Can Google’s version of the “ultrapixel” in the Nexus camera succeed where HTC’s failed?

Google introduced its two new Nexus phones by Hauwei and LG. These phones have all the fun that you’d expect – Android Marshmallow, beefy specs, fingerprint sensor, and all the trimmings. One thing Google introduced which has largely gone undiscussed thus far is the camera on the back of the Nexus 5X and 6P. Specifically what I’m referring to is Google’s introduction of ultrapixels.


I know, I know. “Ultrapixels” are HTC’s version of larger pixels. There are differences between the two as well – most notably number and size. But essentially, the concept is the same – bigger pixels capture more light so you get better photos, and you become rich and powerful and are the envy of all of your neighbors. OK, well maybe not that last stuff, but Google says these new 1.55μm pixels are the bee’s knees so we all best get with the buzz.

So the basic premise of the pixels behind the camera lens is the same as what HTC tried and abandoned in the HTC One M7 and M8. So, can Google make these things work when HTC couldn’t? On the face of it, Google is basically selling the same concept – bigger pixels, but less megapixels than the competition. Sixteen to twenty megapixel sensors have become the norm, and 12.3 is less than twenty last time I checked – full disclosure, I wasn’t taught using common core, so I may be off on this.

But dem low lights

Google, like HTC is claiming that these phones will perform great in low light. So far, Google’s spiel is sounding a lot like HTC’s actually. These larger pixels will suck in so much light you’ll think your photos were taken in a brightly lit meadow, instead of the dark nightclub you actually took them in. Again, HTC made these same claims, and for the most part we found these claims to be…put politely…absurd.

So Google is trying to sell us the same kool-aid with what amounts to the same sales pitch. You know what the definition of insanity is? Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Google has followed in HTC’s footsteps, putting forth what, by the numbers, seems to be an inferior camera but selling us on the promise of being amazing. But maybe Google does have a few things on its side.

nexus-6p-tight-trioNot as low as last time

First of all, the separation in numbers is not as great. Back then, we were looking at 4 ultrapixels on the One M8 versus sixteen megapixels on the Samsung Galaxy S5. By my math (still not common core) that’s four times the megapixels. Sure, megapixels aren’t everything, but they were hard to overlook 18 months ago. These days, we’re looking at 12.3 versus the same sixteen megapixels. So that’s a good number bump for the ultrpixel camp compared to no bump for the traditional megapixel. Again though, numbers aren’t everything. The separation between the Galaxy S5 camera quality and that of the Galaxy S6 say a lot about that. But now that Google’s packing more pixels, perhaps the general public will be more forgiving.

Let’s also be a little frank here – the cameras on pretty much every Nexus device have been substandard. Not awful, to be sure, but not great either. Google has set a pretty low quality bar in that respect. I’m not sure the camera is going to be the center of appeal when it comes to these devices. It never really has been. But Google is not trying to set any sales records with these devices either. Unlike HTC, which has needed high quality devices for some time, but has simply failed to deliver.

Does it matter?

So what do you think? There’s really two questions in this very-late edition of the Weekend Debate. Will Google be able to sell the “ultrapixel” better than HTC? Does it have to? Will Google’s new Nexus devices live or die by the camera or will the other hardware and fast software updates do the job for Google? These are two really attractive devices even without the camera, but in this editor’s opinion, all smartphones are judged by the photos they take, especially when they are announced alongside a photo storage and sharing cloud service. So let’s hear it in the comments. How are you feeling about this camera? Will it perform up to competitors’ standards? Does it matter? Sound off below and let’s see if we can figure this out.

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About The Author
Adam Doud
Adam joined the tech world after watching Jon Rubenstein demo the most epic phone ever at CES 2009. He is webOS enthusiast, Windows Phone fan, and Android skeptic. He loves the outdoors, is an avid Geocacher, Cubs/Blackhawks fan, and family man living in Sweet Home Chicago, where he STILL hosts monthly webOS meetups (Don’t call it a comeback!). He can be found tweeting all things tech as @DeadTechnology, or chi-town sports at @oneminutecubs. Read more about Adam Doud!