Smartphone video camera smackdown

Video capture is standard on smartphones these days, but not all camcorders are created equal

With ever-improving sensors, on-board editing tools, and wireless sharing features, smartphones are a popular option for capturing video on the go. But not all smartphone camcorders are created equal: In my head-to-head tests, I found that certain phones handled motion more skillfully than others, some performed better in dim lighting while others floundered, and some produced noticeable pixelation in my test shoots.

The Contenders

I tested the camcorders on four popular smartphones: the Palm Pre Plus, the Google Nexus One, the Motorola Droid, and the Apple iPhone 3GS. (Unfortunately, I wasn't able to test the HTC Droid Incredible's video skills, as I had to return that handset to HTC before I could shoot test footage.) The camcorder specs for each are as follows:

  • Palm Pre Plus3-megapixel sensor, 640-by-480-pixel videos, up to 29 frames per second
  • Nexus One5-megapixel sensor, 720-by-480-pixel videos, up to 20 frames per second
  • Motorola Droid5-megapixel sensor, 720-by-480-pixel videos, up to 24 frames per second
  • Apple iPhone 3GS3-megapixel sensor, 640-by-480-pixel videos, up to 30 frames per second

The Droid and the Nexus One, both running Google's Android 2.1 OS, do not have any on-board video-editing features. The Palm Pre Plus and the iPhone 3GS, in contrast, allow you to trim video length by dragging a handle through a series of thumbnail-size stills. All four phones let you upload directly to YouTube or send clips to friends via e-mail or MMS; the Palm Pre Plus also permits you to upload directly to Facebook.

Which smartphone camcorder had the best video quality? Read on.

Bright-Lighting Test

To test motion and color in optimal indoor settings, I shot three 1-minute videos of a moving Ferris wheel toy and a train set in a brightly lit, windowless room. Here was the tale of the tape, as I saw it. (Disagree with my eyeball assessment? Let me know which smartphone you think won the video battle in the comments section below.)

First Place: iPhone 3GS

The colors in the iPhone 3GS's videos looked the most washed out among the four competitors; but Apple's phone handled motion pretty well, with only a small amount of stuttering. The 3GS produced a bit of pixelation in the Ferris wheel, but slightly less than the other three phones did.

Second Place: Palm Pre Plus

The Palm Pre Plus's videos appeared darker than the footage I captured with the other smartphones, and I saw a small amount of stuttering in the train's motion. I also detected some ghosting with the train, and some pixelation in the Ferris wheel.

Third Place: Motorola Droid

The Motorola Droid's videos had the most natural colors of the four phones, but it too suffered from blurriness and pixelation. Among the group, it also struggled the most with motion: It frequently stuttered, and video playback even came to a complete stop in some shots.

Fourth Place: Google Nexus One

In all three test videos with the Nexus One, I noticed a strange flickering effect in the background. The videos all had a bluish tint, and obvious pixelation appeared in the Ferris wheel.

Join the PC World newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags pocket camcorderssmartphonesdigital videocamcorders

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Ginny Mies

PC World (US online)
Show Comments

Essentials

Microsoft L5V-00027 Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard Desktop

Learn more >

Lexar® JumpDrive® S57 USB 3.0 flash drive

Learn more >

Mobile

Lexar® JumpDrive® S45 USB 3.0 flash drive 

Learn more >

Exec

Audio-Technica ATH-ANC70 Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >

Lexar® JumpDrive® C20c USB Type-C flash drive 

Learn more >

HD Pan/Tilt Wi-Fi Camera with Night Vision NC450

Learn more >

Lexar® Professional 1800x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards 

Learn more >

Budget

Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Kathy Cassidy

STYLISTIC Q702

First impression on unpacking the Q702 test unit was the solid feel and clean, minimalist styling.

Anthony Grifoni

STYLISTIC Q572

For work use, Microsoft Word and Excel programs pre-installed on the device are adequate for preparing short documents.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?