The fellas over at Gizmodo have reported the findings of  DisplayMates' Nexus One versus iPhone 3GS Shootout and the results aren’t what anyone expected.

The display on the Nexus One that all the reviewers raved over doesn’t render images very well.

We explain, after the break.

DisplayMate seems to think that the way the screen was optimized to display icons and text has an adverse effect on they way larger pictures are shown.  Much like the LCD display on your computer monitor or laptop, small images and text render out very nicely at 16-bit color, but bigger images show the lack of color depth and banding at lower settings.  The full article at DisplayMate is well worth a read, even if you don’t understand jargon like dithering and PenTile sub-pixel rendering, simply because the example pictures are shocking.  If you dig through the user comments at the Gizmodo article, not everyone is agreeing.  It looks like this is not just a poor hardware choice for the LCD in the Nexus, and something is going on with the software.

Digging deeper, some Android geeks and gurus over at xda-developers have done some tests of their own.  Their results get a little more interesting.  Apparently, the same picture at a size closer to the Nexus One's actual screen size doesn't show the banding and color issues that the larger, PC desktop sized images do.  All you have to do to see this is read the results at DisplayMate on your Nexus One.  The images from the iPhone that don't show the color banding issue display just fine in the Android browser.

Even more interesting, when viewing a large scale image in the browser or gallery application, if you place your finger on the screen to move or zoom the image the banding goes away.  As crazy as that sounds, xda Senior Member Rotohammer has a theory that makes sense of the whole mess:

If I use this image:

Which is at 800x616 pixels, I don't see the banding. That tells me its the scaling algorithm in the OS, app or GL library thats causing the stepped gradient, not the AMOLED display itself.

To me, his explanation makes the most sense of the whole mess.  There is a bug in earlier versions of Android that causes an image to show color banding and display artifacts when used as a homescreen background.  Applications like Wallpaper Set and Save were able to get around the bug, or by editing some of the operating system files so that the image you wanted to use was part of the actual homescreen gallery you could do the same.  Android's still relatively new and in it's growing stages, so software glitches like this are expected even though we don't like seeing them very much.  If the guys at xda are right (and most times they are) there still some bugs in the operating system and the way it scales and displays highly detailed images, especially those with a color gradient.

To be honest, my own limited experience with a Nexus One left me drooling over the screen like most everyone else.  I wasn’t looking for poor image rendering, and I didn’t notice any.  Phil said the same thing about his daily use. But the pictures don’t lie.  If they are an accurate representation, then there is an issue that needs some fixin'.

Nexus One users - does this represent what you see on your device when cruising through the gallery?  Or is something else going on with DisplayMate’s test unit?  Let us know in the comments!


Reader comments

Nexus One’s display not all it's cracked up to be?


What a load of crap !! The Nexus one screen blows away the iPhone , its not even close LMAO !!!

The very limited testing my friend and I did, which was reported by not just us over the big Gizmodo thread, shows that the banding only occurs with the test image in the Gallery app. Look at the same image in the stock Browser app and it looks perfect. The problem is Gallery, that's all. Easy fix I'd assume.

Overall the Nexus One absolutely blows away the iPhone in all respects. The blacks are black, no matter what your brightness level. The resolution is so sharp. Contrast amazing. My only gripe with the N1 display is it oversaturates reds, and I only notice that in skin tones on video playback of podcasts.

Not buying this one. Tests are tests, cant argue that. But at the end of the day when you hold them up next to each other, thats what matters. Anyone who's had both can clearly see the winner. Nothing yet to match the Nexus screen.

why are they comparing the nexus one screen to the iphone? the Droid screen is the top of the line Android screen right now. the nexus one has saturation issues and is less pixel intensive. If Apple wants to do a comparison battle, we should send out our best challenger. You don't let the pawns go up against the gladiators, you fight fire with fire.

This is a closed case.

It's the browser and the gallery app. Look at a pic that has the banding in the gallery then look at it in the camera app - banding is gone.

I just ditched the flashy gallery app for a simple 3rd party app from the market, and my images look fine now. The Android gallery app also reduces the resolution of your images.

Another half-baked app from Google.(Buzzzzzzzzz)

Those dumbasses at DisplayMate ran all their tests with all their techno-jargon, but conveniently forgot to check the image in the camera app or in a 3rd party app while declaring the iphone king of the hill. Surprised?

I am going to ask a stupid question... Why is the info bar on the iphone so washed out? The color is also in question here.

Gizmodo is not a reliable source of technological information anymore; if Apple was a communist country Gizmodo would be Pravda. On the ongoing subtle Apple vs Google war, they have clearly positioned on the Apple side, and I had to unsubscribe my Reader from them because they went extremely tired on their attacks on everything related to Google. Just try to post some comment mildly attacking Apple; you will be "greyed out" in no time. And their huge praise of Apple's iPad while all the gizmo-publications were laughing at it was ridiculous to the extreme.

This looks to be related to an issue I brought up in the Nexus One support forums:

...and subsequently in the Google Code Android forums:

You'll notice that if you drag or pinch-to-zoom a gradient, it will smooth while it's in drag or zoom mode. As soon as you release, the banding returns. Test image:

Ok. Actually I tested the same image at the same time on MacBook Pro 15", last generation previous model, iPhone 3GS and Nexus One with maximum brightness on both.

I can see some "scaling effect" on the line of suggestion. What made me worried about is that I can see more Blue and Red on Nexus One than on iPhone or Mac, so my question is:

Is there anyone who can make the same (or so) test and post here the results? Thanks a lot, My N1 it's a newborn and I'm obsessed as you imagine ;)

I have a nexus one about two weeks now. (Coming from iPhone 2G)

Indoors, it's bright, and has super contrast. However, it's so pixelated - EVERYTHING looks 'dotty' on it, you can see the individual pixels - the gaps between the pixels are wider than a those of an LCD, and it really shows.

It looks great for images, and the contacts view looks fantastic, but it starts to look pixelated for single coloured objects/icons etc, and for dark text on a white background that you are going to see all the time on the web and in apps, it just looks plain awful.

I really can't understand all the rave reviews, and why more isn't being made of the pixelation due to the "pen-tiling" pixel setup it uses.

Really in two minds about this phone - am probably going to sell it and wait for the next decent Android device. If Google are really doing the Nexus 2 with Motorola, you can probably be pretty sure Moto would have a better screen, be it LCD or LED