HTC Butterfly S Has Been Unveiled In China

HTC Butterfly S

In an event in Taiwan, HTC unveiled the next big device in its Butterfly series (you probably know it as Verizon’s Droid DNA). Droid DNA and its international edition, J Butterfly have been two of the most exciting and high-end smartphones developed by HTC. Here is Butterfly S, which comes with similar features and a whopping large screen of 5 inches, the largest that HTC has ever made.

Engadget China has managed to get its hands on the device here. Here is the promo video of the device:

Technical Specifications


Here is the technical specifications of Butterfly S in comparison to two other devices, HTC One and Samsung Galaxy S IV.

Feature HTC Butterfly S HTC One Samsung Galaxy S IV
Display Super LCD 3; 5 inch 1080p (441 ppi) Super LCD 3; 4.7 inch 1080p (469 ppi) Super AMOLED HD; 4.99 inch 1080p (440 ppi)
Protection Corning Gorilla Glass 3 Corning Gorilla Glass 2 Corning Gorilla Glass 3
Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 (quad-core) 1.9 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 (quad-core) 1.7 GHz Samsung Exynos Octa (quad-core 1.6 GHz or quad-core 1.2 GHz); LTE Model has 1.9 GHz Snapdragon 600 processor
RAM 2 GB 2 GB 2 GB
Camera 4 UltraPixel; 2.1 MP front-facing 4 UltraPixel; 2.1 MP front-facing 13 MP; 2 MP
Operating System Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean Android 4.1.2 Jelly Bean Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean
Storage 16 GB with MicroSD card slot for up to 64 GB 32/64 GB no card slot 16/32/64 GB with card slot for up to 64 GB
Battery 3200 mAh 2300 mAh 2600 mAh
Connectivity HSPA 42 Mbps; no LTE version HSPA 42 Mbps; LTE Cat 3 100/50 Mbps HSPA 42 Mbps (model I9500); LTE separate version (I9505) with LTE cat 3 100/50 Mbps
Dimensions Height 144.5 mm Height 137.4 mm Height 136.6 mm
Width 70.5 mm Width 68.2 mm Width 69.8 mm
Depth 10.6 mm Depth 9.3 mm Depth 7.9 mm
Weight 160 g Weight 143 g Weight 130 g
Additional Features
  • HTC BoomSound
  • Beats Audio
  • HTC software technologies: BlinkFeed, Sense, Zoe, etc.
  • Dedicated Image chip for camera with Optical Image Stabilization technology
  • Wi-Fi IEEE 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac
    Bluetooth 4.0
  • NFC
  • Dropbox 25 GB free
The same as Butterfly S
  • Samsung technologies: Dual shot, Group play, Smart Scroll, Smart Pause, Air View, Story Album, WatchON (TV remote), S Health, S Translator, etc.
  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • NFC
  • Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac
  • Dropbox 50 GB storage


As you can see, Butterfly S is a power-packed smartphone and is the most high-end device from HTC’s range. Although HTC’s flagship model is One, Butterfly S has slightly bigger screen than that. The only problem is that Butterfly S is not yet in the US, and there is no LTE version.

Apparently, Galaxy S4 zaps the competition easily. It has the best features of the three. However, there are a few aspects that Butterfly S excels over it—processor, display, build quality, and battery life.

Firstly, the processor. Snapdragon 600 is the fastest processor in the world of mobile devices. Samsung Galaxy S4’s Exynos Octa is definitely not as powerful as Snapdragon 600. Although Octa has eight cores, it is actually made of two four-core processors, and only four cores work at a time. When intensive tasks are being done, 1.6 GHz 4-core processor comes into play, while the other 1.2 GHz version works when there are no intensive tasks and the power needs to be saved. However, S4 has an LTE version which comes with the exact same processor on HTC One and Butterfly S. They hence provide identical performance.

On the build side, HTC Butterfly S has a slightly better build quality than Galaxy S4, although with plastic, doesn’t measure up to One.

All of those technologies that HTC has brought with One are there in Butterfly S too. HTC BoomSound, with front-facing speakers, which use Beats Audio enhancement technology, gives Butterfly S a better sound quality than Galaxy S4. There are also HTC Zoe, BlinkFeed, OIS on camera, etc., on Butterfly S.

The display is amazing. Butterfly S has the largest display of all HTC phones, and it comes with Full HD resolution. With much higher pixel density than Apple iPhone, it is sure to give extremely sharp images. You may remember in our early comparison of the best display, HTC Droid DNA (Butterfly J) was ranked number one. It is the same here. I would prefer SLCD 3 to Super AMOLED due to certain reasons outlined here. This makes Butterfly S’s display the best among the three.

