Let’s be honest, over the last few years HTC have shown us two things: they know how to build a gorgeous metal phone and they have no idea how to do cameras in their phones. First there was the original Ultrapixel camera in the One M7, it was a pretty big disappointment. It was slightly better in low-light situations, but for everything else it was in the middle of the pack. The One M8 went one step further for originality, keeping the Ultrapixel sensor and adding a second sensor for gathering additional information so that a photo could have the focus adjusted after the fact. Admittedly, this was really cool, but Samsung didn’t take long to add the same feature with a software update. It wasn’t quite as good as HTC in that regard, but overall the M8’s camera was again, middle of the pack. This year HTC decided to abandon the nonsense and stuck a 20MP shooter into the One M9. That should at least put them on par with everyone else, right? Nope, the M9, too, came up short when it came to the camera. I think that’s why they produced the RE.
HTC aren’t stupid. They know the shortcomings of their devices, that’s why we see the hardware evolve in the places that they were criticized for most the year before. By late last year they had heard enough of the camera woes and released this little stand-alone camera. It would finally be the answer to their problems….right?
HTC RE: The Definition Of A Point and Shoot Camera
Once you’ve gotten the RE out of its packaging (which actually was a bit of a challenge akin to breaking a cryptex) it is dead simple. There’s not even a power button on this thing. You just point it at whatever it is that you want to take a picture of and push the big silver button on top, “ta da!” Of course, taking videos is a little more complex, you have to hold down the big silver button for about a second and it will start recording. Clicking it again will stop the recording. Holding down the button on the front will enable slow motion recording.
The slow motion button is just under the lens on the front of the device, but if I’m honest it’s not very useful in its current state. First of all, tactile feedback with this particular button is essentially nil. To know whether it’s pushed you really just have to wait for the little LED to turn blue. The other problem is that it doesn’t work how I would have expected it to. You either shoot slow motion video or you don’t. There’s no slowing things down partway through. On paper that probably makes sense and you probably would tell me that I’m being unreasonable, but how often are you sitting there ready for something to happen that you would want to film in slow motion? Probably not very often.
Fortunately, it’s not all bad news. Pop a micro-SD card into the slot on the bottom of the device and you can have space for thousands of pictures. The RE also uses a standard microUSB port for charging, so there’s no need to worry about losing a proprietary charging cable. The pretty much covers the basic use of the camera. That’s when things interesting.
The RE App
First of all, the RE companion app is available for Android and iOS, so you aren’t tethered to any particular OS just because the manufacturer happens to be an Android OEM. More importantly, though, the HTC RE companion app essentially doubles the functionality of the camera. Aside from the fact that you can control the camera entirely from your phone; meaning take pictures, videos, etc, while using your phone as the viewfinder, you can also do things most other modern cameras can’t do. In addition, you can protect your RE from prying eyes by using the app to password protect the camera.
The companion app for RE also acts as a portal for the camera to access the outside world. For instance, you can set the RE to automatically backup all of your pictures to Dropbox or Google Drive if you want. If you’re an avid YouTuber, you can also choose to shoot live from the RE camera with a few clicks. I don’t find this feature useful personally, but it’s definitely cool and not something you see every day.
The app also acts as the means of downloading firmware updates for the RE, one of which I got while I was testing the camera early on. It’s hard to say whether the update made much of a difference, but I can say that photos taken after the update seemed to react better in low light than those before the update.
Finally, let’s get down to brass tax. Is the RE a good camera? The short answer is yes, but I don’t know if it’s a worthy upgrade from any particular phone camera you have unless you have an HTC phone. It takes good pictures to be sure, but it also gets super washed out in bright light and sometimes just plain doesn’t know what to do in the low light. The wide-eye lens makes for some very cool looking pictures, though.
One lesson that we can learn from HTC is that more pixels doesn’t mean better pictures, but fewer pixels doesn’t necessarily mean worse pictures either. It’s fairly clear that HTC isn’t very good at photo processing, and it’s possible that an update at some point down the road could make this a killer point and shoot.
The video quality is pretty decent 1080p and it seems to pick up all of the sound:
One thing that I sort of noticed while testing, but was pointed out to me by friends is that it looks like I’m trying to be sneaky, taking photos with my inhaler. You may or may not feel like a total creep if you take this to the park and start snapping pictures. In addition, the shutter button is really sensitive so there are currently an unknown number of pictures of the inside of my backpack residing on the RE.
As far as recommendations go, it’s hard to say you need something like this. If you don’t have a smartphone or your smartphone camera is a bit lackluster, this is certainly a great supplement and it takes decent enough pictures – plus the battery lasts much longer than your phone ever will. I’ve only charged it once since I received the RE to review and it’s been about a month since then.
Did you have a different experience with the RE? Do you have any further questions or think I missed something? Hit me up in the comments section and I’ll do my best to address everyone’s concerns.