In a year when 122-year-old Kodak declares bankruptcy and Facebook pays $1 billion for a startup that has only been around for a year and a half (the photo-sharing service Instagram), it’s perhaps no surprise to find that smart-phone cameras are finally starting to rival—and, in some cases, surpass—dedicated point-and-shoots. Though the iPhone set the bar high, the best of the new breed have features—continuous-shoot mode; wide-angle lenses—that previously existed only in professional-grade digital SLR’s, which can cost thousands of dollars. With their HD video cameras, they also eliminate the need for a stand-alone camcorder. And they have an added benefit: superfast wireless connections, which ensure that your 12-megapixel landscape shot of the Grand Canyon or 720-pixel HD video of San Francisco street performers will upload quickly onto Facebook, Flickr, or YouTube.
With the exception of the HTC One, the phones here were only available for AT&T (the HTC One is also on T-Mobile), but we have it on good authority that you’ll find them on other carriers very soon.
Best Features: Thanks to the built-in Carl Zeiss lens, this model can handle wide-angle shots and low-light environments with clarity. It will also automatically wirelessly upload your pictures to the Microsoft SkyDrive cloud storage service, so you can easily access your photos from any computer. $99 with two-year contract.
Best Features: The stylus-like S-Pen that comes with this phone can be used to retouch photos. And viewing your pictures and videos on its massive, ultra-bright 5.3-inch screen, which displays better contrasts and uses less energy than standard screens, is an unparalleled experience. $299 with two-year contract.
Best Features: Not only is this super-slim (0.35 inches) model shockingly light for a phone with a big HD screen (it weighs less than five ounces) but this smart-phone camera also has one killer feature the others don’t: a continuous-shoot mode that can take up to 99 images at a rapid-fire pace (up to five shots per second). $199 with two-year contract. The similar HTC One S ($199) is available from T-Mobile.
Best Features: If you like to crop your vacation photos into perfectly framed compositions, then the Xperia Ion’s 12-megapixel capability is for you. It creates large images so you don’t have to worry about centering your subject accurately. Plus, it’s fast: even from standby mode, it can take a picture in less than a second. Price unavailable at press time.