In the battery department also, Butterfly is the king, leading with 3200 mAh battery, which delivers up to 25 hours of talk time on WCDMA as compared to 17 hours given by Galaxy S4.

Another advantage over HTC One is that this phone has a MicroSD expansion slot supporting up to 64 GB. This well compliments the puny 16 GB storage provided. Android takes up a chunk of that storage, remember.

What about the price? Well, that information is already available. The price given is in New Taiwan Dollar, NT $22,900, which roughly comes to  USD 760.



It definitely looks like HTC has made a wonderful device here. It is not known when this one will come to the US market and whether it will be the successor to Verizon’s Droid DNA. The device will be released to the Taiwanese market in July. We may be able to publish a more detailed review once the device hits the market. In the meanwhile, check out this device gallery, given by Engadget China.

Butterfly S in various colors


Butterfly S three colors


Back of HTC Butterfly S


Micro USB port


Butterfly S from the top


beautiful orange back of Butterfly S


phone from the side


The huge display of Butterfly S


HTC Butterfly S smartphone

Smartphones With the Largest Screens: Have We Reached the Breaking Point Yet?

One of the biggest news of the last two days is the release of yet another smartphone in the Samsung Galaxy family, a phone of no especial features, with 720p 233ppi TFT screen, Android Jelly Bean, 1.5 GB RAM, 8/16 GB internal storage, Exynos 5 1.7 GHz dual-core processor, etc. The smartphone, known as Galaxy Mega is peculiar due to its screen size, of 6.3 inches, which makes it the mammoth of the smartphone market.

Samsung Galaxy Mega

Samsung was the first manufacturer to lead the way to phones of unusually large screen sizes. Soon enough, other manufacturers followed, and some even managed to go a few steps further. Is this rat race for large screen sizes come to an end? Is it time for customers to really think about the display technology, rather than the screen size? Let’s find out.

The year was 2011 and the place, Berlin, home to the Berlin Radio Show. Samsung announced a legendary product in its Galaxy family of devices—the Galaxy Note. The product is in its second generation now, with sales going up continuously. It is one of the most successful products from Samsung, and the most successful among the so called ‘phablets’. Note came out almost a year after the first device to mark large screen revolution, Dell Streak, which did not sell well largely due to the cumbersome nature of its form factor.

Note, however, changed the story altogether, by becoming highly successful. Note II is also well received, although we would love to wait. Note family has spawned a whole number of phablets, which was a new term applied to devices between phones and tablets (specifically, between 5 and 7 inches of screen size). Galaxy Mega, by that reasoning, is a perfect phablet.

Screen Sizes of Touch Devices

In the last few years marking the revolution of touch-based devices—smartphones, phablets, and tablets—we have seen that the devices have touched all screen sizes. We have a whole array of phones and tablets with screens going from 4 to 10 inches.

We have the legendary Apple iPhone at the sixth generation now with a screen size of 4 inches, the smallest of all devices in high-end mainstream production. We have BlackBerry Z10 with 4.2 inch screen, Nokia Lumia 920 with 4.5 inch screen, HTC One at 4.7 inch screen, Galaxy S3 at 4.8 inches, and S4 at 4.99 inches. This is the array of smartphones having all kind of screen sizes. After this, we have phablets—LG Optimus G at 5 inch, Note II at 5.5 inches, and now Galaxy Mega at two different screen sizes—5.8 inch and 6.3 inches. Beyond that, we enter into the tablet market, dominated by Google Nexus 7 with 7 inch screen, iPad Mini with 7.9 inch screen, etc., and the list goes up to Nexus 10 with close to 10 inch screen.

Right now, the only size that we expect to be filled is between 6.3 inches and 7 inches. Maybe, Samsung will come up with another phablet with some 6.8 inch screen to fill that void.

The crux of the matter is that we have reached an impasse. Any other screen size probably is not going to make any difference. You can safely put away the search for a fitting phone with large screen size.

What Should You Consider in A Smartphone Display

Another important question here is, how do screen size and screen quality correlate? Galaxy Mega has a 6.3 inch TFT screen, but it supports only 720p HD resolution, which is smaller than 1080p full HD on Galaxy S4 and HTC One. Accordingly, it has close to half as many pixels as in Galaxy S4. 233 ppi is not a very rich screen, in comparison to GS4’s 441 ppi or iPhone 5’s 326 ppi.

