HTC just nailed waterproof phone tech and doesn't seem to have noticed

09 October 2014

HTC has just unveiled its newest smartphone: the HTC Desire Eye. It's made from polycarbonate and comes in red/white and blue/black options; has a 13MP rear and 13MP front camera; and uses the “Desire” name that is generally reserved for HTC’s sub-premium, affordable devices. It’s also IPX7 water-resistant.

The Eye is a curious piece of hardware to come from HTC. The last two big releases have boasted reserved, brushed-metal designs; 4MP rear “Ultrapixel” cameras designed to capture better low-light photos; and followed the naming scheme of the HTC “One” series. They have also elected to pass by the new water-resistance movement without comment.

So what’s the big deal?

Skipping over everything else for just a moment, the Desire Eye has one very important technological element that wouldn’t stand out unless you’ve already used a water-proofed phone yourself: its USB charging port is uncovered.

Other phones, like the Xperia Z, Z1, Z2, Z3, Z3 Compact and Samsung Galaxy S5 rely on flaps to plug their charging ports. If these flaps are open, even partially, disaster awaits the unwary water-goer. Even worse: they can snap off, leaving you with a phone that has lost what was perhaps the main reason you decided to invest in it.

The HTC Desire Eye has no such problem. Its charging port is not subject to the whims of fate. Neither providence nor an explorative toddler can suddenly turn your phone in to a useless wet brick. This is an important step in the evolution of smartphone technology. Hopefully Sony and Samsung are taking notes.

How waterproof is IPX7?

One thing that needs clarification is the IPX7 water-resistance rating. IPX7 sounds very impressive – much more impressive than the IP67 rating we’ve become used to with the Galaxy S5 and all the new smartwatches hitting the market. After all it has an X in it.

In truth it’s the exact same thing. Only the second number in an IP rating is to do with water, the first number is about dust protection. By throwing an “X” in there, instead of the usual 5 or 6, HTC is just glossing over the part that no one cares about.

IPX7 means that it’s protected against water immersion for up to 30 minutes at a depth of 1 metre (3 feet). Just the like dozens of other gadgets released this year.

Wait, a 13MP camera on the front?

Receiving much more attention than the uncovered USB is the pairing of a 13MP rear camera with a 13MP one on the front. It’s understandable: a 13MP front-facing camera is bound to prick your ears because it sounds ludicrous. And it is.

It would be unwise to claim that there will never be cause for a selfie cam with that kind of resolution, but right now it’s a waste of resources and can probably be chalked entirely up to marketing.

Megapixels aren’t everything when it comes to digital cameras. Apple recently demonstrated this yet again with the release of the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, both of which have 8MP shooters that are lightyears ahead of anything else out there – the 16MP of the GS5 and 20.7MP of the Xperia Z3 line included.

What is far more important is the lens system itself and the complexity of the imaging software. You need to nail those two first before the MP rating will really make that much difference. Moreover, high MP ratings aren’t super necessary at the distances you’re talking about when using the front-facing camera.

Let’s be honest: it’s for selfies. That’s fine. No matter your opinion of the trend, it’s an identifiable demand that can be addressed by manufacturers. HTC has already done this with the 5MP front-facing camera (with decent lens system) on the HTC One (M8). We loved it there and it was hard to go back to the standard 2MP shooters on every other smartphone. A good front camera is a virtue, but you need to focus on what actually makes it a good camera rather than just bumping up the MP.

The Desire Eye may very well end up having the best front camera on the market, but it’s doubtful that it needs the full 13MP that it’s employing. What’s far more likely is that it’s a decent camera being over-hyped using an easy marketing standard: big numbers.



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