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Android 15 is fixing one of the worst parts of the Pixel's webcam feature

Your $1,000 Pixel 8 Pro won’t look like a budget webcam anymore
By

Published onMarch 21, 2024

TL;DR
  • Android 15 could fix USB webcam video quality by adding a dedicated High Quality Mode.
  • This is an update to the plug-and-play webcam feature added in Android 14 QPR1.
  • While the feature has been convenient to use, the video quality is pretty mediocre, so this is a welcome change.

Unless you were to buy an absurdly expensive webcam, there’s a good chance the camera quality of the Android smartphone you already own blows your PC’s webcam out of the water. That’s why many people use their smartphone as a webcam, which is easy to do thanks to third-party webcam apps. With the Android 14 QPR1 update for Pixel phones, Google made it even easier to do this by building USB webcam support right into Android.

While Android’s webcam feature is super convenient to use since it doesn’t involve downloading a specific app, it unfortunately leaves a lot to be desired. When Android Authority’s Dhruv Bhutani tested it against the iPhone Continuity Camera, he was especially disappointed regarding video quality. He said that the video quality when using his Google Pixel 8 Pro as a webcam was “pretty mediocre” and “nowhere near as good as the iPhone.”

In my own testing, I found that the video quality when using Android 14’s built-in webcam feature was significantly worse when compared to third-party webcam apps running on the same device. This meant that the issue wasn’t with the phone but with Android’s webcam feature. My theory is that Google optimized the Android 14 webcam feature for long-term endurance at the expense of video quality. This is unfortunate because some video calls might be short, and some phones can handle outputting higher-quality video for long durations.

Fortunately, Google seems to have realized that some users want higher-quality video from their smartphones, which is why it’s added a new High Quality Mode to Android’s webcam feature.

Android 15 High Quality Mode webcam feature

When you enable the USB webcam feature in the latest Android 15 Developer Preview 2 release, you’ll see a new “HQ” symbol located at the top left. Tapping this enable the new High Quality Mode, which disables any power optimizations that Google made under the hood for the webcam feature.

 

If you’re looking to maximize battery life, then it may be worth keeping High Quality Mode disabled for longer video calls. For what it’s worth, though, I ran with High Quality Mode enabled for a video call that lasted nearly two-and-half hours, and my Pixel 8 Pro’s battery temperature only reached a peak of 37.6 degrees Celsius (~100 degrees Fahrenheit). Plus, the battery level only dropped by 8% during this time. I was using a slow USB 2.0 cable connected to a dock, though, so it’s possible the temperature would have risen even more with a faster charger (and inversely, the battery drain would have lessened or halted).

If you’re wondering whether High Quality Mode actually improves video quality, then I’m happy to report that it does — in fact, quite significantly. I recorded the entirety of episode 35 of the Android Faithful podcast using my Pixel 8 Pro as a webcam with High Quality Mode enabled. I also recorded a quick video, embedded below, that compares the quality of Android’s webcam feature with and without High Quality Mode.

(Note: I manually enabled the feature to obtain this footage, but the feature is live as of Developer Preview 2.)

In our view, Google should have included this High Quality Mode option from the get-go, but it’s better late than never. Will you try out Android’s USB webcam feature now that Google has added the HQ mode? Let us know in the poll below.

Will you use High Quality Mode with the webcam feature of Android 15?

420 votes
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