Another important aspect to consider is the technology used in the display in question. There are quite a number of smartphone display technologies out there, and you should know which your phone uses. Super AMOLED and LCD IPS are two of the most prominent. While most of the Samsung devices have Super AMOLED HD display, iPhone and most of the other smartphones come with LCD with In-Plane Switching technology. There are a few differences between AMOLED and IPS.

A year ago, if you needed a smartphone of enormous display size, you probably had only one or two options, but now you can get a number of phones from all manufacturers at all convenient display sizes.

The crux of the matter here is, you should consider the display technology used, including the brightness, contrast ratio, resolution, etc., now that you can get smartphones of all display sizes.

A Few Competing Devices

As we noted early, Dell Streak started the revolution, although it was not part of it. Note won the revolution, and following its success a number of phones and tablets came out with extra-large display sizes. A few of them are here.

1. HTC One


One comes with a 4.7 inch screen, which is just perfect for viewing anything, wrapped in a form factor that fits in your pocket perfectly. [By the way, just as Samsung came up with Galaxy Note with slightly larger screen than Dell Streak, they came up with S3 with slightly larger screen than HTC One X.]

2. Galaxy S4

Galaxy S IV smartphone

Upcoming Galaxy S4 marks Galaxy S family’s largest smartphone, at 4.99 inches.

3. Droid DNA (HTC, Verizon)

Verizon Droid DNA phone by HTC

Popular Droid DNA has super bright 1080p full HD display using LCD3 technology. It’s available from Verizon, and outside Verizon it takes the shape of J Butterfly.

4. Sony Xperia Z

Sony Xperia Z

Xperia Z is this year’s Sony flagship with 5 inch screen. It is waterproof as well.

5. LG Optimus G

LG Optimus G

Optimus G is the most advanced smartphone from LG and it has the same tech specs as its brother, Google Nexus 4, also manufactured by LG.

6. Asus PadFone Infinity

Asus PadFone Infinity

This is a 5 inch phablet from Asus. It should not be confused with Asus FonePad, which is a 7 inch tablet with phone call capabilities. On an unrelated note, neither FonePad nor PadFone is named right.

7. Optimus G Pro

LG Optimus G Pro smartphone with 5.5 inch screen

Upcoming LG Optimus G Pro is a classic phablet with some pretty decent specifications.

8. ZTE Grand Memo

ZTE Grand Memo

This year’s Grand Memo is one of the devices that ZTE is betting on highly. It has a 5.7 inch screen. [By the way, Galaxy Mega has a 5.8 inch screen version as well, effectively closing the gap in competition with Grand Memo]

9. Huawei Ascend Mate

Huawei Ascend Mate

You know Samsung wants to make a larger phone whenever a phablet of large screen gets released, right? We saw it in action with Dell Streak earlier, and we saw it again with Ascend Mate from Huawei. The phablet with 6.1 inch screen was officially unveiled in CES this year.

These are only a few worth mentioning in a sea of large screen phones.

The Usability

One of the important things that I look for in a smartphone is how convenient it is to take it with me. A phone is a portable device, and it should be portable. Usually phablets are neither portable nor good enough for some serious work. If you want a phone, the perfect size should be five inches or less, as long as the design is compact enough to be carried around in your pocket. 4.8 inch Galaxy S3 fits well in your pocket and with the same size as that, Galaxy S4 will also fit perfectly. S4 is also thinner than S3. HTC One looks good and has a pretty correct form factor for even tight-fitting pants.

As long as the manufacturers keep the size of the phone proper, fitting well in all kinds of pockets, the screen size can be tweaked. On the other hand, making devices around screen size is not a good design technique. This is the reason why I would not recommend devices larger than the Note II at 5.5 inches. Due to the same reason, Galaxy Mega is not a product that we are excited about, not to mention the substandard tech specs.


Galaxy Mega and such other large phablets actually don’t give you any better user experience than a regular smartphone. They may only confuse you by making you think whether you could have chosen a small tablet instead. Nexus 7 would be perfect in place of Galaxy Mega. Hence, any product larger than 5 inches or at the most 5.5 inches qualifies as overkill and you needn’t be excited about it.

Smartphone Manufacturers: Bashing Each Other: They Will Go to Any Length for Better Sales of Their Phones!

Have you noticed the tech CEOs and top executives are constantly engaged in bashing the competitors’ products? Our favorite tech companies and their executives badmouth the competitor products almost all the time, especially when the competitor is winning on several aspects. It is not peculiar, but quite a bit distasteful (on the part of the bashing company) considering that the winning company not only bashes back, but enjoys being silent in a debonair sort of way.

BlackBerry & Apple


One of the recent so-called opinions was from Thorsten Heins, CEO, BlackBerry, about—the obvious competitor, Apple iPhone.

