Smartphone for Snapdragon Insiders (designed by Asus) Camera review: Showcasing the 888’s imaging capabilities

Launched in July 2021, the Smartphone for Snapdragon Insiders is a flagship-level device that is designed by Asus and available to purchase via the Asus online shop and channel partners. The phone is built around Qualcomm’s top-end chipset Snapdragon 888 and designed to highlight what the Snapdragon platform is capable of when configured by its own creators.

The device features include a 6.78″ AMOLED FHD+ display with 144 Hz refresh rate, the aforementioned Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 chipset with 16 GB LPDDR5 RAM and 512 GB UFS3.1 storage, and fast 65W charging.

The camera setup is composed of a 64 MP standard-wide camera, a 12 MP ultra-wide and an 8 MP telelens module for 3X optical zoom. Stabilization is present in the main and the tele modules. For video, the device can shoot up to 8K UHD (7680 x 4320) at 30 FPS but also 4K 60/30 FPS and 4K AutoFPS (which changes frame rate dynamically between 60 and 30 fps depending on the content). All video modes provide stabilization.

Let’s find out how the Smartphone for Snapdragon Insiders (designed by Asus) shapes up for smartphone photography as we break down the scores and compare image samples across all the attributes we test.

Key camera specifications:

  • Primary: Sony IMX686 1/1.73” 64 MP Quad-Bayer sensor with 0.8 µm pixels, 26.6 mm-equivalent f/1.8-aperture lens, PDAFOIS
  • Ultra-wide: Sony IMX363 1/2.55″ 12 MP sensor with 1.4 µm pixels, 14.3 mm-equivalent f/2.2-aperture lens, PDAF
  • Tele: 8 MP sensor, f2.4-aperture lens, 3x optical zoom, PDAF and OIS
  • 8×8 laser autofocus
  • LED flash
  • Video: 4320p/30 fps, 2160p/60 fps, 2160p/Auto fps, 1080p/60 fps, auto subject tracking mode

About DXOMARK Camera tests: For scoring and analysis in our smartphone camera reviews, DXOMARK engineers capture and evaluate over 3000 test images and more than 2.5 hours of video both in controlled lab environments and in natural indoor and outdoor scenes, using the camera’s default settings. This article is designed to highlight the most important results of our testing. For more information about the DXOMARK Camera test protocol, click here. More details on how we score smartphone cameras are available here.

Test summary


Asus Smartphone for Snapdragon Insiders133

Pros

  • Generally fast and accurate autofocus
  • Well-controlled noise
  • Good WYSIWYG capabilities in preview
  • Fairly wide dynamic range, even in low light
  • Accurate white balance, fast autofocus and good bright preservation in video
  • Well-controlled noise in indoor and outdoor videos

Cons

  • Sometimes low local contrast in difficult high-contrast scenes
  • Local loss of texture and artifacts sometimes visible
  • Occasional inaccurate color rendering and slight pink cast
  • White balance casts in tele shots, especially at short range and in low light
  • Low level of detail in low-light videos

With an overall score of 133, the Smartphone for Snapdragon Insiders is a strong contender at the top of the DXOMARK Camera ranking. It scores two points higher than the Oppo Find X3 Pro and Vivo X50 Pro+ (both 131) and three more than the Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max (130). It is also capable of matching the Xiaomi Mi 10 Ultra’s score, despite the use of a less impressive camera module combination.

The Snapdragon phone does very well for Photo at 142 points. Its main strengths are autofocus, noise reduction, and preview that provides a preview image on the display that is consistently close to the final image result. Photographers also benefit from accurate target exposure, wide dynamic range, pleasant colors, no visible noise, and good detail retention in almost all lighting conditions.

The Smartphone for Snapdragon Insiders delivers good exposure and fine details in most conditions.

The device features a number of very innovative processing and imaging methods facilitated by Qualcomm’s 888 chipset, such as the AI-assisted autofocus system and the white balancing in mixed light that is assisted by the ToF (time of flight) module’s 8×8 IR sensor. Texture preservation results observed by our testers are also interesting: thanks to the 888 chipset’s processing capabilities, when the scene has enough light, the camera uses the image sensor’s full-size 64 MP output very far down the processing pipeline before binning down to output size. These methods allow the Smartphone for Snapdragon Insiders to compete with other devices that feature larger image sensors. However, they also come with some drawbacks. When pushed to its limits in challenging backlit scenes, the camera sometimes shows local contrast issues in bright areas of the frame and a range of image artifacts such ghosting, haloing, and color quantization, identified by our testers as image processing-related issues.

