Mobile phone display mega shootout: The full picture

GSMArena team, 29 November 2010.
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LCD (HTC Desire HD, LG E900 Optimus 7, Sony Ericsson XPERIA X10)

Thereís nothing particularly special about the LCD screens on the HTC Desire HD, the LG E900 Optimus 7 and the Sony Ericsson XPERIA X10. The technology has been around for ages and we didnít have huge expectations.

LCD screens are capable of decent contrast at most and thatís not much by todayís standards. In this particular test those three displays were last and by some distance at that.

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From left to right: HTC Desire HD, LG E900 Optimus 7, Sony Ericsson XPERIA X10 - Contrast is nothing to write home about

Itís not nearly as bad when we look at brightness levels, though. In fact, the 4 incher on the Sony Ericsson XPERIA X10 was probably the brightest screen of the bunch. The Optimus 7 and Desire HD werenít quite as impressive, but no worse than the middle of the pack either.

As far as the sunlight legibility is concerned, the Sony Ericsson XPERIA X10 was the best of the trio, the E900 Optimus 7 coming up last. This is yet another area where LCD cannot really match the competition.

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The XPERIA X10 did best of all LCD competitors in terms of sunlight legibility

The overall reflectivity of the screens is part of the explanation for their average contrast, though itís by far not the only problem. You see, LCD displays always have the backlighting on (otherwise the screen will switch off altogether). So if black needs to be displayed their best shot is to try and block as much of the light as possible and thatís not really leading to perfect results. Black is a darker shade of grey at best. LEDs on the other hand can be turned off, meaning that true black is attainable.

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The three screens are pretty reflective, compared to their rivals

Next we come to viewing angles, which we are afraid are another questionable part of the LCD performance. The contrast quickly degrades as you tilt the handsets to a wider angle and at extremes it is hard to even make out whatís on the screen. The overall effect varies across different devices but we havenít seen an LCD screen that could possibly challenge the best in business.

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Contrast starts to degrade even at moderate angles

Finally, we feel that a particular flaw of the LG Optimus 7 display needs to be mentioned here. The handset tends to over-saturate images and thatís more prominent than on any other phone in our sample. Topped with the less than stellar contrast, it results in an inevitable loss of detail.

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Under extreme angles you can hardly make out what's on the screen

All in all, regular LCD fails to offer mind-blowing image quality. LCD screens just canít rival newer technologies in pure performance and their energy efficiency is inferior too. Those screens are still the cheapest to produce and their time is not over yet. It may be time however they stepped down from the high-end smartphone market.

If we had to make a recommendation, weíd be split between the XPERIA X10 for its higher resolution and better sunlight legibility and the Desire HD for its bigger size and slightly better viewing angles. The LG Optimus 7 unit comes last within its own league and the overall standing.

So classic LCD didnít quite make it. Now letís see how regular AMOLED fares with the N8 screen coming up next.

AMOLED (Nokia N8)

Todayís first AMOLED screen has no super powers and hence, no fancy name. The Nokia N8 was announced before the Nokia ClearBlack technology was available. The Nseries flagship has a regular AMOLED screen .

Light-emitting diodes are the very source of backlighting on AMOLED screens. As opposed to LCD, each pixel can be switched off individually and thus real black colors can be displayed instead of different shades of gray. Thatís why AMOLEDs can offer much better contrast than any LCD currently on the market.

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The AMOLED technology offers a vast contrast advantage

The viewing angles are pretty good and you can see whatís on the screen with almost no color fading. It might not be as good as the iPhone but the differences are mostly in those extreme cases that rarely (if ever) occur in real life.

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Viewing angles are very good too

On the other hand, the brightness levels of this type of screens are not particularly impressive. That explains the loss of contrast when taken outside. The effect is even noticeable under bright lights indoors, though in this case it still remains better than the handsets we checked so far.

Donít get us wrong Ė the Nokia N8 display is still perfectly legible in the sun and you can easily find an angle to work with the handset. Itís just that the colors do get a bit washed out, which makes the screen a lot less impressive.

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Contrast worsens outdoors, but the screen still remains legible

Finally, we need to mention the ambient light sensor, which users just cannot override. You can control its brightness range, but the sensor always has the last say. It means that you cannot use the maximum brightness level in absolute darkness or set it to minimum in bright light.

Once again, we need to remind you that this is also the reason why the N8ís screen looks so much dimmer than the other handsets in the dark shots Ė we just couldnít override the ambient sensor.

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