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HTC One debuts UltraPixel technology, but is the phone's camera all it's cracked up to be?

Jackie Dove | April 9, 2013
Is the HTC One's UltraPixel camera better than all the others? HTC's Symon Whitehorn explains why it is.

Is the HTC One a smartphone that takes pictures or a camera that makes phone calls? That question may sound facetious, but there's the buzz around the upcoming HTC One and its newfangled UltraPixel camera--which will land in consumer hands on April 19th.

The HTC One's major selling point is its camera, which uses the beefy processing power of  its 1.7GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon quad-core processor in conjunction with HTC's custom imaging chip. It promises higher quality still images and video than its smartphone competitors and a superior photographic experience compared with most dedicated point and shoots.

"Replacing the point and shoot seems to be the natural evolution of the smartphone camera, but we are being cautious not to overburden the camera with features," says Symon Whitehorn, director of special projects for HTC. "Point and shoots are getting away from people in terms of functionality and getting in the way of people's experiences...taking them out of the moment of the shot. The irony of the point and shoot was that it wasn't really point and shoot...They offered up way too many decisions for people." With the HTC One, "there's a reductionism in the things people have to do before they shoot so they don't leave the moment."

The camera

The HTC One camera touts richer images in low light--without flash--reduced motion blur, and minimal compression. HTC says this is achieved with the company's new UltraPixel sensor, combined with optical image stabilization, swift shutter speed, and a wide f/2.0 aperture.

Yet, despite the UltraPixel terminology, the HTC One actually features a 4-megapixel sensor with the same physical dimensions as its current HTC One X's 8-megapixel camera. The difference is that each individual pixel on the sensor is larger and captures more light. "The UltraPixel is a pretty straightforward principle. We wanted to put the biggest possible individual pixel we could so it can absorb more light without creating more noise," Whitehorn says.

HTC also stuck with the One X's aperture size of f/2.0--which compares with the Samsung Galaxy S4's f/2.2, the iPhone 5's f/2.4, and the Samsung Galaxy S III's f/2.6. HTC claims the aperture lets in 44 percent more light than the iPhone 5 and 69 percent more light than the Samsung Galaxy S III. The camera also includes optical image stabilization--unique for an Android phone. For video, you can record footage in 720p HD at 60 frames per second (fps) and in 1080p at 30fps.

The UltraPixel

The UltraPixel concept is simple: fewer, larger pixels producing higher quality, less noisy shots--especially in low light. This improved image quality is helped by the HTC One's more advanced 1/3-inch CMOS sensor, ImageChip 2-optimized image signal processor, and optical lens system. Thus each pixel should capture over 300 percent more light than comparable 8- or 13-megapixel cameras such as the iPhone 5, Nokia Lumia 920, and Samsung Galaxy S III.


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