Australian Financial Review conducted a minor interview with Heins, in what he mentioned this:

Apple did a fantastic job in bringing touch devices to market … They did a fantastic job with the user interface, they are a design icon. There is a reason why they were so successful, and we actually have to admit this and respect that.

History repeats itself again I guess … the rate of innovation is so high in our industry that if you don’t innovate at that speed you can be replaced pretty quickly. The user interface on the iPhone, with all due respect for what this invention was all about is now five years old.

What you can notice is that the CEOs are not basing their opinions on lies. They are definitely either too subtle about the device they are bashing or speak the truth in a mild way accusing the other guy.

Apple & Samsung


Apple has been really shaken to the core by the release of Galaxy S 4. Senior VP of Worldwide Marketing in Cupertino, Phil Schiller was very disturbed by GS4, it seems. He tweeted this:

That link from F-Secure he mentions in the tweet gives us some unsettling results about Android’s security. Here is a graphic that explains it.

mobile OS threat statistic


That is the statistic of threat families and variants identified in 2012 year end by F-Secure. One other thing that IDC identified is that about 70 percent of all mobile phone shipments in 2012 belong to Android, while only 19 percent belongs to Apple. It looks as if the more the phones the more the threats, something similar to the whopping number of security threats targeting Microsoft Windows for nearly two decades of dominance in desktop operating systems market.

Android is being targeted by the malware developers, and you really have to have one of these security apps installed.

Phil has taken care to show us this particular PDF. One thing that escapes one’s attention is the fact that this particular report was published back in December, and it is no longer news. Check this Google index snippet we found:

article publication date from Google


Why was Phil sharing that document right about a week before the launch of GS4? Not stopping there, On , right on the day of release of iPhone’s biggest threat, Schiller told to WSJ this:

Android is often given as a free replacement for a feature phone and the experience isn’t as good as an iPhone.

He didn’t stop there, on a separate interview with Reuters, on the same day, he said this:

With their own data, only 16 percent of Android users are on year-old version of the operating system. Over 50 percent are still on software that is two years old. A really big difference.

HTC About GS4


HTC was also seemingly disturbed about Galaxy S4’s launch, considering the fact that GS4 could outsell HTC One and remain on top of business, keeping HTC’s profits down despite their coming up with an equally great smartphone.

HTC President, Jason McKenzie appeared glad because he believed HTC has a better product than Samsung. If so, there is no reason for these comments from him, told to CNET:

Watching the presentation, it looks like they invested a lot in marketing instead of innovation.

HTC’s bashing doesn’t end there. In another interview, the Chief Marketing Officer of HTC, Benjamin Ho told:

With a continuation of a plastic body, and a larger screen being the most obvious physical change, Samsung’s new Galaxy pales in comparison to the all-aluminum unibody HTC One. This is more of the same.

HTC remains the best option for those people looking for the best technology wrapped in premium design. Our customers want something different from the mainstream, who appear to be the target for the Galaxy. Our customers want original cutting-edge technology, mouth-watering design and a premium feel from their mobiles, which is why we created the HTC One.

That is actually true, and it is almost time for me to put HTC One up at a spot in our list of most durable smartphones.

In Conclusion


It is definite that the release of Galaxy S4 has shaken several pillars. Every smartphone manufacturer and their mother has watched the show that Samsung put up in New York, and they are feeling heavily daunted. It is up to them to find a way to gather sales for their devices.

One or two specific aspects worth mentioning are these. First of all, Apple’s allegation of Android’s security threats is based on facts. Android does have more threats than any other smartphone operating system. It however is probably not going to deter people from purchasing Android devices. Look at the specific example of Windows vs. Linux and Mac OS X. For the better part of the last two decades, Windows did dominate the desktop world despite being the most erratic OS with many, many security threats.

Only one way that Apple can counter Android evolution is by coming up with better hardware, a thing that we have been asking them to do for quite some time. Apple doesn’t provide with iPhone a number of features that Android phones provide easily—NFC, USB-on-the-Go, etc. BlackBerry is almost the same. These platforms lack a number of things that Android provides, and yet they somehow want to command premium prices. The business model is either bound to fail or succeed. You know the luxury smartphone market still has customers.

HTC One is a great device, something that HTC should be proud about. Still, they are worried so much about GS4. There are a few aspects that GS4 rocks in, such as the screen and a number of Samsung-supplied apps. HTC probably doesn’t have a software division as vast as Samsung’s to come up with a lot of ideas that would differentiate its phones. However, it doesn’t mean the device is bad.

