Apple brings eye-tracking to recent iPhones and iPads

Ahead of Global Accessibility Awareness Day this week, Apple is issuing its typical annual set of announcements around its assistive features. Many of these are useful for people with disabilities, but also have broader applications as well. For instance, Personal Voice, which was released last year, helps preserve someone's speaking voice. It can be helpful to those who are at risk of losing their voice or have other reasons for wanting to retain their own vocal signature for loved ones in their absence. Today, Apple is bringing eye-tracking support to recent models of iPhones and iPads, as well as customizable vocal shortcuts, music haptics, vehicle motion cues and more. 

The most intriguing feature of the set is the ability to use the front-facing camera on iPhones or iPads (at least those with the A12 chip or later) to navigate the software without additional hardware or accessories. With this enabled, people can look at their screen to move through elements like apps and menus, then linger on an item to select it. 

That pause to select is something Apple calls Dwell Control, which has already been available elsewhere in the company's ecosystem like in Mac's accessibility settings. The setup and calibration process should only take a few seconds, and on-device AI is at work to understand your gaze. It'll also work with third-party apps from launch, since it's a layer in the OS like Assistive Touch. Since Apple already supported eye-tracking in iOS and iPadOS with eye-detection devices connected, the news today is the ability to do so without extra hardware.

Apple is also working on improving the accessibility of its voice-based controls on iPhones and iPads. It again uses on-device AI to create personalized models for each person setting up a new vocal shortcut. You can set up a command for a single word or phrase, or even an utterance (like "Oy!" perhaps). Siri will understand these and perform your designated shortcut or task. You can have these launch apps or run a series of actions that you define in the Shortcuts app, and once set up, you won't have to first ask Siri to be ready. 

Another improvement coming to vocal interactions is "Listen for Atypical Speech," which has iPhones and iPads use on-device machine learning to recognize speech patterns and customize their voice recognition around your unique way of vocalizing. This sounds similar to Google's Project Relate, which is also designed to help technology better understand those with speech impairments or atypical speech.

To build these tools, Apple worked with the Speech Accessibility Project at the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. The institute is also collaborating with other tech giants like Google and Amazon to further development in this space across their products.

For those who are deaf or hard of hearing, Apple is bringing haptics to music players on iPhone, starting with millions of songs on its own Music app. When enabled, music haptics will play taps, textures and specialized vibrations in tandem with the audio to bring a new layer of sensation. It'll be available as an API so developers can bring greater accessibility to their apps, too. 

Drivers with disabilities need better systems in their cars, and Apple is addressing some of the issues with its updates to CarPlay. Voice control and color filters are coming to the interface for vehicles, making it easier to control apps by talking and for those with visual impairments to see menus or alerts. To that end, CarPlay is also getting bold and large text support, as well as sound recognition for noises like sirens or honks. When the system identifies such a sound, it will display an alert at the bottom of the screen to let you know what it heard. This works similarly to Apple's existing sound recognition feature in other devices like the iPhone.

A graphic demonstrating Vehicle Motion Cues on an iPhone. On the left is a drawing of a car with two arrows on either side of its rear. The word
Apple

For those who get motion sickness while using their iPhones or iPads in moving vehicles, a new feature called Vehicle Motion Cues might alleviate some of that discomfort. Since motion sickness is based on a sensory conflict from looking at stationary content while being in a moving vehicle, the new feature is meant to better align the conflicting senses through onscreen dots. When enabled, these dots will line the four edges of your screen and sway in response to the motion it detects. If the car moves forward or accelerates, the dots will sway backwards as if in reaction to the increase in speed in that direction.

There are plenty more features coming to the company's suite of products, including Live Captions in VisionOS, a new Reader mode in Magnifier, support for multi-line braille and a virtual trackpad for those who use Assistive Touch. It's not yet clear when all of these announced updates will roll out, though Apple has historically made these features available in upcoming versions of iOS. With its developer conference WWDC just a few weeks away, it's likely many of today's tools get officially released with the next iOS.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/apple-brings-eye-tracking-to-recent-iphones-and-ipads-140012990.html?src=rss

Apple brings eye-tracking to recent iPhones and iPads

Ahead of Global Accessibility Awareness Day this week, Apple is issuing its typical annual set of announcements around its assistive features. Many of these are useful for people with disabilities, but also have broader applications as well. For instance, Personal Voice, which was released last year, helps preserve someone's speaking voice. It can be helpful to those who are at risk of losing their voice or have other reasons for wanting to retain their own vocal signature for loved ones in their absence. Today, Apple is bringing eye-tracking support to recent models of iPhones and iPads, as well as customizable vocal shortcuts, music haptics, vehicle motion cues and more. 

