test, lasting for just under 11 hours.
On the plus side, the company has added some intelligent modes to consume the battery efficiently. With Power saver, the device will conserve the CPU usage, reduce brightness and turn off data when it’s on sleep to enhance the battery life.
In case of dire emergencies, you can also enable the Extreme power saving mode, first introduced with the One (M8), allowing the handset to stretch 5- or 10 percent of juice for a few hours. It does so by limiting functionality to calls, messages, clock, calculator and email.
With a powerful snapper at the front, the HTC Desire Eye might seem like it’s aimed mainly at selfie enthusiasts. However, the Taiwanese giant has made sure that the device doesn’t lack in any other aspect and one look at its spec sheet proves that. The phablet is a well-rounded offering with its distinct styling, gorgeous display, identical imaging sensors at the front and back and recent Qualcomm processor, not to mention that it’s resistant to water.
However, if you keep aside its selfie snapper for a moment, it becomes slightly difficult for us to recommend the HTC Desire Eye, especially at its asking price of Rs 37,999. The reason is pretty obvious – the likes of Xiaomi and Lenovo have brought the price of such excellent hardware to the mid-budget segment. In fact, you can opt for the OnePlus One (review | cheatsheet) or Xiaomi Mi 4 (review | cheatsheet) which sport similar specs (in fact, they pack in a generous 3 gigs of RAM) for almost half the price of the Desire Eye.
Having said that, if you’re brand conscious, like to capture selfies, want a rugged phone and don’t want the hassle of an invite-only or flash-sale model, the HTC Desire Eye is the right choice for you.
Photos by Raj Rout. Video by Pratik Vyas
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