My thoughts on HTC Zoe and Video Highlights after seven days of heavy use on vacation


I already reviewed the HTC One and loved it. What impressed me the most was Zoe and Video Highlights, but when reviewing devices and applications such as these, it’s never easy to get a “real world” perspective because you spend a short time with the device. Last week, I went on vacation, so I thought I would bring the HTC One as my sole camera to really get a feel for how Zoe and Video Highlights would be when it really counts. It’s one thing to test it during the review for things that don’t matter so much, but I consider a vacation the ultimate test to see if it’s everything that I thought it was. 7 Days, 2,106 photos/images, and 3.6GB later, I love HTC Zoe and Video Highlights more than ever, but it’s not perfect. Head on past the break to find out how it went.

When I go on vacation or to a special event, I always carry a camera for pictures and a separate camcorder for video. I am used to video editing, so filming with a camcorder and putting together short videos is not a big deal for me. For cameras, I never carried anything better than your decent point and shoot, and last year I started using a smartphone exclusively. In fact, it was the HTC One X that I took on this same trip to Virginia Beach and came away quite impressed. As to the camcorder, I usually spend 50% of the time on video, so I would say I am a heavy video user as compared to the average consumer.

With that said, I still brought my camcorder, but I used it only once. For the first time, I didn’t feel like pulling it out. I already knew what HTC Video Highlights was capable of and I was confident it would get the job done. Now I will say that although Video Highlights is amazing, it is completely different for me since I don’t usually set my videos to music as I utilize the sound that the video captures. Let’s also not forget that when sharing video with friends and family, adding music makes it more interesting.

I would say that 90% of my shots were Zoe. The few times I took regular pictures were situations in which I knew movement wasn’t necessary like a sunset. I never took actual video although Video Highlights will utilize them. Editing for me is easy, but it does take time. With Zoe and Video Highlights, there is no editing as Video Highlights are produced automatically, but I am not sure I really saved all that much time. I just spent my time differently and actually more efficiently. When using Zoes, you have to spend a lot of time going through each one to figure out which stills you want to save. You also need to decide what Zoes need to be deleted. There is no sense having 30 3-second clips of the same thing. This can take a lot of time, but the good news is that you can do this anywhere since it’s on your phone.

The other problem I found was that 30 seconds isn’t long enough for some situations. Video Highlights only produces 30-second clips, and I suspect the reason why HTC imposed this limit, other than to keep things simple, was to make it more palatable for sharing. People are into pictures more than video so keeping it short is important. It’s the reason why Vine is limited to 6 seconds and video for Instagram is limited to 15 seconds. Still, many of these videos isn’t just about sharing, it’s about your personal memories. Sure you can make a bunch of 30 second clips, but sometimes it just doesn’t work. For example, we went to visit family one day and I took a bunch of shots. There was no way that 30 seconds could do it justice. I ended up splitting that visit into three different events, made three separate video highlights, and put them together with WeVideo as instructed in this guide. It worked perfectly, but again this did take some time.

The next issue I had was that Video Highlights would repeat the same clip too much and ignore other clips. Now if you have 30 Zoes equaling 90 seconds, I don’t expect the final highlight reel to include every Zoe, but if I only have 10 Zoes totalling 30 seconds, nothing should be omitted. So I found myself hitting the shuffle button a lot to get what I wanted. Maybe it is the perfectionist in me. Now I can’t expect Video Highlights to get it right the first time every time, but if it would at least attempt to use all the shots and not repeat others constantly, the chances would be better. There were also times in which it insisted on using one picture over and over (on each shuffle) and many times it happened to be blurry. I found it to usually be the 5th or 6th frame in a particular Zoe. The only way to rectify it was to go into a file manager such as Astro and delete that frame.

Just about every reviewer of the HTC One mentions storage, battery, and instant uploads as an issue. Zoes can take a toll on your storage since they are 3-second mp4 videos as well as 20 images. All of my images and Zoes totaled close to 4GB for the week. If you turn on instant uploads, it’s going to drain your battery as well as add a lot of videos and photos to your cloud storage of choice. I chose to use instant uploads, but only via WiFi. This way I wouldn’t have to worry about the battery while I was out and about. I sent all instant uploads to Google+, and since I use Dropbox as my primary cloud storage for videos and pictures, I would just manually upload what I wanted. Now I did find one bug with instant uploading in that if I altered the name of an event or moved/split images before I got back to WiFi, they wouldn’t get auto uploaded. All new images go into a default event folder that has the current date as the title. Once you alter the name of the event, it moves the images into a different folder and there is no way for the One to know they are “new” photos that need to be uploaded. So you have to wait until all uploading is complete before making any changes to event titles.

