htc-re-review-12When HTC launched the Re Camera, it was an agreeable surprise from the phone company. Re is a small companion camera that is designed to be waterproof (IP57 standard) and used by either holding it, or attaching it to a mounting accessory. Seen from 10,000 feet, this is HTC’s GoPro, but in reality these products are designed for different use cases. The HTC Re’s design is more “human” and fit for a spontaneous use in the palm of your hand, while the likes of GoPro would be typically part of a usage that requires more “preparation” (mount etc…). I have used this camera for some time now, and I will try to distill the pro and cons to give you a good sense of how it feels to use it. Let’s turn it on…

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Specs

To give you a lay of the land, let’s look at the technical specifications. This will give you a high-level idea of what prospective users would expect from this camera, and then we’ll see how the reality matches the first impression

  • 16 Megapixel Sony CMOS sensor
  • IP57 rugedness rating
  • 1080p 30FPS video recording
  • 720p 4X slow-motion video recording
  • 146 degrees wide angle lens
  • f2.8 aperture
  • 820 mAh internal battery
  • 1h50 of continuous 1080p video recording (battery life)
  • 26.6mm diameter, 97.7mm height, 66.5
  • Bluetooth 4.0 (BLE, Bluetooth Low energy)
  • WiFi A/B/G/N and WiFi Direct
  • Micro USB sync/charge
  • MicroSD card

Design

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The design of the Re Camera is easy on the eye, and nice to hold in the hand. Its shape also makes it easy to build or improvise mounting accessories. You can use HTC’s own line of mounts of course, but it’s pretty easy to come up with your own rig using simple tubes, clamps or even tactical-style Molle gears.

The diameter of the camera is just right for holding it (I wear M-size gloves), but yet it is small enough to be snuck into a jacket’s front pocket. You can easily spot the tiny holes for the pair of Microphones, and a couple of LED indicators, which is one of the ways the camera communicates with the user when used as a stand-alone device.

htc-re-review-06At the bottom, you will find a trap where the MicroSD card and the master reset buttons are. In the middle, there is a tri-pod mount, and a charging micro USB port is right next to it. This is a pretty good layout, except if you wanted the camera to remain connected for charging — however, since the camera cannot seem to take pictures during charging, that seems like a moot point for now, but possibly something to think about for the future.

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It is possible to attach a wrist lanyard, thanks to an accessory that attaches to the tri-pod mounting point (it is in the box). This can be handy to avoid dropping the camera during an action scene. Talking about ruggedness, the HTC Re camera is waterproof, so you are free to use it the pool if you want to! (The IP57 rating would suggest 30mn in the water at a depth of 1 meter)

As it is, I consider this to be an excellent design, and HTC may be able to make it shorter or lighter in the future, but this design absolutely works for me in the real world.

Capabilities and user experience

The camera is simple and is designed to get a few things done easily: still photos, video, slow-motion videos and time-lapse videos.

The overall design, and the integrated grip sensor make it different from using a phone. It is much easier to use it with one hand, and the camera won’t be triggered unless you actually hold it… In fact, the grip replaces a Power ON button that does not exist on this device.

The Ultra-wide angle offers a little extra field of view, which is nice, but it’s probably not as dramatic as one may think. Here are two images, shot with and without ultra-wide angle. I’ll let you decide if this is something that you need or not, and how much line distortion you are OK with.

htc_re_wide

Ultra-wide Angle with the HTC Re

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There are two ways to use the Re camera: with the phone or without the phone. Depending on your situation, one or the other may be more convenient. More likely, you will use the phone to set up the camera and verify that the framing is good, then you will switch to standalone mode.

Standalone

It’s possible to use the camera without a phone. A quick press on the Chrome button at the top takes a photo, and a press and hold will start recording video. This the preferred mode for a spontaneous usage in which you don’t want so much control over how the image will be framed, since you don’t see what you’re filming in real-time.

