The Display, My Love, the Display

If there’s one aspect of the Nexus One that makes the iPhone 3GS feel really dated it’s the display. Let’s look at the basic specs:

Google Nexus One vs. Apple iPhone
Apple iPhone 3GS (ARM Cortex A8)
Google Nexus One (Qualcomm Snapdragon QSD8250)
Screen Technology LCD Active Matrix OLED
Screen Diagonal 3.5" 3.7"
Resolution 320 x 480 480 x 800
Pixels per Inch 163 ppi 252 ppi

For very similar screen sizes (the Nexus One is narrower but longer than the iPhone), Google offers a huge increase in resolution. It makes sense given that the iPhone 3GS is still using the same resolution panel as the first iPhone back in 2007.

Recently Luke Hutchison published an excellent article at Ars Technica explaining the subpixel makeup of the Nexus One’s display. Most display technologies we’re used to reproduce colors by using a combination of red, green and blue. Instead of evenly distributing RGB subpixels across the display, the Nexus One has a combination of RRG or GBB for each pixel. This optimization is put in place most likely to reduce manufacturing cost or increase lifespan of the display.

Either way, you’re not getting complete color data on a per pixel basis. Now I won’t get into the argument of whether or not Google should call it a 480 x 800 display. It technically has that many pixels, it’s just that their makeup is a bit odd.

Google also does some pretty standard tricks to make the display look even more impressive. You get oversaturated colors and the usual trickery you can find in the TV section at Best Buy. Whites on the Nexus One aren't quite white but rather a cool blue and reds are often too red.

Compared to the iPhone, indoors, the Nexus One display is just incredible. If there are two things you could describe the Nexus One display as they would be: high contrast, and sharp. Indoors, and above 50% brightness, it’s honestly the best looking display I’ve ever seen on a smartphone. The colors are ridiculously vibrant and they pop because of the super deep blacks.

It really looks that contrasty.

The AMOLED display has no backlight, and thus it’s far more power efficient to display lots of black than it is to display bright whites. For this reason many of the applications use black backgrounds. For example, here’s the email app in Android vs. the email app in iPhone OS:

Google Nexus One
Apple iPhone 3GS

Given that Android is a fairly mainstream OS and not a pornsite, white text on a black background is generally unexpected. Unexpected, but not more difficult to read. The high resolution and incredibly contrasty AMOLED display make sure of that.

In direct sunlight, the lower part of the picture above is what the Nexus One looks like

Outdoors it’s another story entirely. In direct sunlight, the display is mostly useless at its default brightness settings. With the brightness cranked all the way up it’s still washed out but at least legible. Which brings me to my next point. The auto brightness control on the Nexus One is frustrating.

It automatically adjusts display brightness based on ambient light, but it generally picks a brightness that’s too low for my tastes. I just ended up disabling the automatic control and picked something that was around 50 - 100% brightness depending on what I was doing with the phone. I would like the option to have the auto brightness control pick settings that are a little less conservative.

Touch the Screen

Touchscreens have gotten much better over the past couple of years since the iPhone’s introduction. The Nexus One’s touchscreen is very close to as responsive as the iPhone’s but with some annoying issues. There are some situations where holding the Nexus One in one hand and swiping with my thumb won’t let me swipe between screens, and other similar accuracy issues. Getting the home bar buttons to recognize taps is also a pain at times. The touchscreen is definitely usable, just not as good as the iPhone's.

Inside Snapdragon is a Scorpion Performance: Faster but Choppier


View All Comments

  • fepple - Wednesday, April 07, 2010 - link

    +1 for mention of cyanogen
    Also of note there is no equaliser which I think the iPhone has?
  • doratiog - Saturday, April 03, 2010 - link

    The possibility of reading the whole article without the tiring exercise of clicking and clicking again like if readers would have been punished and obliged to suffer Tantalus torture is gone. Not a good and rational decision if you wanted to improve your site. Reply
  • Voo - Saturday, April 03, 2010 - link

    It's just a beta and will come back in no time, so no worries.

    Other than that.. tiring exercise of clicking a dozen times on a button? Well you could say that, but imho that's a bit far stretched isn't it? ;)
  • adityanag - Saturday, April 03, 2010 - link

    Print.. PLEASE bring back print!! Reply
  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Saturday, April 03, 2010 - link

    My apologies for not getting it up sooner, we've been swamped with fixes and behind the scenes updates most of this week. We should see it very soon though, just a little while longer :)

    Take care,
  • microAmp - Saturday, April 03, 2010 - link

    If you're using Firefox, try the add-on AutoPager, it'll load the next page while you're scrolling and reading the current page. Reply
  • runner50783 - Sunday, April 04, 2010 - link

    I do appreciate the layout, It's a much more organized and concise experience than blogs..., Anantech is not a blog and I hope it does not become one. Reply
  • Trisagion - Saturday, April 03, 2010 - link

    Nice review.

    I wish you would review the Blackberry Storm2 as well. As a long term Blackberry user, maybe you can give us your thoughts on how productive the phone is without the trademark keyboard. It will also round up the current generation of smart phones - iPhone, Pre, Android and Storm.
  • straubs - Saturday, April 03, 2010 - link

    I think the reason that isn't done is the first Storm was such a flop that really no one considers the Storm to be a competitor with iPhone, Android, or Pre. Reply
  • Trisagion - Sunday, April 04, 2010 - link

    That is true, but it's the only touch phone in the Blackberry ecosystem, so I wanted Anand's take on it but anyway... Reply

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