APK app unlocks Pixel 2 portrait mode on older smartphones (sort of)

Google Pixel - smallest smartphones
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends
Itching to get your hands on the Google Pixel 2’s camera effects, but don’t have the cash? A developer just unlocked one of the flagship smartphone’s camera features using software. Charles Chow recently shared an update to Camera NX, a Google Camera mod app, that unlocks part of the Pixel 2 portrait mode on older phones, including the original Pixel, Nexus 5X and Nexus 6P.

The mod app brings a variation on portrait mode to older phones, all using software. Chow explains that Google used a hardware-based solution on the rear-facing camera, but a software variation on the front-facing camera. By adapting that software, Chow says Camera NX will allow users with an older phone to access the portrait mode.

The camera mod won’t quite match the Pixel 2’s portrait mode however — because it’s only a software fix. On the rear-facing camera, the Pixel 2 uses dual-pixel autofocus and adapts the dual-pixel sensor to take data from slightly different locations. Much like using two lenses, accessing data from different locations on the sensor allows the smartphone to access depth data. With access to that information, the Pixel 2 can determine what’s closest to the camera and what’s in the background, allowing for an intelligent blur effect to be applied to the shot automatically in post.

Since the feature on the rear camera is all hardware, Camera NX doesn’t quite have the same features. While the portrait mode on Pixel 2 works with any subject, Camera NX requires a person for the effect to work. When a face shows up in the photo, the app will save the original plus a version with that background blur, but face-free photos means just a single photo without the blur effect.

Chow, who has previously brought HDR+ and AR stickers to earlier models with the mod, says the portrait effect does work on both the front and back cameras, modifying the software from the front of the Pixel 2 to work in both cameras on older smartphones. As version 7.3, the Camera NX update also gets a handful of other updates, including some bug fixes.

Camera NX doesn’t create quite the same hardware-based portrait mode — and users will still have to buy the Pixel 2 for other hardware solutions like optical stabilization and the highest DxOMark smartphone rating yet. But the mod app could be a way for some users willing to try a third-party APK download to access some of the portrait mode features without an upgrade. The download and details on the update are available from Chromaloop.com.

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