With smartphone app

htc-re-app-1With the smartphone app, it is visually simpler and you have all the advantages of using your smartphone as a viewfinder. It is also how you would change some settings and manage the camera for example. That’s particularly true when you want to set up a time lapse. In general, the common wisdom is: if you are setting up a mount, then using the app makes everything much easier. If you’re going to hold it, then just shoot instinctively, and things pan out relatively well.

HTC Re Setup (easy)

htc-re-app-2The Re Camera uses both WiFi and Bluetooth (turn those ON), but typically, the setup will happen over Bluetooth, and further communication (image/movie transfer) will happen over WiFi. The procedure is quite simple: after making sure that the camera is charged and has a MicroSD card, you need to download the Re Camera app, and start the setup process. The app will detect the Re camera (make sure it’s on by checking the blue light) and will pair with it. From there, the app can communicate with the camera to sync/transfer.

If the Re camera was previously paired with another phone, you can use the master reset button next to the MicroSD slot.

HTC Re Image quality (fair)htc-re-photo-samples-composite

This is probably the most important aspect of the whole thing, so let’s take a look. The HTC Re Camera is certainly big enough to house a camera sensor that is as performant as a smartphone. However, the phones also get excellent, dedicated image processors that are embedded in the main processor (or SoC). The bottom-line is that the HTC Re will yield an image quality similar, or slightly better, to a $200 smartphone (no-contract).

The Moto G comes to mind, for example. The older HTC One X and the Lenovo VIBE X S960 are phone priced around $200 that may provide a noticeably better photo/video quality. Obviously, they’re not in the same category at all.

Here here some shots from the Re Camera. For comparison with the best stuff, I’m also including shots from the Galaxy Note 4 (video here). Obviously this is totally unfair comparison since that phone cost a lot more than the Re, but I want to you to see where the camera stands against something that you may be more familiar with.

Battery life (~2 hrs)

HTC’s official stance on it is that it lasts for about 1h50mn of 1080p recording. I tested this by recording a 1080p video until the battery dies, and the video lasts exactly 1h50mn16 (for a total of 4 files and 12.7GB).

However, battery life will largely depend on how you use it and how much communication happens with the phone, etc… Taking photos here and there, and shooting videos is not the same at all. That said, the video battery life provides a good baseline because a relatively intensive application.

The 820mAh battery is not that big, and this would certainly be one of the things that customers would demand improvement on. On the other hand, HTC has a battery pack if you need an extended battery right away. Once HTC understand how people use the camera, it can tweak the product design and optimize it.

Conclusion (friendly, needs better imaging)

htc-re-review-03The HTC Re camera is extremely cute and friendly. Its design is “human” and that makes it very agreeable to hold and to use in your hand – which is not the case with pretty much all other “action cams”. After spending some time with it, I wouldn’t even consider this as a direct GoPro competitor. The GoPro is probably not something that I would run around with in my hand, and the Re is unlikely what I would attach to a bike — although one could.

The absolute image quality is relatively low, for a camera product. However, if you look at it from the point of view of a small portable computer, I can understand the reason behind it. But the consumer will have to decide if this is good enough.

The HTC Re shines the most when you hold it. This is ultimately the biggest advantage of its design. Depending on what you intend to do with it, there could be a lot of fun situations and many new ways of filming your life – many of which I have yet to imagine myself. To stick to the basics, I really wish that HTC could upgrade the firmware to offer a loop recording mode to use it as a car Dash camera…

Occasionally, you could mount it on something like a bike (HTC has a ton of mount options), but I’m having a hard time picturing Extreme Sports people using it for their footage. Maybe I’m wrong – What do you think?

The final thing is the price of course. At $199 MSRP, this remains a relatively expensive camera. The GoPro Hero 5 Megapixel is sold at the same price, has a “night mode” and shoots in 1080p too. It’s fair to say that at $100, this would be a great impulse buy. At $200, I believe that most people will start to think hard about their usage model. In the end, it comes down to this: if you intend to mostly hold it in your hand, or if you can’t stand the design of the GoPro Hero, then considering the HTC Re makes a lot of sense.

If you want more details: HTC Re user manual

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