The Desire Eye is the latest iconic Android smartphone from HTC and in short its a real beauty. Packing flagship class hardware wrapped in a uniquely funky design that gives you a full on 13MP front facing camera and solid waterproofing to boot. Mobile Geeks get deep down and personal with one of the best smartphones HTC have come up since the One.
Inside the Eye of Desire
HTC’s recent One series smartphones have become the Taiwanese company’s top tier offerings, supplanting a Desire series that some would argue had started to lose its way. The One M7 and M8 showed how the company was still as capable of devising a real gem of a design with a solid metallic chassis that made you blush on first encounter. The Desire Eye may not belong the flagship One family, but don’t let that fool you for second. It has everything you would expect from a real top tier contender and it also proves once again that HTC know a thing or two about creating really special and unique designs that use fantastic materials.
One of the key differentiators between the Desire Eye and its metal clad One series brothers is its size, being a fairly hefty 5.2 inch device that by rights should be known technically as a phablet. The Desire Eye reflects once again a growing tendency towards larger devices with beautiful large screens. The screen in question is a great looking IPS LED with a resolution of 1920 x 1080, or Full HD if you prefer. Inside the Eye you will find a real powerhouse of a mobile processor with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 flanked by 2GB of system memory. In terms of storage you have the 16GB, plus the option to slip in a micro SD card.
The most eye-caching feature of this guy (apart from its unique build which we’ll get to a little later) is the fact that you have almost identical cameras mounted on both sides of the phone. HTC is breaking with the long held tradition that front cameras are inherently inferior, bringing equality to the world of smartphone cameras with two 13MP cameras, both fitted with BSI sensors, wide angle lenses, Dual LED (two-ton) flash and support for 1080p video. Yes, the Desire Eye is tailor-made for folk who just love to take selfies.
The HTC Desire Eye has a non-removable 2,400mAh battery and supports IPX7 compliance, meaning it’s water and dust resistant. It also packs dual stereo speakers. In all the specification list below is very close to today’s current crop of flagship devices. It’s certainly a device that knows how to make an impression.
HTC Desire Eye: Full Specifications
- 4.2″ IPS LCD (1920 x 1080)
- Quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 (MSM8974)
- Adreno 330 Graphics
- 2GB RAM
- 16GB Storage
- microSD up to 128GB
- 13MP Rear Camera w/Autofocus, dual-LED flash
- 13MP Front Camera w/Autofocus, dual-LED flash
- 2G/3G and 4G/LTE
- Wi-Fi b/g/n, DLNA
- Bluetooth 4.0
- GPS, A-GPS & GLONASS
- IPX7 Certified
- 151.7mm x 73.8mm x 8.5 mm
- 154 grams
- 2,400mAh Battery
Before going any further, make sure you check out this great hands on video from Nicole, shot in New York City a few weeks ago:
Design and Build Quality
The HTC Desire Eye is an exceptionally well constructed smartphone. It is based on a sturdy metal frame, but you would almost never know as the majority of the device (i.e. the part that isn’t the screen) is made of what appears to be one piece of plastic, despite using two colors (light and dark blue or red and white) . The design aesthetic of this is cool, but it is actually quite difficult to get two different colors bonded and ensure consistent durability throughout. This is a detail that only geeks will love and everyone else will forget why white phones were a big deal…harder to make so they were rarer. This two tone is gone over well here in Taiwan though it might not sound too adventurous or aesthetically pleasing, but in fact the plastic has an almost rubberized feel that makes gripping the device a real pleasure. The finish doesn’t get scratched very easily although it can pick up the odd fingerprint, especially where greasy fingers are concerned. These will desist with a quick wipe on your t-shirt.
The front face is of course dominated by the 5.2 inch display with two separate bezels at the top and bottom. Interestingly, the devices stereo speakers are made audible via two very slim gaps between the bezel and the display. How these gaps actually work while remaining water and dust resistant is a bit of a mystery to me, but in fact the gaps are so small that they all but go completely undetected to the naked eye. More on the speakers later.
