Although the interface is roughly the same on both platforms, the user experience is better on the Android app. The RE uses WiFi Direct to transfer photos and videos to the phone, and while both mobile OSes support the tech, iOS handles it a little differently. Each time you want to connect to the RE, the app will ask you to go into your WiFi settings and connect to the RE's ad hoc network. Once that link is established, you're good to go -- at least, until you exit the app or become idle for longer than three minutes. This is a huge interruption and takes up a lot of extra time, and if you're trying to frame a shot in a hurry, it's an inadequate solution. The Android app, on the other hand, establishes a connection with the RE in-app while maintaining your phone's existing WiFi link. It's a much more seamless experience.
One other thing: If you try to watch a RE video on the app without downloading it to the phone first, it's almost impossible to get through more than 10 seconds without the stream either hiccuping or just completely stopping. Sometimes the video will stop while the audio plays on. If HTC can't get this right, I'm not sure how it plans to make its upcoming Live Broadcast to YouTube feature (which the company says is coming at a later date) a seamless experience for viewers.
Unless you have plenty of money burning your pockets, $200 for a personal camera can be difficult to justify, especially since most of us already have a perfectly capable camera phone, and maybe even a tablet too. We've already mastered the perfect selfies, and phone makers have done an excellent job at shortening the time it takes to pull out our devices and start snapping. So why bother trying to juggle yet another device? It's a valid argument, and indeed, I was skeptical about the RE's usefulness before I played with one. Now I totally understand why it makes sense... in certain situations, at least.
For one thing, it's just fun to use. It's a fantastic social tool; I handed it to friends, co-workers and family members to see what they would do with it (answer: take a lot of close-ups of their eyes, nose and other body parts). We'd take selfies together and find other ways to use it to pass the time.
Also, with the RE in-hand, I discovered I was taking more pictures than ever before. It's ridiculous how quickly I reached my 600th shot. I took several times more images on the RE than I usually do on smartphones. Suddenly, I found myself looking for ways to come up with creative new photo opportunities and even took pictures of things that weren't all that interesting -- you know, just in case I needed the shots for my next great masterpiece. I tried different angles; I raised the RE far above my head to catch a new perspective on something cute my kids were doing; I even took it on a roller coaster and filmed my rides (only try this if you're confident in your grip). It reminded me of the first time I used a digital camera instead of film: I had an epiphany that I could take as many pictures as I wanted to and just discard the bad ones. The only limitation was the size of my external storage card. It was as if a huge burden had been lifted off of my shoulders. Now in 2014, I get a similar feeling from the RE.
The camera is also easy to use one-handed, so I could take a picture of my daughter as she and I walked in the rain under umbrellas; without the RE, it would've been a struggle to take my phone out of my pocket, get into camera mode and then take the picture, all with only one hand. The biggest exception to this rule is the shake feature on the Moto X, but it's still a few seconds faster to pull out the RE and press the button. Had it been warmer, too, I would have jumped into a pool with the RE or used it at the beach. It's a lot handier to carry this petite camera than a bulky phone, so you can take pictures and videos of what's happening without worrying about getting your handset wet or full of sand. And since you're less tempted to look at your phone, chances are you're a lot less distracted.
Which brings me to my next point. It's not difficult to take pictures with my phone, but it also involves more fiddling around with the app, tweaking settings, making sure the focus is just right and other tasks. Say what you will about not having a viewfinder on the RE, but it's one less distraction keeping you from being focused on what's really important: the actual thing you're seeing with your own eyes. It's easier to focus on what you're capturing, rather than the process of capturing it. After all, I can't enjoy my child's recital as much when I'm hiding behind a screen. Is there a chance my pictures and videos end up off-center? Sure, but the more I used the RE, the more I understood what its boundaries and limitations were, so I developed a sense of how to take better photos.
The RE is great for vacations and travel, hiking and camping, concerts (for video, at least), the beach and any impromptu moment that comes and goes in a matter of seconds -- y'know, the cheesy stuff you see in commercials. In my preview, I called the RE "the GoPro for NoPros," and the nickname still rings true. But this is all contingent upon actually having the device handy, which is easier said than done. If it's in your backpack or purse, you'll likely spend countless seconds trying to dig it out. It's also small enough that you'll accidentally leave it at home or in the car on several occasions (this happened to me a few times). In the most ideal situation, which involves me having it in-hand or at least in my pocket ready for a quick draw, it's a huge timesaver; for every other moment in which it's not, you'll probably default to grabbing your phone.
The RE takes 16-megapixel still photos with a 4:3 aspect ratio, though you can drop the resolution down to 12MP if you prefer to shoot in 16:9. Videos max out at 1080p/30 fps, though slow-motion capture comes in at 720p. Thus, images taken with the RE pack the same number of pixels as the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 and Galaxy S5, but it lacks UHD video capture, which is quickly becoming a standard on flagship smartphones.
Of course, just because the RE has the same resolution as high-end handsets doesn't mean they're going to be of the same quality. There are a few key factors that make the RE different. The RE's aperture is much smaller at f/2.8, making it more difficult to use in low-light scenarios; default images use a 100-degree wide-angle shot, increasing to 146 degrees on ultra-wide photos (videos are 86 degrees); and there's no autofocus, manual settings or HDR to enhance your images in any way. So how much of an impact do these factors have?
You know how car mirrors say objects are closer than they appear"? The wide-angle lens on the RE makes some images turn out exactly the same way; the stuff I shot wound up looking more distant than they really were. In addition, distortion is easy spottable on the outer edges of most photos: Street poles look curved (#bendgate2); people get stretched; and so on. Thus, you'll get images taken from an entirely different perspective than you normally would get on a smartphone camera. It makes for some really creative shots, but keep the wide-angle aspect in mind when you're trying to set up the perfect selfie. And even if you think you're close enough to the photo's subject (and aren't looking at the remote viewfinder), you may want to inch a little closer just in case.
The kicker is that while it's good to get closer, you don't wanna get too close. When I tried to take close-up shots of anything, the object would appear slightly blurry, while everything farther away remained in focus. Figuring out how to frame your shots on this device is a learned skill, but over time, you'll get better as you discover the best angles and distances for each type of situation.
Of the roughly 600 photos I took during the course of my review, at least 15 percent of my camera roll consisted of blurry, unusable shots that looked like I'd been shaking the device when the shutter went off. One of the primary culprits here is shutter lag. From a cold start (if you haven't taken pictures in a little while), it takes around two seconds for the RE to fire off a shot. Most of the time, I forgot to stay perfectly still; the idea of this camera is to shoot something quickly and move on to the next thing, so when I would go out for a walk, I would tend to press the button and keep walking. As a result, quite a few of my photos were taken as I was dropping my arms. Eventually I got in the habit of taking two shots, since the second shot's shutter delay is much shorter -- just a half a second or so.
About 15 to 20 pictures in my camera roll were taken in my pocket. This was unexpected, since the RE comes with a sensor that detects when you're holding it and disables the button when you're not. Thus, there's a small chance that if you place it in the bottom of a purse next to several other small items that tend to shift around, you may find random images of nothing in particular. On one occasion, the RE dropped onto the floor of my car and presto -- I now have a prized picture showing what's underneath the back seat. (Let's just say there's a reason I left that image out of the photo gallery.)