An important point that I will elaborate on an upcoming article is that the tech companies can do a lot better than badmouthing the competing products. These strategies have backfired more often than not. One thing that they can do is come up with good products with great features at good prices. Any company that is struggling should innovate badly to stay on the market; if not, it would be too late when they realize their mistakes.

An Addendum


Here’s a tweet I had posted on 14th: LG is spooked:

The Best Smartphone in the Market That You Can Buy Right Now

I am not talking about the smartphones that will be released in the coming months or days or the ones that are no longer available, but the ones that are in the market right now. You, as a smartphone customer, are looking for various factors to determine your purchase. Some of us want to get our work done quickly and effectively. Some of us want to read books and watch movies, and are looking for amazing screens. Some of us are interested in amazing build quality. Some others want to have their phones work everywhere, in all networks, in all plans.

Well, there is a recipe for each requirement, but not one that satisfies all, I am afraid. Let’s take a look at the best of the lot in this post. Also, one thing to note, these smartphones are the ones with highest configuration out there. We have left out the low performance models completely.

1. The Most Productive


The answer is simple. Apple iPhone. With over 750,000 apps available, iPhone has the one app ecosystem that has everything you need to get your work done. Some of you may be more inclined to have a larger screen for business purposes, but you cannot get the best app ecosystem to go with it.

Apple iPhone 5


Android is close behind in this race, and Google Play has 655,530 apps.

With an app ecosystem that works exceptionally well with iPhone’s hardware, Apple is well in the lead in the most productive smartphone category.

You can get iPhone from the Apple store, Amazon, or Best Buy.

2. The Biggest Screen


Among the smartphones, excluding the phablets of over 5 inches, the largest screen by far belongs to HTC’s Droid DNA, the Verizon Wireless’s exclusive Droid family mobile phone. The 5 inch Super LCD 3 screen is protected by Gorilla Glass 2. It has amazing pixel density of 441 ppi, which makes it Full HD (1920×1080 px). It is possible that Droid DNA has the best screen of all smartphones in the market today. One competitor is Galaxy S3, in which Samsung uses Super AMOLED technology, which is a low-power display technology.


Buy directly from Verizon Wireless

Outside the Verizon Wireless network, HTC Droid DNA takes the shape of HTC Butterfly. The hardware specifications are exactly the same. You can get it from Amazon for 899 dollars.

3. The Best Camera


In this category, all of the major camera shootouts have given us one fine contender. Competing with all of the other major smartphone cameras in the low light shootouts, Nokia Lumia 920 emerged successful as the best camera smartphone.

Nokia Lumia 920


Windows Phone device, Lumia 920’s 8.7 megapixel camera shot this image in the dark. On the right, you can see the same image shot with iPhone 5; click on them to enlarge.

low light on Lumia 920low light on iPhone


This particular image comparison was done by Gizmodo recently. You should check it out. It has some amazing shots done by other major smartphone cameras.

You can buy Lumia 920 from Best Buy.

4. The Fastest Smartphone


It is extremely difficult to pinpoint a really fast smartphone, out of this sea of phones we have here. The speed is measured differently in different platforms, and the fastest phones are bound to have low ratings on some benchmarks. We have gone through quite a number of benchmarks, with our list of the fastest smartphones, and have been able to pinpoint one device that stands out with a more consistent performance in these benchmarks.

The one thing that makes this happen for this device is its processor, Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro, 1.5 GHz quad-core, arguably the fastest smartphone processor today. I suppose you already guessed the device we are talking about is LG Optimus G. And since the hardware is almost the same on Google Nexus 4, we have to say there are two devices in this category.

LG Optimus G


LG Optimus G has scored 2147 points in Geekbench, while the close contenders include Galaxy Note II with 1926 points, Galaxy S3 with 1717 points, iPhone 5 with 1601 points, etc.

The close contenders for this smartphone include iPhone 5 with amazing top results in graphics benchmarks and JavaScript benchmarks done with GLBenchmark and SunSpider; HTC Droid DNA that came with a slightly better score in AnTuTu benchmarks (20083 of Droid DNA vs. 19078 on Optimus G).

One important thing to note is that almost all of the top smartphones in these benchmarks were using the same processor—Snapdragon APQ8064 quad-core clocked at 1.5 GHz, the same on Droid DNA, Nexus 4, and Optimus G.

LG Optimus G can be purchased from Amazon


5. Best Carrier Options


With the idea in mind to find out the smartphone with the best carrier option (you know, including 4G LTE and all) we went into the top US mobile carriers—AT&T, Sprint Nextel, Verizon Wireless, and T-Mobile. We wanted a phone that is available in all networks and at a reasonable price. A lot of the first contenders were already gone, such as Nexus 4 (no LTE), Droid series (only in Verizon), etc.

