The HTC Re is a device that not many people expected to see: the flip cam is back and this time it’s been given a smartphone makeover.
HTC thinks that it’s the solution to a problem we all didn’t know we have: that the smartphone isn’t a good device for capturing the moment easily.
Given HTC has spent so much money developing Ultrapixels and the newly-announced HTC Desire Eye this seems a little odd as a strategy, but the brand believes that all the parents out there represent a significant market share to attack.
Of course there are other use cases: runners who want to take quick pics or footage, party goers who want to be a bit more unique, people that want to share a video of their bike ride through town with loved ones. For some reason.
Then there’s the price: $200 is the rumoured tag, and that could be around £200 in the UK. Given this is a 16MP sensor that can do limited tasks, it’s a pretty big sell for HTC. It’s an innovative idea, but can the brand do enough with the Re to force the world to buy into a new product category?
The design of the Re is also interesting. It’s like a periscope / pipe / inhaler, but one that’s impressively ergonomic. In the 24 hours of time I had with it, I found myself constantly picking it up, playing with it, and generally just taking pointless pictures because it was there.
That’s a good thing in design terms, and although the glossy plastic did somewhat diminish the premium effect (a rubberised solution or even matte finish would have felt more worth the money) you can see HTC’s design ethos is stamped all over this thing.
There’s a microSD slot on the bottom of the device, which helps upgrade the internal 8GB of storage you’ve got. If there’s a lot of video going on, you’ll need to expand and this is a good way to do so.
The bottom of the device is where the microUSB slot lives, as well as the welcome tripod mount. There’s no lanyard connector, but apparently one comes in the box to solve that problem. We all want a pipe dangling around our necks, after all.
The rest of the HTC Re is very smooth with little buttonry. The main mirrored button works in two ways: a press will activate the camera, a longer press will start the video. This is all shown with an LED in the button itself, which is weird as that’s where your finger usually resides.
At the front of the Re is the slow motion button – hold this and the beep will let you know you’re in the new mode to capture new laid back footage.
Overall, the Re sits nicely in the hand, it’s light enough to be portable and while it’s not exactly the right shape to put in a front pocket and not get slightly odd looks, HTC has thought a lot about making sure it’s got the form factor right of this new product.
Of course, all the above is useless if the camera itself is rubbish, and to that end HTC has added in the aforementioned 16MP sensor (from Sony, with its Exmor RS tech, no less) with a 146-degree wide angle ability.
You can take pictures, video, slow motion footage or a time lapse, with more to come in the future, so this is a multi-functional camera. Well, as long as you want to take video or pictures, of course.
The weird thing about the Re is that it’s always on. Not when it’s lying there on the table, but move it and the thing will be ready to take pictures or video.
Except, well, it’s not always. It can take over a second to boot up, and just under a second to take a picture. This doesn’t sound like a lot, but press the shutter and it’s certainly not instant. It really grated during use, and although this is designed to let the Re work out if you’re taking a picture or a video, it’s annoying for those trying to capture a moment.
The rest of the use is pleasantly simple though when you’re used to the shutter lag. Taking pictures is weird, as you can’t see what you’re shooting, but as long as you have a subject in mind then you’ll more often than not get what you want.
It’s great for self portraits, or just grabbing a moment of something happening, but not so much for landscapes or well balanced scenes, as keeping the Re level is really rather hard.
The video capabilities of the Re are nothing special, mirroring those of an average smartphone camera, with 1080p video at 30fps the main thing that it can do.
That said, why would you want much more? 4K video would be a waste here and take up too much internal space, and if you just want clear and crisp video, this is what the Re is designed for.
The footage take wasn’t especially crisp though, with some weird fringing and artefacting when viewed on the computer screen.
It wasn’t terrible, and like the photos, acceptable when you’re after a memory rather than a perfect shot (you’ll find if you buy this device you’ll end up experimenting a lot more than you’d think).
One of the best features here is the time-lapse feature: you can choose it to take a picture whenever you want on rotation, and for as long as you want (providing the battery holds out) and it yields some really nice snaps.
From there you can choose to make a slick 30fps film, or go down to a frame by frame option. It’s slightly cumbersome to set up, as you’ll need the phone next to it to make it work, but otherwise it make some good films.
There’s a Re app which you can download to connect to the camera on your phone, but the connection on our early samples was a bit dodgy. It kept asking Bluetooth to be retried if the connection faltered, despite that not being the way you connect (it’s over Wi-Fi direct).
Once that’s out the way though, the pictures show up very quickly on the app, so you can see what you’ve taken.
It’s annoying that they’re not auto saved to the phone memory, as I can’t see why you’d want to leave them on the Re with no screen, but hopefully that will get fixed in the future.
HTC is claiming somewhere in the region of two hours’ battery life with the Re, which seems roughly correct, although video understandably kills it.
The battery icon is locked away in the app, so it’s sometimes hard to know how much battery you’ve got left without being able to work out the various sequences of LED flashes to interpret that power life.
It’s not amazing, and for something HTC wants you to dump in a bag, it could be better because the last thing you want is to find that the thing you spent so much money on is useless.
It’s like smartwatches all over again.
The HTC Re is a device I want to like. I want to laud innovation, and this little camera is certainly that. But can HTC start a new product category?
It’s too expensive – I get that it needs to be to reach the premium performance level, but it’s not even perfect there. If it was around the £50 / $70 mark, it would be really attractive, but right now I don’t see how I could convince anyone to buy it. HTC’s marketing machine needs to perform miracles here as it’s trying to solve a problem smartphones already are.
But if you’ve got the money and are willing to experiment / can’t stand the thought of missing a second of your child’s life on camera, this is a great device. Just be ready to wade through a few software updates as it inevitably improves.
By Gareth Beavis, TechRadar