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

  • V900 - Monday, March 23, 2015 - link

    Heh, that's kinda funny... iPhone owner here too, a fairly happy one at that, and the Z3Compact is also the only Android handset I find the least bit tempting! Reply
  • polygon_21 - Monday, March 23, 2015 - link

    "The One M7 was essentially the phone that saved HTC."
    The M9 might be the one that kills it.
  • Laxaa - Monday, March 23, 2015 - link

    Ouch. HTC really dropped the ball here.

    I was considering replacing my Lumia 920 with the M9, but at this point I'd rather wait for the M10 with the Snapdragon 820. Too bad, because HTC really had a good template with the M7(always felt that the M8 was a step back in tersm of design).
  • jvl - Monday, March 23, 2015 - link

    "(...) but we’re basically fighting physics here."
    Uh really? Have you seeen... well, the Moto X? Either of those, that is?

    How can you say something like that?!
  • jvl - Monday, March 23, 2015 - link

    Before any downputting comments arise, find the quoted piece at the design section, directly under the picture showing off HTC's brand.
    Which I avoid for this specific reason....
  • jvl - Monday, March 23, 2015 - link

    Wow, after skimming through the review I really wonder... Do we really need an HTC as a competitor? This device feels completely unnecessary. If they can't even get an improvement right, they're better off making room for someone who can.
    Sony could use more exposure, I've got the impression their lineup wipes the floor with HTC's.

    Seriously, I usually compare the plots (benchmarks and whatnot) to both my current phone or my aspired-to-next-phone (currently: Moto x 14 / none) - in this case, there is not a single feature I'd like to see from the M9 in the device I have....

    Plus, that logo... (Any company worth its sh*t should be proud enough and confident enough not to spoil the front like that)
  • sonny73n - Monday, March 23, 2015 - link

    Yup, not to mention the logo is very ugly, plus the the off-centered display is a deal breaker for me. Reply
  • DeciusStrabo - Monday, March 23, 2015 - link

    The M9 gets an hour (15 %) more runtime than the Moto X. A single feature that I would think you'd see as worthy. Reply
  • Laxaa - Monday, March 23, 2015 - link

    Sony has some great phones(The compacts are excellent), but they are plagued by lackluster camera performance(lack of OIS and terrible processing), which is ironic considering Sony produces most of the sensors on the market today.

    The Z4 will be one to watch though, and I hope there will be a compact version of it.
  • marcolorenzo - Monday, March 23, 2015 - link

    Back when the reviews first came out for the HTC One X, they certainly didn't mention the problems listed in this article's introduction. Of course, I don't remember what Anandtech had to say about it but I definitely remember several sites praised it as if it was the second coming for Android. Based on those reviews, I decided to "upgrade" to it from an iPhone 3GS. What a huge disappointment. The only good thing about it was the camera I think. Performance was pathetic and the battery life was barely tolerable. They were also terrible with software upgrades but of course, this could not have been foreseen by reviewers. It almost made me go back to Apple but I stuck around and got a Z1 Compact after my contract was up and has been very satisfied ever since.
    The fact that the M9 has received hardly any design changes from the M8 or M7 for that matter and suffers from performance and battery life problems show that HTC is a relic of a company and deserves to be put down. In this day and age, there's simply no room for idiocy like this, especially not when the competition is so strong and definitely not when they are already playing catch up. I'll be buying a S6 Edge next month, the M9 won't even be factoring into my consideration.

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