Pixel Dethroned as the Best Smartphone Camera

Posted on May 16, 2017 by Paul Thurrott in Mobile, Android, iOS with 26 Comments

It took several months, but another smartphone has finally shipped with a superior camera to the one in the Google Pixel. The surprise? It’s not the Samsung Galaxy S8.

If you care about smartphone photography as much as I do, you’re probably familiar with the site DxOMark, which rates smartphone cameras. To date, the Google Pixel has offered the best overall camera of any smartphone, with a score of 89. By comparison, the iPhone 7, which I’ve found to be disappointing camera-wise, manages just an 86, the same score as the much older (circa 2015) Samsung Galaxy S6.

In my experience, the cameras in the Google Nexus 6P/5X, Pixel/Pixel XL, and Samsung Galaxy S8/S8+ were all roughly identical, though I preferred the HDR effect in the (admittedly slower) Nexus 6P to that of the Pixel XL when I owned both. I had expected the new Samsung to measure up nicely to the Pixel in testing, and to be fair it does: But it still scores below the Pixel, with 88 points, the same score as its predecessor, the Galaxy S7 Edge.

So which phone finally dethroned the Pixel? Surprise, it’s an HTC.

According to DxOMark, the newly-released HTC U11—which wasn’t even on my radar—offers the superior smartphone experience, with a score of 90. It’s the first smartphone to ever score this highly.

“The HTC U11 is the highest-rated smartphone camera we have ever tested,” the site notes. “As you’d expect from a top performer, its scores are impressive across the board. In particular, its very low noise and fast autofocus helped edge it ahead of our previous highest-scoring phone, the Google Pixel. The HTC U11 features remarkably consistent performance in a wide variety of shooting conditions, making it a great camera for most situations.”

The HTC U11 features a 12 MP rear camera with a 1/2.55 inch sensor and an f/1.75 lens, DxOMark notes. It utilizes a dual-pixel Phase-Detect Autofocus (PDAF) sensor, Optical Image Stabilization (OIS), and one of the fastest and most accurate autofocus systems that the site has ever tested. The pictures accompanying the review bear out the numbers.

“Not only is the HTC U11 the highest-scoring phone we’ve ever tested, it’s the highest-scoring in both still image quality and video quality, beating out the Google Pixel by 1 point in each,” the review concludes. “Those who want to shoot and share their photos will particularly appreciate the vibrant colors and bright exposures of the HTC U11. Similarly, effective autofocus and stabilization will help both photos and videos look good right out of the phone. The HTC U11’s very low noise and excellent detail preservation also allow for sharing and printing larger-sized images than with most other phones.”

So I’m not going to rush out and buy this thing. But … Hm. It’s hard not to at least consider it.

Check out the DxOMark website for the full review.


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Comments (26)

26 responses to “Pixel Dethroned as the Best Smartphone Camera”

  1. rameshthanikodi

    I would be wary. DXOmark rated HTC's cameras as the best even back when they clearly were getting beaten by the iPhone and Galaxy s5/6.

  2. James Wilson

    Would be interesting to see how the camera in the 950/950XL compared to todays devices - but it's not reviewed on the site.

    • jean

      In reply to James Wilson:

      there are (for obvious reasons) very few reviews / comparisons

      i.e. http://allaboutwindowsphone.com/features/item/22121_Camera_head_to_head_Lumia_950X.php

      not much of a surprise as I can "confirm" these results

  3. Minok

    Its always good the see the quality of phone cameras improving, as the phone camera has pretty much replaced my SLR / dedicated pocket camera as something I ever consider carrying unless I need optical zoom capability (ie when going into the wider outdoors or on travel). I wonder, at this point, if the numerical score differences mean much of anything unless there is a 9+ difference. I suspect most folks won't change their phone or operating system because of a slight camera improvement.

    Short of getting usefull optical zoom (6-10x), I"m not sure what more would be needed for casual and even prosumer casual photography.

  4. Polie


  5. EnterMegatron99

    I was honestly interested in your review.

  6. Luka Pribanić

    Article about HTC, but tagged with everything but HTC...

  7. James Wilson

    What's also interesting is the role software plays in camera quality e.g. a software update could mean a camera starts quicker, focusses quicker etc. Does this site differentiate between software dependent features and purely hardware e.g. actual quality of raw picture based on MP, aperture size, hardware image stabilisation etc.

  8. johnlavey

    We seem to be praising the new HTC U11 for it's camera alone. What about the other criteria we use to rate smart phones? Shouldn't the overall rating include all the aspects of the phone? Just asking.

