This Periscope-Shaped Camera Lets You Stealthily Take Photos, But It's Missing One Important Thing

You don’t need to be an adrenaline junkie to document your everyday life — at least according to HTC.

The smartphone maker recently unveiled its first standalone camera, the $US199 Re, which is meant to serve the same purposes as a GoPro but for the everyday consumer.

When HTC unveiled the device in October, it marketed it as an ideal gadget for taking family photos, documenting vacations, and other similar events.

And, since the device doesn’t look like a traditional camera, you can easily sneak photos without anyone noticing.

But there’s one catch — and it’s a pretty big one. The Re camera doesn’t have a viewfinder, meaning you’ll need to blindly shoot images and view them later either on your smartphone or computer. HTC is betting that consumers will overlook, and even appreciate, this omission.

After spending a few days using the Re, here’s what I came away with.

How It Looks And Feels

The Re camera looks more like a periscope or asthma inhaler at first glance. HTC believes the shape will make it easy to use since it’s easily grippable, and although that sounds a bit silly, it’s actually true. Since there’s no viewfinder, it seems plausible to abandon the traditional rectangular shape you’ll find with most digital cameras. The Re’s sensors also allows it to turn on as soon as you grab it, so you don’t need to press anything before you start shooting.

There are two buttons on the Re: a large button on the back and a smaller white one on the front underneath the lens. You can short press the large silver button to take a photo or long press it to shoot a video. The front button is for taking time-lapse videos.

The Re comes in white for now, but a variety of colours including black, coral, and blue will eventually be available. It will be sold through HTC’s website, Amazon, and Best Buy initially, but will be coming to AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon stores before the holiday season.

Using It

Although the Re is meant to be an easy-to-use grab-and-go device, there is somewhat of a learning curve. If you’re not used to using the camera, it’s hard to tell if your shot is lined up the way you want it. Here’s an attempted photo of the Empire State Building I shot when I started using the Re, which came out a bit blurry. If I had known that the photo was blurry at the time, I would have retaken it. However, I didn’t know until after the fact that the image was less than ideal.

The Re makes a distinct beeping sound to let you know when you’re taking a photo or recording a video, but you can turn the sound off if you wish. I wouldn’t recommend it unless you need to, since it’s difficult to tell whether or not you’ve actually taken the photo without that sound.

There’s also a shutter sound, but it’s slightly delayed, which is likely why some of my earlier photos came out blurry and shaky.

Once you get the hang of it, shooting becomes a bit easier. The images I took after spending some time with the Re are noticeably sharper and cleaner, as you can see below.

The Re comes with a 16-megapixel sensor, which is comparable to most smartphones. The Re takes decent images that will suffice if you’re simply looking to document an experience. But as you can see in the photo of the plant below, images sometimes look a little hazy.

This one is more detailed — you can see the wrinkles in the American flag as it waves in the breeze.

Here you can make out detail on the buildings on Fifth Ave. too.

The Re also emits its own Wi-Fi signal, and you’ll need to connect to its network if you want to view photos in HTC’s app. Once your phone is connected to the Re’s Wi-Fi network, you’ll see any photos on the phone appear in a gallery format. From here, photos can be saved to your phone’s camera roll.

However, the app was very inconsistent in my personal experience. Although my iPhone was connected to the Re’s Wi-Fi network and Bluetooth was turned on, the app would claim it couldn’t find my Re camera. This was incredibly frustrating at times, since you need to use the app in order to adjust the camera’s settings.

If you simply want to view your photos, you can always plug the Re into your computer via the included micro USB cable. Still, if you want to be able to control the Re remotely, which is one of the use cases HTC touted at the Re’s unveiling, you’ll need to get the camera to work with its app.

That’s not to say you’ll run into the same problem — I’ve spoken with a few other tech bloggers using the Re that said the app worked just fine — but it’s something to consider.

The camera itself is also easy to set up. Simply charge the Re, download the app, and follow the simple setup instructions. You’ll need to create a password to log into the app to view your photos and manage the camera’s settings.

Keep this password safe, seeing as I haven’t discovered a way to reset it yet if you happen to forget it (HTC says there will be a way to reset passwords when the camera launches, but I haven’t found out how).

Should You Buy It

I could easily see what HTC was going for with the Re and why it could be appealing for some. If you love taking casual photos, the Re is easier to grab and is much less delicate than your phone for instances that call for a quick and immediate photo. It’s also waterproof, so it’s a worthwhile replacement in situations where you wouldn’t want to damage your phone. And, since HTC says you can mount it with an accessory and control it via your phone, it sounds like there’s a lot of potential for hard-to-get photos.

That being said, I’m not entirely convinced it’s worth the $US199. Giving up the ability to see your photos as soon as you take them is not something I’m ready to embrace just yet. If the app worked more seamlessly, I think the experience would be a lot better, but it’s just not there yet for me.

The $US199 Re will be available in time for the holiday season, and you can preorder it now.

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