Mars test picture

See that picture up there? That's the surface of Mars. And apparently it doesn't look very good on the Nexus One. And now on the Motorola Droid. And quite possibly any device running Android 2.1. Why? Let's discuss, after the break.

See, the thing is, it's cool to hate on the Nexus One. We get it. So when DisplayMate first issued its report that showed the above photo not looking so sweet on the Nexus One when compared to the Motorola Droid, everybody ate it up.

Only, it turns out maybe the Nexus One itself isn't to blame. Look, the N1 has an AMOLED screen, and one of the first in mass production on a smartphone. And images look a little different on it than on other phones. That's just gonna happen. But now that the Motorola Droid has Android 2.1, people are seeing the same image quality "issues" that previously damned the Nexus One. Turns out it's because of a software change. Here's how DisplayMate describes it:

The tests for this article were performed using the original 2.0 Android OS for the Motorola Droid. Afterwards, when the Droid was upgraded to version 2.1, the Gallery (the principal image viewer for the phone) surprisingly downgraded to 16-bit color from its original full 24-bit color in version 2.0. Fortunately, version 2.1 of the Android Browser on the Droid still delivers full 24-bit color. Image Scaling for the Gallery (which adjusts images so they fit the native resolution of the display) went from Excellent in version 2.0 to Poor in version 2.1, the same as for the Browser (both versions). As a result the beautiful screen shots for the Droid in Figure 1 below now look exactly like those for the Google Nexus One on the left. Overall, the Droid still delivers substantially better picture quality and accuracy than the Nexus One. Presumably these errors, which affect both the Droid and the Nexus One will be fixed in a future software upgrade, so the Droid will at some point return to its original excellent 24-bit color and scaling. The quality of the 24-bit color and scaling for the Nexus One remains to be seen

And Google apparently has acknowledged the change, telling Gearlog:

The Gallery app in Android 2.0.1 is different from the Gallery app in Android 2.1. Google developed Gallery in Android 2.0.1, which uses 24-bit color rendered using 2D technology. On the other hand, Cooliris created Gallery in Android 2.1, which uses 16-bit textures rendered using 3D technology. We don't have anything specific to share at this time regarding the Gallery app in future versions.

We know the thunder's coming in the comments. That's cool. (And personally, I'm looking forward to Super AMOLED.) But let's place blame where blame's due: Apparently on Android 2.1. That said, we look at plenty of pictures on the Nexus One and Droid and don't have a problem with either one. While we want the best for our money (and we shelled out a lot of jing for these phones), we're just not going to get that anal over whether it's 24-bit or 16-bit scaling or whatever. That said, we do want it to look the best it can. So if we need to see a fix for this, then, darn it, let's get one.

Want to try it for yourself? Here's the NASA Mars picture, available for download. Give it a shot.