  9. brettscoast

    This phone looks utterly gorgeous. I will have to re think as I was set on the samsung galaxy S8 but after looking at this beautiful device its the perfect size 5.5" QHD screen with all the goodness added in. The camera's on this thing look incredible. Consider it Paul.

  10. Vuppe

    Could be a contender for when I ditch this Pixel, assuming the price is right (not likely).

  11. jbinaz

    Does a 1 or 2 point difference matter? Unless each point is exponentially better, it probably doesn't mean much. It probably comes down to taste and if it scores significantly higher in a category that matters to the individual.

    And not camera related, I don't see how this phone sells well in the states when the only carrier to have it in the U.S. is Sprint. Sure you can get it unlocked - even financed by HTC - but that won't be an option most consumers in the U.S. will consider. Most people will get their phones from their carrier.

    • irfaanwahid

      In reply to jbinaz:

      I also feel, yesterday, Pixel was the king, today HTC, tomorrow maybe iPhone 8 or whatever they call it. The rush for newer phone for one specific reason may not be the best thing to do. I own iPhone 7 Plus, and for my average photography it gets the job done just fine.

  12. Brett Barbier

    I'm not so sure about how DxOMark should be viewed if they haven't even reviewed the iPhone 7 Plus. (If they have, their site's search function isn't finding it).

  13. Waethorn

    Did they do that video in an old version of Keynote? They have those slide downs with the dust clouds like Apple used to always use.

    It looks like they didn't cock up the Settings app like some OEM's.

    I think I'll wait until the Android 8 phones ship. There's not a lot of differentiation in this year's phones over last year to validate the expense of a new phone yet, and I'd want something built towards the new OS.

  14. Bats

    Hooray for HTC, however this is not surprising. HTC made the Pixel.

  15. Tony Barrett

    Surely quality is in the eye of the beholder anyway. If you're happy with your snaps, then what's the problem. HTC will certainly use this in their marketing, but that won't maybe translate into sales, which HTC so desperately need.

  16. Waethorn

    Do they ever rank Sony Xperia phone cameras? I'm seeing many with very high pixel counts. I'm not advocating that pixel count means much, but given that Sony has very good camera sensors available, like their Exmor line, I'd figure at least some of that technology trickles down into their phones. After all, companies like Xiaomi have touted Sony Exmor sensors in their own phones.

    • MikeCerm

      In reply to Waethorn:

      The problem with high pixel count is that the size of the pixels goes down, and noise goes up (assuming the sensor size remains the same). The phones that have 20MP (or higher) sensors tend to have good performance in ideal lighting conditions, and perform terrible in low-light.

      Virtually all handset makers have settled on 12MP with large pixels is the sweet sport for phones. Even though Sony makes the best sensors, they seem not to use them in their own phones, preferring high pixel count and oversampling. Unfortunately, Sony phones just aren't in the same league as others.

      • Waethorn

        In reply to MikeCerm:

        Technically, using low pixel count sensors is just subsampling because light per pixel is averaged. Sensors with high pixel counts will cause noise if their sampling algorithm is crap. This can be rectified with a simple software upgrade.

  17. Waethorn

    HTC has always been horrible for Android updates though, so I think given a 1-point score difference in camera performance, I'd rather take the Pixel - at least until I see the price on the U11, which I expect to be high anyway.

    • evox81

      In reply to Waethorn:

      There was a time they "guaranteed" updates to major versions for 2 years... do they still do that?

      Of course, I used quotes around the guarantee part because they guaranteed updates for the Windows version of the M8... That phone never officially received Windows 10, so I guess their definition of guarantee is different.

  18. rafaelsolmaker

    Owning here a HTC One M8 with Windows (using Win10Mo on it through some hacks) and, Heck Hallelujah Yeah, what about a surprise you give me, Paul. As you said previously about this specific device (that was previously yours, you know), it's a true flagship but the camera is only passable. What an evolution for a brand, I would love to get that smartie dressed with Microsoft Mobile OS (Or Win on ARM, whatever fits better) in a blink if it were anything but Android! Unfortunately the chances to see a HTC with Windows again are slimming down and down even further as the times passes by our noses, and I still can't use Android, given my investment on the Nadella's platform. This way I have no choice, my badly-aged Lumia 1020 (scored 74 on that site with an older firmware, meh) will still hold the status of my secondary camera until I manage to buy another smartphone to do the job once I decide to jump this ship. But I still will continue on Windows for a while to see where it lands. ~Ciao!