Tablet cameras: iPad 2 vs. Xoom vs. Galaxy Tab

All three leading tablets feature front and rear cameras, but some are better than others. Check out our lab test results.

Odds are, if you ask anyone waiting in line for an iPad 2, they'll list plenty of reasons why they're lusting after Apple's latest camera(s)-equipped tablet.

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According to our lab tests, image quality isn't going to be one of them. In this case, megapixels did matter, and the iPad 2's 0.69-megapixel sensor turned out iPod Touch-esque results. On a bright note, the new iPad does shoot decent video, and it even outscored a dedicated video-capture device in that realm. Not too shabby.

We put the first generation of camera-equipped tablets through PCWorld Labs' subjective testing for image and video quality, and although some tablets fared much better than others in terms of photo quality and footage, they were all outscored by the output of the iPhone 4.

Of course, that's not a dealbreaker for prospective tablet buyers. While cameras are useful things to have on a tablet, they're mainly in the mix for a few reasons, and none of them overlap entirely with the contents of your camera bag: videochats, augmented-reality apps, and immediately shareable pics and video while you're out and about.

The cameras in these first- and second-generation tablets are serviceable for any of those tasks, and for anyone who routinely overlays effects and filters on their on-the-go photos (via Instagram, Camera Bag, or Hipstamatic, for example), the lacking source-image quality may not make much of a difference.

In any event, here's a look at how the iPad 2, Motorola Xoom, and Samsung Galaxy Tab handle their business in the realm of capturing photos and video. We test each camera that comes through our doors in a consistent way: we print unmarked 8-by-10 sample images, put them in front of a panel of judges, and rate each sample image for exposure quality, color accuracy, sharpness, and distortion. The panel of judges also watches sample video clips shot with each device in bright indoor lighting and low-light conditions; those clips are also rated for overall video quality and audio quality.

You can get a detailed explanation of our subjective tests here, in the "How We Tested" section.

For these tablet image- and video-quality tests, we used a test pool of the Apple iPad 2, Motorola Xoom, and Samsung Galaxy Tab. We also included sample images from three other devices in our evaluations as a basis of comparison: the Apple iPhone 4, the Apple iPod Touch, and the Canon PowerShot S95 point-and-shoot camera. For our video tests, we also included test footage from the Cisco Flip Video UltraHD in our comparative evaluations.

Here's how the tablets fared against one another -- and the non-tablet competitors -- in each round of our tests.

Overall Image Quality Scores

1. Canon PowerShot S95 (85.6, Very Good)

2. Apple iPhone 4 (66.2, Fair)

3. Motorola Xoom (64.8, Fair)

4. Samsung Galaxy Tab (63.6, Fair)

5. Apple iPod Touch (58, Poor)

6. Apple iPad 2 (57.8, Poor)

The top-rated tablet in our image-quality testing was the Motorola Xoom, which boasts a 5-megapixel rear-facing camera that scored fairly well in the exposure quality and sharpness departments. That said, the Xoom trailed the Apple iPhone 4 when it came to overall image quality, and it trailed both of the other tablets in the color-accuracy department.

Just behind the Xoom is the Samsung Galaxy Tab, which offers a 3-megapixel rear-facing camera. The Galaxy Tab was neck-and-neck with the Xoom in many of our image-testing categories, but our judges found the Tab's camera most lacking in the exposure quality and distortion departments.

Heading up the rear of our testbed was the Apple iPad 2, which has a 0.69-megapixel camera that performs similarly to the camera in the latest iPod Touch. The iPad 2's camera snaps photos that look decent on its own display, but are noticeably grainy and muddy once you print them out. The iPad 2 was also one of two devices in our testbed without a flash (the other being the iPod Touch), so you'll get the best results in broad daylight.

