Display

Now that we’ve covered the basics and the design of the HTC 10, we can move on to the display of the HTC 10. While there are a lot of critical factors to making a good smartphone, the display can be a major make or break point for many smartphones. As we’ve seen in recent reviews, a bad display can make an otherwise amazing phone almost impossible to recommend. In this era of amazing flagships at 300 or 400 USD, it’s incredibly important for a 600-700 USD phone to ship with a great display without any major flaws.

The problem here is figuring out the criteria for a great display. As we’ve seen with recent events, people often disagree on what makes for a great display. However, to start off we can look at the things that really aren’t up for debate for a good display, namely peak brightness, contrast, and minimum brightness. A good display should get as bright as possible so that it can be seen even if you’re outside in direct sunlight, with high contrast to make blacks as inky as possible. Minimum brightness should also be fairly low to avoid blinding a user in low light situations. A display isn’t just a lightbulb, there should be a pixel density high enough that the user cannot ever perceive pixels or aliasing resulting from the use of pixels.

Color is an important part of the visual world, so an ideal display should be able to reproduce every color that a human can see, which means that the native gamut should be as wide as possible. In addition to wide color gamut, the viewing angle of the display should be such that the image looks identical regardless of your orientation relative to the display for all 180 degrees that a display would be visible, with identical brightness and contrast. Displays are also meant to depict movement, so an ideal display should also have instant response time and an infinite refresh rate. Of course, these displays are going into battery-powered devices, so the power draw of the display should approach 0W in an ideal case. Achieving all of these things is obviously impossible, but so is an ideal voltage source. Regardless, discussing what characteristics makes a display ideal is helpful as we can then figure out what metrics are worth testing against.

The final point of discussion before we get into our testing is going to be the matter of calibration. While in general larger gamuts are better, the reality of the industry is that it has been an uphill battle to get displays with wide color gamuts into computing devices. Operating systems in general also lack support for color management to support multiple gamuts. However, in order to enable consistent color and other information across multiple devices there needs to be some kind of standard that devices are calibrated to. Currently, it looks like the industry standard for color gamut is sRGB, but looking forward it’s likely that there will be a transition period to DCI-P3, then again to Rec. 2020 when displays can achieve such gamuts without significant compromises.

With the basics covered we can start discussing the display of the HTC 10 itself. Poking around the system files reveals that the panel for the review unit is sourced by Tianma with a Himax HX8396C2 display driver, which is designed for controlling panels that use LTPS TFTs. According to Himax’s press releases, the DDIC is the smallest in the industry for QHD LCDs, which helps to reduce the bezel taken up by the display driver. The system files and the spec for this DDIC show that MIPI DSI command mode is enabled for panel self-refresh, and there’s also a sunlight readability mode which adjusts gamma and similar parameters to improve display visibility outdoors similar to Apical’s Assertive Display technology. The display driver also support’s VESA DSC for reduced bandwidth requirements but given that the HTC 10 uses a dual channel MIPI DSI configuration it seems unlikely that this is enabled.

Under the microscope it’s fairly obvious that the HTC 10’s display uses an RGB pattern, but I’m not entirely sure that it has dual domain pixels in the conventional sense, but when looking at two rows of pixels it looks like the form the characteristic chevron pattern that is associated with dual domain pixels. If you look at a black image and rotate the phone around there are also angles where the color shifts towards purple which is associated with this kind of pixel layout.

While we’re still on the subject of viewing angles it’s worth mentioning that the Tianma panel on the HTC 10 doesn’t have the greatest viewing angles. While the display doesn’t wash out at extreme angles there is a noticeable red tint or some kind of interference pattern that occurs. I don’t claim to know enough to really explain what’s causing it, but this is definitely a bit of an annoyance when the One M7 was basically perfect in this regard. The M9 Plus didn’t have these issues either, so it’s weird to see HTC running into these problems.