The most intriguing feature of the set is the ability to use the front-facing camera on iPhones or iPads (at least those with the A12 chip or later) to navigate the software without additional hardware or accessories. With this enabled, people can look at their screen to move through elements like apps and menus, then linger on an item to select it. 

That pause to select is something Apple calls Dwell Control, which has already been available elsewhere in the company's ecosystem like in Mac's accessibility settings. The setup and calibration process should only take a few seconds, and on-device AI is at work to understand your gaze. It'll also work with third-party apps from launch, since it's a layer in the OS like Assistive Touch. Since Apple already supported eye-tracking in iOS and iPadOS with eye-detection devices connected, the news today is the ability to do so without extra hardware.

Apple is also working on improving the accessibility of its voice-based controls on iPhones and iPads. It again uses on-device AI to create personalized models for each person setting up a new vocal shortcut. You can set up a command for a single word or phrase, or even an utterance (like "Oy!" perhaps). Siri will understand these and perform your designated shortcut or task. You can have these launch apps or run a series of actions that you define in the Shortcuts app, and once set up, you won't have to first ask Siri to be ready. 

Another improvement coming to vocal interactions is "Listen for Atypical Speech," which has iPhones and iPads use on-device machine learning to recognize speech patterns and customize their voice recognition around your unique way of vocalizing. This sounds similar to Google's Project Relate, which is also designed to help technology better understand those with speech impairments or atypical speech.

To build these tools, Apple worked with the Speech Accessibility Project at the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. The institute is also collaborating with other tech giants like Google and Amazon to further development in this space across their products.

For those who are deaf or hard of hearing, Apple is bringing haptics to music players on iPhone, starting with millions of songs on its own Music app. When enabled, music haptics will play taps, textures and specialized vibrations in tandem with the audio to bring a new layer of sensation. It'll be available as an API so developers can bring greater accessibility to their apps, too. 

Drivers with disabilities need better systems in their cars, and Apple is addressing some of the issues with its updates to CarPlay. Voice control and color filters are coming to the interface for vehicles, making it easier to control apps by talking and for those with visual impairments to see menus or alerts. To that end, CarPlay is also getting bold and large text support, as well as sound recognition for noises like sirens or honks. When the system identifies such a sound, it will display an alert at the bottom of the screen to let you know what it heard. This works similarly to Apple's existing sound recognition feature in other devices like the iPhone.

A graphic demonstrating Vehicle Motion Cues on an iPhone. On the left is a drawing of a car with two arrows on either side of its rear. The word
Apple

For those who get motion sickness while using their iPhones or iPads in moving vehicles, a new feature called Vehicle Motion Cues might alleviate some of that discomfort. Since motion sickness is based on a sensory conflict from looking at stationary content while being in a moving vehicle, the new feature is meant to better align the conflicting senses through onscreen dots. When enabled, these dots will line the four edges of your screen and sway in response to the motion it detects. If the car moves forward or accelerates, the dots will sway backwards as if in reaction to the increase in speed in that direction.

There are plenty more features coming to the company's suite of products, including Live Captions in VisionOS, a new Reader mode in Magnifier, support for multi-line braille and a virtual trackpad for those who use Assistive Touch. It's not yet clear when all of these announced updates will roll out, though Apple has historically made these features available in upcoming versions of iOS. With its developer conference WWDC just a few weeks away, it's likely many of today's tools get officially released with the next iOS.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/apple-brings-eye-tracking-to-recent-iphones-and-ipads-140012990.html?src=rss

Meta encourages you to disregard your seat mates and use VR headsets on a plane

Your experience while taking a flight comes down to many random factors, including who sits next to you. Your seatmate has plenty of ways to bother you — you've lived them, we don't need to remind you how — but now there's a whole new option. Meta has announced a new feature called Travel Mode for its Quest 2 and 3 headsets that lets people use the devices while on a plane.

Meta claims it has "specially tuned" its algorithms, so the experience remains stable, even if you direct it out the window. Users can try Travel Mode out for themselves by visiting the experimental features section in settings. They can quickly turn the feature on and off in quick settings and should also get a prompt to activate it while flying on some airlines — though Meta doesn't specify which ones.

