The HTC Desire EYE has the best name possible given its talents. This is a phone that offers pretty remarkable features for those who want to snap photos of their mates, or even themselves. It’s the first phone to have two cameras – one on the front, one on the back – that both offer the same resolution and optics. It’s also the first camera to offer a dual-tone LED flash on its “selfie camera”.
Plastic isn’t a disadvantage
HTC is a company that has invested and produced great phones in metal. The HTC One M8 is on our best phones list because it’s one of the most impressive handsets on the market. HTC spends more time and effort on the design and build quality than almost anyone else, and that shows on the HTC Desire EYE. It’s a plastic body – technically, a polycarbonate, which is stronger and thinner than regular plastic – but it just oozes quality.
Our phone is white and red, and the texture of the rear is perfect for a phone. It’s not slick like the iPhone 5C – and feels miles better in the hand as a result. If you’ve used other plastic phones, put them out of your mind, because the EYE really is a class-leader. That’s even more impressive, given that this isn’t a high-end phone – it’s aimed at the mid-market, and mostly younger users.
Older people – like this reviewer – won’t understand the urge of the youth to photograph themselves in a variety of positions every single day. However, anyone witnessing 18-year-olds using phones will understand that the selfie has become hugely important, and its own way for people to communicate and document their lives.
On the one hand, you could say that anyone not constantly photographing themselves in various states of duckface would have no business buying this phone, but that’s not fair. While the camera is a focus for this phone, it’s got loads to offer anyone who just wants a great phone.
The design of the hardware is great, and HTC puts plenty of work into its Android skin, Sense. Customisations to Android get a mixed press. Some love them, some hate them. From the outset of Android, HTC has designed its own interface for users, and it has plenty of good things, like great widgets and Blinkfeed, which gives you access to all your social feeds in one place.
On the downside, Sense obscures Android’s standard look. If you want that, you can install things like a different launcher, or just go for a Nexus device, which runs Android as Google designs it. When Lollipop rolls out, and comes to the EYE, it might be desirable to have its flat look, and Sense can sometimes slow down HTC’s adoption of the latest Android version.
Performance and features
The HTC Desire Eye isn’t equipped with the very latest processor, but it’s not far behind either – it’s got a decent amount of power for a mid-range device that is aimed more at the mass market than at the high-end, where people must have the latest and greatest processor.
Although there is a lot of power here, we did still notice that there were some slowdowns at times. Very occasionally the phone would hang somewhat, and leave us a bit frustrated. This was when there was a lot running though, and this happens with all phones from time to time. It’s really nothing to worry about, but a bit more RAM would boost the speed a bit.
While the cameras are a nice touch, the HTC has none of the health and security-related features that Samsung and others are starting to include. There’s no fingerprint scanner – not a bad thing, it has to be said – and no heart rate monitor. HTC seems to be less interested in health than other Android phone manufacturers.
Does that matter? No, not really. If you want health, Google has its own app for that, and you can always buy a smartwatch or activity tracker. Ultimately, HTC has largely ignored all that with good reason.
The big move for HTC with this phone is that it has included a 13-megapixel front-facing camera, with dual-tone flash. The idea here is that you can take selfies with the same quality that you shoot your friends via the rear-mounted camera.
What that involves in reality is a flash on the front of the phone, and not one of those dreadful ones that just shines a bright LED at you; this one has two LEDs with different tones, to give you natural lighting.
Photos from both cameras are pretty reasonable. In good light they look nice, with good colour and sufficient detail. Zoom in a bit and there’s still some of the softness that you always see on cameraphones. Comparing the front to rear cameras proved that the two are pretty similar. There are loads of effects too, and if you want to apply a beauty filter you can, although it makes everything look very odd, and crushes a lot of the detail.
One of the nice treats about the Desire EYE is that it’s effortlessly waterproof. It has a rating of 30 minutes at a depth of 1 metre, which is more than enough to see it through a fall into the bath, sink or toilet. You could even take it into the shower with you, if you really wanted to.
The big advantage to this phone though is that there’s no need to check that the back is on properly – it doesn’t come off – and there are no rubber ports to push into the USB socket or anywhere else. The trays for the SIM card (nano) and the microSD card are on the left, and have to be dug out with a fingernail, but that’s no big problem.
The HTC Desire EYE says it’s one thing – a selfie phone. In fact, there’s so much more to it, and what HTC has done is produced a phone which has far wider appeal than an initial glance would let you believe.
The EYE is brilliantly built, made from a really nice material that feels superb in your hand, and it has plenty of features to keep you going. Perhaps it would be good to have health tracking built in here as it is on the phones from LG and Samsung, but it’s really not the end of the world.
Ultimately, the EYE is good at what it set out to do, but has a far broader audience than its “selfie” image would have you believe.