As efforts like After The Buzz, the Pocketnow U-Review, and Empty Nest demonstrate, we’re constantly searching for fresh ways to review mobile technology. The newest product of those efforts is Pocketnow’s “Review Rebuttal” series, in which a member of our team is assigned to test a smartphone or tablet that’s already gone through our standard review process. While the resulting video or editorial doesn’t affect the “official” Pocketnow review score, we hope it provides added context by showcasing an editor’s personal opinion, rather than a team-wide consensus.
We call it the “rebuttal” because the new opinion sometimes differs significantly from the thrust of the original review. Rather than reject or bury that, we think the dissenting opinion is valuable – and we present it for your evaluation alongside select product reviews.
Hearing the name “HTC Desire EYE” doesn’t mean much to most people. For the smartphone savvy, it’d likely be brushed off by something along the lines of “Oh, it’s a Desire. It’s a midranger. You don’t want something higher-end?” Actually, that’s how I felt before Joe Levi mailed the device to me. I thought it was gimmicky (who actually needs a 13MP front-facing camera?) and I thought it served no purpose.
But I was wrong. The second I handled it myself, I saw the point, and it turned out to be a sweet little device. To understand what triggered the change of heart, I present my HTC Desire EYE review rebuttal.
A striking and comfortable design
It may not have the curvaceous metal HTC’s One M8 brings, but the Desire EYE is every bit a looker.The Coral Reef review unit furnished by HTC features a white front and a matte back of the same color, with an orange-red band across the sides that’ll catch your attention. Buying the EYE almost ensures that someone will ask you about your phone, given just how striking and appealing it can look.
A common problem with gorgeous designs is a toll on usability, but I’ve found that there’s no such thing with the Desire. The curvy edges sit well in the palm of my hand, while the backside is gentle and comfortable to rest your fingers on. Really, I have no gripes whatsoever with how the Desire EYE is designed and constructed. Props to HTC on that.
Sense 6 is a gorgeous refinement of Android
Some people are just fine with stock (or “vanilla”) Android, while others prefer the added features of a custom skin. Sense 6 is difficult to place on that spectrum; I feel it offers a clean and simple experience, while allowing for a greater level of customizability. It’s a neat middle ground, one that’s both visually pleasing and versatile as far as usability is concerned.
In general, I can’t deal with skins –I loathe Samsung’s TouchWiz at times– but what HTC has done with Sense feels substantially different. The features that are included (Motion Launch, BlinkFeed, the regularly-updated apps, the UI, and so on) morph into an experience that works for a broad range of smartphone users.
HTC has also thrown in a bunch of camera-related features for the release of the EYE –dubbed the “EYE Experience”– which includes photo modes like Crop Me In and Split Capture. I’ll dive more into this in the camera section, but here I’d simply like to draw attention to how refined Sense is as a skin, and how much HTC pays attention to the details.
A solid day and more
There’s nothing particularly special about the battery embedded within the Desire EYE’s non-removable backside. It’s a 2,400 mAh pack, but Sense does a good job making the most of it. In my testing, which included moderate to heavy use (think text messaging, email, a quick game of Leo’s Fortune, and some YouTube throughout the day), I was able to comfortably make it from my 6:30 AM wakeup to my 11:00 PM bedtime with about 20% of battery remaining on average, with about 3 to 4 hours of screen-on time on these days.
What’s ridiculous about this metric is that it’s only a little bit under what I got out of the DROID Turbo, the latter being a phone with a massive 3,900 mAh battery. Whether that’s HTC optimizing its battery ridiculously well, or Motorola failing to do so, it’s still a win for HTC.
Should you find yourself running low on battery, there are two power saving modes on-board: a normal mode (Saver), and a particularly broad-encompassing mode that you probably know as Extreme Power Saving Mode (EXT Saver). The former switches on once the phone hits a low battery threshold, though you can toggle it yourself anytime or disable it entirely, and the latter is reserved for when you need to make the most out of what you have remaining. EXT Saver literally disables all data communications, and turns the screen into a launchpad for only a few critical apps. We went hands-on with the mode, albeit on the HTC One M8 and in an earlier version of Sense, last year in video form.
The upshot with the battery is, it’s good enough to last you a day and then some if you really need it. Don’t expect it to be a miracle, but it’s most definitely passable for the everyday user.