Display - Max Brightness

Display - Black Levels

Display - Contrast Ratio

Moving on to our standard display test suite with X-Rite’s i1DisplayPro colorimeter for accurate brightness measurements we can start with our standard display brightness and contrast tests. This is honestly a fairly disappointing result from HTC when they usually tend to ship stellar displays. The display isn’t terrible per se, but the One M9+ was a fair bit brighter and while dynamic contrast hides some things the static contrast is still higher than the roughly 1000:1 contrast of the Tianma display on the HTC 10. I checked with HTC to be sure and the review unit’s display is within their spec, so this is representative of what you should expect with the HTC 10. The minimum brightness is about 10 nits which is decent for night time reading but not really ideal when Samsung is shipping displays that can drop as low as 2 nits for maximum brightness. I'm not 100% clear on the technical challenges here but it's likely that more aggressive PWM on the backlight would make it possible to reach a lower minimum brightness without sacrificing contrast, but this may impact readability for those sensitive to PWM flicker.

While the panel itself is just barely passable on the surface of things to figure out whether it’s actually acceptable for a high-end Android smartphone we turn to our standard test suite for display calibration testing. At the end of the day, subjective observation is often unreliable and inaccurate for determining whether a display is calibrated correctly unless using relative comparisons to a reference display that is correctly calibrated, so we rely on dedicated testing equipment to record the absolute luminance and chrominance and determine the delta relative to the expected values, using X-Rite’s i1Pro2 spectrophotometer for calibration testing. Of course, you need software to make the hardware of any use, so we use SpectraCal’s CalMAN for data acquisition and presentation.

Display - White Point

Display - Grayscale Accuracy

Starting off with our grayscale testing HTC ends up going a bit too warm with their sRGB mode but in general the calibration isn’t too far off the mark, and the average deviation is low enough to be difficult to perceive. Turning the color temperature about one or two notches cooler gets it even closer and does slightly increase maximum brightness but out of the box all you need to do to get acceptable calibration is set the device to sRGB mode. The other point worth noting here is that gamma is relatively unstable with drops down to 1.8 and peaks up to 2.5 but averages out to our target of 2.2, which accounts for most of the error here rather than the slight miss on color temperature.

Display - Saturation Accuracy

Looking at the saturation sweep HTC does a great job of hitting pretty much every color target. HTC is basically offering the best of both worlds it seems with the ability to have both a vivid mode and an sRGB mode in situations where color accuracy counts, and the sRGB mode is calibrated extremely well with no saturation compression like some devices we’ve seen in the past and next to no deviation from target hues. I don’t really have anything to complain about here as HTC has nailed it almost perfectly.

Display - GretagMacbeth ColorChecker Accuracy

The final test of display calibration for our mobile suite is the Gretag MacBeth ColorChecker, and generally HTC retains excellent color accuracy here, but there is a bit of a bump in the saturation on reddish hues and a generally warm color balance, but the accuracy in general is high enough that the HTC 10 with sRGB mode is basically a reference display which is impressive to see. Relative to the One M9 the HTC 10 is a massive leap forward in pretty much every way.

Overall, the HTC 10’s display is a bit mixed. The use of a Tianma display is somewhat surprising for HTC as they traditionally use Sharp, JDI, and Samsung as suppliers so I suspect that the story behind this supplier choice is an interesting one. While the panel itself is not all that special, it is calibrated incredibly well. I’m not a huge fan of the unitless color temperature slider, but it is a good step up from most as each increment is basically just 200K up or down in color temperature. I would say that on the basis of the panel being just passable in quality it isn’t a deal-breaker, but for future generations HTC should definitely consider shipping a higher quality panel with higher brightness, contrast, and improved viewing angles. It's not so bad that it makes me actively consider recommending against the device on display alone, but the margin by which HTC passes that mark is thin.

Introduction and Design System Performance
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  • MobiusPizza - Tuesday, September 20, 2016 - link

    These results are probably not a surprise if you’ve been following our recent coverage but it’s still worth noting how the use of eMMC 5.1 is not guaranteed to be a huge impediment, although I would say this is probably the last generation where it’s acceptable to ship eMMC in a flagship device as the eMMC spec doesn’t seem to be progressing much further and UFS/NVMe solutions really seem to be the way forward as far as the industry is concerned.


