I'm a sucker for a smartphone with a nice camera. It isn't an absolute necessity – I did own the Galaxy Nexus for four months, after all – because I generally carry an iPhone as a secondary, and it gets the job done quite well. But having a primary device that also has a great image sensor is just that much better.
Despite my love for the Galaxy Note's 5.3-inch Super AMOLED display and S Pen, my mouth began salivating when HTC unveiled the One X and One S at Mobile World Congress in March. They touted the sleek, unibody design, speed (powered by either a quad-core Tegra 3 or dual-score Qualcomm S4 chip) and vastly improved camera software and hardware. Aside from the truly giant screen I'd grown used to, it was everything I wanted in a phone.
Of all the features boasted, the image sensors and software, dubbed ImageSense, warranted the most attention, as that's an area where many Android phones fall short of the competition. That said, after several letdowns, I learned my lesson. I'm no longer quick to believe a company just because a they claim their phones can yield better pictures.
Shortly after Mobile World Congress, Managing Editor of HTC's official blog, Larry Meadows, uploaded some sample shots that had been taken with an HTC One device on his trip to Camelback Mountain. To say the least, they were nothing to get excited over. The pictures were blurry, bland and devoid of color and sharpness. So, I wrote about it. After talking with Mr. Meadows I was convinced there might be more to the story. But after some (very brief) hands-on time with the One X, I still wasn't impressed.
This morning, however, I made my way to the local AT&T store and picked up an HTC One X for my personal line. I spent a lot of time setting it up and getting intimate with the new version of Sense. I also took set aside some time to extensively play with the camera. I didn't get to play with every feature – there's a lot to dig through. But I hit most of the high spots and just took a bunch of different shots in various conditions.
I'm impressed. No … seriously, I'm impressed.
Above is one of the first shots I took with the One X. (Click the image for a larger view.) I kneeled down, tapped the flower on the viewfinder and hit the shutter button. I wasn't even aware it had taken the shot yet, but this is what it produced. I also took a similar shot with my Sony NEX-C3, just for comparison and the only major difference was the depth of field and resolution of the image (8-megapixel versus 16). Colors are true, lines are sharp and it's just a very well-balanced image. The top of the flower is a little overexposed. But overall, for a phone, it's great.
For times when the lighting isn't ideal, the BSI (backside illumination) sensor makes for pretty great low-light shots, too, at the expense of quite a bit of noise. Images appear rather sharp in low-light, especially for a phone, but the level of noise is high. I took roughly the same shot with the One X and the iPhone 4S. Sharpness and quality were the same while the iPhone 4S offered truer blacks with some white balance issues. The picture from the One X represented more natural colors, but the blacks were faded.
As far as software features go, ImageSense comes packed with a plethora of different modes: Auto, HDR, Panorama, Portrait, Group portrait, Landscape, Whiteboad, Close up and Low light. There are also several different filters to choose from, like Distortion, Vignette, Depth of field, Dots, Mono, Country, Posterize, etc. Above is an HDR (high dynamic range) shot of my totally insane dog who rarely sits still.
By far, my favorite features are continuous shooting (burst mode) and simultaneous video and image capture. Burst mode is likely something I will use all the time, as I do that with my NEX-C3 quite often. And simultaneous video and image capture is seriously neat (especially since you can capture stills after you shoot the video, too), but I imagine the novelty factor of that feature will wear off as I continue to use the phone.
Like I said, I haven't had time to tear through all of the features yet, or put the camera through a true test. (That's what Aaron's review is for.) Often, the idiosyncrasies of a phone's camera will begin to drive me nuts over weeks and months of use. I've only had it for a total of eight hours. But, so far, I'm really enjoying it, and it seems better than any other Android camera I've used to date.
Is it a match for the iPhone? Honestly, it's a toss-up. And I never imagined I would say that. (After the letdown of the Lumia 900's camera, I didn't get my hopes up for this one either.) Some aspects of the iPhone's camera are better than the One X's, and vice versa. ImageSense packs nearly endless features while the stock iPhone camera has very few. The iPhone, however, consistently takes more balanced images, versus the faster shutter speed but more frequent misses by the One X. Regardless, ImageSense speaks volumes for the effort HTC put into the image sensors on their One devices. And we can only hope others will follow suit.
Tell me, One X and One S owners. Are you impressed with your phone's camera? Does it meet or exceed your expectations? Or, like I once believed ImageSense would be, is it a letdown?