Sony is reportedly planning to unveil a smartphone with a 20-megapixel camera at its IFA press conference in September. The phone, codenamed "i1 Honami," is rumored to have a 5-inch 1080p screen with the same Triluminos display tech as Sony's Xperia Z Ultra tablet / phone hybrid and recent TVs, which uses quantum dots to improve color reproduction. It's also said to be running Qualcomm's high-end Snapdragon 800 processor, 2GB of RAM, a large 3,000 mAh battery, and 16GB of storage (expandable by microSD). Like many of Sony's recent releases, the i1 Honami is also expected to be dust, shock, and water-resistant.
A photo posted by Israeli blog Gadgety shows the i1 Honami's camera UI, revealing a 20-megapixel option. According to the Taiwanese site ePrice, the phone has a 1/2.3-inch 20.7-megapixel ExmorRS sensor. That's the same physical size as a typical budget point-and-shoot sensor, like the one found in the Canon Powershot A2300 and also in line with Samsung's first-generation Galaxy Camera and 16-megapixel Galaxy Zoom smartphone.
While Sony is likely to lean heavily on its megapixel count when marketing its new flagship, smartphone rivals like Nokia and HTC have both been selling the value of low-megapixel, high-quality images, although the pair have gone about achieving higher-fidelity photos in very different ways. HTC went with a small sensor for its One smartphone, but the sensor features just four million larger-than-normal pixels, far less than most phones. Nokia creates 5 megapixel images for sharing from a 1/1.5-inch 41-megapixel sensor in the Lumia 1020 using a process called "pixel doubling" — combining multiple pixels into a single dot.
A large sensor is more encouraging than a lofty megapixel count
Sony's larger sensor will undoubtably help with image quality, but it's not clear if Sony will employ pixel-doubling or other software enhancements. Companies like Sony, Samsung, and LG have all been slowly increasing the megapixel counts of their phones, from five, to eight, and then 13. Is 20 the new 13? Perhaps, but the last thing we need is another megapixel war.
In the early 2000s, virtually every point-and-shoot manufacturer constantly one-upped each other, releasing a new camera every few months with slightly higher megapixel counts, without much improvement in image quality. Most consumers have wised-up to the fact that megapixels aren't everything, and both the larger sensor of the Honami and different approaches to sensors from HTC and Nokia show that some companies are starting to understand that. Still, if this rumored Sony, Samsung's Galaxy Zoom, and Nokia's Lumia 1020 are any indication, raw megapixel counts are on the rise again. Let's hope that manufacturers keep image quality, and not marketing laudability, as their top priority.