In recent years, smartphones have evolved into powerful tools that not only keep us connected but also help us capture and share our daily experiences. With advancements in technology, the capabilities of smartphone camera keep being expanded and extended. The arrival of smartphones with thermal imaging cameras is another step forward in this evolution.
Thermal cameras are a rarity on regular smartphones, for the simple reason that the average person has no need of them, Zero. But there is a category of devices that they come in useful – rugged or outdoors phones. These are phones built tough for outdoors professionals and enthusiasts e.g. search and rescue teams, security personnel, engineers, hunters, hikers, campers, and the like. This category of users finds thermal cameras useful.
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What are thermal cameras and what are they used for?
What do thermal cameras do? They allow users to see and capture objects that are visually difficult to see – whether in daylight or in the dark. They work by capturing the heat signature of objects they are pointed at. Think of infrared vision as seen in movies, and you have a good picture of the situation. Smartphones with thermal imaging cameras can be used to find missing people, animals, or objects in the dark or through smoke, can be used to detect camouflaged persons, animals or things, and can be used to detect heat leakages in industrial work areas.
How do Thermal Imaging Cameras work?
Regular cameras have lenses and sensors that work with light; thermal cameras have lenses and sensors that work with heat. They capture heat energy, process it, and render it as an image. Brightness or darkness does not matter at all here. All that a thermal camera works with is heat, and all humans, animals, and objects emit heat to varying degrees.
As lighting doesn’t matter, smartphones with thermal imaging cameras are better at detecting hidden or camouflaged objects better than the regular phone camera. Regular cameras are incapable of this, and thermal cameras are also incapable of doing what regular cameras do – processing light.
Are Thermal Imaging Cameras limited to night use alone?
Not at all. They can be used in daytime, for example, to see through fog or smoke, or to locate camouflaged persons, animals or objects in broad daylight as much as in the dark. This is because, unlike your regular camera, thermal cameras do not capture light; instead, they capture heat.
Do thermal imaging mobile apps work?
Thermal imaging apps work only if the phone has a thermal camera built in or added as a clip-on. Without a thermal sensor and lens, a thermal imaging app is useless.
Do you need a smartphone with a thermal imaging camera?
If you are not involved in the outdoors as a profession or a hobby, or do not have industrial use cases for it, you do not need a smartphone with a thermal imaging camera. For example, I love the outdoors and fairly often have one adventure or the other. Having a thermal imaging camera in my smartphone will come in handy for me every now and then. As already mentioned, for most people, there is little use, if any, for a thermal imaging camera.
Can you add a thermal imaging camera to your regular smartphone?
Yes, you can buy an attachable thermal camera that you can clip to your iPhone or Android phone, so you can use this extra functionality.
The Best Smartphones with Thermal Imaging Cameras
While there are not many of them in the market, the field of smartphones with thermal imaging cameras is growing and quite a number of them are in the market already. Here is my curated list of the best of them.
Ulefone Armor 11T 5G
The Armor 11T 5G has an integrated FLIR thermal imaging 5MP camera, a 6.1-inch display, a MediaTek Dimensity 800 chipset, a 5200mAh battery. It has the MyFLIR2 app pre-installed. it was the first 5G smartphone with a thermal imaging camera.
AGM G2 Guardian
The AGM G2 Guardian has a 256×192 Thermal Monocular Long Detection autofocus thermal imaging camera with a 500m range, the longest on any thermal imaging camera phone. It is powered by a Qualcomm QCM6490 (which is a little above Snapdragon 778G and 782G in performance). The battery is of 7000mAh capacity, coupled with 18W fast charging. It has a 6.58-inch display.
CAT S62 Pro
The Cat S62 Pro uses a FLIR Lepton 3.5 professional-grade sensor and detects invisible heat energy up to 100 ft away. It has a smallish 5.7-inch display, so lovers of compact phones will love it. It is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 660 4G chipset, coupled with 6Gb of RAM and 128GB built-in storage memory.
BL8800 Pro 5G
The BL8800 Pro 5G is fitted with a FLIR® Lepton® 2.5 Thermal Imaging camera, and is powered by a MediaTek Dimensity 700 5G chipset coupled with 8GB RAM and 128GB built-in storage. It has an 8380mAh battery with 33W Fast Charge.
Way back from the days of EPOC, Symbian, Palm, PocketPC/Windows Mobile, BlackBerry/BB10, webOS, Windows Phone, Firefox, Ubuntu Touch, to Android, iOS, and KaiOS operating systems, founder of MobilityArena, Mister Mobility, has owned a few hundred smartphones and tablets, and counting.