Best Android Camera phones of 2017

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Update, May 2017: The Google Pixel is still our top camera, followed closely by the Galaxy S8. The LG G6’s dual cameras join the group, taking over from the V20, and the new HTC U11 hops on as a great camera in its own right.

Best overall

Google Pixel

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Google’s Pixel phone comes out on top when you look at photo quality and simplicity of shooting. Interestingly, it does this with what would normally be considered middle-of-the-road camera specs. You get a 12MP sensor and f/2.0 lens without the support OIS (optical image stabilization), but that isn’t an issue for the Pixel.

It also has a simple camera interface that doesn’t have a ton of features, but makes up for it in terms of overall quality. Just point and shoot, and you’re going to get a great photo every single time. Daylight shots are crisp and bright with just the right amount of extra saturation, and low-light shots are surprisingly smooth and lack the extra noise that other phones often introduce.

Add in the extra perk that the Pixel includes unlimited full-resolution photo backup with Google Photos, and it’s a truly great smartphone camera.

Bottom line: For the best possible photos from every type of situation, the Pixel is your best choice.

One more thing: For the same camera experience in a larger size with a bigger battery, consider the (more expensive) Google Pixel XL.

Why the Google Pixel is the best

After years of Nexuses with hit-or-miss cameras, Google finally delivered on its promise with the Pixel — and it’s doing it with a similar formula we first saw in the Nexus 6P and 5X. You don’t get OIS (optical image stabilization), but instead a 12MP sensor with really large pixels that can take in extra light and HDR+ software that does the extra work to bring multiple exposures together.

The results are absolutely fantastic, no matter the shooting situation. As Alex Dobie said in our Pixel review:

Captures are quick, there’s plenty of fine detail in a wide variety of lighting conditions, and Google’s Auto-HDR+ trickery produces photos with excellent dynamic range in situations where many rivals stumble. Colors are punchy, but not excessively saturated. And even in challenging lighting conditions, such as dark restaurants at night, a good amount of fine detail and color detail is preserved.

The Pixel doesn’t offer a ton of shooting modes or lots of tweaking options in the camera interface, but that doesn’t really matter to most people
— the end result when you press the shutter key matches or beats the competition, and offers amazing consistency from shot to shot. Photos are crisp with just the right amount of punchy color, and when the light is at a minimum it manages to still take smooth shots anyway. It’s incredibly impressive what Google was able to do in the Pixel, and the results are to your benefit every time you open the camera.

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Best runner-up

Samsung Galaxy S8

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Samsung’s new Galaxy S8 (and the larger Galaxy S8+) has an extremely iterative camera experience from the Galaxy S7, but when you’re coming from such a great shooter as before it’s easy to see why. This is still a 12MP sensor with 1.4-micron pixels and an f/1.7 lens, which are all specs that stand up strong in 2017. What’s changed is Samsung’s processing software.

The Galaxy S8 takes excellent photos in just about every situation, leaning on those bigger pixels and bright lens to make the most of dark scenes. Samsung’s new processing is a bit less saturated and more balanced than the GS7, but still steps away from “neutral” and leans toward “pleasing to the eye” instead — that’s not an issue, but simply a characteristic of Samsung’s cameras. The GS8’s edge detail and sharpening are much improved all around from last year.

The camera app is still blazingly fast to open and consistent, adding in a whole bunch of shooting modes and a few neat features that enhance the experience.

Bottom line: Anyone would be happy to shoot with the Galaxy S8, and it’s tough to find fault in this formula.

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One more thing: Samsung’s front-facing camera also offers auto focus, which is a nice-to-have feature you don’t get everywhere.

Best for tweaking

LG G6

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LG has taken the dual camera setup from the V20 and vastly improved it with the G6. Both sensors are identical 12MP units, leading to increased quality of the wide-angle shots and more similar shots overall between the two. This makes the dual camera setup more valuable, as you can lean on the 125-degree wide-angle lens in the same way as the standard 71-degree one.

Despite having relatively small 1.12-micron pixels, the main camera takes amazing photos paired with its f/1.8 lens. During the day it’s quite neutral and true to life, while at night it does well to recreate the scene without adding light that isn’t actually there.

LG’s camera app can still be a little slow and isn’t as fast as Samsung’s or simple as Google’s, but gets the job done. And as a trade off it also offers a whole heap of manual controls so you can tweak anything you want.

Bottom line: With a main camera that can challenge the competition and an extra wide-angle shooter, the G6 offers many great options for photos.

One more thing: The LG G6 is also the cheapest phone in this lineup, offering perhaps the best value for your money when looking at the cameras.

Best balanced

HTC U11

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HTC’s 2017 flagship, the U11, sort of splits the difference between the Pixel and the Galaxy S8. Like the Galaxy S8 it has a 12MP sensor with 1.4-micron pixels and an f/1.7 lens — which HTC dubs “UltraPixel 3” — but HTC’s camera app is simpler, leaning a bit toward Google’s. The U11’s camera offers advanced shooting modes and hyperlapses, for example, but no filters or anything of that sort to get in your way.

When it comes to photo quality HTC will tout its DxOMark Mobile score of 90, but the proof is in the pictures: this thing absolutely competes with the top-end phones released in 2017. HTC’s continued focus on accurate photos is at play here giving you shots that are attempting to be true to the scene, but reproducing them with just a little punch and plenty of sharpness and clarity.

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Bottom line: The U11 offers a great overall camera experience, with excellent photo quality and also extra features without being overwhelming.

One more thing: We highly recommend buying the U11 unlocked from Amazon or HTC — it works on any U.S. carrier.

Conclusion

Google still has the best camera when it comes to photo quality, but it’s followed closely by three other phones that all have their own perks. The Galaxy S8 is fast and feature-packed, the LG G6 has its dual cameras and HTC offers a nice mix of features and quality.

Best overall

Google Pixel

See at Verizon
See at Google

Google’s Pixel phone comes out on top when you look at photo quality and simplicity of shooting. Interestingly, it does this with what would normally be considered middle-of-the-road camera specs. You get a 12MP sensor and f/2.0 lens without the support OIS (optical image stabilization), but that isn’t an issue for the Pixel.

It also has a simple camera interface that doesn’t have a ton of features, but makes up for it in terms of overall quality. Just point and shoot, and you’re going to get a great photo every single time. Daylight shots are crisp and bright with just the right amount of extra saturation, and low-light shots are surprisingly smooth and lack the extra noise that other phones often introduce.

Add in the extra perk that the Pixel includes unlimited full-resolution photo backup with Google Photos, and it’s a truly great smartphone camera.

Bottom line: For the best possible photos from every type of situation, the Pixel is your best choice.

One more thing: For the same camera experience in a larger size with a bigger battery, consider the (more expensive) Google Pixel XL.

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