Screen - Display

Both the N900 and Motorola Droid use traditional LCD displays. Of course, the interesting comparison points are the HTC Incredible and Nexus One displays, which use AMOLED. Though they advertise the same resolution, they do so using a proprietary RGBG grid marketed under the trade name 'PenTile' while the traditional LCDs use an RGB bayer grid pattern.

It remains an interesting point of contention whether the PenTile pattern offers superior spatial resolution than the traditional bayer grid pattern. Ultimately one needs to take into account the human eye system and subsequent response to really make a definitive answer. The AMOLED display is incredibly contrasty, so much so that I measured the black level as 0. That's right, 0 - meaning our contrast is effectively infinity. In fact, that makes sense - AMOLED subpixels are turned off when displaying black by nature of how they work. However, the white point I measured seems too low - interestingly, this is probably a result of the unique subpixel arrangement.

LCD versus AMOLED up close - 100% Crops

Personally, I can notice the difference in dithering and can discern the unique subpixel arrangement, but I know what to look for. For me, not being able to see the pattern or an offset screen door effect makes the Motorola Droid or N900 displays the better choice.

But if contrast and brightness are what matter, the AMOLED blows the competition away.

Top to bottom: Nokia N900, Motorola Droid, HTC Droid Incredible

Side by side, the Motorola Droid and AMOLED display on the Incredible seemed just as bright, with the Incredible just edging out the Motorola Droid. Having played with two AMOLED displays, it appears like the displays are very oversaturated - perhaps at the expense of being accurate. Take a look at the yellows and oranges in the AnandTech webpage - it's easy to see that they're more saturated. I'm still trying to come up with a foolproof way to measure color accuracy, however.

The N900 isn't quite as bright or contrasty as either of the two phones. It's entirely possible that this is due to the resistive screen versus the two capacitive digitzers. Note that I'm positive the AMOLED display on the Incredible is causing some sort of measurement error to occur on my i1D2 colorimeter, as it definitely appears substantially brighter than the Motorola Droid. It's highly likely that the measurement is being skewed because of the unique PenTile arangement, or something inherent in the AMOLED display technology.

The HTC Droid Incredible is notably absent from the display contrast graph because contrast is... well... infinite in this circumstance. Or at least indeterminate. Whatever the case, AMOLED delivers the absolute best contrast possible. It's really amazing in person.

Outdoors, however, the N900 is an obvious winner - just look at the direct sunlight example down below. The AMOLED display on the Incredible is more difficult to read in indirect sunlight, and very challenging to look at in direct sunlight.

Outdoors in the shade
Outdoors in direct sunlight

One last thing I'd like to note is that I've read in more than a few articles some claims that the AMOLED display is readable with polarized glasses - that there aren't any angles where there is complete extinction like with normal LCDs. This is false; rotate any AMOLED screen around, and brightness will still fall off following cosine squared like any other analyzing polarizer.

Smartphone Camera Showdown OMAP 3430 Performance


View All Comments

  • DLeRium - Friday, June 11, 2010 - link

    You talk about the display brightness and how nice it looks, but you need to mention gamut. In some tests the 3GS shows ~65% of gamut, while the Droid shows 102%. Nexus One is at 141%. I expect the Incredible to be around there, so while the colors look nice on AMOLED, you must remember it's over-saturated and inaccurate while the Droid is spot on at 102%. Reply
  • fabarati - Friday, June 11, 2010 - link

    I think you've misunderstood what gamut means.

    When a screen is advertises as 98% of the Adobe sRGB Gamut, it means that the screen covers 98% of the colours defined by Adobe for that gamut..

    If it says 141% of the Adobe sRGB gamut, it means that it covers more than that defined area. It doesn't mean that the colours are oversaturated. It also doesn't mean that it can display all the colours there is.

    Read up on gamuts on wikipedia:
  • Powerlurker - Friday, June 11, 2010 - link

    On the other hand, I doubt that anyone is going to do color correction or some sort of display calibration on their smartphone, and since most companies set their displays to be somewhat saturated by default, I would guess that in practice the Incredible's AMOLED screen will be oversaturated compared to the Droid's LCD. Reply
  • Brian Klug - Friday, June 11, 2010 - link

    So here's the problem - there's absolutely no way to measure it. Or at least, I haven't found an acceptable solution.

    Going off the display panel numbers seems extremely unrealistic for obvious reasons, but barring that there are other bigger problems.

