Desire EYE hardware 1Its name says “Desire,” but this selfie-centric smartphone is much better equipped than other devices bearing the name. To learn a little more about it, HTC put us up in NYC –in more ways than one– so we could experience the curiosity of what the company hopes is a “selfie phone” done right.

The Desire EYE gets its name from the eyeball-like sensor smack in the middle of its forehead, a 13MP camera mated to an f/2.2, 22mm lens and augmented by a dual-LED flash. That’s a slight change from the f/2.0, 28mm lens of the rear-facing shooter, but otherwise these cameras are as close as you can get to being identical. Once again, yesterday’s speculation becomes today’s reality.

As with the HTC RE announced alongside the EYE, software isn’t yet final on the new Desire, so we were only able to take a short test drive for this hands-on. HTC nevertheless made the most of it, taking us up above Manhattan in a helicopter and giving us a solid day to take as many photos as we could. While the quality of the output will vary with final software, the test period at least offered the opportunity to try HTC’s new shooting modes, which run the gamut from silly to practical.

HTC Desire EYE hands-on

  

Split Capture

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HTC has expanded the concept of dual-camera captures to something far grander with Split Capture, which takes advantage of the full-res sensors on both sides of the EYE to offer integrated side-by-side shots. Hit the shutter button and both front and rear shooters fire, stitching their output together into a dual-pane photo. I’m not sure if this is actually better than earlier implementations which confined the front-facing capture to a small stamp-like window, but it makes sense that HTC would want to show off what’s possible with larger sensors. This feature is more impressive in video mode, which the company sees as potentially useful to field journalists and others who report on live events.

 

Crop Me In

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A variation on this is Crop Me In, a shooting mode which lets you, well, crop yourself in to whatever scene you’re shooting. The software isolates your silhouette using the front facing camera and composites you into the rear shooter’s frame. It’s tough to align properly and it’s quirky on the software build we tried … but when it works, it’s exactly as ridiculous as it sounds. (Your half-scale Michael Fisher dolls are available in the gift shop.)

 

Selfies in general

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IMAG0059Older features like Face Fusion and Live Makeup have made the cut as well, so you can feel free to “fuse” yourself with a friend to see what your babies would look like, or digitally obscure blemishes and eye bags. Really the best part of the Desire EYE though (for me, at least) is the inclusion of the front-firing flash. While I’m usually a fan of avoiding flash photos in favor of smarter, better low-light cameras, it’s nice to have the option in a dark bar, when all you want in the world is for Brad Molen’s photobomb to show up against the murky backdrop.

Also, you can finally use voice commands to trigger selfies (the usual “say cheese” trigger command we’ve seen before) or IMAG0018you can just stay still for a second: the camera will automatically snap a shot once it detects that you’re settled in. Finally, if you’re into video calls, the software can now intelligently keep your face centered in the frame as well, which is a nice touch for the constantly connected teenage market HTC is presumably targeting with this device.

Further observations on the camera’s output will have to wait until HTC finalizes its software and delivers production units to our doorstep, and while some of these features have me rolling my eyes, others have me quite excited for the possibilities of living life with a true selfie-centric smartphone.

 

Lots of power for a Desire

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DSC03395The Desire EYE earns that (admittedly dubious) title because unlike some other contenders, it doesn’t skimp on specs. Under the hood we’re looking at a Snapdragon 801 with 2 gigs of RAM and 16 GB of storage plus MicroSD expansion up to 128GB. The casing is unibody polycarbonate poured in HTC’s trademark “Double Shot” molding process, which as we saw on the Desire 820 makes for a very smooth piece of hardware. The phone is IPX7 compliant for water resistance, there’s a two-step camera key here for shutterbugs, and if you think the optics up front mean the end of BoomSound, you can breathe easy: the front-firing speakers have been hidden away, but they’re still here.

There’s much more to the HTC Desire Eye, but for this quick look we’ll just say that it’s a 5.2” waterproof smartphone with dual 13MP cameras and BoomSound: a pretty impressive package no matter how you slice it. With its rounded corners and soft-touch paint job (in either Coral Reef or Blue Lagoon trims) it’s pleasantly palm-friendly, if a bit on the tall side – and that’s nothing new for HTC.

In the United States, the HTC Desire EYE will be available exclusively from AT&T when it launches later this year. Stay tuned for our hands-on video coming soon, followed by further impressions and our full review when our demo device lands!

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