In general, if someone is traveling on a flight with Wi-Fi, then they can access entertainment like movies, games, and messages, but, as Meta's photo indicates, it definitely could go into the next person's space (or at least mean their seatmate is flailing their arms all around. However, Meta is also partnering with Lufthansa to offer Quest 3 headsets with custom content and entertainment on select flights' Business Class Suites. As usual, getting any dedicated space on a plane costs a lot of money. 

Interestingly, Meta decided to introduce Travel Mode on planes and not something more stable (read: moving on the ground), but it plans to expand the feature to trains and other modes of transportation.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/meta-encourages-you-to-disregard-your-seat-mates-and-use-vr-headsets-on-a-plane-141942620.html?src=rss

Two of our top Anker power banks are back on sale at all-time low prices

Some of the best and brightest Anker power banks are on sale via Amazon and directly from the company. These deals include the 20,000mAh Prime portable charge, which is down to $90 from its usual price of $130. That’s a discount of 31 percent and matches a previous record low.

Anker products are all over our list of the best power banks, and we named the Prime charger as the best ultra-premium product on the market. Unfortunately, ultra-premium also means ultra-expensive, though $90 is a whole lot better than $130.

We admired the slick aesthetics, as power banks don’t tend to turn heads. The case is a textured metallic plastic with a nice polish. There’s a built-in screen and rounded corners, all of which work to give this bank a luxe feel. The screen is useful, displaying the remaining charge within the battery and the watts flowing out to each device. The charge times and capacity were in line with other 20K batteries we tested.

It’s easy to use, which is made even easier if people pony up for the companion base. This base includes magnets to align the pins, so users can just plop the battery down and move on to something else. The base does offer additional ports, one USB-A and two USB-C, which turns the whole package into a fairly decent power hub. However, the base costs $70 and isn’t currently on sale.

We did notice that the Prime charger can be sluggish to wake, which isn’t a huge deal. The power bank’s sleek and shiny finish also tends to pick up fingerprints. There’s a faux-suede pouch to carry it in, which is a nice touch.

The Anker Nano Battery is also on sale for $16 with an on-page coupon, which is $14 off the device's list price. This cute little thing boasts a foldable USB-C connector, so as to better integrate with smartphones. It also made our list of the best power banks and we heartily recommend it for anyone looking for a quick partial charge of an Android device.

Follow @EngadgetDeals on Twitter and subscribe to the Engadget Deals newsletter for the latest tech deals and buying advice.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/two-of-our-top-anker-power-banks-are-back-on-sale-at-all-time-low-prices-185125271.html?src=rss

The Apple Watch Series 9 is back on sale for $299

If you've been planning on buying an Apple Watch Series 9, today looks like a decent time to take the plunge. The smartwatch is currently on sale for $299 at multiple retailers, including Amazon, Best Buy, Target and Walmart. That's not quite the lowest price we've seen — a couple colorways briefly fell to $269 earlier this month, for instance — but steeper discounts have generally been uncommon. This deal takes about $30 off the watch's typical street price on Amazon, and it's $100 less than buying from Apple directly. As of this writing, the offer applies to the 41mm non-cellular version of the watch in Midnight, Red, Silver or Starlight. It covers models with a rubber, S/M- or M/L-sized Sport Band or a nylon Sport Loop.

We gave the Apple Watch Series 9 a score of 92 in our review last September, and it's currently the top pick in our guide to the best smartwatches. It runs fast, it's water-resistant and it can still handle many tasks that'd normally require an iPhone, from checking iMessages to calling on Siri to using Apple Pay. Most of the essential health and fitness tracking features are still here as well, as are safety-related tools like fall detection and an emergency SOS function. Compared to the lower-cost Apple Watch SE, it has a slightly larger display that can stay always-on, which makes it less cumbersome for checking the time at a glance. 

New to this model is a handy Double Tap feature, which lets you respond to notifications without having to physically touch the device, and the ability to complete many Siri requests on-device, without having to always be online. It also has double the internal storage (64GB) as the Series 8, and its display's peak brightness rating (2,000 nits) is twice as high. 