The overall design of the device (e.g. using one piece of impervious plastic for the rear and sides) is clearly been devised and optimized for IPX7 water and dust resistance. The right edge has the power and volume rocker buttons, which are actually placed in a way where they don’t protrude too far from the chassis. The buttons work fine but there is a little less give than you would like and they really do not always sit high enough to be felt out and located by your thumb in hurry. They are placed in a good spot however, with HTC learning from previous implantations with the One M7 and M8 which used both the top left and right edges for the power button. I prefer to have it all on the right edge as we have it here. Let’s hope HTC are finally heading towards some consistency.
The USB 2.0 port is located on the bottom right edge, the headphone socket on the top right edge. Both the nano SIM card and microSD card slots are accessible on the left hand edge where you will find two snuggly fitted trays that are held in place by rubberized plastic. You simply wedge your thumb nail in pull out the trays which once replaced, are sealed inside away from dust and water. Pretty simple and neat really.
In general the IPX7 design will welcomed by many us who may tend to keep our phone in hand where is can easily be dropped in a puddle, the toilet or even perhaps become the victim of a wine spill. In contrast to Sony and the Xperia series for example, there are no flaps in use here for USB and audio ports. Instead the overall design of the phone as been made with IPX7 in mind. The result is a durable and solid feeling device.
The size of the Desire Eye may be a little prohibitive for some of but when it comes to weight, its 154 grams is actually less hefty than the metal-based One M8. The gentle curved corners and rounded edges means it actually feels really good in the hand. It’s a real class act and one that I’m sure will impress anyone that picks it up.
HTC Desire Eye: Gallery
A Full HD Display You Can Use Outside
Looking at today’s flagship standards we are certainly seeing a general trend towards QHD resolution screens. I have no doubt that eventually this will become the standard for many top tier smartphones, but as of today HTC have yet to dip their toe in the QHD waters. All One series devices so far have remained at Full HD resolutions and it’s good to see the Desire Eye getting the same treatment with a great looking IPS LCD display that looks great.
The bezels along the vertical edges are pretty thin which helps optimize the oft mentioned screen to body ratio and makes the phone look good with a front face that is basically all screen. When it comes to touch-screen navigation however this can at times mean that you inadvertently swipe the screen with the inside of your thumb – a neat trick if you can learn to do it intentionally. The touch-screen offers a really responsive navigation experience however. Very fluid, very smooth.
The brightness is also very good, the viewing angles are great (as we have come to expect from IPS technology) and the colors look very vibrant and well reproduced. The Pixel density isn’t quite the same as the One M8 for example which has a smaller screen, but 424ppi is solid and to the naked eye I defy you to tell any difference. This is a flagship level display and it is looking very impressive.
Snapdragon 801 – A Top Performer
When it comes to smartphone performance we have come to expect a lot from devices that use Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 801 mobile chip. Earlier this year it was pretty much the undisputed champion in the flagship smartphone space with prominent top tier handsets such as the Sony Xperia Z2 aadn Xperia Z3, Samsung’s Galaxy S5 and of course the HTC One M8 all favoring the 801 chip. It has since been supplanted by the Snapdragon 805 which has been developed with a beefier GPU that helps with QHD displays such as we see on the Samsung Galaxy Note 4. Having said that, the 801 is still a very, very potent mobile processor and one that we happy to see here on the Desire Eye.
The Snapdragon 801 is a quad-core system-on-chip with 4 Krait 400 cores clocked as high as 2.26GHz. These cores pack a mighty punch while also being optimized for good battery life, they are also joined by the Adreno 330 GPU that brings fantastic gaming and 3D graphical performance.
Check out the benchmark scores of the Desire Eye compared to other flagships including the Samsung Galaxy S5, OnePlus One and the HTC One M8:
Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 - Benchmark Comparison Table
|HTC Desire Eye||OnePlus One||Samsung Galaxy S5||HTC One M8|
|GFX Bench Manhattan||11.7fps||12.3||11.5fps||11.1fps|
|GFX Bench T-Rex||24.7fps||28.4||27.1fps||28.2fps|
|3DMark - Ice Storm||18185||19654||18373||20594|
It is interesting to see the Desire claim a couple outright wins in the benchmarks above where we see it pull ahead in both GFX Manhattan and Quadrant. In the other tests it manages to stay in the same ball park without claiming a first place finish. This tells us that the HTC Desire is doing just fine, offering the same great performance we have come to expect from the Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 801.
