Should Android manufacturers focus more on improving cameras?

Taylor Martin
 from Concord, NC
Published: July 1, 2011

Over the past few years, camera technology in cell phones has come leaps and bounds from what it used to be. No longer are our phones fitted with those dreaded VGA cameras (I'm not talking about those front shooters, y'all); we now have high definition video recorders and image sensors capable of taking pictures near dedicated, digital camera quality. In fact, it's uncommon to see a new (high-end) smartphone hit the market packing anything smaller than 5-megapixels these days; 8 is becoming the norm.

During the last year or so, however, cell phone camera technology has stalled, especially in the Android camp. In the midst of an arms race for the fastest processor and biggest, highest quality display, cameras have been placed on the back burner, nearly forgotten.

Video recording quality has experienced a slight jump from 720p to full HD at 1080p, and has improved overall. But between 5- and 8-megapixel still image capture, things are really no better than they were over a year ago. My Nexus One was capable of taking some pretty impressive pictures, and so was the Droid X. There is hardly a noticeable difference between a picture taken with a year-old Android phone and something that is relatively new in the market today.

Take the T-Mobile G2x for example. Even though it is one of the best phones around, packed with one of the most impressive spec sheets to date, it's camera is far from the greatest. Despite the fact that it is an 8-megapixel shooter it, has some serious quality issues like with white balance and contrast. Video quality is impressive, but side by side with the ThunderBolt, the pictures taken with the G2x have consistently been worse than the ThunderBolt's – which are decent at best.

The problem is, the camera is a make or break selling point for many people. Just based on the few basic users I've talked with, they would prefer having a phone that takes excellent pictures – not just decent – over one with a faster or better processor. As much a I use my camera for taking pictures of scenery, family and other random things, I would almost have to agree.

I bought a G2x yesterday and was instantly impressed with its sheer speed and performance jump over the myTouch 4G and ThunderBolt. After playing with it for a while, I opened the camera app – on the G2x, it's the LG camera app, not the vanilla Android camera – and took a picture. Previewing on the phone itself, the picture appeared to be just fine. But upon uploading it to Dropbox and viewing it from my computer, I was instantly dissatisfied with the quality. I tried this a few more times with stock software and CyanogenMod (with the stock Android camera app) and was met with the same results: low contrast and white balance issues.

Mobile photography has a big future; the dedicated digital camera market will slowly lose its footing as cameras within phones advance. Consider the iPhone 4. It was released over a year ago with a 5-megapixel camera. As a testament to the quality of the camera and how much it is loved, the iPhone 4's camera was found to be the most popular camera used for taking Flickr pictures. Also worth noting is Nokia equipped their N8 with a 12-megapixel Carl Zeiss lens, easily making it the best mobile phone camera to date. Their upcoming N9 and Sea Ray will both feature an 8-megapixel Carl Zeiss lens.

I'm here to ask why Android manufacturers have yet to recognize the potential in cameras and why they've sat them on the sideline. Take a look at Sony; albeit different divisions, they manufacture both smartphones and cameras! Why have they not paired these two technologies and made a "Cybershot" smartphone? Just imagine if camera technology had experienced a similar jump to processors, displays or network technology. Or what about an HTC-Nikon phone?

Which is more important to you? Better processors and displays or better cameras? Should cell phone manufacturers pair with camera manufacturers for better phone cameras? Would it be a waste?