JR Raphael

Galaxy S4 Google Play Edition vs. the regular GS4: Camera shootout!

June 28, 2013 11:35 AM EDT

Galaxy S4 Google Play Edition CameraOne of the biggest questions about the new stock Android Google Play Edition devices is how their camera performance will compare to the original manufacturer models. Image quality, after all, isn't just a result of lenses and sensors; the software that controls the camera can also affect how photos turn out.

To see how much of a difference the change in software makes, I put the new Galaxy S4 Google Play Edition up against the regular Samsung Galaxy S4 in a side-by-side camera shootout. I took the same pictures with one device and then the other, using each phone's default settings for a base-level comparison.

Sure enough, there are some differences in how the images turned out. In the case of the Galaxy S4, they're relatively subtle; with the HTC One and its new Google Play Edition sibling, the differences are far more pronounced. (Click over to my HTC One camera shootout gallery to see for yourself.)

So which version of the Galaxy S4 is better? It's honestly a pretty close race. Check out these side-by-side samples and see what you think.

Click on any image to view a larger (and optionally full-resolution) version.

Galaxy S4 Play Edition Camera (1) Regular Galaxy S4 Camera (1)

Galaxy S4 Google Play Edition at left (or top), regular GS4 at right (or bottom). One thing you'll notice here and in all the other images is a difference in both size and dimension; the Google Play Edition takes 13-megapixel, 4:3 images by default while the regular GS4 takes 9.6-megapixel, 16:9 images by default. (Like I said, I opted to stick with all default settings -- which are what the vast majority of users use -- for this comparison.)

That aside, if you look at the full-res versions zoomed all the way in, you can see some differences in the coloring of the flowers on the two images; the Play Edition photo has the petals looking more white where they should be blue or pink. Both images are actually somewhat overexposed and unrealistic; the One did a much better job at capturing true-to-life colors here.

 

Galaxy S4 Play Edition Camera (2) Regular Galaxy S4 Camera (2)

Galaxy S4 Google Play Edition at left (or top), regular GS4 at right (or bottom). Pretty similar results on this full-sunlight shot; the contrast on the Play Edition image looks a little better to my eyes, but it's a very subtle difference.

 

Galaxy S4 Play Edition Camera (3) Regular Galaxy S4 Camera (3)

Galaxy S4 Google Play Edition at left (or top), regular GS4 at right (or bottom). Another direct sunlight shot -- and another one that's too close to call.

 

Galaxy S4 Play Edition Camera (4) Regular Galaxy S4 Camera (4)

Galaxy S4 Google Play Edition at left (or top), regular GS4 at right (or bottom). This is a good one to look at zoomed in all the way at full resolution; despite the fact that it has the higher megapixel count, the Play Edition's image has a lot more noise in the background (in the trees off to the left of the sign, for instance) than the regular GS4's.

 

Galaxy S4 Play Edition Camera (5) Regular Galaxy S4 Camera (5)

Galaxy S4 Google Play Edition at left (or top), regular GS4 at right (or bottom). Both devices got the coloring wrong, but the regular GS4 is closer to reality than the Play Edition's more radioactive-green interpretation. The regular GS4 also does a better job at picking up some of the fine detail (noticeable in the full resolution versions).

 

Galaxy S4 Google Play Edition (6) Regular Galaxy S4 Camera (6)

Galaxy S4 Google Play Edition at left (or top), regular GS4 at right (or bottom). Subtle differences in coloring.

 

Galaxy S4 Play Edition Camera (7) Regular Galaxy S4 Camera (7)

Galaxy S4 Google Play Edition at left (or top), regular GS4 at right (or bottom). One of these things is not like the other...

The images, however, are pretty darn close.

 

Galaxy S4 Play Edition Camera (8) Galaxy S4 Play Edition Camera (8)

Galaxy S4 Google Play Edition at left (or top), regular GS4 at right (or bottom). I've noticed that the GS4 sometimes has trouble focusing, even with multiple attempts, but it seems to be a common factor across both models.

 

Galaxy S4 Play Edition Camera (10) Regular Galaxy S4 Camera (10)

Galaxy S4 Google Play Edition at left (or top), regular GS4 at right (or bottom). In a dimly lit garage. Low-light test #1. Both models fail equally. (There actually is something there, as you'll see if you look at the One devices' version of this shot.)

 

Galaxy S4 Play Edition Camera (11) Regular Galaxy S4 Camera (11)

Galaxy S4 Google Play Edition at left (or top), regular GS4 at right (or bottom). Low-light test #2 -- another equal opportunity fail.

 

Galaxy S4 Play Edition Camera (12) Regular Galaxy S4 Camera (12)

Galaxy S4 Google Play Edition at left (or top), regular GS4 at right (or bottom). Slightly more light coming in from a shaded window but still fairly dark here. Neither device does particularly well.

 

Galaxy S4 Play Edition Camera (14) Regular Galaxy S4 Camera (14)

Galaxy S4 Google Play Edition at left (or top), regular GS4 at right (or bottom). Whatever you do, don't violate the city ordiance.

 

Galaxy S4 Play Edition Camera (16) Regular Galaxy S4 Camera (16)

Galaxy S4 Google Play Edition at left (or top), regular GS4 at right (or bottom). Anyone else getting a hankering for some Doublemint gum?

 

Galaxy S4 Play Edition Camera (21) Regular Galaxy S4 Camera (21)

Galaxy S4 Google Play Edition at left (or top), regular GS4 at right (or bottom). Still subtle, but the regular GS4 looks a bit better in this set when you view it at full resolution.

Android Power TwitterAaaand, that's a wrap for this camera shootout. Like I said at the start, the Galaxy S4 Google Play Edition isn't too different from its Samsung-software sibling in the imaging department -- not in any way that's meaningful enough to influence a purchasing decision.

The HTC One, on the other hand, is a different story. Check the links below for a look at how its Google Play Edition compares to the original as well as more Android Power analysis of the new stock Android phones.

HTC One Google Play Edition vs. the regular HTC One: Camera shootout!
What the GS4 and HTC One Google Play Editions are actually like to use
The verdict: Should you buy the GS4 and/or HTC One Google Play Edition?