HTC RE camera and GoPro Hero

I'm no hero. I don't wake up every day and strap a helmet to my head or a board to my feet or need to record myself going 120 mph from six different camera angles. I drive a 2005 Honda Civic with a couple of car seats in the back. Usually there are a few pool noodles and goggles and maybe even a water gun. The most EXTREME thing I've done in the last month was go out until 10 p.m. on a school night.

This is Tech Dad Life. (And at this point my nearly 9-year-old is demanding I clarify: A single booster seat for her little sister is now all that remains of the child-like safety items.)

But one thing I've gotten into a little more lately is in the same vein as the GoPro — I've been carrying the HTC RE camera around a lot more. And that begs the question that I've mostly ignored since the RE was released in the fall of 2014: Is HTC actually competing with GoPro in this space?

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And there's only one way to find out. It's time to slip the RE into my pocket and, uh, strap the GoPro to something. Because this ultra-mobile, in-your-face, action photography thing isn't going anywhere anytime soon. As GoPro itself has shown quarter after quarter (with some $363 million in revenue in Q1 2015) — it's only getting bigger.

So let's start with the basics.

GoPro HeroHTC RE camera

The RE camera, as you'll (erm) recall, is shaped like a tiny periscope or an upside-down inhaler. The cylinder is about an inch in diameter, with the business end about an inch and an half long. You're going to be holding it in your hand most of the time, but there is a quarter-inch tripod mount on the bottom should you want to mount it somewhere. You take pictures and video (mostly) by hitting the silver shutter button, and the media is saved on a microSD card. (An 8GB card is included.) You can connect the RE camera to a computer directly to transfer the pictures, or use the Android or iOS app to run things through a smartphone.

The entry level GoPro is missing a host of features the HTC RE camera enjoys, but it's more comparable in price.

The RE camera runs $199 at retail, but you can find it pretty easily for $129 these days, and occasionally even less. (I picked one up on sale once for $99.)

Comparing to a GoPro — you've seen the little boxes mounted on surf boards and cars and rockets and hockey players birds and anywhere and everywhere, really — gets a little tricky because there are a bunch of them at various price points. At the upper end of the spectrum is the $499 Hero4 Black, which sports the best features GoPro has to offer.

I wanted to keep the pricing as close as possible here, though, going back to my initial question. GoPro? Or HTC RE camera? So I opted for the $129 "Hero." That's it. No numbers, no code names. Just "Hero." Here's how the basic specs break down.

Category HTC RE camera GoPro Hero
Video resolution 1080p @30fps 1080p @30fps
Still resolution 16MP 5MP
Weight 2.3 ounces 4.6 ounces
Storage microSD only (comes with 8GB card) microSD only
Connectivity micro-USB/Wifi Direct/Bluetooth 4.0 mini-USB
Battery 820 mAh 1180 mAh
Waterproofing IP57/IPx7 (body)/IPx8 (with cap) Up to 40 meters

When HTC first announced the RE camera it explicitly said it wasn't going after the GoPro market. I think a lot of us rolled our eyes at that comment and took it as the usual marketing speak. "Of course you're not." Actually get the two cameras in hand, however, and you quickly start to think that maybe HTC wasn't just blowing smoke. In fact, you start to realize that the intent of these cameras couldn't be more different. The RE camera is a pistol grip, meant to be held. GoPro is a camera in a waterproof box, meant to be mounted on something — with an ever-growing world of accessories on that front. Sure, you can mount the RE camera or hold the GoPro, but each of these cameras has a distinct (and different) purpose in mind. One more casual, the other very much serious about shooting some crazy stuff.

Battery-wise, the GoPro wins out on paper. But it loses (IMHO) in reality. First, it charges via mini-USB — not micro, which is what most folks carry around these days. (Except for those of us who have one or two odd devices that rely on mini-USB.) And the GoPro Hero has pitiful standby time. As in, I'm not actually sure it has any useful standby time because any time I'd pick it up it needed to be charged. The RE, on the other hand, does a nice job of hibernating. It's a little clunky to wake up, but that's another matter. Point is I can go a few days without charging, if I'm not shooting a whole bunch at one time.

One camera is meant to be held, and the other expects to be mounted.

And you can't talk GoPro without talking waterproofing. The GoPro really is a small camera in a tough housing, with serious gaskets. The GoPro Hero is good to 40 meters (131) feet. The HTC RE camera is meant for more shallow, casual use. The body alone should be fine up to 1 meter of depth for a short time. A more watertight cap over the base (where the microSD card and microUSB port are found) adds some extra protection — and it really should come standard with every RE camera. But do take that 1-meter limit seriously. I've killed two RE cameras with water after just a few seconds at the bottom of an 8-foot pool. That's actually pretty unacceptable, but I was warned.

And we mentioned connectivity before — the RE camera connects to Android or iOS devices, but the basic GoPro Hero doesn't. You have to upgrade to the $299 Hero+ for that. GoPro has a pretty good software suite for editing and sharing your footage. HTC has its Zoe app that'll piece things together decently as well, but it doesn't give as much control.

So, yes. In a way it's comparing apples to oranges — especially given that the low-end GoPro is lacking some important features enjoyed by its more expensive cousins, and by the HTC RE camera. But these are still miniature, standalone cameras, more or less. If I'm looking to get a small camera to do fun things with, these are the two I'm looking at. And so we're going to take a look at the HTC RE camera alongside the GoPro Hero. We're going to talk more about the technical side of things. And we're going to talk more about what it's like to actually use them. And what you have to do to get the pictures and image out of the devices and shared with your friends — which really is what it's all about. Stay tuned. There's lots more to come.