Nexus One's AMOLED screen only uses 16-bit color (UPDATED)

Since Google released the Nexus One, people have been ranting and raving about the amazing colors and clarity that its 3.7" AMOLED display outputs. While the Nexus One's colors do pop, the AMOLED technology used for this seemingly "superphone" is less than stellar. DisplayMate ran some tests and the results are nothing short of shocking.

Without going into too much technical jargon, the Nexus One's screen uses a PenTile pixel arrangement. This means that each pixel only contains two sub-pixels. In a traditional display, each pixel consists of three sub-pixels (red, green, and blue). The pixels on the Nexus One's AMOLED display only have a green, plus a red or blue on every other pixel. This isn't necessarily a problem, as the software can just use the red or blue from a nearby pixel, but it does put an extra strain on the software and can cause artifacts to appear on the screen.

DisplayMate points out that the above is irrelevant unless it affects the actual image quality. If a user can't tell the difference, then who cares? Unfortunately for the Nexus One, you can see a huge difference when comparing it to a standard LED display, such as the iPhone's. Here are some of DisplayMate's conclusions:

  • Nexus One's screen only uses 16-bit color with only 32 or 64 intensity levels - This is something that a high performance device should not have. A good screen typically has at least 18-bit color, giving a much larger number of intensity levels with clearer and more accurate colors. Green is present in twice as many pixels as red and blue. This gives green a much higher intensity than other colors.
  • Image quality with resolution scaling is bad - "Pictures and photographs from external sources, whether they be from digital cameras or web content are rendered poorly and inaccurately, with over-saturated colors, bad color and gray-scale accuracy, large color and gray-scale tracking errors, calibration errors, lots of image noise from excessive edge and sharpness processing, and many artifacts."
  • Peak white brightness is very low - This makes the display hard to read when outdoors, and nearly impossible in direct sunlight. 
  • Poor calibration - "If the Nexus One display were an LCD it would rank among the worst displays we have ever seen in a shipping product." This could be due to the way the device was manufactured, or even due to the way the Android OS speaks to the display. Either way, the screen doesn't work well for images and web content.

More details are covered in the study and the bottom line conclusion is underwhelming. The Nexus One's screen, from an evolutionary standpoint, is a failure. AMOLED technology is the supposed to be the latest and greatest, not a step backward. Below are images that show how the Nexus One's screen performs next to the iPhone. Notice the image noise and that the dispaly's shortcomings are clearly present. For a phone that's supposed to be centered around eye candy, pictures, and web content, the Nexus One's screen is sure a letdown.

UPDATE: Gizmodo has made two updates regarding the above news stating that the problem seems to be a software issue, not a problem with the display itself. Apparently the issue exists within specific stock Android apps themselves (such as the gallery and browser). Users have noted that when using an third-party browser, the image banding issue does not exist. Hopefully, with this having been brought to the public's attention, Google will issue a software update to rectify the problem.

Nexus One screen tests

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Just a note that NOT all OLED displays are the same, nor how the software handles the frame buffer of the display. So don't jump to conclusions that all OLEDs are limited or the software processing the image on them are limited.

OLED technology ranges from crap to the Zune HD which is one of the best screens on the market.

I have a Samsung OmniaHD and it has a 3.7" AMOLED display. Why are people "ranting and raving" about some technology that has been instituted over a year ago?

In fact, why are people so gaga over Android? My phone's OS can do everything this one can do, and more! Just because Symbian does not have a cohesive application store (and it's more than a year old) doesn't mean it's horrible.

Well the linux underpinnings would appeal to a certain tech savvy demographic. The tight integration with all the google services appeals to a pretty broad group too. Also if you used previous versions of symbian it was pretty quirky(I had a 3620).

OTD said,
I have a Samsung OmniaHD and it has a 3.7" AMOLED display. Why are people "ranting and raving" about some technology that has been instituted over a year ago?

In fact, why are people so gaga over Android? My phone's OS can do everything this one can do, and more! Just because Symbian does not have a cohesive application store (and it's more than a year old) doesn't mean it's horrible.

Thread on xda about this http://forum.xda-developers.com/showthread.php?t=637063
Apparently this is a software issue despite what is claimed in the article, you can easily verify this yourself if you have a N1. Still annoying, but the way that its been presented here is blatant FUD.

skozsert said,
Thread on xda about this http://forum.xda-developers.com/showthread.php?t=637063
Apparently this is a software issue despite what is claimed in the article, you can easily verify this yourself if you have a N1. Still annoying, but the way that its been presented here is blatant FUD.

Yep, it definitely seems to be a software issue. What is more troubling is these people (so called reporters and benchmark people) never care to contact the manufacturers. The author is a complete moron if you ask me.