    1. Android uses 16-bit color in a lot of places because they're rendering them with 3D OpenGL compositing and compressed textures. One of the most glaring - and dare I say troubling - examples is right inside the gallery application. The gallery application in 2.0.1 was full 24-bit color, but in 2.1 Google contracted with Cooliris to develop a more flashy 3D gallery. Obviously, the limitations imposed by the GPU on different devices (and possibly even from the POV of what textures are supported) necessitated 16-bits per color. In practice, it just looks awful. Without even being nitpicky, I can notice lots of banding.

    2. The AMOLED displays use the PenTile array, which also does a lot of dithering inherently - in fact, their pattern is essentially trying to get around Nyquist by being very creative with the human eye system, and this intermediate software layer of theirs. The consequence is that it ends up smoothing and dithering the 16-bits, making it really hard to see the banding, but it's still there. Pull up the color gradient images from the article and scrutinize the Incredible. There's no banding, but in person, you can stlll pick out dithering and a problem.

    3. I still have no way of doing gamut testing on any mobile devices. So back when I started on the iPad article, I had a (relatively clever, I think) idea to use the calibration software through a 24-bit remote desktop session, tricking it into using any mobile device like a screen. This just doesn't work for reasons outside my understanding. I've done it on iPhone OS and Android, and for some reason the results are just complete bogus. So there's no way of really telling what the % gamut coverage of Adobe 1998 any of these things are. Moreover, since there's no way of loading a display profile on them, you're really stuck with whatever it shipped with anyways.

    The sad state of things is that AMOLED "looks" brighter and more contrasty, but the color accuracy is just undoubtedly wrong. I mean, it's obvious to make that comparison when you're surrounded by calibrated IPS panels with Delta-E tracking under 1.0, you hold up any of the phones, and see a veritable library of differently hued photos.

    I'm open to any suggestions you guys have for really measuring gamut. I mean, we could try being more manual and laboriously testing colors one by one (that's basically how I do brightness - white, black, and contrast) but, is it worth it?
  • KevinToon - Friday, June 11, 2010 - link

    Shouldn't the speakerphone testing be done with the devices suspended off the desk??
    I know my phone sounds different if it's on a hard surface like a desk.
  • R3MF - Friday, June 11, 2010 - link

    I have an n900, so thanks, good article.

    Found an interesting MeeGo article since you mentioned it:
  • medi01 - Friday, June 11, 2010 - link

    May I ask why 3GS is missing from "side by side comparison"? Just an incident or you are THAT afraid of Mr Jobbs marketing's wrath? Reply
  • dtreader - Friday, June 11, 2010 - link

    Wow! Just moments after finally placing my order for an N900 about eight hours ago (I've been lusting over this phone ever since it was just rumored to exist), I noticed this article on AT, with no comments having been posted to it yet. Cool, huh?

    I have a feeling there are many people like me....people that have been thinking about purchasing this incredible phone, but have been holding back for various reasons: for the price to come down a bit, to see how Nokia supported it with software updates, to find out about bugs and if they're being fixed, to feel comfortable about the future of Maemo on the N900 and, at this point, feeling comfortable about buying this phone even if Nokia comes out with something better in a few months time.

    I've been depending daily on my flip phone/N800 tablet combination for a few years now, and have been dying to step up to the next level, even before I knew that would come in the form of the N900. A few months ago I looked at the Droid (currently I'm with Verizon), and lately considered the htc EVO on Sprint, but when you combine the current capabilities and the exciting future of the N900 (thanks to its truly open philosophy and dedicated enthusiast/developer base), I just couldn't wait any longer to get on board! T-Mobile 3.5G here I come!

    Thanks for this article, Anandtech! You've been my main "source for hardware analysis and news" for over ten years now! :)

    Go N900!!!
  • milli - Friday, June 11, 2010 - link

    "From a performance perspective, the Motorola Droid's 550 MHz Cortex A8 simply isn't a match for the 1 GHz A8 in Snapdragon's Scorpion CPU ... "

    That should read: ... for the 1 GHz Scorpion CPU in the Snapdragon ...

    There's no Cortex A8 in the Snapdragon.
  • Brian Klug - Friday, June 11, 2010 - link

    That's being a bit semantic I think.

    Inside the Snapdragon is a Scorpion, which is Qualcomm's trade name for their hardened (1 GHz supporting) Cortex A8 CPU.

    Cortex is the ARM Family, ARMv7-A is the family, and Cortex A8 is the fully qualified core name.

    So really, either one is correct ;)


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