- Antonio Villas-Boas/Business Insider
It might seem unfair to pit the recently launched Essential Phone against a smartphone behemoth like Samsung, which for two years running has won accolades for the best camera in a smartphone, even surpassing the last two iPhone cameras.
And yet the Essential Phone is a $700 Android device with top-of-the-line specs, which means it’s priced and designed to compete with the Galaxy S8. So, after tossing its hat into the ring, the Essential Phone must be tested against even the battle-hardened veteran.
I was genuinely and pleasantly surprised by the Essential Phone’s camera performance. Startups don’t tend to produce good smartphone cameras on the first try, as seen with the first few OnePlus phones. But it seems like Essential has already found its footing with its first-ever device.
Check out how the Essential Phone fares against the undisputed champion of the smartphone cameras, the Samsung Galaxy S8:
First up, a shot of NYC’s Flatiron Building in full sunlight.
The colors in the Essential Phone’s photo are more accurate, which reflect the Flatiron Building’s true colors compared to the seemingly white-washed effect on the Galaxy S8.
Here’s the other side of the Flatiron Building in the shade, with the sun shining directly behind it.
The Galaxy S8 did better here, as it helped brighten up the shady face of the Flatiron Building more than the Essential Phone. It also made the windows pop a little more compared to the duller windows in the Essential Phone’s photo.
Here’s a mix of sunlight and shade.
The Galaxy S8 came out on top again. The Essential Phone actually does better justice to the contrast between the shady and sunlit areas, which makes for a more dynamic and interesting photo. Yet, the sky in the Essential Phone photo is completely overblown and white, whereas the Galaxy S8 managed to retain the sky’s blue color.
Zoomed out, it appears as if both phones performed nearly identically capturing multiple points of focus represented by the leaves and flowers.
But once you zoom 100 percent into each photo, it’s easy to see that the lighting and detail in Galaxy S8’s photo is less harsh, which makes for a more pleasant photo.
Now for a scenery shot with the Empire State Building.
- Antonio Villas-Boas/Business Insider
The Galaxy S8’s photo is more dynamic with its higher contrast, and it looks better for it. For example, the Empire State Building’s windows contrast nicely against its concrete. The building on the right also has more depth and contrast, which makes for a more interesting photo. The Essential Phone’s photo is good, but the contrast is flatter and less appealing.
In this close up, the Essential Phone takes a sharper photo, but it doesn’t look as good as the Galaxy S8’s.
If I were to pick one of these photos to show to a friend, I’d pick the Galaxy S8’s. It doesn’t look quite as sharp as the Essential Phone’s photo, but the colors and background look better overall.
With that said, the Essential Phone’s photo is more accurate with color, and you could easily enhance it with an editing app should you want to, all while taking advantage of its sharper image. However, the background in the Essential Phone’s photo looks pixelated, and the Galaxy S8 offers better bokeh – where the subject is in focus against a blurred-out background.
In a situation with indoor lighting, the Essential Phone’s camera really shined through. It produced gorgeous deep colors on the peppers whereas they appear washed out on the Galaxy S8’s photo.
Yet, the Essential Phone performed terribly in an indoor environment with low lighting. The apples look positively blurry compared to the Galaxy S8’s photo.
And there’s no contest here. The Galaxy S8 continues to dominate in low-light situations.
And lastly, a photo that truly tests the Essential Phone’s dual-lens color and monochrome (black and white) lenses. The Essential Phone won here.
For this photo, the Galaxy S8 automatically activated its HDR mode, which takes multiple photos at different exposures to capture detail in both lit and shaded areas. At first glance, it might seem like the Galaxy S8 took a better photo because the shaded area is brighter, thus revealing more detail. However, the sunlit areas in the column with the “162” number are overblown and void of detail compared to the Essential Phone’s photo. The Essential Phone wins here.
The winner is the Galaxy S8, but the Essential Phone’s camera puts up a surprisingly good fight, especially for a brand new startup and its first-ever smartphone.
Essential already far exceeded my expectations for its first-ever smartphone. I wouldn’t be surprised if future Essential phones narrow the performance gaps or even surpass the Galaxy S phone cameras, assuming that Samsung doesn’t make drastic camera improvements in its future Galaxy S devices.
I also found that the Essential Phone has far fewer camera options than the Galaxy S8, which could be good for the sake of simplicity, but anyone who likes to take a lot of photos on their smartphones may be looking for more granular options. The Essential Phone also took much longer to focus and save photos than the Galaxy S8, but that’s something that the company can hopefully amend with future software updates. As of now, with the Essential Phone’s current software, I’d take the Galaxy S8 if I were going on vacation, or if I plan on taking lots of photos.