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We put the HTC One's UltraPixels to the ultimate test

Lauren Crabbe | April 12, 2013
The new HTC One puts a lot of emphasis on its camera, but is it really much better than the competition?

The weeks leading up the HTC One's reveal witnessed a lot of rhetoric from the Taiwanese mobile phone maker. HTC released videos and infographics explaining that cell phone cameras in general were broken and promising that the company was going to fix the problem. The solution? The HTC One's "UltraPixel" sensor.

Instead of trying to load up the One with the pixels, as Nokia did the 808 PureView (with a 41-megapixel sensor), HTC decided that less could be more. The One's camera sensor amounts to only 4 megapixels, but because it's the same physical size as other phone camera sensors, each pixel is considerably larger. Thus, HTC claims, the camera can capture more light and take better photos.

Does the UltraPixel sensor make the One the best smartphone camera on the market? After all, UltraPixel is just the word that HTC's marketing team invented to brand their quality-over-quantity approach to cramming pixels on a sensor. We decided to test HTC's claims by taking photos of the same five subjects with four different cameras--the Apple iPhone 5, the Nokia Lumia 920, the Canon PowerShot Elph 520 HS (a point-and-shoot camera), and of course the HTC One--to see which camera came out on top.

Note: To compare the images, we took a 450px by 300px crop of each photo after zooming in 100 percent.

Daytime cityscape


Clockwise (from the top left): HTC One, Apple iPhone 5, Canon Elph 520 HS, and Nokia Lumia 920

Cityscapes are a good measure of a camera's image quality. The scenes' busy foregrounds, vibrant colors, and clean lines give the camera a chance to demonstrate how it handles detail and perspective.

In this test, the One left us with "meh" results. The colors are fine and the details in the foreground are on a par with the results we got from the high-megapixel Canon point-and-shoot. But if you wanted to crop the image to see an awesome detail of the Bay Bridge's towers, you wouldn't be able to get as close as with the competing devices. For some users, this may be a deal-breaker, but for most mobile photographers, the relatively zoomed-out view may be enough. My favorite picture of the four in this test is the one that the Lumia 920 took, because it offers the best color representation.

Low-light portrait (with flash)


Clockwise (from the top left): HTC One, Apple iPhone 5, Canon Elph 520 HS, and Nokia Lumia 920

Even the best smartphone cameras have one weakness: flash. The lighting units found on smartphones are just plain bad: Tiny LED bulbs will light up your scene, but they'll turn your subjects into glowing blue Martians. When you compare the flash performance of the four cameras on this test, it's easy to see which photos cast our subject in the most attractive light because they make him look...well...human.

 

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