HTC Zoe app released as beta — we've got a first look!

App provides a one-stop shop for sharing and remixing your video stories

HTC today is releasing its long-awaited Zoe app — used for sharing and letting your friends remix your video highlights — to Google Play in beta form. It's available for devices running Android 4.4, and not just HTC devices at that.

First, some background: Zoes were born in 2013 with the HTC One M7. They began as 5-second video clips that added a dimension to the Video Highlights HTC's gallery app would create, using photos, videos and Zoes to tell a story. (Samsung has done the same sort of thing on its phones in the past, and Google+ now does it on the server side, using your uploaded content.) Zoes also gave around 20 still images you could pick from. So they sort of were moving pictures, almost like animated GIFs, but not really.

With Sense 6 and the HTC One M8, Zoes changed a bit. They became a little more difficult to take, with the button for them moved off the main camera display. They also dropped the 5-second limit and require you to hold down the record button. Do it for more than a fives seconds or so and suddenly you're taking a traditional video, from which you can use whatever part you want in a video highlight. Same idea, we suppose, but that 5-second limit gave a better sense of context and purpose, much like Vine's time limit does. And the nomenclature became more muddied as well. Video Highlights are now Zoes, sort of.

HTC never did really get the sharing right, either. It initially tried an in-house Zoe Share site, but your content there would die out after six months, and it just never took off. But now, we have a proper Zoe app, which until today had lived as a stub app.

Let's take a quick look.

Zoe app

Sharing your stories — and letting your friends remix them — is easier than ever.

First things first: This is still very much a beta product. It works pretty well, but there are still a few clunky aspects. HTC expects a proper v1.0 release sometime this fall. It's also "beta" in name only. It's not using Google Play's beta track or anything, so there's no group or community to join. Just update the app already on your phone, or download the Zoe app from Google Play on another device.

The idea is this: The app lets you choose photos and videos to combine into a Zoe. It then lets you upload to the Zoe app for others to see. You follow your friends, and they follow you, and it all very much is a sort of Instagram/Vine experience. You see their content — along with the music and theming — and they see yours.

But what's more is that the content can be "remixed." If Alex and I are at an event and I share a Zoe from it, but Alex has some really cool stuff he wants to add, well, he can add it. And a third person could add in their content and reshare it as well. It's a cool feature, really. (But at some point there maybe should be a limit as to how far the remix goes?)

HTC Zoe feed

The main feed shows previews of each Zoe, along with the user who uploaded it, and when they did so. Tapping a Zoe takes you straight into it, in the comment view. Each Zoe preview also has a button for remixing, commenting and to "heart" a Zoe, just like you'd see in Instagram. You also can remix a Zoe from the comment view by hitting the + button, but there's nothing there that actually says "remix." It's a little unintuitive at the moment.

With the Zoe app, non-HTC devices get a good bit of the same functionality as the HTC One.

And non-HTC devices still get a pretty good experience here. You don't have the hardware BoomSound speakers like you do on the HTC One, of course, but you can use videos and photos from non-HTC devices, create Zoes, and share them just like on the HTC One. So there's really no difference there, now that "Zoe" doesn't really mean "short video clip used in a Video Highlight," we suppose. Logging in via Facebook or Google is simple, and you're right back where you left off. Pick and choose clips in the Zoe app from your non-HTC device, theme 'em, send 'em and you're on your way.

You're also able to share them through — here's an example of one that I did.

One thing that needs to happen ASAP though: Notification control.

All in all it's not a bad experience, and it's a good (if long overdue) start from HTC. It seems like it's finally figured out exactly what it wants "Zoe" to mean (again, long overdue given that we've been talking about them since early 2013), and what it wants to do with them. And HTC's done the right thing by bringing this feature to Google Play, and to non-HTC devices. The Galaxy S5, Galaxy S4 and Note 3 were all specifically name-dropped, as was the Nexus 5. And we've got Zoe up and running on the LG G3, sideloaded. Sense 6 devices are all good to go, HTC says, and the list should continue to grow. (Update: OK, the list of supported Android 4.4 devices is smaller than we expected. HTC says they'll be adding more phones.)

Phil Nickinson