Samsung is again shipping its smartphones with different cameras on board, as the new Galaxy S7 and S7 edge pack either a Sony sensor or an in-house ISOCELL one.
Last year, Samsung stirred a great deal of controversy when customers discovered that the Galaxy S6 had models with two different camera sensors. Some units shipped with a Sony sensor, while others packed Samsung's own ISOCELL sensor.
Samsung is now pulling the same scheme, again shipping its latest Galaxy S7 and S7 edge with different cameras, and there's no way of telling which sensor it packs until you install a special app.
Should the sensors perform equally well, this matter would not be so serious. However, Sony sensors are generally considered superior to the ISOCELL ones, hence the whole controversy. Samsung doesn't note which version packs which sensor, and they retail at the exact same price point.
The Samsung ISOCELL sensor is not bad, but photos taken with the Sony sensor have proved to be superior in the past. It's understandable why this is causing frustration among customers, as they pay good money for a top-notch device and could end up with an inferior camera while other models feature Sony's sensor and cost exactly the same.
It's tough to estimate at this point which models in which regions pack which sensor, as it seems rather random for now. Early Galaxy S7 owners took to the XDA Developers forum to report on their camera versions, after checking the sensor with Aida 64.
Some users got the Sony IMX260 sensor, while others got the Sony ISOCELL.
"I just got my Samsung S7 Edge (G935F) and to my utmost surprise I have got Samsung's own BRITECELL(or whatever they call it) Camera Sensor instead of beloved Sony Sensor ... The same they opted with S6 n S6 Edge and the SonySensor pictures were way better than Samsung's ISOCELL Camera Sensor ..." one user reports.
The "BRITECELL" sensor the user mentions is actually Samsung's ISOCELL sensor.
"That's pretty strange ... I haven't checked or compared the quality of the photos with the one with Sony Sensor ...
But I'm disappointed ... Sheer Shame .... Samsung does this every time ...," adds the user.
Judging by a thread of user comments on Reddit, it seems that most U.S.-bound versions of the Samsung Galaxy S7 and S7 edge pack the Sony sensor. In the UK, it seems that some units pack the ISOCELL sensor, while others come with Sony's IMX260. The same applies for other European markets.
The decision to pack two different image sensors on its latest flagships is likely related to the supply chain. Having two options ensures that if one model hits a shortage in the supply chain, the other would be able to pick up the slack so production continues seamlessly.
The same principle applies to the different processing options as well. Samsung is shipping its Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 edge with either Snapdragon 820 or Exynos 8890 processors, but at least things seem to be clearer in this area. The U.S., China and Japan will reportedly get the Snapdragon versions, while other global markets get the Exynos variants.
When it comes to the different camera sensors, the only way to know which sensor the smartphone packs is to install the Aida 64 or other similar software. Unless you manage to do that in-store, before making your purchase, it's a gamble.
It remains to be seen just how big the differences are between the Sony and the ISOCELL sensors gracing this year's flagships. Last year, the Sony sensor was generally preferred because it captured warmer tones in daylight and had larger image sizes than the ISOCELL sensor.
No comparisons have surfaced yet for the Galaxy S7 and S7 edge camera models, but samples will surely hit the Web soon enough.