Display

As with just about everything these days, display matters quite a bit. In a lot of ways, the wearable segment has display requirements similar to the smartphone space. However, unlike the smartphone space it isn’t necessarily critical to have the highest possible resolution, and it isn’t necessarily crucial to have perfect color calibration as in most cases wearables won’t be used for color-critical applications.

In the interest of addressing this, for the near-term we’ll continue to use the standard smartphone workflow, but I hope to expand the testing done here as wearables develop. For now, we’ll continue to do the standard brightness and accuracy testing, but I’ve removed the grayscale test as it strongly emphasizes gamma accuracy. Although it is important to not have obscenely incorrect gamma curves, wearables generally have to prioritize readability over dynamic range, which means that near-black colors would be brightened to try and overcome background reflectance. Similarly, we won’t be placing dE2000 average error in our Bench comparison tool or in graphs, as something like the Apple Watch cannot have controlled display brightness.

As a result, we can’t really be 100% sure that gamma tests and other tests of luminance are actually accurate when automatic brightness means that any inconsistency in light to the sensor will affect display brightness, which will strongly affect dE2000 results.

In the case of the Apple Watch, the display is interesting because this represents the first AMOLED display to ever be used in an Apple product. As far as I can tell, this is an LG OLED display with an RGB subpixel arrangement, but it isn’t quite the same as a traditional RGB stripe. I suspect that for the near future we will continue to see the use of this subpixel arrangement as the resolution of the Apple Watch doesn’t really allow for a PenTile layout. Given the current state of AMOLED (as evidenced by the Galaxy S6) I believe it is effectively the future of mobile displays, and it seems that whoever makes these decisions at Apple agrees as well.

As I mentioned in the start of this section, the Apple Watch also doesn’t have any way of manually setting brightness. You get approximately three choices of auto brightness algorithms, which bias the brightness curve of the display appropriately.

In practice, I didn’t actually care that manual brightness was gone on the watch because I never actually used manual brightness on the iPhone or any phone that has at least a halfway decent auto brightness system. In every phone I’ve ever used, the only time I use manual brightness is when the auto brightness system is clearly programmed wrong in some shape or form. Common cases where this would happen include auto brightness that didn’t actually set the display to maximum brightness in daytime or wouldn’t set the display to minimum brightness in absolute darkness.

Thankfully, the default auto brightness setting on the Apple Watch doesn’t have any of these problems, although for reasons unclear minimum brightness changes depending upon the brightness setting that is selected. As a reviewer though, it would definitely help if the watch had a manual brightness setting for more precise display testing and battery life testing. I’m sure that the precision of the digital crown would allow for precise brightness settings as well, but I suspect that this would have some very real potential to affect practical battery life as I’ve seen more than one person walk around with their smartphone display permanently set to maximum brightness because of reasons.

There’s also the issue of reflectance, which could be a problem given that the two higher-end models use a sapphire crystal glass on the display instead of traditional hardened glass. I did notice that reflectance is much higher than something like the iPad Air 2, but I never really felt like the reflections completely washed out the display. The reflections also indicate that the watch has a properly laminated display, without issues involving index of refraction mismatch. However, if people are worried about outdoor visibility Apple Watch Sport should be better given the use of more common aluminosilicate glass. I’m not sure if Apple has actually loaded different auto brightness algorithms for the Apple Watch/Watch Edition compared to the Watch Sport to try and compensate for this though, and I suspect such a change would be difficult to test for as well.

Although reflectance is one aspect of outdoor visibility, the other is display brightness. This is probably the only aspect of the Apple Watch where I can get consistent and repeatable results. Unfortunately, given that we haven’t actually done any other full-featured wearable reviews I’ll have to reference smartphones to get a good comparison point. As the Apple Watch display is already quite small, we won’t be able to get accurate APL vs brightness readings as it’s impossible to hold the meter in a repeatable position that isolates ambient light while also holding an LED to the display.

At any rate, the Apple Watch gets respectably bright at around 460-470 nits, although not quite the ridiculous 600 nits that the Galaxy S6 can achieve. At this full white display, I recorded a color temperature of 6891K, and 6883K at the ~100 nits that was used for the remainder of display testing. It’s important to keep in mind that these values are only at 100% white, so this isn’t the average color temperature that we normally list in reviews. Of course, this display’s contrast is also infinite, with no visible residual brightness on pure black images.