Now we need to talk about music and effects. HTC offers six effects and each one has it’s own song. The number of effects are enough, but the limitation of music is probably Video Highlights’ biggest downfall. If you use Video Highlights a lot, the music is going to get really old quickly. I tend to use three of the effects regularly and one other occasionally. The effects don’t get old as quickly, but listening to the same song over and over and over is a little annoying. Again, HTC is trying to make this simple for the casual user, so I can’t disagree with what they did, but it would be nice to be able to change the music. I know they will argue that their algorithm is based on the songs they selected, and if you use a different song, the videos won’t look as good. There is some truth to that, but if we are catering to the casual user, they aren’t going to have an issue. Thankfully, changing music isn’t all that hard based on my guide I recently did.

When I did my review of the HTC One, I said that HTC Zoe and Video Highlights was the best software feature I had seen on a smartphone in a long time. After spending some quality time with it, I still think it is and I am even more impressed. Yes, it might seem like I am complaining, but this is the first try for HTC and you can’t expect it to be perfect. The only real negative is that it’s only available on one phone (no pun intended). Eventually, as current models get upgraded to Sense 5 and newer phones are released, more people will get a chance to see how awesome a feature it really is.

I ended up sharing five videos during the week. Three of them were 30 seconds long. One was 90 seconds, and the last one was 4 minutes long (a recap of the entire week). I used HTC’s music only on one of the videos. To give you an idea of the results, below is a 30 second clip and my finale video (both with different music).

The bottomline is that whether you are on vacation, at a party or any other special event, Zoe and Video Highlights will give you amazing memories. Hopefully HTC will continue to fine tune things, and after spending a lot of time on it, these are the things I would like to see enhanced or changed in future versions:

  1. The ability to make longer Video Highlights. 30 seconds is long enough for a lot of situations, but not all. The user should be able to set how long they want based on 30-second increments.
  2. The ability to use your own music.
  3. When viewing all images that are part of a Zoe, there should be “forward one frame” and “back one frame” buttons. Right now, it’s slider based. It works well, but it would be easier to look at each frame with one click rather than trying to pinpoint the slider.
  4. The ability to edit a Zoe video. HTC allows you to clip videos, but you can’t with Zoe videos. Sometimes the first second might be blurry, so the ability to remove that part would be nice.
  5. To be able to designate a particular Zoe/image to be first or last in the Video Highlight
  6. To choose whether you want the clips to be shown randomly or in the order you shot them.
  7. A seventh effect that is basically filter free as in leave the Zoes/images as is with no effects.
  8. A better algorithm that attempts to use all the Zoe/images. Of course this has to be within reason. If you have 20 Zoe’s in an event and you are trying to do a 30 second video, that would be impossible. One the other hand, if you only have 8 Zoes totaling 24 seconds, every clip should appear in the video.
  9. The ability to add captions

I would love to hear from other HTC One owners. Are you using Zoe and Video Highlights? Are you as impressed as me and do you have any other issues or bugs?




About the Author: Robert Nazarian

Robert lives in upstate New York where he was born and raised. Technology was always his passion. His first computer was a Radio Shack TRS80 Color that used a cassette tape to save programs, and his first laptop was a Toshiba T1200FB that sported a CGA greyscale screen and two 720kb floppy drives (no hardrive). From the early 90’s through late 2011, he only owned Motorola phones starting with the MircroTAC all the way through to the Droid X. He broke that streak when he bought the Galaxy Nexus. Now he's sporting a Galaxy Note 4, and absolutely loves it. He has a wonderful wife and a 6 year old son. In his free time he enjoys sports, movies, TV, working out, and trying to keep up with the rapid fast world of technology.

  • John Sembrot

    The Zoe is what made me pull the trigger. I have had the phone for one day, and I have made 3 Zoe’s and love each one of them. Even better is taking the pictures and saying to someone want to see them? and then starting the Zoe, and boy were they impressed. I am not having issues with battery, I am not sure what people do with these phones to kill the battery in 3 hours, ie. go to your computer and watch the 1 hour video. I would like to be able to share better than a link. Perhaps even embed them in G+.