That said, the usual caveats with any Apple Watch still apply. The whole thing will only work with iPhones. The battery will last most of a typical day but not much longer. There are better options for sleep tracking. Due to an ongoing patent dispute, Apple has also had to disable the watch's blood oxygen monitoring feature. In general, there's no huge need to make the switch if you own an Apple Watch today and are still happy with it. But if you're looking to upgrade today, this should be a nice value.

Follow @EngadgetDeals on Twitter and subscribe to the Engadget Deals newsletter for the latest tech deals and buying advice.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/the-apple-watch-series-9-is-back-on-sale-for-299-150928694.html?src=rss

The Apple Watch Series 9 is back on sale for $299

If you've been planning on buying an Apple Watch Series 9, today looks like a decent time to take the plunge. The smartwatch is currently on sale for $299 at multiple retailers, including Amazon, Best Buy, Target and Walmart. That's not quite the lowest price we've seen — a couple colorways briefly fell to $269 earlier this month, for instance — but steeper discounts have generally been uncommon. This deal takes about $30 off the watch's typical street price on Amazon, and it's $100 less than buying from Apple directly. As of this writing, the offer applies to the 41mm non-cellular version of the watch in Midnight, Red, Silver or Starlight. It covers models with a rubber, S/M- or M/L-sized Sport Band or a nylon Sport Loop.

We gave the Apple Watch Series 9 a score of 92 in our review last September, and it's currently the top pick in our guide to the best smartwatches. It runs fast, it's water-resistant and it can still handle many tasks that'd normally require an iPhone, from checking iMessages to calling on Siri to using Apple Pay. Most of the essential health and fitness tracking features are still here as well, as are safety-related tools like fall detection and an emergency SOS function. Compared to the lower-cost Apple Watch SE, it has a slightly larger display that can stay always-on, which makes it less cumbersome for checking the time at a glance. 

New to this model is a handy Double Tap feature, which lets you respond to notifications without having to physically touch the device, and the ability to complete many Siri requests on-device, without having to always be online. It also has double the internal storage (64GB) as the Series 8, and its display's peak brightness rating (2,000 nits) is twice as high. 

That said, the usual caveats with any Apple Watch still apply. The whole thing will only work with iPhones. The battery will last most of a typical day but not much longer. There are better options for sleep tracking. Due to an ongoing patent dispute, Apple has also had to disable the watch's blood oxygen monitoring feature. In general, there's no huge need to make the switch if you own an Apple Watch today and are still happy with it. But if you're looking to upgrade today, this should be a nice value.

Follow @EngadgetDeals on Twitter and subscribe to the Engadget Deals newsletter for the latest tech deals and buying advice.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/the-apple-watch-series-9-is-back-on-sale-for-299-150928694.html?src=rss

Disney+ is also cracking down on password sharing

Say goodbye to your best friend's neighbor's great aunt's Disney+ account. Disney CEO Bob Iger said in an interview with CNBC that the streamer is cracking down on password sharing worldwide this summer. The company enacted the same restrictions for Canadian subscribers last fall.

The move is hardly a surprise, as Disney's CFO Hugh Johnston shared the plan during an earnings call in February. "Paid sharing is an opportunity for us. It's one that our competitor is obviously taking advantage of, and one that sits in front of us. We've got some very specific actions that we're taking in the next couple of months." Disney-owned Hulu started its own crackdown on password sharing on March 14, and both streamers' terms of service explicitly ban people from using other customers' login information (Though its latest announcement indicates Disney is actually ready to enforce it). 

Streamers across the lineup are restricting password sharing, and it seems to be working — for them, not us. According to analytics firm Antenna, Netflix's United States signups increased by 102 percent during the first four days after the rule went into effect, compared to the 60 days prior. There were an average of 73,000 new signups daily, far outpacing cancelations. Max will also start restricting sharing this year, fully cracking down in 2025.  

Disney+ will start its clampdown in some countries come June, expanding to a second wave of countries in September. It's unclear as of now which group the US is in, but Disney will likely provide a breakdown when the dates get closer. Disney+ currently costs $8 monthly with ads and $14 monthly for ad-free viewing. 

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/disney-is-also-cracking-down-on-password-sharing-103010857.html?src=rss

Disney+ is also cracking down on password sharing

Say goodbye to your best friend's neighbor's great aunt's Disney+ account. Disney CEO Bob Iger said in an interview with CNBC that the streamer is cracking down on password sharing worldwide this summer. The company enacted the same restrictions for Canadian subscribers last fall.

