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HTC Re Camera Review: An Inhaler-Shaped Camera That Misses the Mark

Daniel Howley
Technology Editor
Yahoo Tech
HTC Re mini-camera

We spend so much time behind the camera viewfinders on our smartphones that we no longer truly see our subjects or the world around us. That’s the idea behind HTC’s weird new Re Camera.

A $199 mini camera, the oddly shaped Re is meant to keep you “in the moment” instead of gawking at a viewfinder. How does the company accomplish this goal? By simply removing the viewfinder from the equation, that’s how.

That’s right: The Re is a camera that lets you take pictures without knowing how they’ll turn out. Keeping you in the moment while taking photos is an intriguing idea — comedian Louis C.K. touched on a similar thought during one of his standup acts.

Unfortunately, its price and photo quality leave much to be desired.

It looks like a periscope
The Re certainly looks interesting. It reminds me of the one-eyed garbage monster from Star Wars. Or, you know, a submarine’s periscope. Or an inhaler.

HTC Re mini-camera with plastic toys

The 2.3-ounce camera is surprisingly comfortable to hold thanks to its unique design. It also, as my colleague Alyssa Bereznak observed, happens to look like a detonator a James Bond villain would use to blow up a bridge.

The Re is extremely functional, though, as the front portion where you rest your fingers features a sensor that detects when you’re holding the camera and prepares it to take a picture. No more having to open and wait for your camera app to load. Just pick up the Re and start shooting photos.

HTC Re mini-camera in a hand

Up front, the Re gets a 146-degree wide-angle lens that can take either standard or warped, fisheye-style photos. You can adjust how your photos look in the Re smartphone app, but I’ll get to that in a second.

Because it’s made of plastic, the Re can’t be tortured like, say, a GoPro can, but it can withstand being submerged in up to 3 feet of water for 30 minutes without issue.

The Re is not dust- or sand-proof, though. Taking it to the beach is basically out of the question.

Using the Re
OK, so it’s shaped weirdly and you can’t see what you’re taking pictures of. Here’s what it’s like to use.

HTC Re mini-camera in a hand

It’s a mixed bag of nuts. Taking pictures is incredibly easy thanks to the Re’s giant shutter button, but when I looked at a lot of the pictures I took, they were all lopsided since I wasn’t used to using a camera without a viewfinder.

Crooked photo of New York City street

If you really need to see what you’re taking pictures of, you can download the Re app for Android and iOS. The app serves as both a means to view all your pictures taken with the Re and gives you the ability to use your phone’s screen as a viewfinder.

HTC Re camera app

Just point the Re at anything you want, and it will show up on your phone’s screen. You can even control the camera’s shutter from your handset, so you can take pictures from across the room.

The app also lets you adjust camera settings including photo and video resolution, switch between wide-angle and standard shooting modes, turn on video stabilization, and add location data to your photos.

HTC Re camera app

The app is helpful for situations like taking group photos or, in my case, taking pictures of an incredibly camera-shy dog. I also like that it gives me a means to see all my pictures stored on the camera itself, without having to download them to my computer or phone.

Photo quality
The Re’s 16-megapixel camera captured decently sharp pictures, as long as I was standing still. Despite its image-stabilization software, photos taken with the Re while I or my subject was moving were consistently blurry.

Blurry picture of dog

When I stayed in one spot, though, my photos turned out relatively clear each time.

HTC Re picture of dog

Video, on the other hand, is always pixelated, even when taken at 1080p. Slow-motion video, which is automatically shot at 720p, is similarly grainy. Polaroid’s $99 Cube, which also has no viewfinder, captures lower-quality stills but cleaner video.

The Re’s lack of a viewfinder led me to learn that I am naturally lopsided. It seemed like every time I took a picture or video, my photos were slanted toward one side or the other. Eventually I learned to pay more attention to how I was holding the Re, though, and my photos started to even out.

HTC Re picture of dog

I’ve got to hand it to HTC, however, for making a small camera with an impressive battery life. I took about 150 photos and a few videos, and this little guy’s battery was still rocking.

Should you buy it?
The Re camera is a cool concept that needs more development. Its grip sensor is ingenious. And the way the camera interfaces with your phone so you can see all your photos instantly is excellent.

But most people will have a hard time adjusting to taking pictures without knowing how they’ll come out. Do you really want to risk having your photos turn out blurry without knowing you should retake them?

To be honest, I really like the idea of a camera that keeps you “in the moment” rather than making you focus on a viewfinder. But at $199, the HTC Re is too expensive. If you’re interested in an on-the-go camera like the Re, check out the $99 Polaroid Cube. At its current price, I’d skip the Re.

Email Daniel at dhowley@yahoo-inc.com; follow him on Twitter at @DanielHowley or on Google+ here.