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HTC's next midrange smartphone is destined for selfie fans

Brad Molen
10.08.14
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Selfies are exploding in popularity, so naturally manufacturers are stepping up to offer phones that match that rapidly expanding trend. In reality, there are already several that specifically cater to those who can't resist a good picture of themselves, and HTC is hopping on the bandwagon with a "selfie phone" known as the Desire Eye. The device is among the first wave of phones that bear a 13MP camera on the front, which matches the resolution on the rear camera. It also comes with a new set of imaging tricks and the usual Sense experience, so it's appealing even if you don't want to broadcast your beautiful face all over Facebook and Instagram (among others). It's time to take a closer look at HTC's next big thing.

Gallery: HTC Desire Eye hands-on | 43 Photos

The Desire Eye is not the first smartphone that bears dual 13MP cameras; a KIRF called the THL W11 Monkey King holds that title. Still, it's the first from a major brand that is due to roll out worldwide -- it'll come to AT&T in October as an exclusive in the US and then make its way to Asia and Europe shortly after -- and is being positioned as one of HTC's flagship devices.

The device itself comes in two colors, coral reef (white with orangish red trim) and blue lagoon (dark blue with light blue trim), is 8.5mm thick, weighs 154 grams (5.43 ounces) and has a 5.2-inch 1080p display. It features slightly bubbled-out sides and a flat back, but its thickness still allows plenty of room for my fingers, which makes it easy to grip. It uses HTC's new "double shot" design housing, which is a two-tone, polycarbonate, unibody design method that's also featured on the Desire 820; it looks and feels well-built and completely robust. It also comes with a waterproof rating of IPX7, which means that it's supposed to handle up to one meter of water for up to 30 minutes. It's great to see more devices like this land in the US, which has admittedly been late to the waterproof game.

The Desire Eye will be the first device to offer a new bundle of camera tricks called the Eye Experience, which will become available on a large number of HTC devices soon. Most of the new features listed are neither groundbreaking nor essential, but can help you get a little more creative with your shots. One of the coolest features is a clever new face-tracking technique for video conference calls that can find up to four faces and display each of them on their very own frame; if someone is video chatting with you on Skype, for instance, they'd see four frames of each individual, rather than all four standing next to each other. Again, not essential, but it could make conference calls a little less intimidating.

On top of this, there's also a crop-me-in mode that lets you take a selfie picture and paste it into a rear-camera shot. Face Fusion can merge two faces together; Split Capture lets you take a rear picture and selfie and put both in a split-pane view; Live Makeup is exactly what it sounds like, and it doesn't make me look any prettier (mileage could vary); Photo Booth takes four pictures and puts them into a photo booth-style set of frames. HTC is also adding voice capture for front-facing shots, so you just have to say "cheese" to take stills ("rolling" for video).

The Eye Experience will come to several other phones, such as the M7, M8, E8, Butterfly 2, One mini and mini 2, One max, Desire 816 and Desire 820. HTC says that the feature list will be available when the update rolls out to these models, which suggests that some phones may not get all of the features.

I won't make any final judgments on the camera experience until the firmware is completely final (these units come installed with pre-production firmware), but my first impressions are more mediocre than I was hoping -- especially in the area of low-light performance. Sure, it's not as noisy as some other phones, but I had to retake several shots that turned out blurry and most of them were too dark, a travesty when you're hoping to get a well-lit selfie. To that point, HTC has graciously added a dual-LED flash to the front for this kind of situation, but it's almost too bright; your face will be sufficiently lit, but you also won't be able to see anything for an hour. Colors aren't accurate in daylight shots either, but again, improvements may be made between now and the final release.

The new hardware, which runs Sense 6, features specs that are more indicative of the One lineup than the Desire brand, as it offers a 2.3GHz quad-core Snapdragon 801 chipset, 2GB of RAM, IPX7 waterproof rating, a 5.2-inch 1080p display, BoomSound and a 2,400mAh battery (which is just a tad too low for our taste). Internal storage comes in at just 16GB. Thus, it's no surprise that HTC is planning to price it in between its two lineups: The company says the Eye will be priced somewhere between the Desire 820 -- the 64-bit smartphone unveiled last month -- and the E8, which is a plastic version of the M8.

Edgar Alvarez contributed to this report.

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