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Huawei’s Mate 10 Lite will come with four cameras

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The smartphone camera arms race marches onward

One of the last flagship phone lineups scheduled for release this fall has just leaked. No, not that one. I’m talking about Huawei, which we now know is readying to unveil three new Mate smartphones on October 16th, according to VentureBeat’s Evan Blass: the Mate 10, Mate 10 Pro, and Mate 10 Lite. And while we’ve known about the first two for a few weeks, new information about the $455 Mate 10 Lite shows Huawei is angling for a new kind of advantage in mobile photography by using four cameras on the phone.

Yes, both the back and front of the phone will employ a dual-camera setup, according to Blass. But they’ll be a little different from what we’ve come to expect with dual cameras. Both the front and back will have a main camera (a 16-megapixel shooter on the back, and a 13-megapixel version on the front), and each of those will be paired with a 2-megapixel buddy.

That means Huawei will almost certainly not be going down the path it paved with the P9, which used a second, equal resolution (but monochromatic) sensor to add detail and clarity to the images captured by the main one. Instead, these are more likely to be used for effects, like creating a blurred background (which, to be clear, is something the P9 also did). That means it would, like the new iPhone X, offer a front-facing bokeh mode for selfies. (The iPhone X also technically has four cameras, with the fourth being an infrared sensor on the front of the phone.)

Otherwise, the camera sounds decently equipped at that price point. It has a tall, FHD+ 5.9-inch screen that takes up 83 percent of the phone’s face. It’s powered by a 2.36GHz Kirin 659 processor and 4GB of RAM, and a 3340mAh battery will keep the thing afloat throughout the day.

But it’s the cameras that have me most interested. Huawei, LG, and HTC have all been tinkering with the idea for years, but now basically every major phone maker has embraced a dual-camera setup in some capacity. To keep ahead of that competition, a company can either up the resolution (which appears to be the case with the Mate 10 Pro, which uses a dual setup on the back with 12- and 20-megapixel sensors), crank the image processing software (like Google, which is actually still one of the few dual-camera holdouts), or increase the number of cameras.

More cameras mean you have to be more careful with tuning everything on the software side, from the performance to the resulting effects. But the possibilities are tantalizing, and it’s likely only a matter of time before we see even more than four cameras. (For what it’s worth, Light, the company behind the crazy 16-sensor L16 camera, has told me it’s in talks with at least one smartphone company.) We’ll have to see images from the phone to know just how much of an effect a 2-megapixel sidecar can really have on the images from the main camera, but it’s nice to see Huawei trying something new on the cheapest of the Mate 10 phones, instead of restricting that experimentation to the premium handsets like most other companies.