The move is hardly a surprise, as Disney's CFO Hugh Johnston shared the plan during an earnings call in February. "Paid sharing is an opportunity for us. It's one that our competitor is obviously taking advantage of, and one that sits in front of us. We've got some very specific actions that we're taking in the next couple of months." Disney-owned Hulu started its own crackdown on password sharing on March 14, and both streamers' terms of service explicitly ban people from using other customers' login information (Though its latest announcement indicates Disney is actually ready to enforce it). 

Streamers across the lineup are restricting password sharing, and it seems to be working — for them, not us. According to analytics firm Antenna, Netflix's United States signups increased by 102 percent during the first four days after the rule went into effect, compared to the 60 days prior. There were an average of 73,000 new signups daily, far outpacing cancelations. Max will also start restricting sharing this year, fully cracking down in 2025.  

Disney+ will start its clampdown in some countries come June, expanding to a second wave of countries in September. It's unclear as of now which group the US is in, but Disney will likely provide a breakdown when the dates get closer. Disney+ currently costs $8 monthly with ads and $14 monthly for ad-free viewing. 

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/disney-is-also-cracking-down-on-password-sharing-103010857.html?src=rss

The best smartphone cameras for 2024: How to choose the phone with the best photography chops

I remember begging my parents to get me a phone with a camera when the earliest ones were launched. The idea of taking photos wherever I went was new and appealing, but it’s since become less of a novelty and more of a daily habit. Yes, I’m one of those. I take pictures of everything — from beautiful meals and funny signs to gorgeous landscapes and plumes of smoke billowing in the distance.

If you grew up in the Nokia 3310 era like me, then you know how far we’ve come. Gone are the 2-megapixel embarrassments that we used to post to Friendster with glee. Now, many of us use the cameras on our phones to not only capture precious memories of our adventures and loved ones, but also to share our lives with the world.

I’m lucky enough that I have access to multiple phones thanks to my job, and at times would carry a second device with me on a day-trip just because I preferred its cameras. But most people don’t have that luxury. Chances are, if you’re reading this, a phone’s cameras may be of utmost importance to you. But you’ll still want to make sure the device you end up getting doesn’t fall flat in other ways. At Engadget, we test and review dozens of smartphones every year; our top picks below represent not only the best phone cameras available right now, but also the most well-rounded options out there.

What to look for when choosing a phone for its cameras

Before scrutinizing a phone’s camera array, you’ll want to take stock of your needs — what are you using it for? If your needs are fairly simple, like taking photos and videos of your new baby or pet, most modern smartphones will serve you well. Those who plan to shoot for audiences on TikTok, Instagram or YouTube should look for video-optimizing features like stabilization and high frame rate support (for slow-motion clips).

Most smartphones today have at least two cameras on the rear and one up front. Those that cost more than $700 usually come with three, including wide-angle, telephoto or macro lenses. We’ve also reached a point where the number of megapixels (MP) doesn’t really matter anymore — most flagship phones from Apple, Samsung and Google have sensors that are either 48MP or 50MP. You’ll even come across some touting resolutions of 108MP or 200MP, in pro-level devices like the Galaxy S24 Ultra.

Most people won’t need anything that sharp, and in general, smartphone makers combine the pixels to deliver pictures that are the equivalent of 12MP anyway. The benefits of pixel-binning are fairly minor in phone cameras, though, and you’ll usually need to blow up an image to fit a 27-inch monitor before you’ll see the slightest improvements.

In fact, smartphone cameras tend to be so limited in size that there’s often little room for variation across devices. They typically use sensors from the same manufacturers and have similar aperture sizes, lens lengths and fields of view. So while it might be worth considering the impact of sensor size on things like DSLRs or mirrorless cameras, on a smartphone those differences are minimal.

Sensor size and field of view

If you still want a bit of guidance on what to look for, here are some quick tips: By and large, the bigger the sensor the better, as this will allow more light and data to be captured. Not many phone makers will list the sensor size in spec lists, so you’ll have to dig around for this info. A larger aperture (usually indicated by a smaller number with an “f/” preceding a digit) is ideal for the same reason, and it also affects the level of depth of field (or background blur) that’s not added via software. Since portrait modes are available on most phones these days, though, a big aperture isn’t as necessary to achieve this effect.

