Smartphones are currently dominating the camera scene. Gone are the days of carrying around your point and shoot camera, all you need now is your smartphone and you can snap away. However, HTC are trying to solve a problem we didn’t think existed – smartphones aren’t that good at capturing the moment easily.
For a perspective on Camera Backbacks see this article from Globo Surf.
So they’ve developed a solution… and it’s called the RE. It’s a small camera, modelled after a periscope which offers quick ways to take a photo or video. You’ll find only two buttons on the device, a shutter button and a video speed button. The RE is always at-the-ready with a Auto-On sensor to automatically turn on when your grip the device.
Designed to be used outdoors, the RE camera can simply be described as HTC’s GoPro competitor – it has a 16-megapixel 146-degree wide-angle lens, a waterproof body, and no viewfinder. It’s powered by a 820mAh battery and weights only 66 grams. The battery allows capacity for taking 1,200 photos or 1 hour and 40 minutes of video. The camera features a fast-charge so you can charge the phone to 100% within 2 hours.
The RE has an interesting design. It looks like a periscope (or even an inhaler) but is very ergonomic. I found it easy to pick up and just start taking photos. No thumbling around to get your hand positioned the correct way or finding the button – simply grabbing it and pushing the shutter button was extremely intuitive. That being said, the plastic look and feel does diminish the ‘premium feel’ to the device – perhaps a soft rubber of some sort would’ve felt better.
On the bottom of the device, you’ll find a standard Micro-USB port for charging and data transfer, a standard tripod mount and a MicroSD card slot which allows you to add up to 128GB of storage to the device – HTC will provide an 8GB MicroSD card by default. On the shutter button there is a tiny little LED light to show if you’re out of battery, the photo was taken or if a video is being recorded. It’s a slightly unusual location for such a light as your finger will be covering it most of the time when you’re using the camera, HTC have also included a similar light on the front.
The best thing about the HTC RE camera is… that it’s always on. The grip sensor will automatically wake the camera up when you’re picking it up – so really, it should always be ready to capture the moment, right? Well, not really. I found that it takes over a second to wake up after it hasn’t been used for a few minutes. So from grabbing the RE and then pushing the shutter button, you’ve just missed 2-3 seconds of the moment you’re trying to capture. Even when the camera is awake and you push the shutter, there is a delay of 1 second before the picture is taken, so it isn’t instant by any means. Even though it doesn’t sound like alot, it all adds up when you’re trying to quickly take a photo.
As a photo camera, the RE stands out – providing there is adequate light available. With the wide angle lens, you can capture really cool photos, showing everything around you. I found the RE to be great for taking photos of random items when walking about and just capturing whatever you see. The photos produced by the RE are much like ones you’d get from a point-and-shoot camera or smartphone. Colours seem ok and the photos were fairly sharp. However, once blown up on a Full HD screen, you start to see all the imperfections such as washed out colours and noise. I wouldn’t bother with low-light photos – they are washed out, blurry and murky.
* Warning! Large photos.
The video capabilities of the RE are nothing special – 1080p at 30fps is a standard these days. If you’re taking a slow motion video, then it’s only 720p. The footage wasn’t crisp but not terrible. If you’re capturing the moment then it’s fine – memory captured. If you’re trying to capture a super high quality video, then this isn’t for you.
Demo Slow Motion Video
The battery allows capacity for taking 1,200 photos or 1 hour and 40 minutes of video. However, in real practice, I only found the camera to last around an hour with continuous photo shooting. If you’re recording video, I found the camera would only last around 1 hour and 20 minutes. However, if you’re using the RE here and there throughout the day, then it will last for the entire day – so great all-round.
One issue however is that you can’t check the status of the battery. You’ll only get a visual notification (by the LED light) once the battery is low. If you need to check the battery capacity, it’s hidden deep in the app.
So you can download the RE app to pair up with the camera. It’s available for iOS and Android. During my experience with the iOS app, it was very haphazard. The phone wouldn’t be able to find the RE, forcing me to head into WiFi settings and turn WiFi on and off for it to pick it up. Having it randomly disconnect during transfer was an issue as well. Camera settings were easily set out but the battery status was hidden away in the live viewfinder screen. On the topic of the viewfinder, it streamed back to your phone at a really slow frame rate. Great for very quickly composing your shot and then getting out of there.
Great design, wide-angle lens, photos are good
Video quality isn’t too good, short battery life, not as instant as you’d hope, too expensive
It was fun to use but some issues need to be addressed
The HTC RE camera was really fun to use – the intuitive design meant that it wasn’t awkward to hold in the hand and you could keep a hold of it easily. The photos look good and the wide-angle lens is great. However, it’s too expensive. The $249 price tag simply doesn’t represent the quality of the product. If the video was crisper and better quality and low-light photos looked better, then the price would be perfect.