Considering the camera module configuration, the device achieves a solid score of 74 in the Zoom category. When tele-zooming, the camera is capable of preserving good detail thanks to super-resolution and HDR algorithms. The ultra-wide camera hasn’t got the widest field of view but performs well in terms of exposure and dynamic range.

With an excellent Video score of 111, the Smartphone for Snapdragon Insiders is also a good option for shooting moving images. The video mode was tested at 4K resolution and AutoFPS setting, which overall achieves the best compromise between stabilization, exposure, texture, and noise. Users can manually select a frame rate of 60 fps, which provides smoother video, but overall performance in medium- and low-light conditions is negatively impacted.

Photo

The Asus Smartphone for Snapdragon Insiders achieves a Photo score of 142. In this section, we take a closer look at each sub-attribute and compare image quality against competitors.

Exposure and Contrast

In these tests we analyze target exposure, contrast, and dynamic range, including repeatability across a series of images. Tests are undertaken in a wide range of light conditions, including backlit scenes and low light down to 1 lux. The score is derived from a number of objective measurements in the lab and perceptual analysis of real-life images.

The Smartphone for Snapdragon Insiders generally shows accurate target exposure and wide dynamic range in all tested conditions. In high dynamic range scenarios local contrast can sometimes be low, resulting in tone compression. These samples show the Asus Smartphone for Snapdragon Insiders’ exposure performance in a backlit scene.

Asus Smartphone for Snapdragon Insiders, Wide dynamic range but some tone compression
Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra, wide dynamic range, acceptable contrast
Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max, loss of highlight detail

Color

In these tests we analyze color rendering, skin tones, white balance, and color shading, including repeatability across a series of images. The score is derived from a number of objective measurements in the lab and perceptual analysis of real-life images.

The Smartphone for Snapdragon Insiders performs well for color, from outdoor to low-light conditions. As a minor downfall, our testers noticed rare issues in HDR scenes, where some specific colors can be rendered slightly unnaturally, for instance, the shirt in the illustration below shows some color clipping when zoomed in 100%.

Asus Smartphone for Snapdragon Insiders, vibrant colors
Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra, pleasant colors
Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max, pleasant colors

Autofocus

In these tests we analyze autofocus accuracy and shooting time, including repeatability, in the lab. We test focus failures, depth of field, and tracking of moving subjects using perceptual analysis of real-life images.

The autofocus system in the Smartphone for Snapdragon Insiders camera works flawlessly in all tested conditions. The AF does mostly well at choosing the right face to focus on in cases where it is too challenging to have all faces in focus. Compared to the Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra, it also benefits from its slightly wider depth of field. These samples show the Asus Smartphone for Snapdragon Insiders’ autofocus behavior in a multi-depth of field backlit portrait.

Asus Smartphone for Snapdragon Insiders, autofocus
Asus Smartphone for Snapdragon Insiders, crop: good focus on foreground subject, background subject out of focus
Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra, autofocus
Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra, crop: focus slightly behind foreground subject, background subject out of focus
Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max, autofocus
Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max, crop: focus on background subject, foreground subject out of focus

Texture

In these tests we analyze texture on faces and objects, including objects in motion, in a range of light conditions, using several lab test setups and perceptual analysis of real-life images.

The Asus Smartphone for Snapdragon Insiders achieves texture and noise scores that are among the best, resulting in a good texture/noise tradeoff. It usually renders fine detail nicely and controls noise well in pretty much all conditions. Only some high frequency local detail is sometimes lost in the most demanding HDR scenes. Noise levels remain low even in the most challenging conditions. These samples show the Asus Smartphone for Snapdragon Insiders’ texture performance indoors.

Asus Smartphone for Snapdragon Insiders, indoor texture
Asus Smartphone for Snapdragon Insiders, excellent detail
Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra, indoor texture
Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra, good detail
Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max, indoor texture
Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max, good detail

Noise

In these tests we analyze noise on faces and objects, including objects in motion, in a range of light conditions, using several lab test setups and perceptual analysis of real-life images.

This graph shows the Asus Smartphone for Snapdragon Insiders’ noise performance across different lighting conditions.

Noise comparison: noise levels on Smartphone for Snapdragon Insiders remain low, close to what we observed on the Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra.

Bokeh

For these tests we switch to the camera’s bokeh or portrait mode and analyze depth estimation, bokeh shape, blur gradient, and repeatability, as well as all other general image quality attributes mentioned above. The score is derived from perceptual analysis of real-life images.

