The best selfie phone: Galaxy S6 vs LG G4 vs iPhone 6 vs One M9 vs Xperia Z3 vs Note 4 vs Nexus 6
posted by Chris P.
Jun 24, 2015, 7:47 AM
Ah, the venerable Selfie! So popular is its usage today that it's easy to forget that the word would have meant nothing to people even 10 years back. And yet, as if of nowhere, everyone is now in on the new trend. Sure, you may not be into this whole selfie thing, but the facts are that more people than you probably realize are very much part of the social phenomenon. One survey for example, commissioned by Samsung, found that over a third of photos taken by Britons aged 18–24 were selfies. According to the study, Brits take almost 2 billion photos a month, so that means some 700 million selfies coming out every 30 days, from just that one country.
Selfie — the Oxford English Dictionary Word of the Year 2013.
But while selfies initially started out as such, they're no longer the exclusive domain of the younger demographic. President Obama takes selfies. Ellen DeGeneres took one with a number of A-list actors after the Oscars in 2014. Heck, even Pope Francis popped the papacy's cherry with a selfie taken with fans. And, as much as you wouldn't want to believe it, with each passing day the chance of you spotting a selfie inside one of your parent's camera roll increases. The selfie is now ubiquitous. No surprise Time magazine put selfie on its list of buzzwords at the end of 2012, and even the people behind the Oxford English Dictionary felt compelledto both add it to its glossary and crown it as the Word of the Year 2013.
And what lies at the heart of this selfie frenzy? Smartphones, of course. Our turf.
For the third consecutive year, we'll be taking a look at what the best-of-the-best in the industry have deemed sufficient to meet this new demand for quality selfies. Back in November, when we last examined the landscape, we noted that manufacturers were making steady progress in this area, and were paying more attention than ever before to this little part of the puzzle. This continues to be the case today, with better and better camera stacks being used in the slot up front. Here's an overview of the hardware on board our contestants today:
Like before, we'll be taking a closer look at the quality of these snappers by dissecting selfies and judging imperatives such as proper exposition, color reproduction, fine detail, and even low light performance, within various scenarios. In contrast to our traditional rear camera comparisons, however, flattering portraits, even if at the expense of some color fidelity, will be scored higher. It's a selfie, after all.
Field of View
Only two phones on our list support selfie panoramas, and both are from Samsung's camp — the Galaxy S6 and Galaxy Note 4. As you can imagine, this will limit your ability to snap wide-angled enough images that would, if need be, allow for the inclusion of more people into the shot. That's why a selfie camera with a larger field of view (FoV) can be seen as advantageous.
Each rectangle represents a given device's relative field of view, all things being equal. The areas have been approximated and are not 100% representative.
Like last year, we thought we'd run some tests to determine which of our contestants' front snappers captured the most of any scene. Just two phones on our list shoot in a 4:3 aspect ratio — the Galaxy S6 and the iPhone 6 — while the rest do 16:9. As you're about to see, aspect ratio by itself doesn't mean a larger FoV, as though the Galaxy S6 grabs the title, it is followed by a whole bunch of 16:9 cams. The selfie camera you can expect to capture the least of the scene in front of it is the Nexus 6's. And that's just one of its problems, as you're about to see.
As is the case with any camera, when light is abundant, everything is A-Okay — even when talking as tiny sensors as the ones embedded into the front of smartphones. Not everything is peachy, though, and most of the phones on the list exhibit some idiosyncratic, if relatively consistent, behavior.
Starting with the Galaxy S6, we observe that despite the rich-in-detail and fairly dynamic selfies it produces, they're nevertheless quite soft, and skin textures look as if airbrushed, even with Beauty mode turned off. As for the One M9, which finished on top in this category, we've got to hand it to HTC — selfies are looking great, and for a few reasons. First and foremost, the camera algorithms don't seem to shy away from touching up photos, and in somewhat imperceptible ways. Images are quite dynamic, skin tones are flattering, and we just can't take our eyes off the subject, courtesy of the slight bokeh effect that only the M9's camera produces. Thanks to it, you are at the center of the composition, and that's a big win for a selfie camera.