Attached are the sample images we shot with each device for our image-quality tests. Here is the break-down of each scoring category:

Exposure Quality Scores

1. Canon PowerShot S95 (87, Very Good)

2. Motorola Xoom (70, Good)

3. Apple iPhone 4 (69, Fair)

4. Samsung Galaxy Tab (64, Fair)

5. Apple iPod Touch (57, Fair)

6. Apple iPad 2 (56, Fair)

Color Accuracy Scores

1. Canon PowerShot S95 (85, Very Good)

2. (tie) Apple iPhone 4 (67, Fair)

2. (tie) Samsung Galaxy Tab (67, Fair)

4. Apple iPad 2 (63, Fair)

5. Motorola Xoom (62, Fair)

6. Apple iPod Touch (62, Fair)

Sharpness Scores

1. Canon PowerShot S95 (87, Very Good)

2. (tie) Apple iPhone 4 (64, Fair)

2. (tie) Motorola Xoom (64, Fair)

4. Samsung Galaxy Tab (62, Fair)

5. (tie) Apple iPad 2 (55, Poor)

6. (tie) Apple iPod Touch (55, Poor)

Distortion Scores

1. Canon PowerShot S95 (81, Good)

2. Apple iPhone 4 (64, Fair)

3. Motorola Xoom (63, Fair)

4. Samsung Galaxy Tab (59, Fair)

5. Apple iPod Touch (58, Poor)

6. Apple iPad 2 (56, Poor)

Overall Video Quality Scores

1. Canon PowerShot S95 (73.2, Good)

2. Apple iPhone 4 (71.6, Good)

3. Motorola Xoom (64.4, Fair)

4. Apple iPad 2 (60.6, Fair)

5. Cisco Flip Video UltraHD (60.4, Fair)

6. Apple iPod Touch (58.8, Poor)

7. Samsung Galaxy Tab (58.0, Poor)

There were a few surprises in our subjective video tests. Apple's iPad 2 fared much better in our video tests -- even producing video quality on par with Cisco's Flip Video UltraHD, according to our panel of judges -- but it still trailed behind the Motorola Xoom in terms of an overall score. No tablet earned a score greater than "Fair" for video quality, but there were notable differences.

The Xoom completed a sweep of both still-image and video categories by turning in the highest overall score of the tablets in our testbed. The Xoom captures 720p high-definition video at 30 frames per second, and it bested the tablet competition in our bright-light, low-light, and audio-capture tests. It outscored every device other than the Canon PowerShot S95 and Apple iPhone 4 for overall video quality, but that was only good enough for a score of Fair.

The iPad 2 landed in second place among the tablets, and it also captures 720p high-definition video at 30 frames per second. It earned a better video rating than the Cisco Flip Video UltraHD in our bright-light tests, and it was on par with the Flip in low-light situations, but it captured the weakest-sounding audio of the devices in our testbed. The iPad 2 also earned an overall video rating of Fair.

The Samsung Galaxy Tab's 720p/30fps video trailed all the devices in our testbed in terms of video quality, placing last or second-to-last in each video category. The Galaxy Tab turned in an overall video-quality score of Poor.

Here are the sample videos we shot with each device for our video-quality tests. You can find the break-down of each video scoring category below the videos.

Video test: Motorola Xoom

Video test: Apple iPad 2

Video test: Samsung Galaxy Tab

Low-light test: Motorola Xoom

Low-light test: Apple iPad 2

Low-light test: Samsung Galaxy Tab

Bright-Light Video Quality Scores

1. Canon PowerShot S95 (81, Good)

2. Apple iPhone 4 (74, Good)

3. Motorola Xoom (72, Good)

4. Apple iPad 2 (65, Fair)

5. Cisco Flip Video UltraHD (60, Fair)

6. Samsung Galaxy Tab (59, Fair)

7. Apple iPod Touch (58, Fair)

Low-Light Video Quality Scores

1. Apple iPhone 4 (74, Fair)

2. Canon PowerShot S95 (67, Fair)

3. Motorola Xoom (58, Fair)

4. (tie) Cisco Flip Video UltraHD (57, Fair)

4. (tie) Apple iPod Touch (57, Fair)

6. Apple iPad 2 (56, Fair)

7. Samsung Galaxy Tab (55, Poor)

Audio Quality Scores

1. Canon PowerShot S95 (70, Good)

2. Cisco Flip Video UltraHD (68, Fair)

3. Apple iPod Touch (64, Fair)

4. (tie) Apple iPhone 4 (62, Fair)

4. (tie) Motorola Xoom (62, Fair)

4. (tie) Samsung Galaxy Tab (62, Fair)

7. Apple iPad 2 (61, Fair)

Tags MotorolaPhoto / videoiosAndroidPhoneshardware systemsPhotosamsungAppletablet PCconsumer electronicsapple ipadSamsung Electronicslaptopstablet PCssoftwaretabletsphotographyapplications

More about AppleCanonCisco Systems AustraliaExposureFlip VideoGalaxyMotorolaSamsung

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