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.


Reader comments

Android 2.1 now blamed for some of Nexus One (and now Droid) screen 'issues'


Wow. I would like to know who I can [personally] thank for this downgrade? Ridiculous, if you ask me. Aside from Live Wallpapers, I haven't seen any benefit to upgrading from 2.0.1. It seems that I've come across nothing but problems with 2.1. C'mon Android!

Seems like someone is always trying to know down the android one thing or another and how wonderful, amazing the phone that Steve created is.

I download the picture and tested on my N1 verses the computer screen which has a 1920 x 1200, 32 bit color. The picture on the N1 of the Mars picture looks pretty good to me and doesn't have that gradient changing effect as seen from the demo from DisplayMate.

While I agree that it's not a big deal like you said... I don't think this has anything to do with the iPhone. If there is a problem with the phones, it should be addressed without assuming it has anything to do with someone trying to knock it cause it isn't an iPhone. Some people are having legit issues... we can't sweep them under the rug.

Had not really noticed the difference before. Downloaded the image, and can definitely see the banding in the stock Gallery. The image looks nice and smooth in Astro Image Viewer. It's a noticeable difference.

blah, blah, blah. My Nexus One's screen is fine and vibrant. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and I have intentionally tried to ignore most (obviously not this one) of the posts on the various tech blogs about the Nexus One screen. 16 bit or 24 bit, it doesn't matter to me because I am still enjoying my pictures.

I thought for a second this article was talking about the Nexus One's multi-touch issues were due to Android 2.1, I hate how the N1's digitizer issues really affect multi-touch gaming. This problem is really bad on Gameboid.


In the browser the N1 does a superb job, but save to your Gallery will show some banding.

Safari on my older 3G shows slight banding all the time. Not as bad as N1 Gallery view, but not as good as N1 Browser view.

Tempest, teapot.

I like the 2.1 gallery, and the fact is I'm going to be viewing the images on a low resolution screen (ironic given that the Droid is the most high res). It's still mobile. You have a cool interface, when you put the image in your photo library on a 24" monitor then yes, 16-bit color would be unacceptable. Fact is the pictures take great and they look great on the screen.

Perfect color reproduction is not as big of an issue as people make it out to be. It's important but it's not life-ending. No other interface is as cool.

Well, I think I can install some other picture viewer if I need true 24-bit image.

If it was for speed, then I have no complaints.

Someone please explain to me in lesser tech language. Screens and resolutions are my weakness when it comes to tech talk. Before my Nexus One I had a Palm Pixi, to me the N1 is absolute eye candy and I have not had any issues with color or pictures or my screen in any way. What am I missing?

Oh I think I see it..

I found the this image using the Android Browser, and it looked detailed and spot on. I saved it, and viewed it through the Gallery, and it looks muddy. If this is the issue... it's not the screen. It's the app.

In simple words, 24-bit color can make 16777216 colors, while 16-bit color can make 65536 colors.

Therefore, when there is very smooth gradation in color, 16-bit color might not make smooth change of color due to less number of available colors.

But well... most time, you won't notice a big difference.

When I compare browser to photos app, not much difference. When compared to.3d gallery from nexus 1 ported over, there's a slight difference, really not that bad. I'm using a Sprint Hero with 2.1 installed

Google, get cracking on a fix. While a rookie mistake, it's still unacceptable for such a boneheaded mistake. This needs to be fixed however, it's not a high priority fix. The web browser is an acceptable workaround until the viewer can be fixed.

I hadn't noticed the downgrade to 16-bit color in the gallery. But I still think the gallery in 2.1 is a downgrade for other reasons. Specifically, it can go (and has gone) up to an hour before noticing new pictures taken with the camera.

Note to Cooliris: stop with all the 3D crap (pictures are 2D, you know) and fancy features like tilting the gallery display based on the accelerometer, rotated pictures overlaying each other, animations/zooming when displaying a picture, and make sure the basics are working first. Go peddle your shiny car that doesn't run right somewhere else.

Note to Google: Dump Cooliris and go back to your internal developers.

Honestly, the gallery works, is every picture perfect, nope, but I do expect it to be either, nope!

If I wanted perfect rendering of any given image, I will look at the image on my desktop, to quickly show a few pics to friends/colleagues, the gallery is more than good enough.

IMHO, end of story.