For a long time, the iPhone was the indisputable king of mobile photography. Even those of us who used Android phones were doing it for other reasons, but you don’t have to make that sort of trade-off anymore. There are plenty of Android phones with a good camera, and even some with amazing cameras. Don’t tell that to former Google SVP Vic Gundotra, who opined on his Facebook page recently that Android phones are bad for photography.
Considering who he is, this claim is getting some coverage. You might think Gundotra would know the topic well enough to make his point ably, but his rationale doesn’t make any sense. Let’s break it down.
Gundotra joined Google in 2007 after many years at Microsoft. He started by pushing Google to get more serious about mobile apps, then went on to run the company’s social efforts in 2010. So, any insights he has on Google’s mobile technology are about seven years out of date.
The Facebook post started innocently enough, with Gundotra praising the iPhone 7 Plus photo quality and noting that he doesn’t use his DSLR anymore. That’s an experience many people have had in the last couple years as they stopped carrying around separate cameras. However, someone in the comments said the Galaxy S8 is even better in his opinion. Gundotra disagreed, blaming Android for an imagined problem, and this is where things go off the rails.
Gundotra swore he “would never use an Android phone for photos,” complaining that Android is open source. Therefore, according to Gundotra, all the hardware innovations implemented by Samsung in its camera have to be “surfaced” via the appropriate API on Google’s end, and that can take years. Except, that’s in no way accurate. Samsung manages its own camera app and image processing algorithms (like all OEMs). It doesn’t have to wait on anyone else to implement APIs to make its camera work properly.
The comment also lamented the confusing array of photo options. “Should I use the Samsung Camera? Or the Android Camera?” Gundotra asked. There is, of course, no such thing as the “Android Camera,” and the Galaxy S8 only ships with a single camera app. He made a similar claim about the Samsung gallery versus Google Photos, which could be a valid concern in some ways. However, that’s irrelevant to image quality.
Gundotra also made the rather astonishing claim that Google has dropped the ball on computational photography. We’ve covered a few examples of the wild things Google is doing in this field, and anyone who has used a Pixel can tell you computational photography is alive and well. The HDR+ image processing on that phone is magical.
Shaky reasoning aside, Gundotra is demonstrably wrong about the quality of Android phone cameras. Sites like DxO and Consumer Reports list multiple Android phones as the same or better for photos compared with the iPhone 7. Likewise, phone reviewers like myself have been increasingly impressed with these devices. Whether or not you agree on all counts, Android phones are certainly not “years behind” the iPhone as Gundotra claims.
It seems like Vic Gundotra still thinks he’s an authority on mobile technology, but in reality, his knowledge is several years out of date. You can take great photos on Android — full stop.
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