Taiwanese phone purveyor HTC has shunned the current smartwatch sales desert for now and leapt feet first into a whole new product arena: action cameras. The quirky, periscope-like, mitt-sized RE (don't forget the two caps) is being unveiled at the "Double Exposure" event in New York this evening alongside the Desire Eye smartphone. A bit confused by its decidedly ship funnel-like looks? No worries, we went hands-on earlier in the week. Embargo down!
Not just a proprietary accessory for its burgeoning mobile army, the RE is a standalone snapper that will feed into an iOS and Android app from launch, with your chosen smartphone acting as a viewfinder if you so wish. We tried it with the Desire Eye and it synced easily, panning round the room consistently with surprisingly strong image clarity under admittedly very well-lit conditions.
But the RE is primarily meant to be used sans phone really, while out and about, held aloft at gigs or underwater in pools (its plastic body has a waterproof rating of IPX7) without too much tech real estate irritating those behind or underneath you.
It's certainly light enough, the diminutive size making it as easy to slip into your jean pocket as a cigarette lighter, or vaporiser if you're particularly trendy, while prolonged holding it aloft doesn't knacker your arm either.
There's just one button at the top of the rear, which you press once to take a photo, hold down and release to record, or tap twice for slow motion. As simple goes, it's a doddle. The 146-degree ultra-high angle lens squeezes in lots of action, and is surprisingly sight-accurate without a screen to rely on, too.
Specs-wise, it's a 16-megapixel cam (13-megapixel when wide-angling it) that records video in Full-HD 1080p at 30fps, or 720p in slo-mo. There's a HD mic, too, and the included 8GB SD card can be expanded to 128GB if you've got a particularly long getaway planned.
The 400mAh battery supposedly supplies an hour and 40 minutes of continuous HD recording – cinemas will be happy – although you can record while it runs off the mains via micro USB, too, so all-day time lapses of your cat's secret life can and will be actioned.
A plethora of mounts and add-ons are proposed, from tripod attachments to helmet fixes, ramping up the "stylish GoPro" vibe that HTC is clearly going for. The colourways of navy, white, orange and turquoise are all a bit Jawbone Up, too. After the design success of the One M8, it's reassuring to see HTC still exercising its good taste.
HTC has certainly upped its photography chops in recent years and here there's also support for its Zoe social video service, plus the kind of quirky photo gimmicks the One M8 brought to the party for good ol' family fun.
Released this winter with an estimated price of £169, it will be interesting to see whether HTC is able to carve out its own niche or whether people will just find the RE a bit odd. Does it really solve enough problems to warrant the upgrade, for a market that's using it on their casual, not professional, time.
HTC's gone for looks over ruggedness, for sure, the price isn't bad, and the suitably iconic design makes a GoPro look positively industrial by comparison, but we'd need to put this through a more thorough test to see if it has similarly versatile chops as the reigning champ.
HTC representatives were at pains to point out that the RE is very much its own product, rather than an extension of their phone lines, and they "hope to see it in the Apple Store", as well as a load of new retailers. Question is: will you be buying it?