    Gosh that sentence is quite a mouthful
    Reply
  • asfletch - Tuesday, September 20, 2016 - link

    Agreed. Also re the content - is it surprising to anyone else that UFS solutions don't have a clearer advantage over eMMC? I mean my 2014 Note 4 gets about 19/7 on Random Read/Write with the same Androbench settings. According to these charts, that's better than the current Note 7. Also the HTC 10 here on test beats all of the UFS phones handily for Sequential Write speed.

    What's up with that? Is it the benchmark?
    Reply
  • Guitahero - Tuesday, September 20, 2016 - link

    What happened with the deep audio analysis from anandtech? Reply
  • JKJK - Tuesday, September 20, 2016 - link

    Indeed! I miss them too! Reply
  • winjay - Tuesday, September 20, 2016 - link

    "for its size I don’t believe there’s another Snapdragon 820 device with better battery life."

    Sony usually does wonders with battery life. Have you checked Xperia XA battery life?
    Reply
  • Vagabondjonez - Tuesday, September 20, 2016 - link

    with a 2k display he probably meant Reply
  • winjay - Tuesday, September 20, 2016 - link

    Also this phone is said to have an amazing DAC. How is the audio output? Reply
  • Ro_Ja - Tuesday, September 20, 2016 - link

    The front looks like a Samsung Galaxy. Reply
  • amosbatto - Wednesday, September 21, 2016 - link

    This review (and every other review I have ever read) doesn't cover the most important issue, which is the longevity of the phone. Here are the issues which I suggest that a review should cover:

    1. We all know that the battery will die after 2 years. Every phone which has a replaceable battery should automatically get a higher rating, just because it will probably last longer than one which doesn't. If a phone has a sealed case, the reviewer should try to open the case and give readers an idea how hard it will be to replace the battery. If the case is glued together, if the battery is glued to the case or if it is impossible to buy replacement batteries on the internet, then the review should let us know.

    2. Reviews should emphasize the amount of storage space a phone has and how expandable the phone is, because this has a big impact on how long the phone will last. If a phone is limited to 32 gigabytes of storage, then the phone will probably not last more than 2 years, because people tend to buy new phones once they run out of space. Trying to decide what apps to uninstall, what music to remove, what photos to delete, etc. is such a painful process, that many people simply buy a new phone. Reviews should really knock phones which don't have a MicroSD slot to expand storage and I would love to see some benchmarking on the difference in speed between the internal NAND and a normal MicroSD.

    Frankly, I wish that smartphone manufacturers would offer us phones with two MicroSD slots, where one is used to expand the storage for apps on the phone and the second is the memory that we can remove to transfer files to our PC.

    Another thing that reviews should cover is how hard is it insert and extract a MicroSD card. On my HTC Sensation from 2011, it was very easy to pop the MicroSD card in and out of the computer, but it can't be done without a special tool on my Moto X Pure Edition. Not a single review ever covers how hard it is to insert and extract the MicroSD card, but this is essential information for people like me who intend to keep their phones for many years.

    3. Every review should mention how good the manufacturer is about offering security updates and OS upgrades to its phones, which are essential for extending the life of the phone. HTC has an excellent track record of offering fast updates when a new version of Android is released, whereas Samsung does not. Every review comparing an HTC phone to a Samsung phone should mention this difference, because it will influence the buying decisions of people who care about the longevity of their phones.

    4. Another way to extend the life of a phone is to install an OS that doesn't come from the manufacturer. If the manufacturer stops offering upgrades, then we have the freedom to install CyanogenMod or another mod to get the new features in the latest version of Android. No review ever covers how hard it is to unlock the bootloader and install a mod in the phone, but this is essential information for a phone buyer who wants to be able to keep upgrading the phone. Does the manufacturer offer for free the code to unlock the bootloader and does it have a policy of voiding the warranty if a mod is installed? Five years ago when I bought my Sensation, HTC had the best mod policies in the industry, but I have no idea who is best today and this review didn't mention it.

