Best Camera Smartphones

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Forget those years of grainy, washed-out photos from cell phone cameras. Today's higher-end handsets snap pictures that rival many standalone point-and-shoots. Plus, your phone is always in your pocket or purse, and as any photography enthusiast will tell you, the best camera is the one you have with you.

Still, it's a bit of a minefield out there as to which phones take the best pictures. Just as is the case with point-and-shoots, you can't tell from the specs alone. For example, the HTC Titan II is one of the first phones available in the U.S. with a 16-megapixel sensor. But in testing, we found its photos don't really measure up. In addition, even the best smartphone cameras lack optical zoom, and of course none will stand up to even the least-expensive interchangeable lens camera. Even so, you'll be amazed at the quality you'll get from some camera phones—enough that you can probably leave the point-and-shoot behind for good.

Before we get started, there's also an elephant in the room: Specifically, the Nokia PureView 808. Contrary to initial reports, this 41-megapixel wonder of a camera phone will in fact make it to the U.S., albeit unlocked (and expensive). We haven't put this camera through its paces in our labs yet. But just by virtue of that sensor spec, with its ultra-high resolution—7,152 by 5,368—you could trim and crop photos in a way you can't with any other camera phone on the market today. And its 5-megapixel mode should prove stunning, thanks to all the oversampling, with dramatically reduced noise. In our brief hands-on, using the default 38-megapixel mode, we zoomed in and cropped out a tiny portion of a test photo that still gave us roughly 5 megapixels of resolution—which works out to roughly 3x lossless zoom, according to Nokia. Stay tuned on this one.

PHONES IN THIS ROUNDUP

Apple iPhone 4S (Sprint)

$199-$399 with two-year contract
Apple has steadily improved the camera with each successive iteration of the iPhone. If you care about photo quality the most, the iPhone 4S is the one to get—despite its slightly lower overall rating than some of the above Android handsets. Although the HTC One X's camera offers more features, the camera on the iPhone 4S remains the best you can get, thanks to its upgraded optics, 8-megapixel sensor, and best-in-class HDR mode. It also records 1080p high-definition video at a steady 30 frames per second, complete with image stabilization.



HTC One S (T-Mobile)

$199.99 with two-year contract
The One X's little brother, the aluminum-bodied HTC One S drops the One X's high-definition screen for a still-sharp, 960-by-540-pixel, 4.3-inch display. But it still contains the same dedicated image processor and 1080p recording ability as its sibling. Aside from a few minor focusing issues, and a slightly lower frame rate when recording video than the HTC One X, the One S otherwise takes identical pictures—and is certainly easier to slide into your pocket than the massive One X.



HTC One X (AT&T)

$199.99 with two-year contract
HTC raised its game with the One X's versatile camera. In addition to its 8-megapixel sensor, the One X features a dedicated image processing chip, wide aperture f/2.0 optics, and a nifty pair of shutter buttons that let you snap still photos while recording 1080p video at the same time. It's a fun and capable camera, and we were almost universally pleased with our test images. The One X is also tops for displaying your photos on the go, thanks to its oversized 4.7-inch, 720p (1280-by-720-pixel) high-definition display.



Samsung Galaxy S II Skyrocket (AT&T)

$149.99 with two-year contract
The Galaxy S II is about to be replaced, but if you like the phone and need something that takes sharp pictures, don't let that stop you. Especially considering AT&T has already discounted the Skyrocket's price by $50 since we first reviewed it, and will likely slash the price even further once the Galaxy S III appears. The Skyrocket—and, for that matter, all Galaxy S II phones—snap very good photos overall, and also record high-definition video, although it doesn't test quite as well as the HTC One series.


HTC Amaze 4G (T-Mobile)

$149.99 with two-year contract
We're including the HTC Amaze 4G here, even though it's also near the end of its production run, simply because we've seen some amazing deals on it—and it's a great camera phone. We've seen T-Mobile offer it for free with a two-year contract. It delivers much of the same goodness as the HTC One X, including the 8-megapixel sensor, a wide aperture f/2.2 lens, 1080p video recording at 30 frames per second, and an unusually fast (0.5-second) auto-focus lock.



HTC EVO 4G LTE (Sprint)

$199.99 with two-year contract
It's still up in the air as to just which cities will end up with Sprint's LTE coverage, but the EVO 4G LTE is a powerful phone all the same. Just like with its siblings, the One X and One S, the EVO 4G LTE's camera is stellar, with zero shutter lag, sharp focus, excellent white balance, and a capable HDR mode.

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