Over the past week, the AndroidPIT community has been participating in a great camera blind test. The flagships of the moment were included: the Sony Xperia XZ Premium, the HTC U11, the Samsung Galaxy S8 and the LG G6. Also included in the poll were the Apple iPhone 7 Plus and the Google Pixel, for comparison. Here we reveal the results!
The overall principle hasn't changed since our last blind test. The Xperia XZ Premium and the HTC U11 were added as challengers this time around. The expectations for the Sony smartphone were high given its breakthrough DxOMark rating and that Sony is the market leader in image sensor technology.
We've captured and then cropped the same scenes with each of the six smartphones, each with their factory settings, apart from setting them to their maximum resolutions and to automatic mode. To provide a reference shot, we've also taken the same photos with a Canon DSLR. Then, we invited everyone to vote for the best in each category.
The smartphone with the most votes in a category got six points. Second place got five points, third place got four points, and so on. In the case of a tie, both phones received the points that corresponded to the respective place, but the next place was omitted.
For the two new contenders, the Xperia XZ Premium and U11, the results were more (Sony) or less (HTC) a huge disaster. While the U11 made it to third place twice, the Xperia XZ Premium only made it there once - all other times these two were either in last or second to last place.
The overall top spot was won by the Google Pixel, closely followed by the Galaxy S8 and iPhone 7 Plus. Trailing behind a bit were the HTC U11 and LG G6, while the Xperia XZ Premium fell flat in last place.
1st place, 20 points: Google Pixel
2nd place, 18 points: Samsung Galaxy S8
3rd place, 16 points: Apple iPhone 7 Plus
4th place, 11 points: HTC U11
5th place, 11 points: LG G6
6th place, 9 points: Sony Xperia XZ Premium
You can look back at all the pictures in the original poll here, as we've now updated the captions to reveal which photos belonged to which phone.
Software over hardware
It is intriguing that in the past half a year, no one has managed to surpass the Google Pixel in terms of photo quality. The 1 / 2.3-inch image sensor of the Pixel is quite considerable in size, however, the IMX378 is also found in the BlackBerry KeyONE and the Xiaomi 5S. Yet, these two phones don't come anywhere near the picture quality of the Google flagships. While Android is more or less open, the proprietary camera app of the Google Pixel is not.
This could be a way to keep other manufacturers at bay, because unlike Google Photos or Gmail, no data is generated for Google to leverage to train neural networks for its "AI-first" corporate strategy. User photos come to Google through Google Photos now anyway. This strategy shows in another new technology, which will be in Android O, called Google Lens, which allows cameras to understand what they see. Now, back to the cameras...
Smartphone cameras in the future
Right now, most manufacturers are already tinkering with their own camera apps, like those of Samsung's Galaxy S8 and HTC's U11. Although both the camera sensors and the operating system are freely available, you must be aware that Google has its own agenda and no reason to share its optimizations with the competition.
With the competition from Windows Phone and BlackBerry OS out of the way, and iOS sticking around 20 percent market share, things are pretty fixed. With no other alternative available, Google has tremendous leverage. This leverage will be used again in Mountain View as the next generation of the Pixel is diligently crafted. The Pixel 2 is already announced.
It's tough for smaller manufacturers like HTC and Sony to devote a lot of resources to outdoing Google in the software department, with either their camera app or their image processing. I don't believe we will see HTC, Sony or even LG reach the top ranks in the near future for this reason.
Even if the camera sensors and the Android operating system are freely available, Google isn't in the business of giving anything away for free unless it benefits the firm. Android is not a donation to needy manufacturers. Android has been, and probably always will be, a tool for Google to knock competing platforms aside and enforce its own strategy.
We saw this strategy in action this week in the Pixel's superior picture quality. Were you surprised with the results? Let us know what your think in the comments.