When Will Laptop Webcams Get Better?

A new laptop from Chinese technology firm Honor has shipped with an industry first: a 5-megapixel camera with a 90-degree wide-angle lens.

Other gadgets, like the HP Elite Dragonfly Max business laptop, feature 5-megapixel cameras, but (a) they’re likely to be 2-in-1 convertibles and (b) they account for just a tiny portion of the market.

Why, in an age when hybrid working is popular, when Microsoft Teams, Zoom and Google Meet are household names and even basic smartphones (like the Infinix Zero 8) have a 48-megapixel selfie camera, do laptop users have to deal with VGA webcams?

VGA stands for “video graphics array,” which refers to an obsolete, out-of-date resolution of 640 by 480 pixels (or 307,000 pixels in all).

It was once popular towards the end of the twentieth century (the 1990s) but persists in at least one laptop created in 2021 – namely, the Lenovo V17-IIL.

While there may be a humorous side to being on-screen as a Minecraft character, it is not a feeling shared by many.

The epidemic has shown that millions of individuals are dissatisfied with the picture quality produced by integrated laptop webcams, and sadly, this isn’t something that will improve soon.

SuperFi, on the other hand, focuses more on premium rather than budget-friendly offers.

The result of our study of 50 current-generation laptops from Dell, Lenovo, and HP – in gaming, consumer, and business categories – was poor.

Dell offered no laptops with webcams capable of higher than 720p resolution (about 1 million pixels), even its most expensive laptop, the $5,339 Dell Precision 7760 Data Science Workstation. Even for its top-end $5,159 ThinkPad, P17 Gen 2 mobile workstation from Lenovo and Apple didn’t do much better.

There are the laws of physics, apathy, and competing priorities to consider.

Because most people met in real life and video conferencing was either done mostly in meeting rooms or on one’s smartphone, webcam quality on laptops was far down the priority list before the epidemic..

The rise of smartphones has resulted in vendors sticking to HD and cutting it down to produce ultra-portable laptops with minimal bezels, such as the award-winning XPS 13. Others, like Honor, have chosen to conceal the webcam entirely within a pop-up key on your keyboard.

Asus went one step further and got rid of the webcam because… why not?

The transition from low-res to high-res was also hampered by physical and economic limitations.

Laptop webcams with higher resolution were made more difficult by the laws of physics and (generally speaking) capitalism as a whole. Phones are thicker than laptop lids, and laptop webcam modules are horizontal rather than vertical (to fit in the bezel).

As a result, the shift will not happen until there is sufficient demand for laptop webcam modules with smartphone-like sensors.

Then there’s the fact that there are no more users or reviewers: Because HD webcams are the norm, reviews and users do not generally make note (or consider) it as an oddity.

It’s only when we, as reviewers, take a proactive approach and begin to discuss this as an exception that readers will pay attention and hopefully push vendors to improve.

So, where else might you go from here?

The best option for a webcam is the pop-up key, but only Huawei and Honor have taken the risk of putting it in a pop-up key.

The camera angle is fixed, so it’s not surprising that this isn’t proving to be an appealing alternative due to the fixed camera position.

Other possibilities include thicker bezels, under display cameras, or punch hole cameras. At the end of the day, it will be up to buyers to decide.