I see signs that this article will end up in the class of those ridiculous 'windows 7 eats up all your memory' news!

Edited by zagor, Feb 23 2010, 3:06am :

The point is that Nexus One has a subpar screen... The funny part is that everyone is trying to justify the 16bit OLED.
I dont really care, but it's funny to notice that if this was the situation with the iPhone's screen there would have been a much larger discussion or an actual trash talk of how Apple is ripping of their customers... Lol.... Anyhow that is why I never buy 1st Gen tech.... I think that Android has potential but am waiting for a better hardware... Cheers

Euphoria said,
The point is that Nexus One has a subpar screen... The funny part is that everyone is trying to justify the 16bit OLED.
I dont really care, but it's funny to notice that if this was the situation with the iPhone's screen there would have been a much larger discussion or an actual trash talk of how Apple is ripping of their customers... Lol.... Anyhow that is why I never buy 1st Gen tech.... I think that Android has potential but am waiting for a better hardware... Cheers

It does not have a subpar screen. Your Iphone LCD is also 16 bit. Before ranting, you should have hold your breath and wait for the final conclusion. This seems to be only a software issue not a hardware issue! Even gizmodo updated their story. But, neowin editors don't seem to care for correction!

My one and only complaint about his phone is the display is crap! Don't get me wrong the colors are great and the blacks are superb but the sub-pixel pattern looks weird and the streaky lines, bleeding can only be solved somewhat by keeping the brightness on high all the time. Which gives me roughly 2 hours of battery life. I honestly would have preferred an LCD.

How about we wait until they've finished all their tests before drawing conclusions such as "The Nexus One's screen, from an evolutionary standpoint, is a failure" - this is only 1/3 of the series of tests and making a statement like that is not only way out of proportion but very premature.

The screen looks amazing unless you analyze it like that and if all you care about is edge cases and the bad points then anything you look at is going to come across as being bad.

The article had some very good things to say about the display too, although Neowin appears to have ignored them, such as:

"The Nexus One black is so dark that we could only see it by eye in a totally black lab after waiting a few minutes for dark adaptation to set in."

and

"Because the Nexus One OLED display produces an extremely dark black its Contrast Ratio is spectacularly large, the highest we’ve ever measured for a production display."

This just seems to be a sensationalized article needlessly looking to bash the Nexus One.

Riz360 said,
Ok.....interesting.

But why is this front page news?

Because people want to see stuff battle the iPhone. Google and Android promised to fix all the bad with the iPhone, and it has been one screwup after another.

Xenomorph said,

Because people want to see stuff battle the iPhone. Google and Android promised to fix all the bad with the iPhone, and it has been one screwup after another.

Well, that's somewhat of an overstatement. Sure the implementation isn't as slick as Apple, but that doesn't mean that Google/Android handset manucaturers consistently messing up

I don't understand how Google managed to ruin the screen. Don't forget that even Macbook Pro's (13") have very bad 16bit screens. I don't believe that iPhone's screen is better thatn Macbook Pro's so this means Google just did a very bad job here.

This sounds like the average LCD screen. They (TN type panels, the cheap ones) only manage 3x6 = 18 bits as opposed to the 24 or 32 you might be led to believe.

Wow, not to mention that the colors on the screen BLEED left and right!!

See the picture here:
http://forum.xda-developers.com/showthread.php?t=630698

The display sucks.

Not sure what "screens" they are testing, here in reality pictures and web sites look great and scale just perfectly, and since I also have an iTouch 3G I can attest that the screen on the N1 is actually better than the Touch's screen

Would love to see the reference material used in this "study"

This maybe explains why you see weird gray lines when reading black text on white background?

Btw, doesn't the screen support more than 16 bit colors, or is it the OS only using 16? Just like you can change the color depth on your normal monitor.

fobban said,
This maybe explains why you see weird gray lines when reading black text on white background?

Btw, doesn't the screen support more than 16 bit colors, or is it the OS only using 16? Just like you can change the color depth on your normal monitor.

In this case its the display and not the OS

(Spork) said,
i could care less if it 16bit its looks great !

What? It looks completely horrible. The quality in that is just bad.

Xilo said,

What? It looks completely horrible. The quality in that is just bad.


Sounds like you need to go outside more, in the end, who really gives a flying ****? Is one going to scan each letter in their Nexus one gmail to note the color/image quality difference?

Should-have said,

So why don't you care less?

http://incompetech.com/gallimaufry/care_less.html

Cheers, man - you saved me the trouble.

