Display

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
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  • dandroid45 - Tuesday, March 24, 2015 - link

    Man, I feel the same way, black, blue, silver, and white and maybe red, call it a day after that Reply
  • flyingpants1 - Monday, March 23, 2015 - link

    I'd give it all up for the front speakers and mSD. The metal is pointless since it's going in a case on day 1. Reply
  • Jumangi - Tuesday, March 24, 2015 - link

    Yea your better off getting a cheaper used M8 off of Ebay than one of these. HTC is in for another long year of losses. Reply
  • ol1bit - Sunday, March 22, 2015 - link

    I Still have an M7, and it shocks me to see HTC keeps getting worse with each generation. Sure it's faster at gaming and such forth, but speed isn't everything. My phone is plenty fast for everyday items, and even some lite gaming, but for most gaming I use My Shield Portable. Sad really. Reply
  • VoraciousGorak - Sunday, March 22, 2015 - link

    Also a (very happy) M7 owner here, looks like I'll be keeping my phone for at least another generation. Loving the screen, other metrics still competitive, newer smartphones not really enticing me even with how relatively old the M7 is. Shame I have one of the ones with a crappy low-light sensor (purple all the things!) Reply
  • RYF - Monday, March 23, 2015 - link

    There are some batch of M7 with defective camera module. You can get it changed. I have several friends who get it swapped and it is all well till now. Reply
  • Refuge - Monday, March 23, 2015 - link

    I also own and still love my HTC One M7. Great phone, and nothing has driven me to upgrade yet. I've never had a smart phone as long as this one. Reply
  • superflex - Monday, March 23, 2015 - link

    Mine is almost 2 years old and other than a screen crack in one corner and dust under the front camera (which I never use), I love the phone.
    Battery life is still good for a 2 year old phone and the boom sound cant be beat.

    This review doesn't bode well for HTC. Throttling, heat, poor display and mediocre CPU gains don't compel me to upgrade.
    Reply
  • Notmyusualid - Sunday, March 22, 2015 - link

    I feel some pain when I think of my past M7 too, the size was perfect, the build was lovely, display is one of the very best I've seen, but the charge time did it for me.

    My GS5 charges quick (under 2hrs), and when I can get a charge, I get more quicker too, thus making me more mobile. But the GS5 screen (in MY opinion) is horrible.

    Now I've nowhere to look; M9 no front buttons, GS6, no front speakers. Event the amazing Note Edge I tried at the weekend - no front spearkes.

    But its my money, and I can wait. Someone will come along with the right product eventually.
    Reply
  • Spoelie - Monday, March 23, 2015 - link

    The Moto X 2014 comes close to a spiritual successor of the One M7. I've passed it tho for 3 reasons:

    * One front firing speaker instead of two, subjective tests all give the nod to boomsound.
    * Amoled - great for movies, not so great for Android white-infused-Lollipop. Several counts of far reduced battery life.
    * No IR blaster

    But ergonomically, bezel size, etc. it is much better than the HTC M8+. It also has the quick charge spec.

    Fix these for the Moto X 2015 - update the SOC, keep the physical size/1080p, maybe improve camera performance a bit, and I'm dropping my HTC...
    Reply

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