Samsung Galaxy S III


It seems that Samsung Galaxy S3 is the clear winner in this case.

Galaxy S3 is not only available in all of these carriers, but also has the best prices as compared to others like iPhone 5.

You can get S3 from Amazon here.

6. The Build Quality


I don’t need to speak too much, too loud about this particular aspect. As there are more phones coming up with amazing build quality; plastic players moving toward premium, metallic designs; and some OEMs innovating in the waterproof front, it seems build quality is important.

One of the upcoming models that will sell for its build quality is HTC One, but we are not going to talk about that here. We are going to talk about Nokia’s Lumia 920 that survived drop tests so well that it had to be thrown forcefully to break. Have you ever driven a car over your Lumia smartphone? If not and you are afraid, check this out:

Thanks to for this video.

With polycarbonate back and thicker Gorilla Glass 2 at the front, the smartphone is unbreakable. You can read our list of the most durable smartphones here.



Is there any other aspect that we missed? Oh yes, the price. I believe that ship has sailed since we have already mentioned this is a showdown of high-end smartphones. All of them listed here are the flagship models from the respective companies. It is quite nice to say Lumia 920 coming up in two separate aspects. It is a simple truth that iPhone 5 and Galaxy S3 are not the only choice customers have these days.

If you continue to read our blog, you will come across amazing new gadgets to buy. In this review, it is quite impossible for me to pinpoint one of these phones. Each is good in its own way.

If you want to add any other aspect to the list, please let us know through the comments, and we may do just that.

An Analysis of Today’s Smartphone Camera Technologies

Time when we were buying SLR and digital SLR cameras for capturing various moments in our lives is gone. Now, those special moments are captured right from within your smartphones. Most of these smartphones have evolved to the point that it is right to say the best camera in the world is the one in your hands.

The time of puny 1 MP and 3 MP cameras is gone, and now it is time for 8 MP, 12 MP, 13 MP, or 41 MP cameras among smartphones. In this article, let’s look at the major technologies used in the cameras of our favorite smartphones.

According to research firm NPD’s statistics, in 2011, over 27 percent of the photos were taken by smartphone cameras. Also, this zest for camera phones is negatively affecting the point-and-shoot camera market.

NPD statistics of mobile camera usage


The Basic Technology

Digital cameras have these—a lens, an image sensor technology, and the image signal processor. When you are taking videos with these digital cameras, one additional component called video encoder also comes into play. Here is a basic diagram showing what is happening in a smartphone camera.

Basic technology of smartphone camera

As you can see there is communication between the CMOS sensor and the ISP to better interpret the scene captured with the lens. The sensor and the ISP may reverse-communicate to make the image better, as represented by the double arrows. During video-capture, this is how the video encoder comes into play.

Technology in smartphone camera during video capture

Within smartphone cameras, we use the Complementary Metal-Oxide Semiconductor (CMOS) technology for the sensor. In other high-end digital cameras, the sensor uses a different technology known as CCD (Charge-Coupled Device). Both these technologies are identical in that they convert light into electric signals (similar to the solar cells).

CCD is more of a traditional kind of image sensor. It has a capacitor array that captures each pixel in the image, and the data is converted into an electric charge. These charges are then transferred through a shift register and converted into a voltage sequence that can be stored as a digital image.

progressive scan
A representation of progressive scan in displays

CCD is an analog device, and it captures more natural images than the CMOS technology does. While in CCD, the entire image is converted into one sequence of voltage, within CMOS, each pixel has its own circuitry to create its own voltage sequence.

In essence, CCD captures the image in one shot, while CMOS captures it in sort of a scan, either vertically or horizontally (just like progressive scan). Hence, the CMOS sensor doesn’t get the entire image in a single instance.

I will not go into the details of these technologies.

The basic difference between CCD and CMOS is that CMOS uses much less power than CCD. This makes it perfect for handheld devices. 

However, CMOS suffers from an issue known as ‘rolling shutter effect’, since it doesn’t take a picture in a single instance, but rather in a scan. When a CMOS sensor interprets a moving object, the image gets skewed. This is caused by the kind of shutter it uses—either global or rolling. If it uses the global shutter, the sensor won’t cause this issue. CCD sensors exclusively use global shutter and hence they are not affected by this issue. CMOS sensors commonly use the rolling shutter that causes the effect.

rolling shutter effect

Your smartphone cannot house a larger CCD sensor as there are quite a few limitations, such as cost, materials used, the conditions in which the smartphone is used, etc. Hence, a CMOS sensor is usually regarded to be the best for tiny smartphone cameras. However, there have been CCD cameras on phones, such as this Sharp Aquos 933SH.

