There are times when even the greatest companies take decisions that leave you scratching your head. And Google’s decision to release a new version of its camera app for Android devices is one that has us doing just that. Do not get us wrong – we love the simplicity of the camera app on the Nexus and Google Play edition devices, but to release it on Google Play, and that too only for devices running Android 4.4 (KitKat) or above is something that has us just a bit befuddled. For one, most devices running Android 4.4 – there are barely a handful of them anyway – already come with some very powerful camera apps (Lenovo and HTC are our favorites here). Where this app would have been at its best is among the lower end Android smartphones whose camera apps are either laggy or just too basic for comfort.
For, make no mistake about it, if all that you want is a briskly-performing camera app with a decent feature set, then Google Camera is pretty much your best option. It is a 14.87 MB download and comes with no price tag attached, like all Google Android apps. And well if it is turn of speed that you seek in a camera, then this is the app for you – we tried it out on the Galaxy S5 (yes, a review of that will be coming, do be patient), and it certainly seemed to start up significantly faster than the default camera app. The interface is nice and uncluttered – you get the viewfinder on the display, with a large shutter button. A swipe from the left side revealing different shooting options, and a tap on the ellipses just to the right of the shutter button gives you the option to have an on-screen grid, shoot in HDR, opt for flash, and swap cameras.
The shooting modes include Panorama and Photo Sphere which let you stitch together pictures to present a wider or multi-dimensional view. Both worked well for us, but the one which did not is Lens Blur. Recommended for “close-ups like people, food and nature” with the advice to “shoot within 5 feet,” it essentially tries to throw in a depth of field effect by making the subject in the foreground appear sharper. Neat enough, but it is the whole process of doing so that is honestly a bit teeth-grating. The app advises us to raise the phone gently while keeping the subject centered. This is easier said than done, as eight times out of ten, the app abandoned the attempt to take a snap and sent up an error message. Sometimes it said that we had moved the camera ‘too fast’ when we actually had not moved the camera at all. That said, when it does work, it turns out snazzy results, not only blurring out the background and bringing the subject into sharp focus, but also giving you the option to tweak the level of blurring. You can also try to shift focus to other objects in the picture (works best when they are near the camera), giving you a touch of lytro photography. Our recommendation is to try it out in well-lit, relatively uncrowded areas, as any movement in the background makes the app abandon its blurring efforts. Panorama and Photo Sphere work well enough, but we wonder if the turn of speed we got from the app in putting a series of images together on the S5 would be replicated in relatively modest specced devices – mind you, it did work fine on the Moto X as well.
All of which makes the Google Camera app a bit of an oddity. Honestly, we do not think it represents a massive step forward for the default camera app on your device, especially if you have any device that costs upwards of USD 200. But yes, if you are looking for a simple camera app that does things fast, then this is a decent option. Mind you, it is available only for devices running Android 4.4 (KitKat), most of which are high-end ones anyway and come with pretty powerful camera apps themselves.
Available from: Google Play