Updated 8-22-12. We received a statement from T-Mobile on this finding: "T-Mobile and Huawei are aware of this issue and will be working on a software fix so that the myTouch camera can live up to its 5MP potential." We don't yet know the when the fix will be deployed.—Ed.
T-Mobile's latest myTouch and myTouch Q smart phones exemplify the trend to "entry level" phones that offer last year's leading-edge technologies at a bargain price—in this case, $50 with a two-year contract. But our tests have found the camera used on both of these phones falls short, including delivering lower resolution than the specified 5 megapixels.
Made by Huawei Technologies, these phones do offer a lot for the money: access to T-Mobile's HSPA+ 4G network, decent 4-inch (480 x 800) LCD displays, and 1.4GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon S2 processors. True, they run on the near-to-retirement Android Gingerbread (version 2.3.6) operating system, but you can't expect it all for a mere $50.
We would, however, expect a camera to meet its specs, which the one on the myTouch models didn't do in our tests. According to Consumer Reports engineers, the phones' rear-facing main camera, supposedly offering 5 megapixels, actually offers a maximum resolution of 3.9 megapixels. The problem showed up on multiple shots taken on several samples of both phones, all with software we ensured was up to date.
The shortfall is rooted in a limitation to the camera's shooting modes. Where many phone cameras have the option to choose a "wide-screen" format, which crops the photo frame to accommodate the rectangular (16:9) shape of wide-screen TVs, this cropped mode is the only mode available on the myTouch cameras.
By lopping off pixels from the top and bottom of the frame, the camera yields an approximate 16:9 image made up of 2560 x 1536 pixels (3.9 megapixels), rather than the 2560 x 1920 pixels squarer, 4:3-shaped image (4.9 megapixels) of a typical 5-megapixel camera.
Overall, the camera yielded wide images that were only fair in image quality, even in well-lit conditions. And the camera responds relatively slowly when the shutter is pressed. Even most "entry level" smart phones in our Ratings offer image quality that scores good or better overall, and that allow you to shoot images in a range of shapes, not just in wide-screen mode.
Further, some of those other budget models boast resolutions of up to 8 megapixels, making them notably better if you expect to print some of the shots from your phone, especially as enlargements.
We'll add these myTouch models soon to our Ratings of smart phones, after we complete our extensive tests of all aspects of performance. But it's already safe to say these phones aren't the best choices if a fairly versatile camera is a priority in your next phone.
[3:15 PM: Updated]