Sharp Aquos smartphone with CCD camera


The Megapixel Myth


HTC Titan II smartphone's camera
HTC Titan II used 16 MP camera

During the last two years or so, smartphone manufacturers have been on a rat race to build cameras with the highest megapixel count. They simply upgraded the cameras up until they hit 16 megapixels.

That was supposed to be the limit, but then Nokia came up with its PureView 808 smartphone with a whopping 41 megapixel camera.

PureView 808
Nokia PureView 808 with 41 MP image sensor

Let’s analyze why megapixel count after a certain limit does not represent image quality.

The number of megapixels on your phone’s camera represents the actual size of the image. For instance, Titan II’s 16 MP sensor can print an image at the size of 23.2×17.4 inches. And taking it further, the Nokia PureView 808’s camera (with 38 MP of effective pixels) will make an image of the size 35.76×26.84 inches or about 3×2 feet in size. This calculation is considering the 200 dpi resolution of a printer. If you consider an LCD screen of about 100 ppi resolution, the size will go up to twice as much.

Imagine how much disk space a large image would take. It will be much larger than the regular 8 MP image. This is the reason why Nokia PureView 808’s camera by default shoots images only at 5MP. What a waste of pixels! With your smartphone’s camera, you absolutely don’t need to create images of huge sizes. An 8 MP or a 10 MP camera can provide you with exactly what you want.

By the end of 2012, people as well as smartphone manufacturers started realizing that this industry talk about megapixels is quite a bit unnecessary. That has caused HTC to come up with HTC One smartphone that is barely 4 MP, but uses a different technology known as UltraPixel to capture more light through those pixels.

The size and quality of the camera’s lens is another factor that determines the image quality. A large diameter lens can produce much better images. With this in mind, Nokia has gone with Carl Zeiss optics for most of its smartphones. Carl Zeiss is a leading German manufacturer of lenses for various DSLR film cameras. Their optics finds uses in various industrial applications in metrology, medical technology, microscopy, etc.

Use of Carl Zeiss’s high quality optics has clearly increased the quality of images captured by Nokia smartphones. LG Optimus G also has a larger camera lens that makes its images much better.

If the camera is naturally capable of optical zoom, that is another aspect that will improve the quality of the image. An example is the Samsung Galaxy Camera that has a smartphone at the back.

Samsung Galaxy Camera

This particular device has a 16 MP camera and 21x optical zoom (look at the size of that camera housing) and uses a BSI CMOS sensor. BSI is for Backside Illumination. This is a technique used to increase the amount of light captured, and thereby improve the low-light photographs.

Trademarked Camera Technologies

Now, we will take a look at the current technologies that we hear about in popular smartphone cameras. Some of these technologies are Nokia Lumia 920 smartphone’s PureView technology and Optical Image Stabilization (OIS), HTC’s UltraPixel technology, Sony sensor within iPhone 5, Sony’s own Exmor R and RS sensors, BlackBerry Z10’s Time Shift camera, etc.

Nokia PureView Technology

The current top of the line smartphone from Nokia is Lumia 920. It has two major technologies built in, Optical Image Stabilization and PureView. The first device to come up with PureView technology was last year’s release, Nokia PureView 808 with 41 MP camera, giving a resolution of 7728×5368. However, the default capture in PureView 808 camera is only at 5 MP. At 41 MP, the camera can take a huge image, while at 5 MP, only a part of that huge image is shown to the user. As a result, a user can easily zoom in up to 3x without losing quality as in digital zoom.

Digital zoom used in your smartphone’s camera has nothing to do with lens movement. It cannot give the clarity and detail as given by actual zooming, which has to be optical. In order to do optical zooming, you have to have a zoom lens in a larger camera housing as found in Samsung Galaxy Camera. With Nokia 808 PureView, the sensor itself is pretty large and capable of shooting a large image, and only a portion of that image is shown to you. Hence, a 3x lossless zoom as maintained by Nokia is possible.

In PureView technology, it uses something known as pixel oversampling. This means, the data from several pixels are used to form something Nokia calls a ‘super’ pixel. As a result, the camera is able to capture more light, and come up with a HDR effect on its images. This is one of the reasons why Nokia Lumia 920’s camera has been regarded as one of the best in the industry today.

The PureView technology is capable of shooting images with unmatched clarity in low light situations. Here is a comparison shoot:

Camera comparison

More of such low light photographs can be found in Engadget’s gallery.

