We ran each of the participants against the following checklist, hoping to make it easier for you to choose your next phone based on the type of screen it has:
Image quality – the most important aspect of screen performance. The contrast levels can make all the difference in the world but brightness and accurate colors are quite important too.
Sunlight legibility and overall reflectivity determine the extent to which the display performance deteriorates in the bright sun. Not too long ago some handsets were near impossible to use outdoors and while improvement has been noted, there is still some difference between the best and the rest.
Viewing angles is about being able to see what’s on your handset’s screen even if you aren’t looking at it straight on. For example, sharing what’s on-screen with a friend might be impossible with a handset with narrow viewing angles.
Of course other aspects of actual phone use will also be mentioned (ambient-light sensor, proneness to smudges), but those three matter the most and will understandably get most of the attention.
We shot each of the contestants from different angles in three different setups: complete darkness, artificial (indoors) and natural lighting (outdoors). The first one should reveal the full potential of each display, while the other two give an indication of their real-life performance.
To give all phones equal chance we went for single shots where each handset was placed in the exact same position and we used exactly the same camera settings. We did that, because shooting them together would have put the ones farthest from the camera lens at a disadvantage.
Mind you, the two Nokia handsets have an ambient light sensor, which automatically sets the display brightness. Even at the maximum brightness setting, the sensor always has the final say and that’s why they look darker (mostly the N8) than most competitors in the completely dark setup.
When taken outdoors they switched back to higher brightness levels so just keep in mind that the dark shots are not indicative.
And here come the best performers grouped by category.
Contrast is certainly among the most important parts of a display's performance. Deep blacks is what everyone wants to see and if the darkest you handset can show is grayish everything on the screen will look as if the screen is covered by white film.
The screens to give the best performance here Samsung Galaxy S Super AMOLED and Nokia's ClearBlack AMOLED. Those two technologies are capable of showing noticeably deeper blacks than anything else on the market.
The other AMOLED screen, the Nokia N8 comes up next, confirming the technology dominance in this aspect.
The iPhone 4's Retina is the best LCD can offer and the only thing that at least comes somewhat close to AMOLED. .
The rest of the group are way behind, the Super Clear LCD, slotting in sixth and the regular LCD trio completing the tally.
Apple iPhone 4's non-reflective screen helps it move a step closer to the top when faced with very bright light sources. It manages to just edge out the Super AMOLEDs and is tied with the ClearBlack screen for the first place here.
And while the difference might not be visible in real life scenarios, the two Samsungs - S8500 Wave and I9000 Galaxy have to settle for the third spot here.
Nokia N8 is legible enough in bright sun to get the fifth position, though its lead over sixth-placed Super Clear LCD isn't huge.
And once again it's good ol' LCDs at the foot of the class. The XPERIA X10 does best of the three LCD-equipped handsets, but that is still good enough for a seventh place only.
The last two spots are occupied by the HTC Desire HD and LG E900 Optimus 7, which have some usability issues when taken outdoors.