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HTC unveils the Desire Eye smartphone, Re camera

The Taiwan-based handset maker unveils a smartphone that shows off its new "Eye Experience" software for photographs and video. It also takes the wraps off a small handheld camera.

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The Desire Eye includes two 13MP cameras, one in the front, one in the back. CNET

HTC on Wednesday unveiled the new Desire Eye smartphone, a device focused on taking pictures and videos using its dual 13-megapixel cameras.

It also came out with a small, handheld camera called the Re.

"We believe what you hear about today marks a new milestone for the evolution of HTC," CEO Peter Chou said. "This is just the beginning about reimagining HTC."

The Desire Eye smartphone will be used to show off the company's new "Eye Experience" software, which allows users to take a photograph just by steadying the device for a shot, or by taking a photo by saying "cheese" or start a video by saying "action." The "Eye Experience" technology will be available as part of a new update for HTC One phones, as well.

The periscope-shaped Re camera , with few buttons and no viewfinder, was built with a central focus on simplicity, said Jason Mackenzie, president of the Americas region for HTC. The device takes 16MP photos and 1,080-pixel HD videos.

Little-known in the US, the Desire series of low-cost smartphones has been steadily making headway since the devices debuted at Mobile World Congress in February. If HTC can pull off a comeback, it may be the Desire line that ends up turning the tide. Though the aluminum-clad HTC One M8 may get all the critical praise and attention from gadget enthusiasts, the company sees more opportunity in the market for more-affordable smartphones. The Desire Eye represents HTC's attempt to build up its affordable brand in developed markets like the US.

HTC's strategy is not unlike that of rivals such as Motorola and LG, which are similarly finding diminishing returns in betting solely on a flagship super-smartphone. Apple's iPhone and Samsung's Galaxy franchises dominate that category, forcing its lower profile rivals to cater to consumers with tighter budgets. HTC differs from its rivals because it's a relatively small, pure mobile-device maker competing against massive companies with hands in different businesses and significantly more resources.

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Jason Mackenzie, president of the Americas region for HTC, shows off the Re camera. CNET

HTC has emphasized camera performance and features on its devices in recent years. The company ditched traditional megapixels with the original HTC One smartphone and instead opted for a custom image sensor it marketed as Ultrapixels.

On the flagship HTC One M8 , a second depth-of-field sensor was added to the camera for greater customization of images.

Despite selling critically acclaimed products such as the HTC One M8 smartphone, the Taiwan company has tumbled out of the top rankings of smartphone makers, unable to keep up with the much larger advertising budgets of powerhouses such as Samsung or Apple.