HTC Desire Eye review: If you've ever wanted a 13-megapixel selfie, look no further

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The Good The HTC Desire Eye is the first smartphone to feature a front-facing flash to illuminate your selfies. Its screen is bright and bold, it has plenty of power and its colourful body is waterproof.

The Bad Although the front camera has 13 megapixels, images still suffer from noise and blur, particularly in low light. Focus is far from perfect too, even with the flash assistance.

The Bottom Line Although its flash-equipped front camera is eye-catching, its image results aren't as impressive as I'd hoped. Still, the flash will illuminate your face where other phones can't, and the Desire Eye comes with fun software, is well-specced and waterproof too.

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8.0 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 9
  • Performance 7

Taking pictures of your own gurning face and plastering it over the Internet is unquestionably the best thing you can do with a device that has the entire wealth of human knowledge only a tap away. The front-facing cameras that enable such a noble pursuit on most phones, however, tend to be low-resolution and lack the flash you find on the back.

Not so with the HTC Desire Eye.

This 5.2-inch Android phone separates itself from the rest of the Android world by virtue of its 13-megapixel front-facing camera, which also has a dual LED flash to illuminate your dazzling smile in even the darkest of places. It's the first phone to have such a potent front camera. It is, in fact, the same camera that you'll find on the back of the phone as well.

Other features include a colourful, waterproof body, a full-HD display and the latest version of Android KitKat .

It's due to go on sale in the US later this month, although specific times, or indeed prices, are yet to be announced. The Eye will be available in Australia for AU$799 exclusively through retailer JB Hi-Fi.

The Eye will be on sale in the UK on 7 November, exclusively on network Three, on a range of price plans. The cheapest is £29 per month, with a £29 upfront charge for the handset, which will net you 1GB of data and 600 minutes. That's marginally cheaper than the One M8 , which is £28 per month with a £49 upfront charge on the same plan.


As part of HTC's more affordable Desire range, the Eye eschews the all-metal design of the flagship One M8. The body is made from a single piece of plastic that's been given a two-tone design, which I think looks great -- it's much more fun to look at than plain grey and black slabs.

It's a big phone, due to cramming in that 5.2-inch display, but it's slim and easy to fit into a pocket. You'll certainly need two hands to type on it properly though, unless you have thumbs as long as pool cues.

It feels sturdy to hold and I'm sure it can take a few knocks and bumps without showing up too much damage. There's no question, however, that it feels like a much less luxurious device than the all-metal One M8. If you want a phone that feels so good to hold you'll happily just sit and stroke it, the M8 is the phone for you.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

The Eye, however, is the first waterproof HTC phone -- something the M8 cannot claim. It can survive in up to 1 metre of water for up to 30 minutes. That means it's safe when you accidentally spill a glass of wine over it or drop it in the bath.

You can also take photos underwater, thanks to the physical camera shutter button on the side (the touchscreen won't work when wet).

It doesn't have the huge speaker grilles at the top and bottom of the face of the phone like the One M8, but it does still carry the "BoomSound" brand. The speakers are there, but they're only tiny slits between the screen's glass and white surround. I'm not convinced by this -- it's such a slight gap that it looks like a manufacturing fault up close, almost as though the screen simply hasn't been made big enough to fit in the chassis.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

The speakers themselves are reasonably good though. They don't have the same volume as the M8's speakers -- which shouldn't come as a surprise, given they're much smaller -- but their forward-facing position means the sound is directed towards you, so you can hear the audio more clearly. I was able to cook in my kitchen and comfortably hear a podcast over the sound of my shopping.

Around the sides you'll find the 3.5mm headphone jack and micro-USB charging port -- both of which have been made waterproof so don't require rubber flaps covering them -- and the SIM and microSD card slots are tucked in little pull-out trays. I recommend getting a microSD card too, as the 16GB of built-in storage will fill up pretty quickly if you're really into your games or keep loads of music stored locally.


The display has a full-HD (1,920x1,080-pixel) resolution, which is the highest we've so far seen on the mid-range Desire series. It's the same resolution as the flagship One M8, in fact. The M8's display is 5, rather than 5.2 inches though, so it has a marginally higher pixel density. Side-by-side however, it's difficult to tell any difference.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

The Eye's display is very bright and it has good colours -- I found that glossy Netflix shows like "Breaking Bad" looked great.

Viewing angles are excellent too, although I did find the screen to be quite reflective, which sometimes caused me to stare back at my own reflection (the horror!), even when set to maximum brightness. I've seen worse, sure, but it's worth bearing in mind if you plan on spending most of your time with the phone under the midday sun.

Two cameras

On the back of the phone is a 13-megapixel camera with a dual LED flash, but it's the front-facing camera on the Eye that's most exciting. It too is a 13-megapixel affair, which is the highest resolution front-facing camera we've so far seen on a phone. It has a dual LED flash which, again, we haven't seen before on a front camera.

Typically, most phones use a much lower quality camera on the front than the back, but with a near-identical camera unit on both sides, you can take selfies with the front camera with the same quality as you can with the back. I say "near-identical" as the front camera has an f/2.2 aperture and 22mm focal length, a wider angle than the f/2.0 28mm on the rear, allowing it to capture more of a scene at once.

HTC Desire Eye front-facing camera test, without HDR (click to see full size). Andrew Hoyle/CNET

On my first selfie shot, there's loads of detail from the 13-megapixel sensor, although it's done a poor job of balancing the light and dark areas, resulting in the sky being seriously blown out.

HTC Desire Eye front-facing camera test, with HDR (click to see full size). Andrew Hoyle/CNET

You can use the HDR mode with the front-facing camera, which has gone some way to rescuing the scene in the shot above.

HTC Desire Eye front-facing camera test indoors (click to see full size). Andrew Hoyle/CNET

The front camera struggles much more in low-light situations. At full screen, its overall lack of definition is clear, as is a huge amount of image noise in the background.

HTC Desire Eye front-facing camera test, with flash (click image to see full size). Andrew Hoyle/CNET

With the flash enabled, I'm much better lit, but again, the picture is far from perfect. It hasn't achieved a sharp focus on my face and there's still too much image noise in the background.

HTC Desire Eye front-facing camera test (click image to see full size). Andrew Hoyle/CNET

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