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HTC is primarily a smartphone company, but it’s transforming itself into something else. At a private briefing earlier this week, HTC says it started out as a consumer product OEM maker, building devices like the iPAQ and Palm Treo 650 for HP and Palm, and then became a mobile force when it began building its own smartphones. With the mobile competition so fierce, HTC is preparing for the future beyond smartphones, a personal tech brand that it hopes will be known for more than just rectangular boxes with screens.

The HTC RE is the first of product in HTC’s vision beyond smartphones. Resembling a periscope, the RE is a viewfinder-less camera, much like standard GoPro or action cameras, only it’s for everyday shooting — not just the adrenaline junkie.

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Specifications

  • Image sensor: 16-megapixels 1/2.3″ CMOS sensoe with 146-degree field of view (f/2.8)
  • Video recording: 1080p Full HD video, 720p HD video slow-motion at 80 fps
  • Battery: 820 mAh (1.5 hrs HD video)
  • Storage: 8GB microSD card included (expandable up to 128GB)
  • Wireless: Bluetooth 4.0, Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n, Wi-Fi Direct
  • Weight: 65.5 grams

Design

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Like I said earlier, the HTC RE is shaped like a periscope. It’s definitely not your typical action camera design. You hold it like you would a spray canister.

Inside is a 16-megapixel image sensor capable of capturing up to 1,200 still shots to the included 8GB microSD card. The lens has 146-degree field of view which is pretty darn wide — enough to capture a group of people without having to worry if everyone fits in or not.

There are only two buttons on the HTC RE: a chrome shutter button on the backside and a smaller button on the front. Press the chrome button once and you take a photo. Press and hold the button and you activate video recording. As for the front button, pressing that will start recording video in slow-motion.

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On the bottom is a standard tripod mount, Micro USB port for charging, and a tiny flap that pops off to reveal the microSD card slot.

Interestingly enough, there is no power button on the HTC RE. Yep, none. HTC says it designed the RE to intelligently know when it’s picked up (turn on) and idle (enter deep sleep mode). One HTC executive told us he charged his RE up and left it in a drawer for two months and the RE simply went into deep sleep, but was ready to go with full battery when he grabbed it later.

The HTC RE is IP57-certified waterproof, which means its good to be submerged in up to 1 meter of water. There isn’t much protection otherwise. The lens is slightly recessed to protect it, but that’s about it.

Smartphone Connection

To be clear, the HTC RE is a standalone camera. It doesn’t need to be connected to a smartphone (and definitely not only an HTC one) in order to work.

While the HTC RE doesn’t have a viewfinder or screen of any kind, you can pair it to an Android (and future iOS 7+) app in order to get a liveview-style feed.

I didn’t get go play a whole lot with the app, but you could do a few nifty things like set timelapse settings (adjust how many pictures to take at what intervals), adjust lens distortion (ultra-wide or fisheye) for still images, and turn timer mode on.

Video Recording

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Although I didn’t get to examine any footage sample up close to get an idea for image quality, the HTC RE can record video at 1080p Full HD resolution. HTC says it can record up to 1 hour and 40 minutes of video on a single charge through its 810 mAh battery.

Slow-motion video recording — a staple for all action cameras and smartphones these days — is also available. The HTC RE records footage at 720p HD resolution at 80 frames per second. It’s not quite 120 fps you’d get on a device like the iPhone 5S or 240 fps on the iPhone 6/6 Plus, but it should suffice.

One thing the HTC RE doesn’t have is any kind of optical image stabilization. It only has digital image stabilization, which may greatly affect the video quality. I won’t be able to know until I try one myself.

Pricing and Availability

The HTC RE will be available this holiday season for $199 direct from HTC’s website and at select retailers (AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon and Amazon.com this holiday). Every HTC RE comes bundled with an 8GB microSD card so you can start shooting right away. HTC had four colors — white, teal, orange and navy blue — on show, but only confirmed the blue would be a Best Buy exclusive.

Early Impressions

There’s no questioning the HTC RE is an intriguing product. Whereas every other mobile company is slaving away at a smartwatch-type wearable, HTC really is branching off into other product categories. The fact it’s trying to build a GoPro for every day activity is ambitious.

Nigel Newby-House, HTC’s Executive Director for North America Strategy & Planning, told us the point of the HTC RE is to get back into life moments without hiding behind large smartphone displays all the time. The HTC RE is designed to quickly capture moments — press button, BOOM, done — and then carry on.

I like the design and I like the concept, but I’ve got major reservations on how consumers will approach it. Will they think it’s too weird and too gimmicky? Also, the pricing is $70 more than the new entry-level GoPro HERO, which starts at $130. Hopefully we’ll get to play with one for an extended period to get a better feel for it.

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