When looking for a specific field of view on a wide-angle camera, know that the most common offering from companies like Samsung and Google is about 120 degrees. Finally, most premium phones like the iPhone 15 Pro Max and Galaxy S24 Ultra offer telephoto systems that go up to 5x optical zoom with software taking that to 20x or even 100x.

Processing and extra features

These features will likely perform at a similar quality across the board, and where you really see a difference is in the processing. Samsung traditionally renders pictures that are more saturated, while Google’s Pixel phones take photos that are more neutral and evenly exposed. iPhones have historically produced pictures with color profiles that seem more accurate, though in comparison to images from the other two, they can come off yellowish. However, that was mostly resolved after Apple introduced a feature in the iPhone 13 called Photographic Styles that lets you set a profile with customizable contrast levels and color temperature that would apply to every picture taken via the native camera app.

Pro users who want to manually edit their shots should see if the phone they’re considering can take images in RAW format. Those who want to shoot a lot of videos while on the move should look for stabilization features and a decent frame rate. Most of the phones we’ve tested at Engadget record at either 60 frames per second at 1080p or 30 fps at 4K. It’s worth checking to see what the front camera shoots at, too, since they’re not usually on par with their counterparts on the rear.

Finally, while the phone’s native editor is usually not a dealbreaker (since you can install a third-party app for better controls), it’s worth noting that the latest flagships from Samsung and Google all offer AI tools that make manipulating an image a lot easier. They also offer a lot of fun, useful extras, like erasing photobombers, moving objects around or making sure everyone in the shot has their eyes open.

How we test smartphone cameras

For the last few years, I’ve reviewed flagships from Google, Samsung and Apple, and each time, I do the same set of tests. I’m especially particular when testing their cameras, and usually take all the phones I’m comparing out on a day or weekend photo-taking trip. Any time I see a photo- or video-worthy moment, I whip out all the devices and record what I can, doing my best to keep all factors identical and maintain the same angle and framing across the board.

It isn’t always easy to perfectly replicate the shooting conditions for each camera, even if I have them out immediately after I put the last one away. Of course, having them on some sort of multi-mount rack would be the most scientific way, but that makes framing shots a lot harder and is not representative of most people’s real-world use. Also, just imagine me holding up a three-prong camera rack running after the poor panicked wildlife I’m trying to photograph. It’s just not practical.

For each device, I make sure to test all modes, like portrait, night and video, as well as all the lenses, including wide, telephoto and macro. When there are new or special features, I test them as well. Since different phone displays can affect how their pictures appear, I wanted to level the playing field: I upload all the material to Google Drive in full resolution so I can compare everything on the same large screen. Because the photos from today’s phones are of mostly the same quality, I usually have to zoom in very closely to see the differences. I also frequently get a coworker who’s a photo or video expert to look at the files and weigh in.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/best-camera-phone-130035025.html?src=rss

The best smartphone cameras for 2024: How to choose the phone with the best photography chops

I remember begging my parents to get me a phone with a camera when the earliest ones were launched. The idea of taking photos wherever I went was new and appealing, but it’s since become less of a novelty and more of a daily habit. Yes, I’m one of those. I take pictures of everything — from beautiful meals and funny signs to gorgeous landscapes and plumes of smoke billowing in the distance.

If you grew up in the Nokia 3310 era like me, then you know how far we’ve come. Gone are the 2-megapixel embarrassments that we used to post to Friendster with glee. Now, many of us use the cameras on our phones to not only capture precious memories of our adventures and loved ones, but also to share our lives with the world.

I’m lucky enough that I have access to multiple phones thanks to my job, and at times would carry a second device with me on a day-trip just because I preferred its cameras. But most people don’t have that luxury. Chances are, if you’re reading this, a phone’s cameras may be of utmost importance to you. But you’ll still want to make sure the device you end up getting doesn’t fall flat in other ways. At Engadget, we test and review dozens of smartphones every year; our top picks below represent not only the best phone cameras available right now, but also the most well-rounded options out there.

What to look for when choosing a phone for its cameras

Before scrutinizing a phone’s camera array, you’ll want to take stock of your needs — what are you using it for? If your needs are fairly simple, like taking photos and videos of your new baby or pet, most modern smartphones will serve you well. Those who plan to shoot for audiences on TikTok, Instagram or YouTube should look for video-optimizing features like stabilization and high frame rate support (for slow-motion clips).

