The hottest smartphone snappers
Apple iPhone Xs Max From £1,099/$1,099 www.apple.com
The latest iPhone gets off to a strong start with its stunning 6.5-inch OLED display, boasting Apple’s excellent True-Tone technology that automatically adjusts colour in response to changes to ambient light. Dolby Vision and HDR10 certification, along with the display’s wide colour gamut, make both photo composition and viewing images a real pleasure.
Dual 12MP rear-facing cameras cater for wide (f/1.8, 26mm-equiv) and telephoto (f/2.4, 52mmequiv) focal lengths. Whichever you choose, Apple’s processing ensures lighting-fast focusing and reliably accurate exposure metering, while optical image stabilisation works well in low light.
It all adds up to excellent image quality. Apple’s Smart HDR processing ties with the Note 9 and the Pixel 3 for dynamic range, and avoids Google’s slightly over-processed look. Colour rendition is class-leading, and though outright detail isn’t quite on par with the razor-sharp Pixel 3 and the Mate 20 Pro, it’s not far off.
Google Pixel 3 XL £869/$899 http://store.google.com
The original 2016 Google Pixel was a showcase for how advanced image processing could overcome the limitations of a small image sensor. The Pixel 3’s 12MP, f/1.8, 28mm-equiv camera produces images that are the sharpest of the group, containing the most highlight and shadow detail here thanks to Google’s great HDR+ algorithm. But this does come with some processing artefacts around highlight-shadow transitions, along with more fringing than we’d like.
At a time when dual- and triple-lens cameras cater for different focal lengths, the Pixel 3’s single rear camera seems lacking in versatility. Google’s answer is Super Res Zoom, which combines a burst of images to produce a digitally zoomed image. In practice, Super Res Zoom falls well short of the detail resolved by an optically zoomed image. Results at 2x zoom are useable, but go further and images resemble those shot with any old digital zoom.
HTC U12+ £699/$799 www.htc.com
The U12+ is a little older than most of the other phones on test, and its conventional (notchless) 6-inch 18:9 LCD screen lacks the outright vibrancy of the latest OLED displays here, even if it is HDR-capable and boasts a high 1,440 x 2,880 resolution. We’re also not convinced by HTC’s fixed, pressure-sensitive edge buttons.
Dual rear-facing cameras provide wide 27mm-equivalent and telephoto 54mm-equivalent focal lengths for 2x optical zoom. Image quality from the f/2.6 telephoto camera is strong, and a match for the Huawei, Samsung and Apple telephoto cameras. The primary, wide-angle 12MP camera manages to resolve very good detail – almost as much as the class-leading Pixel and Mate 20 Pro – but is let down by sub-par HDR performance that produces both murky shadows and blown highlights. Low-light shots are also noticeably noisier than those taken on the Apple, Google, Huawei and Samsung phones.
Huawei Mate 20 Pro £899 www.huawei.com
Since Huawei formed a smartphone camera partnership with Leica in 2016, its phone cameras have become a match for anything you’d expect from Apple and Samsung. The new Mate 20 Pro boasts a trio of rear-facing cameras to give you a versatile selection of focal lengths: wide (27mm-equiv), ultra-wide (16mm), and telephoto (80mm).
The primary (wide) camera technically uses a 40MP sensor: while you can shoot at this resolution, the best results come from its 10MP mode. This offers image quality that leads the pack, albeit by a whisker. In good light, detail is up there with the pin-sharp Pixel 3, and although shadow areas aren’t quite as pronounced, the Mate’s images have a more natural look. It’s a pity Huawei’s auto HDR isn’t quite as effective as some rivals, though.
We’ve got no complaints with the Mate 20 Pro’s stunning bevel-edged 6.39-inch screen, however. It’s brilliantly vibrant and a treat for the eyes.
LG G7 ThinQ £559/$750 www.lg.com
Despite being the least expensive phone in our lineup, the G7 sports a modern design, with a 6.1-inch notched screen packing a huge 564 ppi pixel density. It can’t match the Mate 20 Pro’s display for sheer eye candy, but it comes close.
The camera specs are also promising, with dual 16MP rear-facing snappers catering for wide (30mm-equiv) and ultra-wide (16mm) focal lengths. But those extra megapixels over its 12MP rival phones aren’t put to good use. Fine detail is non-existent; the dynamic range is dire, with hugely blown highlights; and the primary camera has a tendency to slightly overexpose. The two available focal lengths are also confusing, with the 30mm main camera giving an annoyingly tight field of view, yet the ultra-wide option can often be too wide.
Overall, the G7 ThinQ’s image quality resembles that from a camera phone that’s two or even three generations old.
Samsung Galaxy Note 9 £899/$1,000 www.samsung.com
Samsung’s Note phones are physically larger than the company’s famed Galaxy S-series models, but the Note 9 is by no means unwieldy next to an iPhone Xs Max. The 6.4-inch bevelled Super AMOLED display is a feast for the eyes, and the phone conceals a stylus so you can even have a go at some freehand graphic design. It’s also nice to see a MicroSD slot present for storage expandability.
Photography-wise, a pair of rear-facing 12MP cameras give you useful 26mm and 52mmequivalent focal lengths. Both have optical image stabilisation technology, and the wide-angle camera benefits from a fast f/1.5 aperture. Image quality from both cameras is excellent, with good detail and colour accuracy, as well as classleading dynamic range.
The Galaxy Note 9 just loses out to the Mate 20 Pro in this Mini Test, however, as fine detail in images isn’t quite as well-resolved, and you don’t get an ultra-wide camera.