By now, it generally goes without saying that a high end smartphone needs to have an amazing display. However, defining what an amazing display is can often be quite difficult. We can all agree that a display should get as bright as possible and that black pixels should be as dark as possible, but some characteristics are often subject to personal biases. Something as simple as white point can divisive because some people prefer warmer colors, but others prefer a colder color balance. Color in general can be a subjective preference, as some prefer wide color gamuts and saturation compression to achieve a vivid look, but others prefer more muted and subtle colors.

However, despite subjective preference we have to all have a common standard for color rendition. After all, if pink on one screen looks like magenta on another, this could easily result in a number of problems when sharing content. Something as simple as taking a photo can be difficult with an inaccurate display, as white balance on a photo could easily appear to be incorrect for a scene even if it isn’t. As a result, in addition to judging simple characteristics such as brightness and contrast, we also test how well a display matches against the sRGB color standard with a gamma target of 2.2. In order to do this, we use our usual test suite which includes X-Rite’s i1Pro2 for accurate color and brightness measurements, along with X-Rite’s i1Display Pro for accurate contrast measurements. In order to fully utilize this hardware, we use SpectraCal’s CalMAN 5 Ultimate with a custom workflow for mobile devices.

Display - Max Brightness

Display - Black Levels

Display - Contrast Ratio

Our first test is focused on some of the basic aspects of the display, namely brightness and contrast. In this regard, the M9 seems to effectively identical to the M8. Both have some level of content-adaptive backlight control, which means that static contrast is lower than the value that we’ve tested it for.

Outside of this basic test, I noticed that the display has worse viewing angles than the M7 and M8. Although the off-angle glow isn’t visibly different when shifting the display along the horizontal and vertical axes, anything in between dramatically decreases contrast as seen in the photos below. It’s likely that this is related to the polarizers used, as the IPS glow effect is strongly angle-dependent. In practice, this really does reduce the effective contrast of the display. The brightness of the display could be higher, but it’s likely that at this point it makes more sense to target lower reflectance with improved coatings rather than driving brightness.

Display - Grayscale Accuracy

Display - White Point

Moving on to grayscale calibration, we can see a dramatic reduction in accuracy when compared to the M7 and M8. Although gamma is generally correct, the white balance ends up far too green and blue. The next most notable issue seems to be related to CABC, as there’s a dramatic increase to gamma from 70% to 100% white. In practice, everything looks excessively cold and with a strange green tint to a lot of content, which really hurts the viewing experience. In order to get an idea for whether this is just a single point or a general trend, we can look at the saturation test which introduces multiple colors.

Display - Saturation Accuracy

Display - Gamut Accuracy

As we can see, in the saturation test this excess of green and blue in colors is not an isolated case of white balance. Colors like magenta are significantly skewed towards blue, yellow tends to skew towards green, and colors like blue and green have noticeable saturation compression. As a result, the color accuracy will be noticeably different from a monitor that follows the sRGB standard. The only positive aspect of this color calibration is that HTC has managed to constrain the gamut of the display to sRGB, unlike the M8 which noticeably exceeded sRGB.

Display - GMB Accuracy

In the Gretag MacBeth ColorChecker, we can get a holistic view of color accuracy within the sRGB space which tests hue, saturation, and gamma to see display calibration as a whole. Somewhat predictably, the M9 also falls short in this scenario. Given how significant the deviations are, it would be difficult to use the M9 in any case where color accuracy is needed.

Overall, the display of the M9 is disappointing. At some point, it was clear that HTC was integrating some of the best mobile displays possible into smartphones, but starting with the M8 it seems that we’ve seen HTC slip in this area. The M9 continues this trend, which is somewhat concerning as the display of a slate smartphone tends to be a critical part of the experience. Some may be eager to point to AMOLED as an alternative, but the problem is that HTC has failed to integrate a high quality LCD into the M9. In the near future though it seems that it may make sense for HTC to move to AMOLED. However, it’s unlikely that such a move would result in any reduction of bezel size as all current displays require a display driver that must be placed directly next to the display.

HTC’s Last Minute Software Update, Battery Life, & Charge Time System Performance: Snapdragon 810


View All Comments

  • fokka - Monday, March 23, 2015 - link

    charge time is measured using the included 1.5A charger, as far as i can tell. this makes sense for most people, but i'd still like to see if a good quick charge 2.0 enabled charger can improve charging time. please? Reply
  • tipoo - Monday, March 23, 2015 - link

    Lol. Watts already include time. Reply
  • mchart - Sunday, March 22, 2015 - link

    My first entry to Android was the M8 and while I loved Android - I found the M8 wasn't all that great. It had a great spec sheet, but real world battery life and standby time to my 5s was pretty bad. The camera on the M8 was also really bad so I'm glad they fixed that. Sense blows. The worst part about sense is how it locks out any customization of the lock screen. The only widget sense allows is it's own on that lock screen. Horrible. I really hated that.

    So while I'm sure the m9 is better, it really only seems to fix the camera problem. It doesn't fix the inherent build quality issues I found with the m8s design, and the excessive size of the device.

    I haven't given up on Android though. I recently got my Z3 Compact in the mail and it's perfect. It has outstanding real world battery life, has a better physical design, has the top end hardware, and Sony doesn't ruin Android with touch wiz/sense type of crap install all that much.
  • fokka - Monday, March 23, 2015 - link

    you seem to have quite unique complaints about the m8, since most points you disliked are things other users and reviews applauded htc for. build, battery, sense... all this are generally considered strengths of the m8.

    also, as we see, the m9 doesn't really improve on many aspects of the m8, even the camera seems to be as sub par es ever, if we can believe first reviews.

    i agree that the z3 compact is a very nice phone, but its hardware isn't truly better than the m8 neither. camera and battery life yes, but the rest is mostly the same or up to personal opinion.
  • V900 - Monday, March 23, 2015 - link

    Well battery and camera are a pretty big part of the experience, no?

    The Z3 compact at least has one thing going for it, the size. It seems to be the only quality Android phone that isn't right around 5 inches. If I would ever switch back to Android from iOS, it would definitely be my first choice...
  • Yesumanu - Sunday, March 22, 2015 - link

    To wrap things up:
    - Lackluster screen when compared to M8 and competition
    - Generally improved software but either Sense 7 is unoptimised or it's the S810
    - Snapdragon 810 dissapointing performance when compared to older Snapdragons
    - Throttling
    - Battery life is worse with same resolution and size screen, lower brightness, newer SoC and bigger battery
    - The camera is better in theory
    So basically they took the One M8 improved the camera and software, relocated the power button but at the same time the screen, battery life, performance, and temperatures suffered quite a bit. How do they expect people to buy this phone? Many were already dissapointed when they heard that M9 is only going to be a minimal upgrade, but to see that it's worse that the M8?
  • hung2900 - Sunday, March 22, 2015 - link

    You forgot cheating in benchmarking also. Reply
  • sonny73n - Monday, March 23, 2015 - link

    HTC is just like most of other companies - they're just cranking up the specs without really improving anything. They've lost their senses in how to make a great device. Sad. Reply
  • warezme - Monday, March 23, 2015 - link

    Truly sad, I too have an M7. The size is better than the new M8 and M9, the screen is better and I could get it in black. I don't want another me too gold/silver phone. Reply
  • fokka - Monday, March 23, 2015 - link

    they should just stop with those fugly gold/champagne/rose colors already. since when is it ok to offer a high end phone in silver/gold dual tone, instead of a pure and simple black? Reply

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