Edited by Shiranui, Feb 23 2010, 2:21am :

barteh said,
Iphone FTW

Yes, because the iPhone is absolutely faultless and is more technologically advanced than the Nexus One. /s

Mikeyx11 said,

Yes, because the iPhone is absolutely faultless and is more technologically advanced than the Nexus One. /s

yep. true

LoveGod said,

yep. true


"True" would indicate that it is fact. Unless you can back up your "true" claim with points as to why the iPhone is more technologically advanced than the Nexus One, which I highly doubt you can do, I really don't think you should be saying anything.

With a lot of these things it depends on what it's compared against.

I have a Nokia N85 which was one of the first phones to sport an OLED display. I did, and still do think it's a gorgeous screen and stands miles apart from LED handsets - even on standby mode. Yet other than 2 mates nobody else has mentioned the screen at all...

The majoriy of people only have one handset, so don't have anything to reference it against - therefore HTC/Google can get away with what appears to be a substandard display on a high end phone.

Whilst they can get away with it, I don't approve. Purely on the basis that these kinds of "dirty tricks" slow down technical advances. Why should Nokia/Sony Ericsson/LG/Apple improve their phone display technology when a competitor can get away with this?

Are you kidding me?

Why is it a dirty trick? Did they ever advertise it as being a 32-bit screen?

How do we let Apple get away with not having multitasking on the iPhone?

How will Microsoft get away without having Adobe Flash on Windows Phone 7 (at least at first)?

If people cared, they wouldn't buy the phone. It's as simple as that. If you don't like it, don't buy the phone. If people don't buy a product, the company will change the product until they do. It's how business works. Please educate yourself before having a rant.

Makes you wonder if the crowing about how good the screen was a placebo effect since it's OLED, people ignoring the issues, or people forgiving them because it's not an Apple product.

ryokurin said,
Makes you wonder if the crowing about how good the screen was a placebo effect since it's OLED, people ignoring the issues, or people forgiving them because it's not an Apple product.

Heck, Zune HD only has a 65K colour screen with noticeable colour banding sometimes too. And yet no-one complains about it because OLED really does just look so much better in person.

~Johnny said,

Heck, Zune HD only has a 65K colour screen with noticeable colour banding sometimes too. And yet no-one complains about it because OLED really does just look so much better in person.


U got a source saying that zuneHD has only 16bit colour? Because when I compared it to my ipod touch, with HD videos and photo's the Zune won easily.

murkurie said,

U got a source saying that zuneHD has only 16bit colour? Because when I compared it to my ipod touch, with HD videos and photo's the Zune won easily.

yep, whoever compares ZuneHD screen to any other lcds will love it. It is a gorgeous screen.

~Johnny said,

Heck, Zune HD only has a 65K colour screen with noticeable colour banding sometimes too. And yet no-one complains about it because OLED really does just look so much better in person.

Ya, need to recheck the facts here, it supports more than 65K.

Well if people are happy with the colours and the phone then I would call this irrelevant. Perhaps it looks better when it's actually in use but on paper, the iPhone has the upper hand? Next time they should compare a Windows Mobile as well, everything is too related to the iPhone.

Billus said,
Well if people are happy with the colours and the phone then I would call this irrelevant. Perhaps it looks better when it's actually in use but on paper, the iPhone has the upper hand? Next time they should compare a Windows Mobile as well, everything is too related to the iPhone.

Windows Mobile has used 16bit color for years and always gets slammed for it, dunno about the newer WP7s version though. Funny how I don't see anyone really making much fuss about the Nexus One using 16bit now, double standards, yay!

Billus said,
Well if people are happy with the colours and the phone then I would call this irrelevant. Perhaps it looks better when it's actually in use but on paper, the iPhone has the upper hand? Next time they should compare a Windows Mobile as well, everything is too related to the iPhone.

I agree. The touch hd2 is only 16bit 65k colors, and it has by far the best screen I've ever seen on a mobile device.

Billus said,
Well if people are happy with the colours and the phone then I would call this irrelevant. Perhaps it looks better when it's actually in use but on paper, the iPhone has the upper hand? Next time they should compare a Windows Mobile as well, everything is too related to the iPhone.

I agree as well, and Google has always been about running things as slim as possible without hindrance to the end user. They probably figured with this, they could drop the color down a bit to make something run more streamline. /shrug. If people like it, then it is really irrelevant.

GP007 said,

Windows Mobile has used 16bit color for years and always gets slammed for it, dunno about the newer WP7s version though. Funny how I don't see anyone really making much fuss about the Nexus One using 16bit now, double standards, yay!

Not exactly, WM has supported 24bit color for years.
http://blogs.msdn.com/windowsmobile/archive/2005/09/07/462187.aspx