For a while now, I’ve realized that there is a massive gap in the continuity of smartphone display history. Until the last few months of 2011 or early 2012, proper testing of smartphone displays was few and far between. Most websites tested peak brightness and contrast, and possibly white point. While some websites did go in depth, they would often only test a few phones. Of course, now things are different. Websites are starting to scrutinize display quality from all angles from color accuracy to reflectance, but no one has ever gone back to properly test old devices.

Of course, the best time to have tested these old devices was when they were new. The next best time is now, so let’s get to it. Unfortunately in the span of 4 years it’s become rather difficult to find all the devices that I’d like, but we’ll look at some of the key representative devices of each generation. This means the Galaxy S, Desire HD, Galaxy S2, and Rezound. The first three are all WVGA, 800x480 resolution displays. The Galaxy S has a 4 inch display, and all the other devices have a 4.3” display. All of them are also easily used with one hand, which is almost a surprise these days. Unfortunately, battery life testing won't be possible as all of the devices have aged too much for the results to be representative of their actual performance. As always, in order to properly test displays we use a custom workflow on SpectraCal's CalMAN 5.

Samsung Galaxy S

For most people, the Galaxy S would be their first encounter with Samsung’s SAMOLED displays and PenTile layouts. While it may have been acceptable at some point in the past, it’s quite obvious that this display hasn’t aged well at all. While high pixel density masks the effects of PenTile quite well, they’re omnipresent in the original Galaxy S. Even at relatively far distances from the display I can make out gaps between pixels in text. At the edges, there’s a strange effect where the lines are clearly not straight. Instead, the edges of text appear to be quite rough, making a zig zag pattern instead of a clean line.

Putting aside PenTile, the brightness of this display has aged relatively well. The expected brightness seems to be about 350 nits out of the box, and the T-Mobile unit I tested seemed to have lost some of its peak brightness, but it’s still quite bright at around 320 nits. Contrast is great as always here.

Grayscale is where things get ugly. Red is effectively no longer visible in the graph by 35% white, and both green and blue are completely out of control. The result is one of the worst averages for dE2000 error I’ve ever recorded.

In the saturation sweep, we see a similar story. Just about every type of mistake in color accuracy is seen here. Extreme blue/green shift on white, saturation compression, gamut far out of sRGB, hue shifts with saturation changes, and no way to improve it.

As expected, a similar result is seen in the Gretag Macbeth ColorChecker. This is simply a logical extension of poor color control in the saturations test, so this is no surprise. Looking at the Galaxy S5 LTE-A, it’s definitely incredible to see just how far Samsung has come since the early days of AMOLED technology.

HTC Desire HD
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  • scy1192 - Saturday, July 26, 2014 - link

    Definitely worry more about the sharpening effect than the contrast and colors. LG needs to fix that ASAP, and I say that as a G3 owner. My only complaint about the phone.
  • fokka - Sunday, July 27, 2014 - link

    the g3 has a 1440p display, not 4k/uhd. your points are still valid though.
  • Rocket321 - Sunday, July 27, 2014 - link

    After reading reviews of the G3,i bought a pair of G2's for me and my wife (they can be had for less than $300 new/off contract if you shop around for. Considering the G2 essentially matches the spring 2014 flagship specs but is selling at "last year" prices makes it the best buy currently (imo).
  • solnyshok - Tuesday, August 5, 2014 - link

    but has limited storage. I am considering getting one with 32GB soon. Those are more like $400 (EUR300 here in old europe). But, then, I must wait for August/September announcements to see what's coming ofr iOS/Nexus/SG-Note. And, surprisingly, Sony Z3 Compact looks interesting, though a bit on a small side (less than 5")
  • josemiguelcastillo - Monday, July 28, 2014 - link

    As far as I can tell you, the default contrast profile the phone uses makes everything a bit washed out. BUT you can control and configure as you please in "Settings > Accesibility > Color Adjustment".

    Once calibrated the screen looks gorgeous. Try it on a demo unit and you'll see how good it looks in real life
  • Hrel - Monday, July 28, 2014 - link

    I'd get the LG G2, or equivalent Nexus 5. Great phone.
  • solnyshok - Tuesday, August 5, 2014 - link

    wait! there is LG G3 Stylus coming soon with 6" screen
  • djw39 - Saturday, July 26, 2014 - link

    How was Apple doing? Were iPhone 4/4s displays much better calibrated than those of Android phones at the time?
  • name99 - Saturday, July 26, 2014 - link

    It's just one datapoint, but I still have my iPhone 1, bought a week or so after Apple released them). I use it like a transistor radio, as an audiobook player that I can use without headphones.

    - The battery is still going strong. Pretty damn amazing. Especially considering there was one unfortunate dropping in the sink two years ago (saved through rapidly pulling it out, application of paper towels then hair dryer, then three days in a tupperware container with dried rice to suck out any remaining moisture).

    - The thing feels slow as all hell when switching from one app to another. Within an app, speed is OK, but app switching is tough --- I guess 128M RAM means a LOT of constantly hitting flash, and it's not the fastest CPU in there. It's also running iOS 3, and I expect that every version of iOS adds some features that shift the speed-memory tradeoff to use a little more RAM for a little more speed.

    - the display looks to me as good as the day I bought it. Brightness, contrast, color accuracy all fine. No noticeable problems with viewing at an angle. It's not retina, of course, so there is the inevitable fuzziness that implies, but nothing as noticeable as what is being described in the article. The LED backlighting, the diffuser, and the actual LCD all seem to have survived 7 years so far just fine.

    I had an iPhone 4 till about a month ago, and the story there is much the same (in that there were no problems at all with it). That's retina of course, and running iOS7.
    Again, feels slow compared to my iPhone 5, but not the unbearable slowness of the iPhone1. I gave it to a friend in a developing country and he seems very happy with it, even compared against the various no-name brand super cheap Android clones that his friends have.
  • dylan522p - Saturday, July 26, 2014 - link

    Since the iPhone 4 they haven't advanced much. I mean they got it right with the 4 so they don't need much improvement.

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