  • e10rice

    I’m in the same boat as you in regards to Zoe. I love it for what it does and wouldnt trade it. But I also feel a bit lacking for all the points you listed. I’ve already heard grumbling from my iPhone using brother about how I’m using the same song on different video highlights. But I think I’ll look into your other writings about making longer videos and changing the music. Hopefully HTC sends out an update in the future with the ablity to at the very least use your own music. Hope you liked Virginia Beach, I’m in Norfolk.

  • Bruce

    Any reason only the first video can be viewed on my nexus 7 and not the second? Something about not shared for mobile.

    • RobertNazarian

      My guess is because the song is copyrighted.

  • kris

    I just LOVE this. I have a two year old daughter and this software has helped me create so many memories already… But yes, I share your opinion about everything. Hope HTC improves it even more…

  • Derek Barr

    Everyone to whom I show I highlight video on my One is instantly impressed – Zoe was what made me covet this phone. It’s much more useful than being able to answer your phone with a wave of your hand.

  • omer

    Its awsome shared with my family and just cool. Just hope people buy more htc as they are in trouble

  • bold guy

    I love HTC Zoe feature. I would appreciate if I would be able to change default frame that goes into hughlights, as the one may be blurry (e.g. motion blur).

  • FC

    Nice Edit! How did you manage to create your own 4 minute compilation?

  • Arun Bhandarkar

    I bought the newly launched HTC desire600 here in India and was pleasantly suprised after using the HTC Zoe feature. Its very user friendly and gives a new dimension to the memories that are captured.

    However I would like to know from you all if its possible to create a video highlight using old videos and pictures that are available in your memory card (ie shot using non HTC phones) b’cos I seem to get a blank green screen after saving the video although the background music is heard perfectly.

  • Tor Ivan Boine

    I recently got the sense 5 update for my One X. And with it came video highlights. Didnt get the zoe cam :(

    I really like this feature. But as you said, not being able to use your own music is a little bummer. But I´m pretty sure it´s because of licensing and copyright. If you were to put your “own” music, I guess that HTC wouldnt be allowed to put “Filmed with Zoe” at the end because of copyright.

  • Andreas

    I have had a ton of phones and the HTC one is, for me, the best phone ever. Maybe not because its perfect, but because it just feels special. I use ZOE all the time, wish i could use own music, wish i could edit more, and also be in control of the order pics or movies are shown, but still – its just so damn fun. HTC – do a One 10″ tab ASAP. Ill buy it and throw out my Ipad the day it hits the shelves!

  • formersamsungloyalist

    I have recently figured out what Zoe and video highlight are capable of.
    I have to say that I very impressed. I would love to be able to change the music
    Or at least have the option to go no music at all.

  • b1ak3

    I agree!! Hands down, creating Video Highlights is the shining feature of this generally awesome phone. My wife got an iPhone 5 (which also a respectable device) at the same time I picked up the One and she is quite jealous! If HTC is listening, I also agree with your list on ways to make Zoes and Video Highlights even better… definitely the algorithm for picking clips could provide a better selection.

    Is anyone aware of any desktop software that can mimic Video Highlights (simplicity and coolness), or even something close??? It would be really slick to offer more flexibility on a beefier platform. I don’t buy much desktop software, but I’d easily put down $30+ for a desktop app that could make these with some more options available.

    Here’s hoping HTC survives long enough to iterate on the One again next year.

  • Edward Lin

    The new Sense 5.5 screwed it all up…. :(… the mixer is so awful that i don’t use it anymore.. there are just too much split screens… music sucks too… tho the feature to use our own music is nice.. but then we can’t get to save the track!! have to re-do it every times!! what a time waster.

    The interface is buggy too… anyone notice the scrolling screen during “theme” selection is messed up??

    Now… worst of all…. where are the old themesssss!!!??!?!?!? I though they are super nice!!! Why take away something that is already good?? i don’t understand…

    I hope HTC can really do something about it..

  • Kel On Tour

    I agree too ! so much better was the older version, I use to use it a lot, now I don’t bother 30secs ???? come on…. used to be able to put a whole track on one time and make some really good vids worth watching with some good themes…. They always have to piss about with stuff. For those new to Zoe may think its great…but look back to what they could have had !! this version is just not long enough to bother with.