Yesterday’s announcement of the HTC RE camera wasn’t unexpected. Rumors of the device started circulating in mid-September and HTC joined in on the fun when it launched recamera.com and uploaded a few teaser videos of its own to YouTube and its social media accounts. While the HTC RE is unlike anything in HTC’s current product portfolio, the device does compliment the company’s smartphones, and HTC is using it to kick off a new line of connected devices that should come to market over the next 6-12 months.
Before the HTC Double Exposure event on Wednesday, we had the opportunity to sit down with a few members of HTC’s product and software design teams to talk about the RE camera and the company’s plans. Put simply, the HTC RE is an action camera for everyday life. Most everyone is familiar with GoPro, but very few people actually own one. And those who do typically only use it when they are speeding down a dirt trail on their mountain bike, climbing a mountain or jumping off a cliff into the ocean. The 146 degree wide-angle lens, 1080p video capture, 80 frames per second slow motion video and 16-megapixel pictures on the HTC RE can do all that, but HTC thinks the unique design of the RE and its smartphone connectivity make it a compelling device to use in everyday situations.
The design of the HTC RE is different from other devices on the market, but it’s certainly not unique. It’s roughly the size of an asthma inhaler and can easily pass as a periscope when it’s standing on a flat surface. We’ve all seen the jokes on Twitter, but the design of the RE camera was intentional, allowing the device to fit comfortably in the hand. The RE has a large shutter button at the top of its neck and a slow motion toggle button below the neck. HTC decided to forgo a dedicated power button and instead give the RE camera touch-sensing capabilities that turn the device on as soon as you touch it. This allows you to quickly pick up the RE and snap a picture without having to go through an extra step of fiddling with a power switch. Capturing an image with the RE is as easy as pressing the shutter button. If you want to record video, hold the shutter button down for about a second and the RE will start rolling.
The bottom of the HTC RE houses a microUSB charging port, microSD card slot and 1/4-inch tripod mount hole. HTC will include an 8GB microSD card with the RE, but the device can support cards up to 128GB. The RE’s internal battery capacity is rated at 820mAh, enough to allow the RE to snap 1,200 16-megapixel pictures or 100 minutes of continuous 1080p video recording. If you buy the HTC RE’s optional charging stand, it can record until the microSD memory card is completely full. The HTC RE camera is also waterproof right out of the box with an IP57 rating.
The HTC RE’s 146-degree wide angle lens makes capturing pictures and video effortless. Simply point the RE in the general direction of what you want to record and press the shutter button. If you want to make sure you set your shot up just right, you can use it as a remote viewfinder. The RE connects to your smartphone over Bluetooth 4.0 and uses WiFi Direct to transfer images or a live view of what the camera sees.
Once your picture or video is captured, you can back it up to your smartphone or share it directly to social media through the RE camera app. The app is required if you want to set up a time-lapse video, but HTC’s intent is to make the RE as independent as possible.
We’re still not sure how we feel about the HTC RE. HTC wants the RE to be an alternate camera for our lives — one that frees up from our smartphone’s viewfinder and allows us to live our lives with those around us. The story HTC is trying to sell is pretty compelling. We’ve all been to concerts or family events where everyone is living the moment through what they see on their camera’s viewfinder. HTC wants to solve that issue, but we still need to be convinced that the RE is the product that will solve it. HTC is pricing the RE at $200, making it more expensive than GoPro’s entry-level camera.
That said, the HTC RE isn’t intended to be a hero product on its own. HTC is not banking on sales of the RE to have a massive impact on the company’s bottom line. Our conversation with HTC revealed that the firm is focused on expanding its product portfolio with devices like the RE, which complement and augment the smartphones that we already use. HTC did not disclose what’s coming next, but we came away with the distinct impression that we’ll be seeing more connected devices in the next 6-12 months.
Companies that have focus solely on smartphones are going through an extinction phase. Palm, Motorola, BlackBerry, Nokia and a few others have either gone out of business or been broken up and sold for parts. HTC’s position in the market isn’t as dire as Blackberry’s, but that’s because HTC is actively working to find other sources of revenue to ensure it doesn’t become another statistic.