Most smartphones today have at least two cameras on the rear and one up front. Those that cost more than $700 usually come with three, including wide-angle, telephoto or macro lenses. We’ve also reached a point where the number of megapixels (MP) doesn’t really matter anymore — most flagship phones from Apple, Samsung and Google have sensors that are either 48MP or 50MP. You’ll even come across some touting resolutions of 108MP or 200MP, in pro-level devices like the Galaxy S24 Ultra.

Most people won’t need anything that sharp, and in general, smartphone makers combine the pixels to deliver pictures that are the equivalent of 12MP anyway. The benefits of pixel-binning are fairly minor in phone cameras, though, and you’ll usually need to blow up an image to fit a 27-inch monitor before you’ll see the slightest improvements.

In fact, smartphone cameras tend to be so limited in size that there’s often little room for variation across devices. They typically use sensors from the same manufacturers and have similar aperture sizes, lens lengths and fields of view. So while it might be worth considering the impact of sensor size on things like DSLRs or mirrorless cameras, on a smartphone those differences are minimal.

Sensor size and field of view

If you still want a bit of guidance on what to look for, here are some quick tips: By and large, the bigger the sensor the better, as this will allow more light and data to be captured. Not many phone makers will list the sensor size in spec lists, so you’ll have to dig around for this info. A larger aperture (usually indicated by a smaller number with an “f/” preceding a digit) is ideal for the same reason, and it also affects the level of depth of field (or background blur) that’s not added via software. Since portrait modes are available on most phones these days, though, a big aperture isn’t as necessary to achieve this effect.

When looking for a specific field of view on a wide-angle camera, know that the most common offering from companies like Samsung and Google is about 120 degrees. Finally, most premium phones like the iPhone 15 Pro Max and Galaxy S24 Ultra offer telephoto systems that go up to 5x optical zoom with software taking that to 20x or even 100x.

Processing and extra features

These features will likely perform at a similar quality across the board, and where you really see a difference is in the processing. Samsung traditionally renders pictures that are more saturated, while Google’s Pixel phones take photos that are more neutral and evenly exposed. iPhones have historically produced pictures with color profiles that seem more accurate, though in comparison to images from the other two, they can come off yellowish. However, that was mostly resolved after Apple introduced a feature in the iPhone 13 called Photographic Styles that lets you set a profile with customizable contrast levels and color temperature that would apply to every picture taken via the native camera app.

Pro users who want to manually edit their shots should see if the phone they’re considering can take images in RAW format. Those who want to shoot a lot of videos while on the move should look for stabilization features and a decent frame rate. Most of the phones we’ve tested at Engadget record at either 60 frames per second at 1080p or 30 fps at 4K. It’s worth checking to see what the front camera shoots at, too, since they’re not usually on par with their counterparts on the rear.

Finally, while the phone’s native editor is usually not a dealbreaker (since you can install a third-party app for better controls), it’s worth noting that the latest flagships from Samsung and Google all offer AI tools that make manipulating an image a lot easier. They also offer a lot of fun, useful extras, like erasing photobombers, moving objects around or making sure everyone in the shot has their eyes open.

How we test smartphone cameras

For the last few years, I’ve reviewed flagships from Google, Samsung and Apple, and each time, I do the same set of tests. I’m especially particular when testing their cameras, and usually take all the phones I’m comparing out on a day or weekend photo-taking trip. Any time I see a photo- or video-worthy moment, I whip out all the devices and record what I can, doing my best to keep all factors identical and maintain the same angle and framing across the board.

It isn’t always easy to perfectly replicate the shooting conditions for each camera, even if I have them out immediately after I put the last one away. Of course, having them on some sort of multi-mount rack would be the most scientific way, but that makes framing shots a lot harder and is not representative of most people’s real-world use. Also, just imagine me holding up a three-prong camera rack running after the poor panicked wildlife I’m trying to photograph. It’s just not practical.

For each device, I make sure to test all modes, like portrait, night and video, as well as all the lenses, including wide, telephoto and macro. When there are new or special features, I test them as well. Since different phone displays can affect how their pictures appear, I wanted to level the playing field: I upload all the material to Google Drive in full resolution so I can compare everything on the same large screen. Because the photos from today’s phones are of mostly the same quality, I usually have to zoom in very closely to see the differences. I also frequently get a coworker who’s a photo or video expert to look at the files and weigh in.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/best-camera-phone-130035025.html?src=rss