Images captured in bokeh simulation mode show a natural look to the artificial background blur. Like on pretty much any device, slight depth estimation errors can be visible, but subjects are accurately isolated from the background. These samples show the Asus Smartphone for Snapdragon Insiders’ bokeh simulation in daylight.

Asus Smartphone for Snapdragon Insiders, good depth estimation
Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra, good depth estimation
Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max, good depth estimation

Night

In these tests we shoot a selection of images in pitch-black darkness as well as with city lights in the background providing some illumination. We shoot sample images with the camera at default settings in both flash-auto and flash-off modes. We analyze all image quality attributes but we pay particular attention to exposure, autofocus, and color. We do not test night modes that have to be activated manually.

The Smartphone for Snapdragon Insiders achieves a good score in the night category, delivering great performances considering its sensor size. Even with the flash disabled, portraits show good dynamic range and exposure on both subject and background. However, in the samples below, texture/noise trade-off is slightly limited compared to competitors with larger sensors like the Xiaomi, here in flash-off mode.

Asus Smartphone for Snapdragon Insiders, flash-off
Asus Smartphone for Snapdragon Insiders, crop: good target exposure, loss of fine detail, noise in sky
Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra, flash-off
Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra, crop: accurate target exposure, good detail, slight noise
Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max, flash-off
Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max, crop: accurate target exposure, loss of fine detail, noise

Artifacts

In these tests we check images for optical artifacts such as vignettingflare, lens softness in the corners, distortion, and chromatic aberrations, as well as for processing artifacts such as ghosting and fusion errors, hue shift, and ringing.

The Smartphone for Snapdragon Insiders’ images sometimes show well-known artifacts like hue shift and aliasing/moiré, as a lot of devices do. On some rare occasions, in addition to the usual suspects, the device can show fusion artifacts and tone compression, which is common for devices that rely heavily on multi-frame post-processing in extreme HDR conditions. This sample shows what can be encountered with the device in the worst case.

Asus Smartphone for Snapdragon Insiders, artifacts
Asus Smartphone for Snapdragon Insiders, crop: fusion artifacts, tone compression, and hue shifts can be seen in this picture.

Preview

In these tests we analyze the image quality of the preview image and the differences between preview images and captured images, particularly in terms of exposure, dynamic range, and bokeh effect. We also check the smoothness of the field-of-view changes in the preview image when zooming with both buttons or when using the pinch-zoom gesture.

The Asus Smartphone for Snapdragon Insiders is capable of capturing excellent dynamic range not only in the final image but also in preview, thanks to the Snapdragon 888 chipset’s triple ISP and a sensor configured in HDR mode. Until now, this level of “what you see is what you get” was only available on Apple devices, as iPhones remain slightly ahead in terms of smooth zoom transitions. These samples show the Asus Smartphone for Snapdragon Insiders’ preview performance in a high-contrast scene.

Asus Smartphone for Snapdragon Insiders, preview: preview is almost identical to final capture.
Asus Smartphone for Snapdragon Insiders, final image: almost identical to preview.

Zoom

The Asus Smartphone for Snapdragon Insiders achieves a Zoom score of 74. The Zoom score includes the tele and wide sub-scores. In this section, we take a closer look at how these sub-scores were achieved and compare zoom image quality against the competitors.

Wide

In these tests we analyze the performance of the ultra-wide camera at several focal lengths from 12 to 20 mm. We look at all image quality attributes, but we pay particular attention to such artifacts as chromatic aberrations, lens softness, and distortion.

The Smartphone for Snapdragon Insiders’ ultra-wide camera captures images with good overall image quality. Color and contrast are excellent for an ultra-wide. On the downside, with a measured 16 mm-equivalent focal length the camera’s field of view is slightly more limited than on some competitors. For example, thanks to a much wider 12 mm field of view the Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra can squeeze a lot more scene into the frame. These samples show the performance of the Asus Smartphone for Snapdragon Insiders’ ultra-wide camera in low-light conditions, all images set to an 18 mm-equivalent focal length.

Asus Smartphone for Snapdragon Insiders, ultra-wide: good detail, some bright clipping
Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra, ultra-wide
Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max, ultra-wide, visible noise

Tele

In these tests we analyze all image quality attributes at focal lengths from approximately 40 to 300 mm, paying particular attention to texture and detail. The score is derived from a number of objective measurements in the lab and perceptual analysis of real-life images.