Front or Back? It doesn’t Matter! Two Proper 13MP Cameras
Obviously this is one area where HTC are trying to making a real impact. Never before have see seen a phone where the front and rear cameras enjoyed equal status, with a pair of 13MP cameras mounted on both sides of the device. The motive? Selfies that are of a similar quality to any other photo the device might be capable of.
The front 13MP camera is placed dead center on the upper bezel of the device with a pair of dual-tone flash LEDs to the left, plus a pair of BSI sensors that help in low light. HTC have done everything to make sure that you can achieve selfie dominance with effects and editing available immediately after taking a shot. The two tone LED flash module is there to help produce lifelike skin tones and both front and rear cameras feature a wide angle lenses. This is all pretty damn impressive.
Just to note, the two cameras are not actually identical, although they are very similar. The front ‘selfie’ cam has an f/2.2 aperture and 22mm focal length which is actually a wider angle setup than the rear camera which has a f/2.0 28mm setup. This is intended to help the front camera sense more of the immediate scene. The rear camera indented for more detail in larger scenes. It’s also good to see that there is a hardware button on the lower left corner (top right in the horizontal position) that makes it easier to take snaps.
The reality is that although every effort has been made to make sure both selfies and other shots look good, HTC still suffers a few issues that have plagued it in the past. In low-ish light environments the sensor seems to over compensate a little and produce shots that can be a little noisy. Also the auto-focus can at times wind up with a slow shutter and blurry shots. Not always, but on occasion.
The camera app itself has a new feature where you can swipe from one edge of the phone to the other to switch between cameras. There three positions, rear cam, front cam and both cameras at the same time sharing the screen between them. In the later mode you can also switch the two around. The idea is take selfies which show you, plus what is in front of you. Not something that I am personally fond of doing but I know there are millions of you out there that will enjoy messing with it and having fun.
When it comes to beautification, the front facing camera has an easy to access slider that lets you add the degree of beauty you require. It actually works quite well, and even better, it can be applied in real-time so you can judge just how much post processing will be applied to the shot before you shoot. I have to admit to being impressed with a beautification mode for the first time. Maybe I just have (even) more wrinkles than before.
Overall the cameras we have here on the HTC Desire Eye are really good. The capacity to take really, really good selfie pics will be attractive to many (although not to me personally I’m afraid). There are issues again in lower light that means the HTC Desire will not be taking the crown of the heads of Sony, Samsung, Nokia and now also Apple. But hey, it’s still a really good camera array that shows innovation where the selfie-oriented would want to see it.
HTC Desire Eye: Selfie Gallery
Software: HTC Sense v.6
If you have ever used a HTC device before you will be familiar with the experience you are getting with the company’s Sense UI and its distinctive experience. For me personally, having grown up using the original HTC Desire and Desire HD back in the day (is it really so long ago?), revisiting the Sense UI is like putting on a pair of well worn slippers. The current v.6 of Sense that we see here on the Desire Eye in fact enjoys a less cluttered and simplified approach that I think shows HTC’s growing and evolving progress when it comes to the creation of their own in-house built Android UI. Perhaps working with Google closely since day one (remember the HTC G1…?) and co-creation of subsequent Nexus devices has helped HTC adopt a position that sometimes ‘less is more’.
If you compare HTC Sense v.6 to Samsung’s TouchWiz it would almost feel barren. Not that there is anything missing. You are getting all the most popular Google apps pre-installed and ready to go, plus the standard bundle that included calculator, flashlight, voice recorder, weather a scribble note pad, a tasks scheduler, FM radio and music player plus Polaris Office for productivity and standard social media apps including Twitter and Facebook. It’s a well balanced install that will give most people, most of you what they need.
