We're increasingly using our phones to take photos more than any other single function, and 2018 saw some big increases in the quality and flexibility of smartphone photography. But it was the Huawei Mate 20 Pro that, with its incredible resolution and sharpness, along with its flexibility, that took the crown this year.
The Best Android Phone Camera
Wide, telephoto, and everything in between.
On specs alone, the Mate 20 Pro would be a great camera, but Huawei has added a bunch of AI-based special sauce that gives everything from food to flower to low-light shots an edge over the competition. The Mate 20 Pro revels in its multi-faceted approach to photography; this thing can do everything. Not only is its primary sensor a whopping 40 megapixels, but there are wide-angle and telephoto options to fall back on should you need a unique shot. Plus great portraits and a robust Pro mode, the Mate 20 Pro can do it all.
Why we picked the Mate 20 Pro as the Best Android Camera Phone of 2018
Huawei's Mate 20 Pro approaches smartphone photography from every conceivable angle: you can take it out of your pocket and take great shots in Auto mode, sure, but with a bit of time and experimentation you can do so much more, too. With three rear cameras of varying focal lengths, plus a wealth of AI-enhanced features from an excellent Night Mode to capable portraits, the Mate 20 Pro is the utility knife that always stays sharp.
The Chinese company has been working for years to achieve this success, and it's finally paying off in the Mate 20 Pro. You could see glimpses of it with the P20 Pro, which introduced many of the features you see here, but the Mate 20 Pro substitutes that phone's monochrome sensor for a wide-angle one, allowing shots from 0.6x all the way to 5x with no appreciable photo degradation. To put that in perspective, it's like having a point-and-shoot camera with a lens that goes from 18mm to 70mm — except that there are no moving parts and they all work in tandem with the phone's Kirin processor to make everything seamless.
Huawei's achievement here can't be overstated: the phone delivers outstanding photos in almost every condition. It picks up gobs of light when the sun goes down; it takes portrait photos with great edge detection; and its wide-angle photos convey the scope of a landscape scene better while maintaining fantastic dynamic range. Even its Master AI mode, which was overbearing on the P20 Pro, has been toned down, so instead of oversaturating grass and over-contrasting food, it adds just enough of the right qualities to make them better.
While it's hard to find the Mate 20 Pro in the U.S., it's a phone that can and should be appreciated, and will serve as notice to other companies to step up their photography game.
A tried and true camera system from Samsung.
There's a reason the Galaxy Note 9 is our Best Phone of 2018, and its excellent camera is one of them. It doesn't offer the insanely good low light shots as the Pixel 3 or the variety of shooting options as the Mate 20 Pro, but it's the fastest camera we've ever used, and one of the most reliable, too. Its portrait mode needs some work, but you can take for granted that you'll get a good shot from almost any situation.
The easy choice
The easiest way to take the best photos, again and again.
There's simply no way to overlook Google's achievement in computational photography with the Pixel 3, from Top Shot to Night Sight to taking a top-notch photo at night, Google's 2018 flagship can do no wrong — on the front and back.
This year was a great one for smartphone photography. You can buy a $230 Moto G6 and take awesome photos, and almost every company stepped up its game in terms of overall speed, quality, and reliability. As it did with the original Pixel and its sequel, the Pixel 2, Google hasn't so much as reinvented mobile photography as stripped away the excess to show its bare essentials. Google's camera app doesn't have the features of its Huawei or Samsung counterparts, but when you're using a Pixel 3 you can take for granted that any photo taken in auto mode is pretty much the best version possible from a smartphone.
Our phone of the year, the Note 9, is on this list not necessarily for its photo quality, which is very good, but its speed and reliability. The Note 9 works. Every. Time. Double-tap the power button and you have a usable viewfinder in half a second. Tap the shutter and the photo saves instantly. Hold it down and not a frame is dropped. Samsung's cameras are well-oiled machines.
At the same time, Huawei did a lot with a lot. It stuffed the largest possible mobile camera sensor into its phone, gave it two companion lenses at different focal lengths, and used an abundance of AI and machine learning to eke as much detail as possible from every photo. The Mate 20 Pro may be too much of a good thing for some people, but it's also the best option for anyone who wants an incredibly powerful and versatile photography and videography experience.
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