Saturation Sweep

Moving on to the saturation test, we can see that Apple has put a huge amount of effort into calibrating these displays, which is somewhat surprising given that one might expect wearables to not be all that critical when it comes to color accuracy. In my experience, I never actually bothered looking at photos on the watch outside of the messaging app and Twitter. I suspect that this was done in order to make it so that images look the same across all Apple devices, as something would seem “off” in most photos taken by an iPhone 6 if displayed with an Adobe RGB gamut. In this test, the dE2000 average error was 2.33, and as one might guess from the photo above most of the error was concentrated in blue, which appears to have some gamut issues as the native gamut appears to be wider than sRGB but not enough to completely cover sRGB.

GretagMacbeth ColorChecker

The GretagMacbeth ColorChecker test reveals a similar surprising level of attention to detail in color calibration. Color accuracy isn’t quite on par with the very best, but given that this is a first generation product I’m really surprised that the display is already receiving this much attention with an average dE2000 error of 2.42. Overall, this means that the display has relatively little perceivable error for sRGB content, which is the standard almost across the board, although wider gamuts like Rec. 2020 or Adobe RGB may one day supplant sRGB.

Overall, I’m impressed with the quality of the display of the Apple Watch. The AMOLED panel could probably reach a 600 nit max with sufficient progression in emitter technology from LGD, but I suspect this will take some time. The calibration is also incredible for a first-generation wearable, and the use of a full RGB subpixel helps to avoid a lot of the aliasing issues that tend to plague PenTile or other RG/BG subpixel arrangements at these relatively low pixel densities.

The reflectance of the sapphire lens on the display is a bit high and could probably benefit from anti-reflective coatings of some sort, but given that I haven’t had to worry about scratching the display thus far it’s probably a fair trade as a screen protector will usually increase reflectance noticeably. It’s also a bit annoying as a reviewer to not have manual brightness settings, but as an end user I never felt the need for manual brightness as the auto brightness algorithm works quite well.

Ultimately the entire user experience around the display in every aspect is well-executed, although there is still room for improvement on the technology side of things.

Apple Pay and WatchOS Final Words Battery Life, Charge Time, Taptic Engine, and Misc. Thoughts
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  • TedKord - Monday, July 27, 2015 - link

    Holy crap. That post was longer than the review. Reply
  • Figaro56 - Saturday, August 1, 2015 - link

    Holly crap you sound exactly like a manic depressive friend of mine. You lost me at the gazillionth POS comment. Reply
  • michellepennie - Wednesday, August 26, 2015 - link

    Boohoo you sound the jealous type and i bet you couldn't afford one :P lol Reply
  • dsumanik - Monday, July 20, 2015 - link

    You know what Ryan, I'll give you the benefit of the doubt.

    Whether it was apple PR or not is irrelevant. I'll even admit I didn't even finish the entire article because it read like a kid getting a new toy for christmas explaining how magical it was.

    Can you explain to my why the author(s) felt the need to photograph and post not one, not two, not three, not four but FIVE neatly arranged unboxing shots... on the very first page of the article.

    The shots were deliberately arranged on a cleaned, attractive, ironed cloth that tied into the watch's color scheme.

    Some questions about the opening sequence of photos :

    - Do you think that these shots reveal any info to your readers? Tech specs, warranty info, durability?
    - Why does the EXIF info read adoble lightroom. Like gimme a break. They were enhanced.
    - If we remove all verbiage, does the watch look attractive, or unattractive in any way shape or form?
    - Do people generally wear a timepiece nicely draped over their fingers in front of a sunny picturesque tree?
    - Is it just a coincidence that not only I but others, thought the photo's looked 'funny'?

    The author(s) deliberately took time and significant effort to make the product to look as attractive as possible. The opening page, it's photographs and presentation instantly clue the reader that this piece is obviously written with heavy marketing bias and the overall tone and conclusion will be a positive one.

    Is my original post inflammatory? Sure. Beligerent? yes.

    100% True?

    YES.

    You know why this watch isn't selling? Apple's customers are thinking this:

    "Cool! New apple watch! What does it do?"
    "Hmm, it doesnt really do that much. I was kind of expecting more."
    "You know what, it's kinda chunky and why does it stutter?...OMG, 400 bucks? pffff totally not worth it."

    I know this because I am an apple customer, and this thing pretty much just sucks.

    Some more questions:

    - Do you think it would be good for your publication to write a scathing review of an apple product that went viral? Isn't that kind of sad?
    - Would you recommend this product for a single mother, your grandma, or anyone else close to you?
    - Have you thought about purchasing this product for ANYONE as a gift?
    - Had this review not taken place would you have gone out and purchased this item for yourself? LOL!!!!
    - Can you link me an article written on anandtech that portrayed any apple product in a negative light, ever?

    I'm sorry RyanI know you are jsut doing your job but the 'general consumer' is getting smarter and the internet is getting clogged up with this kind editorial crap.

