HTC My Touch 4G Slide hands-on (Camera edition)

HTC has been honing its camera skills for some time. We've had the HTC Sensation that brought a number of "image effects" to Android, while the EVO 3D has given us three-dimensional shooting and filming. 

What if you want a camera phone that really does attempt to replace your point and shoot camera? HTC's latest attempt at that answer is the T-Mobile MyTouch 4G Slide that not only has the effects found on other HTC Android handsets, but a number of camera like features to impress as well. 

We've grabbed one from HTC to see whether it lives up to the claim.  

The phone

The HTC MyTouch 4G slide a QWERTY slider smartphone available on the T-Mobile network in the US. It runs the latest version of HTC's Sense UI, comes with Android 2.3, and the usual bells and whistles that you would expect from the company and its smartphones.

As a phone it is slightly on the chunky side, mainly due to the inclusion of that sliding QWERTY keyboard, but the keyboard is easy to use, well spaced out, and will appeal to those that like QWERTY keyboards. Sadly our review phone is in the UK and therefore we aren't able to test 4G download speeds, however reports from friends in the US have informed us that performance varies. Theoretically should get up to 14.4Mbps download speeds but in places like New York City expect that to be wishful thinking. It will depend on how good the T-Mobile coverage is in your area. For UK readers it's worth pointing out that this phone isn't available in the UK or planned to be launched. The reason? The UK doesn't have a public access 4G network.

However that said it's fair to assume that the advances made on the imaging side here will be coming to other handsets from HTC in the future.  

The camera

HTC has packed the HTC MyTouch 4G Slide with an 8 megapixel backside Illuminated (BSI) CMOS sensor. For the camera fan, other specs of note include a focal length of 3.69mm and an 2.2 f/stop.

That sensor also gives you 1080p HD video recording capabilities. There's a dual flash, 3x digital zoom, a dedicated camera button, and on screen tap to zoom completing the picture. 

Competing against the point and shoots of this world there is face, shake, blink, and smile detection, a bevy of scene modes, a number of special effects, and the ability to have your images geo-tagged with your location. 

Shooting modes

Where the HTC MyTouch 4G Slide differs from your average HTC smartphone is the emphasis on the ability to take a decent picture and have some control over the cameras functionality. 

In manual mode you get control over the ISO, the White Balance, and Exposure, as well as Sharpness, Contrast, and Saturation. You can also adjust the resolution from 8 megapixels down to 5mp down to 3mp to 1mp and finally down to VGA (640x368).

Beyond manual there are a number of dedicated shooting modes to make things easier. 

Auto mode will automatically detect and adjust settings to achieve the best results for most scenes. It's the easy option and tries its best to get things right. You will be happy with the results, but those who've opted for the phone because of the camera will want to experiment with other shooting modes fairly quickly. 

SweepShot is like Sony's Panoramic sweep mode found in it's CyberShot and Alpha models that allows you to capture a landscape or scene by holding the camera steady and rotating through that scene to capture it. Once done it then automatically stitches the shots together. In use and it takes a little getting used to - you have to be slow and steady - and the panoramic distance will stop fairly quickly to the point you'll be unlikely to do a full 360 shot. 

ClearShot HDR as the names suggests is a HDR mode that will try its best to match high and low contrasts by taking three images at the same time at different exposure levels and then overlaying them. It means that if you've got a dark building with the sun behind it you'll still get all the detail rather than it being in shadow. It's a trick Apple already applies to its photos on the iPhone and it's good to see it here too. When used at the right time the results can make a real difference.  

BurstShot can be used to capture multiple photos in a quick burst so you don't miss the perfect photo. Think kid jumping into a swimming pool, or a something with plenty of movement. This traps that action allowing you to delete the shots you don't want afterwards. After all that's the beauty of digital photos. 

Night mode is a fairly standard setting and works as you would expect it to allowing you to take pictures at night be it a romantic stroll along the beach boardwalk with Mrs Pocket-lint or  in the pub half cut and falling out the door. Handy. 

Action is for sports, ups the shutter speed so you can capture fast moving objects freezing them in time in the process. 

Macro lets you get up close to whatever you are snapping. We tried it successfully on some pollen within a flower and the results were impressive. 

Portrait tries to help you emphasis the faces of the people you are taking photos of by letting you play with the depth of field of the cameras lens. If you've got a DSLR or have played with a friends, it's the AV setting on the camera. In practice it is the difference between a background that is in focus and one that isn't. 

Here you can manage that by a simple slider with the effect instantly showing on the screen so you can see what's going to happen to your picture when you press the shutter button. 

On the phone we've had mixed results, and it's a case of finding a balance between over cooking the effect and not applying it enough. It's the one setting that you'll most likely want to use most of the time, especially if you snap pictures of people a lot of that time, so it's worth putting the effort in. Sadly once you've found that perfect setting you can't save it as your default.  

Results

For a camera phone the results are some of the best we've seen with the HTC MyTouch 4G Slide doing all it can to match the photographic prowess of some of the dedicated Nokia camera phones. Colours are well balanced and we are very impressed with the macro mode and its ability to capture fine detail.  

In camera effects

Like previous smartphones from HTC, the MyTouch 4G Slide features a number of effects that you can add as you take the picture to spruce things up and have some fun. These are: Distortion, Vignette, Dots, Vintage, Vintage Warm, Vintage Cold, Grayscale, Sepia, Negative, Solarize, Posterize, and Aqua. 

Some of the effects work, others are a bit mad. In reality they are there to quell those Instagram and Hipstamatic urges that we are sure you have, and while some are destined to never be used others like Vignette and Vintage are bound to become stable options for many. 

After camera effects

You've snapped that great photo, but you've forgotten to add that crazy effect that you like. No problem, the HTC MyTouch 4G Slide offers a stack of addition effects that you can add when editing the picture. Strangely they aren't the same effects that can be applied as you take the photo, however the benefit here is that you can play with different effects and still have a photo that's useable if you change your mind in 6 months time - Sepia still won't be cool. 

Once applied you can then save the image again, and the original is left intact and untouched. Phew. 

Effects you can apply include: Auto enhance, Cinnamon, High contrast, Sepia, Overexposed, Glimmer, Twilight, Lively, Warm, Cold, Basic frame, Bleak, Vintage, and Antique. 

Like the in camera effects some are useful and others complete garbage, but as we've already seen with other HTC smartphones that offer these effects are enjoyed by some - you know who you are. 

Camcorder

It is not all about shooting stills. In this fast paced YouTube world of video the MyTouch 4G Slide also comes with video recording built in. 

In video mode gone are the shooting modes, and most of the "Effects" however there are still some to play with. There is Greyscale, Sepia, Negative, Solarize, Posterize, and Aqua that can all be applied to your video as you record it. 

On the quality front the MyTouch 4G Slide lets you record Full HD (1920 x 180) HD (1280 x 720), Widescreen (800 x 480), high (640 x 480), low (320 x 240), and mms (176 x 144).

Other points of note are the ability to set White balance, and opt whether to have the audio on or off when recording. 

Conclusion

HTC has tried to create something that's almost Nokia like in it approach to giving you a camera on a phone that matches a simply point and shoot model here and it's the best camera experience we've had on a HTC device. 

The biggest problem however is that while HTC has done lots internally and with the software to improve the image quality it has done nothing with its lens to help it stand out from the crowd. 

If they can put this tech in a slimmer more consumer friendly device and get some help with the lens then this really would start to challenge your compact camera. For now it still gets to claim the "probably the best Android camera phone we've seen" label, but it could easily be so much better.