Performance is in line with the best of the best
The problem with calling the Desire EYE a midrange smartphone is that the device screams performance-wise. Apart from very occasional lag (not nearly major enough to be a dealbreaker), performance on the Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 chipset has been on par with even the Snapdragon 805-powered devices I compared it against.
Games I tested the phone with such as One More Line, The Room Two, and Leo’s Fortune played well at decent frame rates, and the hardware handled them well enough to give me an enjoyable experience. The matte backside of the EYE didn’t get hot at all, even during extended test periods.
Day-to-day performance jumping in and out of apps is good enough to let me get through life without having to give the handset a second thought. It fades right in with my routine and doesn’t hamper it whatsoever – that’s something that I didn’t expect from a supposedly midrange smartphone (I really don’t think the EYE is a midranger now that I’ve used it), and one area in which HTC has shined through.
The cameras aren’t bad, but don’t get your hopes up
When you name your phone “Desire EYE,” its camera better live up to the hype. And on the spec sheet, the phone delivers really well, with 13MP BSI sensors with dual LED flash modules on both the front and back-sides. In practice, however, don’t expect to be blown away; while the cameras aren’t bad by any stretch of the imagination, they certainly aren’t the best you can find, and they do have their flaws.
In well-lit scenarios the phone’s rear camera performed admirably, with blurry pictures fairly rare, but in low-light I started seeing some issues. The front-facing camera blows away most of the Desire EYE’s competitors on megapixels alone (and how about that front-facing flash?), so you’ll have trouble finding better selfie phones, but some of the issues I saw with the rear camera persist on the front-facer.
Video looked crisp in my testing, but I did notice that on occasion the phone would struggle to maintain focus (it continually drifted). It’s certainly passable by smartphone standards.
A picture’s worth a thousand words, though, so it’s better that I let the following stills we captured do the explaining here:
Rear Camera Sample Stills
Front-facing Camera Sample Stills
Rear Camera Sample Videos
BoomSound is as useful as ever
One of the best parts of owning an HTC phone –at least one manufactured in recent years– is BoomSound. While the front-facing stereo speakers are hidden away on the Desire EYE, they’re still present, and they remain solid. Sure, the cans on the Desire EYE can’t quite match what the One M8 brought to the table early last year, but they’re plenty loud and they produce accurate, rich sounds.
It’s on AT&T, but AT&T only
The upside of being exclusive to one of the US’s largest carriers is that you get a solid, reliable network. In my testing in Southern California, where LTE is abundant and my signal strength remained high, I had a breezy experience with voice calls, text messages, and data usage. Your mileage will of course vary by where you’re situated.
If AT&T isn’t your cup of tea, you won’t be able to buy the Desire EYE from any other carrier in the US. It doesn’t seem as though there are plans for the EYE to head to any other US operators, but you are able to purchase it unlocked outside of the States. If you’re an AT&T customer, you have nothing to worry about, but this is where customers of Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile, or other wireless services will have to do some serious contemplating before deciding whether or not to purchase the EYE.
The bottom line
So what’s the deal with the Desire EYE? A month into 2015, is it still a phone worth recommending? The short answer is yes. It’s a solid phone that’ll last you through the coming months with ease, and it has the specs to carry it at least through the year.
It may be worth waiting for the flagships March is sure to bring, however. For the $150 on-contract price AT&T quotes for the phone, waiting for the 2015 HTC flagship seems as if it could be the better option.
But if you need a phone now, by all means, spring for the Desire EYE. In a market that includes entrants like the 2014 Moto X, the Galaxy Note 4, and Nexus 6, the Desire EYE manages to offer standout features and a reliable experience. Perhaps all three offer the same in a way, but there exists a segment of buyers out there who would be best suited with the Desire EYE over the other two options mentioned. Especially for the very real selfie-obsessed crowd out there (despite what some may say, this just doesn’t seem like a niche audience anymore) who don’t want to go all out with a Lenovo selfie flash and a DSLR, or just anyone who could use a powerful front-facing camera, the Desire EYE is without a doubt the best option possible.
But don’t let that be all you take away from the Desire EYE. The selfie cam, great as it is, is just one small part of the story, and on the whole the Desire EYE works out to be a great phone – and one that you won’t regret buying anytime soon.