Introduction

For a while now, I’ve realized that there is a massive gap in the continuity of smartphone display history. Until the last few months of 2011 or early 2012, proper testing of smartphone displays was few and far between. Most websites tested peak brightness and contrast, and possibly white point. While some websites did go in depth, they would often only test a few phones. Of course, now things are different. Websites are starting to scrutinize display quality from all angles from color accuracy to reflectance, but no one has ever gone back to properly test old devices.

Of course, the best time to have tested these old devices was when they were new. The next best time is now, so let’s get to it. Unfortunately in the span of 4 years it’s become rather difficult to find all the devices that I’d like, but we’ll look at some of the key representative devices of each generation. This means the Galaxy S, Desire HD, Galaxy S2, and Rezound. The first three are all WVGA, 800x480 resolution displays. The Galaxy S has a 4 inch display, and all the other devices have a 4.3” display. All of them are also easily used with one hand, which is almost a surprise these days. Unfortunately, battery life testing won't be possible as all of the devices have aged too much for the results to be representative of their actual performance. As always, in order to properly test displays we use a custom workflow on SpectraCal's CalMAN 5.

Samsung Galaxy S

For most people, the Galaxy S would be their first encounter with Samsung’s SAMOLED displays and PenTile layouts. While it may have been acceptable at some point in the past, it’s quite obvious that this display hasn’t aged well at all. While high pixel density masks the effects of PenTile quite well, they’re omnipresent in the original Galaxy S. Even at relatively far distances from the display I can make out gaps between pixels in text. At the edges, there’s a strange effect where the lines are clearly not straight. Instead, the edges of text appear to be quite rough, making a zig zag pattern instead of a clean line.

Putting aside PenTile, the brightness of this display has aged relatively well. The expected brightness seems to be about 350 nits out of the box, and the T-Mobile unit I tested seemed to have lost some of its peak brightness, but it’s still quite bright at around 320 nits. Contrast is great as always here.

Grayscale is where things get ugly. Red is effectively no longer visible in the graph by 35% white, and both green and blue are completely out of control. The result is one of the worst averages for dE2000 error I’ve ever recorded.

In the saturation sweep, we see a similar story. Just about every type of mistake in color accuracy is seen here. Extreme blue/green shift on white, saturation compression, gamut far out of sRGB, hue shifts with saturation changes, and no way to improve it.

As expected, a similar result is seen in the Gretag Macbeth ColorChecker. This is simply a logical extension of poor color control in the saturations test, so this is no surprise. Looking at the Galaxy S5 LTE-A, it’s definitely incredible to see just how far Samsung has come since the early days of AMOLED technology.

HTC Desire HD
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  • akdj - Saturday, August 09, 2014 - link

    That was supposed to be 'you've NOT read the...'
    Spell correction. Sweet
    Reply
  • Impulses - Saturday, July 26, 2014 - link

    Anand didn't even write this article... :p And phones are increasingly used for more and more things where accuracy can matter, dunno why you'd want to give manufacturers a pass on it, specially with phones being most people's primary camera. Reply
  • Alexey291 - Saturday, July 26, 2014 - link

    I meant anand as in anandtech collectively. But yeah I'll be clearer on that in the future :P (if I remember to be :P)

    Generally its not a matter of giving a pass its a matter of "meh who cares".

    As for photography people mentioned above. Whenever I walk around on my hiking trips I am always torn between extra weight + space that a decent camera would require vs terrible quality that phone cameras provide.

    Because whatever the screen colours - the camera that takes the photos is still shit. And besides the primary camera if any of those dumb stats are to be believed is the front one. You know... the 2mp selfie cam :/
    Reply
  • Streamlined - Saturday, July 26, 2014 - link

    Good point. Some people are always making excuses for mediocrity. Reply
  • Alexey291 - Sunday, July 27, 2014 - link

    People above are making excuses for poor quality (of a phone camera) and you're going to pick on me prefering BETTER LOOKING colours to low contrast and washed out crap that "perfect colour representation" offers.

    Welp
    Reply
  • Streamlined - Sunday, July 27, 2014 - link

    Because over saturated colors is to cameras what Beats headphones are to audio. Poor quality. Those crappy phone screens will lead to printing crappy photos. And if you think EVERY SMARTPHONE is poor quality than you are insane. Reply
  • Alexey291 - Sunday, July 27, 2014 - link

    So oversaturated colours on a screen will changed how you take a shot on your 2.1mp selfie cam? Really? Even your 8 (or 13) mp camera on the back still holds a tiny lens and never catches any colour or light. And then you look at your screen on your phone and shrug because whatever you have taken looks ok on a small screen. And will look like shit on a big one.

    As for "all smartphones have crap cameras". Sorry to break it to you. But they do.

    Do all smartphones have crap screens? Nope. Some have ugly "perfect rgb colours" and some have pretty overblown contrasts and colour ranges.

    And if you print your smartphone photos I have nothing but pity for your wasted cash.

    That's pretty much all there's to it.
    Reply
  • HangFire - Saturday, July 26, 2014 - link

    Objective testing is necessary because certain ardent brand fans accept and believe whatever they hear about their phone and cannot believe they can be inferior in any respect. I once tried to explain the pixel density on my M7 far exceeded the, um, other phone in question and was met with complete denial. D'oh it's a 1080p display. At least links articles like this can be emailed after the conversation for the coup de grace. Reply
  • sonci - Saturday, July 26, 2014 - link

    What's the point of this review, my Galaxy S died a long time ago,
    anyway since I got my iPhone I stopped looking for smartphones,
    Reply
  • mkozakewich - Sunday, July 27, 2014 - link

    Sorry! You should email them with your newest model, and they'll hop right to reviewing it. I'm sure if they knew your Galaxy S died, they wouldn't have bothered writing you this personalized review. Reply

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