The Nexus One's Dirty Display Secret (Updated)

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If Nexus One reviewers could agree on one thing, it was that the phone has a stunning screen. But for those inky blacks and vivid colors, you're apparently paying a hefty price: I mean, look at that.


DisplayMate ran a battery of comparative tests on the Nexus One's AMOLED screen, and came away with a damning list of issues:

• The Nexus One only uses 16 bit color, which means that "Red and Blue only have 32 possible intensity levels and Green only has 64 possible intensity levels," as compared to the iPhone and others, which have at least 256 intensity levels for each color. Result: That horrible banding you see above.

• Android's sub-pixel rendering is great for icons and text, but terrible for images. Photos are "rendered poorly and inaccurately, with over-saturated colors, bad color and gray-scale accuracy, large color and gray-scale tracking errors, calibration errors, lots of image noise from excessive edge and sharpness processing, and many artifacts." Result: Blown-out areas in photographs, image noise, and general gaudiness in colorful images.

• The display's peak white brightness is oddly low. Result: It's hard to see the screen when used outdoors. (This, for what it's worth, we already knew.)

There's a lot more to chew on in DisplayMate's post, and the effect is actually worse than portrayed in their images, or ours above, since by the time you see them, they've been photographed, resaved and redisplayed on another display. And the results aren't trivial: in the right kind of photograph, there is significant color banding on the Nexus One, where there wouldn't be on virtually any other smartphone.

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But when we came across this story, it took most of us by surprise, because those of us that'd used a Nexus One were utterly convinced of its display's awesomeness. From our review:

The AMOLED screen is gorgeous, and all the colors pop to the point that it makes both the iPhone 3GS and the Droid look washed out. It's really, really good.


Here's the thing: This is still true. HTC and Google likely made a conscious decision to sacrifice color fidelity, outdoor viewability, and maybe even touch accuracy for a screen that, experientially speaking, blows everything else out of the water. And depending on how anal you are, this is probably fine.


The question now facing Nexus One owners is a psychological one: Now that you know about the display's (or software's) flaws, will your brain still be able to look past them?

UPDATE: Some commenters are pointing to the fact that DisplayMate's testing appears to have been done in Android's gallery app, which may be compressing images and throwing the tests. This could be part of the problem, but our comparison shot, posted at the top of this article, was taken from within Android's browser, not the gallery app. If this is merely software issue, it runs across at least the gallery and browser apps, which are the apps you're most likely to view images in. Something's wrong here.


UPDATE II: Multiple reports from users are claiming that some third party apps—galleries and browsers—eliminate the image banding seen above. This points to a software issue rather than a hardware issue, which means that Google could conceivably fix some aspects of this display strangeness with a software update. [DisplayMate]



Am I wrong to think that they could have a software update that would allow you to adjust the screen resolution between 16 and 24 bit color? Admittedly, maybe I am silly thinking that it could be like most modern operating systems where you could switch between brilliant text at 16 bit and excellent photograph rendering at 24 bit, but that just does not seem like a rocket science programming challenge to me.