    The only way to stop it is to speak up, LOUD, and be heard.

    Didn't Ellen Pao just say it best?

    "The trolls are winning"

    By trolls, she meant the general public tha ist sick of being lied to and manipulated.

    Lied to by presidents, company reps, journalists, law enforcement, intelligence agencies....right down to silly little amazon reviews.

    2 weeks later he files a patent to provide an advertisement based on your bank account balance!

    Call a turd a turd.

    Dont photoshop it then, sprinkle whipcream and cherries on top.

    Just sayin.
    Reply
  • Ryan Smith - Monday, July 20, 2015 - link

    "You know what Ryan, I'll give you the benefit of the doubt."

    Thank you. I appreciate it.

    "Whether it was apple PR or not is irrelevant. I'll even admit I didn't even finish the entire article because it read like a kid getting a new toy for christmas explaining how magical it was.
    Can you explain to my why the author(s) felt the need to photograph and post not one, not two, not three, not four but FIVE neatly arranged unboxing shots... on the very first page of the article."

    The short answer is that our Apple reviews have a wider reach than our standard technical articles. The range of readers that will show up to AnandTech for a MacBook or iPhone review has a much more distinctive consumer shift than say an SSD or CPU review. And while we still have a large number of technical readers (who are our heart and soul), it's also good for us to be visible to less technical consumers, as it helps them learn that we exist and, hopefully, come back to learn things that no other site can offer.

    In any case, when you're working to reach a broader audience, you need to focus on more than just words. Less technical consumers aren't going to care about the S1 analysis for example, and that's okay, because we reach these users in other ways. And one of the ways we do that is in photography. Broader audiences like pictures - they like good pictures - and that means we step up our game on photography for these reviews in order to accommodate those users. There are a number of other sites out there reviewing the Watch, and there is a segment of the broader audience that will write us off in favor of another review if we show up with poor photography, so we need to make sure that not only is our analysis top notch, but our prose and imagery is competitive as well.

    At the end of the day we won't make any compromises on the technical side for our regular technical readers, but if we can also bring wider consumers into the fold through materials such as improved photography, we will do that as well. This way both techies and non-techies alike can enjoy our articles and learn something from them.
    Reply
  • mapesdhs - Tuesday, July 21, 2015 - link

    Irony is, if the photos were 'poor', someone would be complaining about that instead. Ya can't please all of the people all of the time...

    Ian.
    Reply
  • Schickenipple - Tuesday, July 21, 2015 - link

    It's sad, Ryan, that you actually had to explain this to someone. I thought your core readers would understand that an Apple Watch review isn't in the same category as a NVMe PCIe SSD. Guess not. Reply
  • bo3bber - Saturday, July 25, 2015 - link

    Ryan, just wanted to observe that this approach has had the opposite effect on me. I used to come to AnandTech as my absolute goto first tech site, and these Apple puff pieces made me question your other reviews. So instead of improving your reach, at least for me, you reduced your reach because I feel that I cannot trust you as much as I did.

    The fact that Anand himself also left to go to Apple would strongly suggest you be wary of running Apple stuff that is fluffy.

    I only read the summary, because the out-of-box first page showed me it was going to be a puff piece not a technical review.

    I think you do yourself a disservice and have damaged your brand by trying to reach a larger market.
    Reply
  • Samus - Tuesday, July 21, 2015 - link

    They clearly haven't paid attention to the high production value of ALL Anandtech articles over the past decade. You guys use top notch photography and lightboxes all the time. These comments are ridiculous.

    The Reddit fallout must have sent trolls to every corner of the internet.
    Reply
  • victorson - Wednesday, July 22, 2015 - link

    Ryan, I do respect Anandtech coverage a lot and Josh has done some great research articles that I'm still digesting. However, I have to agree with others: this review just reads strangely lacking in perspective. It is choke-full of weird claims about watchOS being the iOS in the watch world, and about all that first-gen BS that gets throw around. Why is it that every tech reviewer would gladly slam a device for its poor functionality, but once we start talking about Apple, suddenly you guys chicken out and rather than saying that it's shit, you say that 'well, it lags like hell, but that's okay, because it's a first gen product.' And how about commenting on the lack of any actual useful functionality on the watch that would make users spend a ludicrous $700 for a single-core 500MHz processor running a 1.5" display? Don't get me started on forgetting to mention that other competitors have always-on screen (the WatchOS is a sore disappointment) AND come with two days of battery life. AND half the price! But no, rather than giving us some insightful comments on that, we get the 'I'm definitely convinced in the smartwatch now'. Thanks, very useful! /s Reply

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