Earlier, around the time Nokia released Lumia 920, they came up with an ad supposedly shot with the camera, but was actually shot with a DSLR camera. It was a mistake.

Optical Image Stabilization

Nokia’s camera supports another technology known as Optical Image Stabilization. Unlike PureView, it is not a Nokia trademark, though. HTC phone, the latest HTC One, also supports OIS. It is also available in most of the high end cameras.

Imagine you are shooting a casual image, and you tripped and went out of focus for a moment. On a regular phone camera, you can imagine what would happen. The image would be out of focus and useless. On Lumia 920’s camera, it is a different story altogether. Lumia 920’s camera has something built into it known as OIS. It is a little piece of hardware that utilizes one of the phone’s sensors, the gyroscope.

A smartphone’s gyroscope is an MEMS (Micro Electro Mechanical System). This means, it is an electronic component with extremely tiny mechanical parts (moving parts). The gyroscope is an orientation element in the smartphone. This means, your smartphone feels the gravity and the angle in which you are holding it. It is also the technology behind display autorotation. Pretty smart, huh?

With the help of the gyroscope, the smartphone understands when you are shaking the camera during image capture. It just moves the lens to adjust focus. Take a look here, taken from HTC’s page on OIS.

Optical image stabilization

Another way to stabilize the image is by software, aka Digital Image Stabilization (DIS). The difference is pretty much similar to optical zoom vs. digital zoom. Digital image stabilization also uses the gyroscope, but instead of moving the lens, it adjusts the data processed by the pixel array of the sensor to get a more focused image.

UltraPixel Technology

UltraPixel technology has been put forward by HTC through its HTC One smartphone. The technology is in many ways similar to Nokia’s PureView.

HTC One smartphone’s camera has a resolution of only about 4 megapixels. But these pixels are much larger than the regular pixels found in other smartphones. While iPhone 5’s pixels are 1.4 microns in size, HTC One’s pixels are as large as 2 microns. HTC calls them UltraPixels. These UltraPixels are capable of bringing in more light through each pixel, so that the picture is much better in low light conditions.

In PureView, the data from a number of pixels are used to form a ‘super’ pixel that improves low light photography, while in UltraPixel technology HTC has made pixels themselves large enough. In essence, both these technologies should have almost the same end result.

Apple iPhone Camera

There was a recent news story in Business Insider about ARGUS (Autonomous Real-Time Ground Ubiquitous Surveillance Imaging System), which is a surveillance camera that can be attached to drones like the Predator and the Global Hawk. 

Global Hawk drone

The interesting thing about this camera is that it uses the tiniest cameras possible, such as those inside iPhone 4S, shown here. 

tiny iphone camera

With many of these tiny cameras, ARGUS can achieve a whopping 1800 megapixel resolution in its images. That is an interesting story of how many small things can constitute one huge thing.

Apple iPhone 5’s camera has been touted far and wide as one of the best out there. Recent camera tests show it performing brilliantly in all kinds of lighting conditions. Apple calls its camera iSight, and it is almost as great as Nokia Lumia 920’s camera. 

Apple has standing contract with Sony, which manufactures iPhone 5’s camera sensor. This was revealed in a teardown done by Chipworks.

iPhone 5 uses a faster shutter speed, up to 40 percent faster than iPhone 4S, and this has improved the quality of its images a lot. To protect the camera lens, Apple uses sapphire crystal, an extremely hard material that is highly scratch-resistant. iFixit did a teardown of the iPhone 5 and they found the camera to be well protected and clear.

BlackBerry Z10’s Camera

The recently released BlackBerry Z10 smartphone, marking sort of a rebirth for BlackBerry, uses a camera technology known as Time Shift.

This is a simple method in which the camera captures a short video instead of an image, and then it allows you to edit a face within that to get the best shot possible. This video explains it better:

Sony’s Exmor RS

Sony’s flagship smartphone, Xperia Z utilizes a technology known as Exmor RS. In August, last year, Sony announced this new sensor technology, in which CMOS sensors are placed in a stacked structure.

Exmor RS sensor in Sony cameras

This particular technology is supposed to give supreme image quality in low light situations, and the camera module takes less space as compared to other smartphones since the sensor is much smaller.


As you can see, there are quite a number of camera technologies in the world today. Small cameras were big a few years ago. Even the Mars Rover Curiosity uses a 2 MP camera due to a number of reasons you can read here. But now is the time of high resolution cameras with great technologies. Going forward, you may get to see more and more technologies in smartphone photography.

[Image: Gizmodo, Akihabaranews, ePhotozine, GSMArena, Engadget, Strikefighterconsultinginc]