    Another piece of essential information is how standard the hardware is and how likely mods will be developed for the phone. For example, the SoC on the HTC 10 is a standard Qualcomm Snapdragon 820, so it is highly likely that mods will be made for this phone, whereas it is highly unlikely that mods will ever be created for a custom SoC made by Huawei, Samsung or Apple. Yes, that custom SoC probably processes a couple milliseconds faster, but frankly most people will never notice the difference.

    5. Another way to extend the life of a phone is to turn it into a PC. I frankly don't see the point of buying a flagship phone like the HTC 10 which costs $600, but I might consider it if I know that it can be used as a low cost PC. Kudos to this review for at least mentioning that the HTC 10 supports Slimline and Android 7, but it doesn't explain why that is important. The phone has the necessary hardware and software to be hooked up to a monitor and bluetooth keyboard and mouse, so it can be used as a PC with multiple windows and a mouse pointer. I would have loved to read a review about how well this works with the HTC 10.

    Reviewers spend an inordinate amount of time covering differences in processing speed and other minutiae which most people will never notice when using a phone, but they don't provide the most essential information to help people choose phones with long lifespans. Part of the reason is that reviewers are the type of people who get a new phone every year, so they don't worry about the battery wearing out. However, I think a more important factor is that fact that sites like AnandTech rely on advertising from the same manufacturers who they are reviewing. Manufacturers of smartphones and other electronic devices promote planned obsolescence as a way to increase their sales. A reviewer who dwells too much on the fact that a phone is designed to be thrown away after two years probably won't get much advertising and is unlikely to get free samples to review.

    Apple has always had some of the worst policies in the industry in terms of planned obsolescence, but within the last 5 years the entire phone industry has started to copy Apple in designing sealed black boxes which are difficult to open and even harder to fix. Yet, I have not seen a single review of the iPhone 7 or any of the other recent smartphones which even mentions how hard it is to fix the phone or even replace the battery. If the reviewers don't mention it, then consumers won't think to check and the phone industry will conclude that consumers don't want fixable and modifiable phones, so they will offer more and more Apple-like devices.

    Extending the life of smartphones is not just a way to save consumers money. One of the biggest ecological problems on the planet is the fact that 1.5 billion smartphones will be manufactured this year and most of them will be junked within 2 years. More smartphones are manufactured today than all the other ICT devices combined (servers, routers, desktop and notebook PCs, tablets, gaming consoles, cameras, televisions and advanced wearables). The amount of energy, metals and other vital resources which are wasted every year in making throwaway devices is astounding. If we estimate that the average smartphone and its charger weighs 150 grams, that means we are generating 225,000 metric tons of eventual e-waste every year, which is toxic and needs special treatment.

    Even more alarming is the amount of greenhouse gas emissions being generated to manufacture all these smartphones. Apple estimates that 83.6 kg of CO2-equivalent were emitted to manufacture and transport its iPhone 6 to point of sale, whereas using an iPhone for a year emits 3.5 kg CO2-e and recycling it at the end of its life emits 1.0 kg CO2-e. Of course, Apple didn't include all the energy to operate the cell towers, internet servers and routers, etc. that are used by an iPhone, but manufacturing a smartphone clearly has far more environmental impact than using it, so the best way to lower the environmental impact is to make the phone last as long as possible in order to avoid manufacturing a new phone.

    Apple does not explain how it calculates its emissions, but it is highly likely that Apple did not include the SF6 which was emitted in manufacturing its screens or all the other types of greenhouse gases which often get overlooked. It also probably doesn't include in its emissions all the advanced processing to make the ultrapure chemicals, water and gases which are used in silicon and flat screen fabs. Today's crop of smartphones probably have an even higher environmental impact, considering that they are using larger screens, more memory and more processing cores than the iPhone 6, which had a 4.7in screen, 1 GB of RAM and 2 processing cores. Now-a-days, 5-6in screens, 2-4GB of RAM and 4-8 processing cores are the norm, so we can conservatively estimate that manufacturing today's smartphone will emit 100 kg CO2-e. For the 1.5 billion smartphones produced in 2016, that means 150,000 metric tons of CO2-e.
    Reply
  • Allan_Hundeboll - Wednesday, September 21, 2016 - link

    You def. have a point Reply

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