The HTC Desire Eye is no mid-ranged gimmick. Though it has a specific selling point – the ability to snap the sharpest selfies you've ever snapped – you could take that away and still have a top-notch handset.
The Desire Eye is essentially the excellent HTC One (M8), only with a few additions and a few subtractions. On one hand, it loses the One's premium build, front-facing speakers and rear depth sensor. But on the other hand, it has a bigger screen and higher-resolution cameras on both sides.
If selfies are your thing, then this is your dream phone. The Eye's wide-angle 13 MP front camera takes sharper shots than many phones' rear cameras take. It has a front-facing flash for those poorly-lit selfies (that was unheard of before this phone arrived), and there's even a dedicated selfie button that quickly launches the front camera no matter what you're doing.
It also gives you options for setting a timer for your selfies (including an onscreen countdown) and a "live makeup" setting that smooths the appearance of your skin in real-time (you can adjust how strong the effect is with an onscreen slider bar).
If there's a selfie base to be covered, HTC covered it.
Elsewhere, the phone's build is a far cry from the One M8's aluminum, but the plastic Desire Eye is pretty light and comfortable in hand. Its 5.2-in screen gives you plenty of real estate: 8 percent more than the One M8. The screen is sharp too, with the same 1080p resolution. And though the Eye's rear camera loses the One's depth effects, it does let you take higher-resolution shots of other people as well.
Performance is smooth, with the One's Snapdragon 801 returning. Battery life is ... solid: it dropped 13 percent per hour in our video streaming test (with brightness set at 75 percent). That's a bit shorter than the One M8 lasted in the same test, but at least it has the One's Extreme Power Saving Mode to keep you on the grid if your battery drops into the danger zone.
Though I'm pretty sure I'm not the demographic HTC is targeting here, I can highly recommend the Desire Eye to anyone who lives and dies by the selfie. Any phone will let you snap self-portraits, but the Desire Eye is built for it.
While we're used to seeing novelty phones with one attention-seeking feature surrounded by watered-down compromises everywhere else, the Eye's terrific front-facing camera is attached to a damn good phone. I'm not sure if selfies can still be considered a novelty, but if so, this is the best novelty phone I've ever used.
The HTC Desire Eye is available now, starting at US$550 full retail or $150 with a two-year contract (installment plans are also available). It's an AT&T exclusive in the US.
For a deeper dive on some of the features we skimmed over here, you can hit up our HTC One (M8) review from earlier this year.
Product page: HTC