The Smartphone for Snapdragon Insiders is capable of preserving detail at all tested zoom ranges, especially considering its tele camera “only” features 3X optical zoom. This is good but not as advanced as what we’ve seen in recent flagships from Vivo and Xiaomi. Mid-range shots benefit most from the 81 mm-equivalent lens. Some fusion artifacts are sometimes visible in high dynamic range conditions, and in close range low-light shots, slight white balance casts can be visible. These samples show the Asus Smartphone for Snapdragon Insiders’ tele performance at a mid-range zoom setting in daylight.

Asus Smartphone for Snapdragon Insiders, mid-range zoom
Asus Smartphone for Snapdragon Insiders, crop: good detail
Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra, mid-range zoom
Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra, crop: Excellent detail
Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max, mid-range zoom
Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max, crop: lack of detail

Video

In our Video tests we analyze the same image quality attributes as for still images, such as exposure, color, texture or noise, but we also include such temporal aspects as speed, smoothness and stability of exposure, white balance and autofocus transitions.

NOTE: The sample video clips in this section are best viewed at 4K resolution. 

The Asus Smartphone for Snapdragon Insiders achieves a Video score of 111. A device’s overall Video score is derived from its performance and results across a range of attributes in the same way as the Photo score. In this section, we take a closer look at these sub-scores and compare video image quality against competitors.

Exposure and Contrast

Video exposure is good down to low light and really only drops off below a very dark 5 lux. Recording video clips in dim conditions is usually no problem with the Smartphone for Snapdragon Insiders, but we did observe some slightly limited dynamic range in challenging bright and dark scenes. This graph shows the Asus Smartphone for Snapdragon Insiders’ video exposure performance in the lab.

Video exposure comparison: the Smartphone for Snapdragon Insiders’ video target exposure is accurate down to low light.

Color

Video color rendering is nice and earns the Smartphone for Snapdragon Insiders a high rank for color in video. The auto white balance system works accurately, but our testers observed some slightly abrupt transitions in changing light conditions. These video stills show the Asus Smartphone for Snapdragon Insiders’ video color in indoor conditions.

Asus Smartphone for Snapdragon Insiders, video still, pleasant color rendering and white balance
Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra, pleasant color rendering and white balance
Oppo Find X3 Pro, video still, slight color cast

Autofocus

The Smartphone for Snapdragon Insiders’ autofocus works well for video, too. Reaction is fast in most situations, and subject tracking keeps the subject reliably in focus. This sample clip shows the Asus Smartphone for Snapdragon Insiders’ video autofocus performance in indoor backlit conditions. In this clip we can also see a slight jump in exposure and white balance (around 00:05) that can occasionally happen with the device, and which we took into account in our exposure and color evaluation.

Asus Smartphone for Snapdragon Insiders, subject is accurately tracked by the autofocus system.

Noise

Video footage shows high levels of detail and noise levels are very well controlled when shooting in outdoor and indoor conditions. Level of texture is pretty low in low light, though, and some temporal noise is also visible in those conditions. This graph shows the Asus Smartphone for Snapdragon Insiders’ video texture performance in the lab.

Video texture comparison: The Qualcomm’s detail preservation in video remains high down to 5 lux; at 1 lux it falls below 50%.

This graph shows the Asus Smartphone for Snapdragon Insiders’ video noise performance in the lab.

Video noise comparison: noise is well controlled in the Smartphone for Snapdragon Insiders’ video clips.

Artifacts

For video artifacts, we check for the same kinds of artifacts mentioned in the Photo section, along with such video-specific artifacts as frame rate variation in different light conditions, judder effect, and moving artifacts (artifacts such as aliasing, color quantization, and flare can often be more intrusive when moving than in a still image).

Video artifacts are well-controlled overall but like for stills, we did see some color quantization in areas of plain color, and the occasional ghosting effect in low-light conditions, as seen in the sample below.

Asus Smartphone for Snapdragon Insiders, artifacts
Asus Smartphone for Snapdragon Insiders, ghosting caused by motion is visible in the subject’s face.

Stabilization

In these tests we analyze residual motion when handholding the camera during recording, as well as when walking and running with the camera. We also look for stabilization artifacts such as jello effect, sharpness differences between frames, and frame shift (abrupt changes of framing).

The Smartphone for Snapdragon Insiders’ stabilization system does a particularly good job at keeping things steady and creating something close to a steady-cam effect, even if our testers sometimes observed some variation of sharpness between frames when recording in low light while walking. This sample clip shows the Asus Smartphone for Snapdragon Insiders’ video stabilization in outdoor conditions.

Asus Smartphone for Snapdragon Insiders, effective stabilization
Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra, effective stabilization
Oppo Find X3 Pro, effective stabilization

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