Having just announced one mid-range flagship in the Desire 820, HTC's decision to unleash another top-tier affordable smartphone so soon is a bit of a strange one. But unleash it it has, the Desire Eye joining the RE camera oddity in the limelight at tonight's "Double Exposure" shindig in New York. Luckily, we managed to grab some time with it earlier in the week.
Rumours abound that this would be called the One M8 Eye, and it's easy to see why: the internal spec is very similar indeed. The same Snapdragon 801 processor, 2GB RAM, 16GB internal storage expandable up to 128GB through SD cards and Boom Sound audio business. The Full-HD display is upped to 5.2 inches, though, while the battery is downed to 2400mAh, which will be an interesting combination.
The build, however, is very different indeed. No slick aluminium here, instead a slightly thin, cheap-feeling-yet-sturdy polycarbonate that won't grab many glances but feels reassuringly like it could take a tumble. The dual-coloured casing is a sealed single body, too, with liquid-tight bonding that keeps it waterpoof to IPX7 levels without unsightly port caps. The two colourways are nicely reserved as well, a light blue/navy partnered with a white with red trim.
Where HTC has really changed its game, though, is on the camera front – literally. Giving equal weighting to both snappers, and throwing around "selfie" references with gay abandon, the Desire Eye boasts 13-megapixel, dual-LED flash, wide-angle-lens snappers in both directions. They're good, too, with the familiar two-touch operation that lets you seal in the light before unleashing photo hell.
Which is handy, as, this being HTC, the phone is packed with photo tomfoolery. The split-cam modes are the genuinely useful ones: one divides the screen 50/50 between subject and snapper, for "we wanna be together" photos plus synchronous and asynchronous video; another will identify up to four faces during recording and divide the screen appropriately, zooming in within each segment for a better view. The latter is particularly impressive, especially when you realise it's a software layer, rather than an isolated app, so can be used in Skype and Google Hangouts, too.
The Desire Eye is integrated with the Zoe social photo service – which is soon out of beta with the just announced 1.0 app update – and also has a shedload of modes to play around with, from themed photo booths to face merging as part of the partitioned "Eye Experiences" app. It's a device exclusive initially, but will be rolled out to the One M8 and other HTC handsets.
The "most entirely pointless but stupidly fun part of the demo" award? Well, that goes to the ability to stitch the photographer into their images, which, as you can see from our efforts below, is unlikely to be a long-term fixture.
Out in November at a price yet to be confirmed, the Desire Eye is seen by HTC as primarily a contract handset. Indeed, it's almost iPhone 5C-like in its halfway-house efforts, trying to squeeze flagship specs into wallet-wooing form, except likely to be much cheaper with less obvious compromises. Definitely one to watch.