I also like that HTC are not trying to tempt you into their own software eco-system, not requiring you to sign in to a HTC account to simply use your phone. This is refreshing. On the version we have there is an app installed called HTC Power to Give, an app that lets you contribute to scientists who need extra computational power and use Android devices as part of distributed computing system. True Altruism at work. Nice touch.
Although some of the icons could use a re-work (the gallery app icon looks like it belongs on an Éclair device…lol) the UI generally looks very good. I like the way HTC present the settings area with well thought out menus and sub-systems that allow you to find most of what you are looking for without fuss. I am even starting to get used to BlinkFeed.
HTC Sense v.6 looks good, has pretty much all the apps you would want without any hint of bloatware, performs very smoothly and is very well organized. Perhaps we could ask for a bit more in the way of customization, but then again that’s the only real downside I can think of. Thumbs up…. This is good, solid software.
Water Resistant Audio
The onboard audio that we get with the Desire Eye is pretty impressive, not least because it manages to deliver a solid audio experience while been water resistant. You are getting two front facing speakers, similar to what we saw with One series phones, but instead of the large speaker grills on the either end we have instead a very thin gap between the glass panel and the bezel. It may sound a bit underwhelming I know, but it actually works quite well.
The first time I played some tunes on the Desire Eye I was kind of puzzled. I had not yet fathomed where the speaker holes were located and it just seemed to me that the audio was arriving with reasonable quality and even some decent bass frequencies… but from where? I was initially a little perplexed, but once you grasp the engineering involved to create this on a sealed water resistant device, it’s all smiles from there.
The audio here on the Desire Eye is not of the caliber we are used to seeing with BoomSound speakers on the HTC One series, but it’s probably as good as you will ever get on a IP certified handset. It’s reasonably full and clear with solid volume.
Solid Battery Life
The Desire Eye packs a 2,400mAh battery that performs very well. In our testing using the LapTopMag Battery Informant app we found it kept going for just under ten hours. This is really good going as the test runs a routine where it continually opens web pages in the browser to mimic consistent web surfing. I ran it at 70% screen brightness with WiFi turned on.
The Desire Eye, like almost all Android smartphones in 2014 is capable of running for an entire day without needing a recharge. In fact lighter usage with less heavy users may see two or even three days. It’s not quite a battery beast monster that Sony have on their hands with recent Xperia Z3, but it’s not too far off. There are also solid power-saving modes in the form of a straight forward ‘Power Saver’ mode that provides options to reign in CPU performance, display brightness, vibrations and data connections.
There’s also an ‘Extreme Power Saving Mode’ which works in similar way to what Samsung have on their recent devices. EPS mode will turn off data when the screen is off, also turning off Bluetooth, GPS, Notifications and pedometer sensors. The brightness is reduced and you are getting only basic functions such as phone, messaging, mail, calendar and clock. By default is set to come into play at 10% battery level, but can be configured for 20% or 5%. It Is not as Extreme as Samsung’s implementation, but it will definitely help if you are in a battery bind.
HTC Desire Eye: Final Thoughts
The HTC Desire Eye is strong and impressive contender from HTC that really puts the Desire brand back on track as a name synonymous with high quality manufacturing. It has a really good pair of cameras, which is not something we get to say very often. The selfie shots that are possible here are as good anything out there. In her first hands on, our very own Nicole Scott referred to the Desire Eye the ‘Selfie King’. I can only agree. It has the features and the technological balls to carry that term with plenty of confidence and perhaps even a hint of swagger.
In short I would recommend the HTC Desire Eye to anyone who is in the market for a flagship level phone that really cares about selfies. I would even go further and say that the Eye is an attractive option regardless of selfies prowess.
In terms of price, the 16GB version of the Desire Eye can be had for around $550 USD which is only about $50 cheaper than the HTC One M8. We can expect that price to tumble somewhat in the coming weeks and months, but it really does make it pretty much a flagship level device – and a very good alternative to the M8 especially if waterproof is something you feel your devices would benefit from in the long term.