Despite having the least impressive-sounding front camera, the Apple's iPhone 6 again proves that numbers don't always matter. Its selfies aren't perfect — they're very warm, for example — but the stills are dynamic and quite attractive on the whole. At times, however, said warmness can be a tad too much (slide #4 below).
On the other end of the spectrum, we have the Nexus 6 and Xperia Z3, both of which proved markedly inferior to their counterparts. With the former, we're mostly talking about a combination of poor dynamics, dull color reproduction, and unpleasantly contrast-y photos. Sony's Z3 is even worse, however, for its selfies come out with very significant purple fringing throughout, as observed in all samples, along with mushy detail and washed out colors.
All is well when light is abundant, unless you've got a Nexus 6 or an Xperia Z3 in your pocket, but what about more challenging conditions? It was time to head out once again, but only after the sun had set.
Low light scenarios are notoriously hard on smartphone cameras, even when talking about the main unit. Considering that we're looking at much less sophisticated selfie snappers, you should obviously be ready for disappointment in environments that don't feature at least some ambient lightning. Regardless, it's still true that nighttime is also when many of us happen to be most likely to want to take a self portrait or two.
This being a completely different category, we quickly realized that the previous split in rankings would be disturbed. Your first clue is the LG G4, with its 8-megapixel cam, which ended at the top this time around. That's not a fluke, though — the G4 is darn good at handling light sources, all the while fine detail is preserved and color reproduction doesn't go bonkers. Sure, some shots come out relatively noisy and the background sometimes looks as if oil painted, but we still like what we see overall. But how come? Well, the G4 has a secret weapon — a pseudo "flash", which is simply the screen going pink-white whilst brightness is pumped to the max. The feature definitely paid off.
Trailing LG's flagship is Samsung's own — the Galaxy S6 ranked second. Now, this one will come down to taste, though we've got to just say it — yes, objectively speaking, the S6 deserves its spot, but we can't get over the porcelain-like skin textures that sometimes come out of its camera roll. This aside, the S6 does great overall. The trio up next — One M9, iPhone 6, Note 4 — also performs admirably, but not quite up to the standard set by the G4 and S6.
Last (again) on the list are the Nexus 6 and the Xperia Z3. It goes without saying that the results their front cams produced were underwhelming, and were often plagued by smeared details (slide #8), blurriness, and severe color aberrations (slide #14).
After going through and dissecting more selfies than we'd care to admit, we were ready to draw some conclusions. First and foremost, we have to commend most of the smartphone makers on our list on their continuing efforts to improve the snapper up front — it probably isn't the first thing the majority of consumers look for, but it's proving to be a viable differentiating factor in a sea of sameness.
Companies like Samsung, HTC, and LG seem to agree with the above assessment, and actually did something about it. The results, as you can see, were quick to follow — the Galaxy S6 proved to be the most reliable, all-around shooter, followed by the One M9 (awesome bokeh!) and the G4 (great low light performance).
Interestingly enough, the Galaxy Note 4 ended behind the iPhone 6 this time around, despite proving superior last year. While rare, that's not untypical — different compositions often fetch stills of varying quality, especially with relatively inconsistent cameras as it the case here.
Not all manufacturers went to the trouble of refining the selfie camera on their flagships, however. Sony and Google (Motorola) come to mind here, and we can't say we're surprised at this point — the snappers on the flagships of these two never were any good. We don't know anything about the next Nexus yet, but we're at least relieved to see a higher resolution (and hopefully quality) selfie snapper on the brand new Xperia Z3+/Z4v.
This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. You can order presentation-ready copies for distribution to your colleagues, clients or customers at https://www.parsintl.com/phonearena or use the Reprints & Permissions tool that appears at the bottom of each web page. Visit https://www.parsintl.com/ for samples and additional information.