Gadgets Reviews

HTC RE Camera

Cool-looking and friendly, the little gadget is the exact opposite of the tough, heavy-duty look of one of the potential main rivals.

It’s a bold move anyway by a maker who isn’t among the industry’s standard-setters in terms of image quality. Worse yet, a company that has been struggling to cope with tough competition lately.

Then again, HTC insists on doing things their own way and haven’t given up trying to innovate despite a few attempts that backfired. But while we’re paid to be skeptical, we must admit there’s something about the Re that makes us curious. Of course, there is the simple, friendly looks and the funny shape, bordering on stupid. But that’s until you’ve held one and you have fired a few shots with it.

The peculiar curved tube ends on a f/2.8 aperture 146° wide-angle lens, with a Sony-made 16MP 1/2.3″ CMOS sensor behind it. HTC has equipped the Re camera with a standard and wide angle option setting for images – both in the maximum 4:3 aspect ratio at 16MP.

The RE camera can capture FullHD videos at 30fps as well as 720p at the same framerate. It can also do slo-mo 720p at 120fps. Here go the highlights. Focus on the moment, not your camera. Remarkably fun and easy to use, RE turns on in your hand, shoots photos and videos without a viewfinder, and streams everything to your phone for easy editing and one-press sharing.

RE is designed to fit your hand seamlessly and the moment naturally, RE provides distraction-free video and photo capture. Its one-button operation won’t leave you fumbling between modes, and its 146° wide angle lens captures everything without a clumsy viewfinder.

The periscope shape lets you hold the HTC Re and point like a gun when shooting handheld. And it’s a perfect little thingy to use single-handedly. Just grab it and it’ll turn on thanks to the grip and gyro sensors. Then press the key on the back – short press for photo, long press for video. That simple.

HTC has gotten the still-imaging side of things just right. The Re boasts a higher resolution compared to most of its rivals – the top-of-the-range GoPro Hero4 offers 12MP. But the video capabilities aren’t quite up to par – most sports and outdoors enthusiasts are looking for higher framerates than 30fps.

A higher framerate option would’ve been more than welcome – 60fps at 1080p or at least 720p. A good action camera is supposed to capture all of the action, hard to do at only 30fps. There’s no 4K video capture either.

OK, extreme action may not be the HTC Re’s element but it may just be a good enough wide-angle, water-proof extension of your smartphone. It’s like you’re given the option to leave your phone at home and only grab its camera. And it doesn’t necessarily have to be an HTC phone either. The Re can be used with an iPhone or any Android running 4.3 or later.

Overall, the HTC Re camera is a pleasure to use. The form factor is perfect for simple and straightforward handheld shooting but also makes it easily attachable to a wide range of mounting accessories.

The HTC Re will notify you if its battery is running low via the built in LEDs or directly through the app. In our testing, we found the Re to be a very good performer – it went on a single charge for around 6 hours of continuous use. We shot stills, videos and timelapse-sequences.

It actually managed to outlast the smartphone we were using as a viewfinder and it needed a recharge sooner than the action cam itself.

RE SpecsThe HTC Re offers a versatile camera in a user-friendly form factor, coupled with great battery life.

What matters the most however is the image quality and whether the camera can push its 16MP and 1080p video for a quality result.

The 1/2.3″ CMOS sensor can capture photos at a maximum resolution of 16MP in 4:3 aspect ratio but you can also shoot 12MP stills in 16:9 aspect ratio with the respective reduction of the viewport in the vertical direction.

The Re captures images fast but doesn’t offer burst mode. If you hold the shutter button the camera will start capturing video so the only way to get a fast sequence of snaps is by rapidly pushing the shutter button in succession, which isn’t ideal.

The HTC Re outputs a lot of detail in its 16MP stills although it’s not up to the standards of recent 16MP flagship phones (namely Samsung ones). Detail is nice and sharp in the center of the frame but there is some softness around the corners.

There is some fair bit of distortion in the images, even in those that aren’t shot in the ultra-wide angle mode but that’s to be expected – you can see this in stills from all action cams. The action camera is suited to capture people and action and as such it’s not the best option for architecture snaps.

Colors look pleasing and the automatic white balance was able to sort out every scene correctly.

The dynamic range is especially good, which is of key importance for this sort of camera. The center of the images was always exposed correctly but we also saw a good amount of detail in the highlight areas such as the sky.

Toggling the shooting mode to ultra-wide angle mode will distort the image severely, especially around the edges. But this mode will allow you to capture more of your surroundings, which is great if you’ve mounted the camera on yourself or your gear for capturing some action scene video.

The following camera samples have been shot successively in normal and wide angle view mode.

Final words

Imagine a phone with a detachable camera that will let you mount the lens on a helmet, with the phone safe in your backpack or, better yet, at home. Imagine a regular phone with a water-proof camera. For all we care, someone at HTC may have been imagining a dedicated camera upgrade of the otherwise near perfect HTC One (M8). Imagination brought HTC here.

So, they’re venturing into a whole new territory with the Re. The action camera market has a few prominent names but is still in its infancy, GoPro being the premier option in consumers’ eyes. It’s a segment, which has lots of potential to grow – and not necessarily in the area of extreme action and outdoors mostly. Perhaps HTC is looking to offer something different than just another GoPro alternative.