[OP-ED] Smartphone Focus 2014: The race for the best camera on Android Begins
With the biggest week of the smartphone calendar still to come at MWC 2014 in just a week’s time, we’ve already had a taste of things to come this year with the launch of the LG G Pro 2 with its 4K capable camera. It’s clear that in the early going in 2014, manufacturers are going to be trying to keep up with each other in the video recording domain, aiming for that elusive 4K status. However, I don’t think this is where the real battle will be waged, nor will this necessarily win over us consumers either. While it will be influenced by video recording capabilities, I think the real battle between smartphones in 2014 will be determined by who can produce the best quality photos.
This was especially telling at the end of 2013 with the release of two of the best budget devices we’ve ever seen. The LG-manufactured, Google-mandated Nexus 5 was fantastic value for flagship level performance with none of the premium cost, and Motorola’s last hurrah under Google, the Moto G, brought surprising performance and a very impressive screen in a package that may as well have costed pocket change. However, one resounding criticism of both these phones is that the camera performance was less than stellar. To be sure, other flagship devices like the Galaxy Note 3 and Xperia Z1 have much better cameras, but despite even the Xperia Z1 having a monstrous 20.7MP camera, there hasn’t quite been an outpouring of love for its abilities.
Across the figurative pond, we have the Apple iPhone 5S and the Nokia 1020, both with their share of toys. The iPhone of course has its 8MP camera, but perhaps crucially, that camera has an aperture of 2.2 which gives it some incredible light sensitivity, and is the source of many determined photographers to show off exactly how special the iPhone’s camera is.
There is, of course, also the Nokia 1020 with its insanely impressive 41MP PureView camera which gives it unprecedented quality and zoom capabilities that aren’t available in any other phone. Likewise, the Nokia 1020 has its staunch supporters who continually show their approval of the phone through projects which highlight exactly how brilliant the camera is.
Several professional photographers have asserted that they would replace their secondary cameras, normally of the point-and-shoot variety, with either of these phones, some even going as far to say replacing their DSLR as a primary photography device. While certainly, some photographers may prefer Android devices for their cameras as well, they are far and few between and from what I’ve seen, produce far less impressive results. Perhaps it does not matter to the average joe, but the fact that it is widely understood that despite the fact the iPhone has “less megapixels”, but still results in superior photo quality should be most telling. Android manufacturers take note: those ever-inflating camera numbers are fooling no one.
There are, of course, examples of Android manufacturers making an effort to subvert this fruitless pursuit of ever-increasing megapixel count: HTC is of course the prime exponent of this with their UltraPixel technology which in my opinion took canyon-sized steps to narrowing the divide between Android and its platform competitors. HTC is rumoured to be taking their improvements to the next level in their next flagship device, the ethereal HTC M8, which allegedly utilizes a dual-sensor camera configuration to give it unprecedented photo quality capabilities; for exactly why this dual-sensor camera is going to rock, check out our explanation here.
I think that Android manufacturers need to follow HTC’s lead and really invest in developing new and innovative ways to improve camera quality because I think that we’ve already seen what we’ve needed to see performance-wise in 2014. Of course, we’re going to see new processors that push the limits of what should be possible from a device that fits in your hand, and batteries will continue to increase in capacity despite staying the same size, but through all these advancements, the progression of camera and photo quality has stagnated. However, with the increasing popularity of image based social networks like Instagram, Snapchat, and Pinterest, Android can’t just concede all these users to Apple and Nokia while they bicker within the Android market; they need to compete in a meaningful way.
Furthermore, I predict that by mid-2014, or even the end of 2014, pretty well all Android flagship smartphones will be rocking a Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 or 805, 3GB RAM, and a 2K display; so what will the differentiating factor be then? I say it will be the camera, and not some novel ability to film 4K videos that you aren’t able to output to its full potential on your non-4K TV or device; it will be the ability to take pictures that rival the abilities of the iPhone, Nokia 1020, maybe commercial cameras, and definitely its Android competitors. That will, and should be, the race that Android manufacturers strive to win in 2014.