Display technology has evolved considerably in the past several years. It’s gotten to the point that old tube televisions and CRT computer monitors that cost hundreds, if not thousands, just years ago are now completely worthless. You can’t give them away – in fact, most residential waste disposal services charge residents to haul their old CRT televisions or monitors away. Televisions and computer monitors have gotten wider and thinner, and the picture has gotten brighter, sharper, and more colorful. And nowhere is that evolution more evident than in our smartphones.
The displays on most flagship smartphones today are simply gorgeous, and manufacturers such as Samsung, LG, Motorola, and yes, Google and Apple are constantly pushing the boundaries for just how impressive a smartphone display can be. Some companies are looking to change the display itself – like Samsung’s curved displays or Apple’s 3D Touch technology; while others, like Google, are looking to introduce extreme resolutions and pixel density for sharpness that has rarely been seen in a smartphone display. Although Apple and Google have taken a bit of a different approach when designing their displays, both the iPhone line and the Pixel line have two of the top displays on the market today. Let’s take a look at how they compare.
5.0-inch FHD AMOLED display
2.5D Corning Gorilla Glass 4
1080×1920-pixel resolution at 441 ppi
Google Pixel XL
5.5-inch QHD AMOLED display
2.5D Corning Gorilla Glass 4
1440×2560-pixel resolution at 534ppi
Retina HD display
4.7-inch (diagonal) Wide Color LED-backlit widescreen
Multi-Touch display with IPS technology
1334×750-pixel resolution at 326 ppi
iPhone 7 Plus
Retina HD display
5.5-inch (diagonal) Wide Color LED-backlit widescreen
Multi-Touch display with IPS technology
1920-by-1080-pixel resolution at 401 ppi
As we’ve seen in several other areas, the specifications provided by the manufacturers don’t necessarily translate directly into real world usage. Digging a bit deeper, we can uncover how the displays on each phone actually perform.
Google certainly didn’t skimp on the displays when they made the Pixel series. Like many of the newer flagship Android devices, the displays on the Pixel line utilize AMOLED technology. Because AMOLED displays do not require backlighting, each pixel in the display can be turned on and off individually. Theoretically, this allows for deeper black levels, more impressive contrast ratios, and less power consumption, meaning better battery life. The Pixel and Pixel HD also feature incredible resolution. Featuring 1080×1920 pixel resolution at 441 pixels per inch and 1440×2560 pixel resolution at 534 pixels per inch respectively, the Pixel and Pixel HD offer some of the sharpest displays available on smartphones today, rivaling the displays on some high-end laptops.
This all amounts to a stunning display. The Pixel and Pixel HD offer incredibly sharp, vivid imagery, with bright, punchy colors that some may say borders on over-saturated. The black levels are as deep as can be, making, as Anandtech puts it, “the LCD’s deepest possible blacks look like light grey in comparison,” and the contrast ratio is incredible. Top it off with built-in support for Google’s Daydream virtual reality platform, and the Pixel series is definitely one of the top smartphone displays out there.
That’s not to say the Pixel’s displays are perfect, however. Although the Pixel and Pixel XL can reach a minimum brightness of 1 nit and 2 nits, respectively – great for late night Facebook scrolling – their maximum brightness is simply not up to par with comparable smartphone displays. The Pixel reaches a maximum brightness of only 398 nits, which pales in comparison to the 493 nits offered by the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge, the 632 nits offered by the iPhone 7, and especially the 816 nits provided by the LG G5. The Pixel XL display is a bit brighter, with a maximum brightness of 433 nits, but still lagging behind the competition when compared to the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 (RIP) at 570 nits, or the iPhone 7 Plus at 672 nits. What’s worse, the Pixel series offers no “boost” mode when the phone is set to automatic brightness, offered by most of the competition. This allows the display to temporarily bump up the brightness when the phone is in bright lighting, such as direct sunlight. When compared to other phones, the Pixel and Pixel XL may be a bit tough to see when in a brightly-lit environment.
Color and saturation accuracy lags a bit behind some of the competition as well – but these, in general, don’t detract much from otherwise stellar displays. The lack of brightness is, without a doubt, the biggest knock on the displays of the Pixel and Pixel XL. It’s unclear why the two displays trail so far behind the competition in brightness, but it may have to do with power consumption. The incredible resolution of the displays already hogs plenty of resources – putting that resolution at max brightness could be a huge drain on battery life.
When details about the iPhone 7 began emerging early this year, many people were shocked that the display would utilize the same LCD technology that Apple has used for its iPhones since the release of the original in 2007. With almost every other flagship smartphone ditching LCD technology for the more advanced AMOLED, Apple fans were concerned that Apple was phoning it in with the iPhone 7’s display, and that it would pale in comparison to the displays put out by Android competitors.
The concern may have been legitimate, but it turned out to completely wrong. From their desktops to their laptops to their tablets, and yes, to their smartphones, Apple has always produced some of the finest displays on the market – and the displays on their latest iPhone models are no different. The displays on the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus, although using what some people may call outdated technology, are nothing short of astounding. As Wired put it in a recent review of the iPhone 7, “Apple manages to be among best despite using LCD, a technology every other flagship has left behind… [the display] beats out smartphone displays of any stripe for important attributes like peak brightness and highest absolute color accuracy.”
Color accuracy is one of the strengths of the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus displays. DisplayMate, who did a very thorough breakdown of the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus displays, praises Apple’s use of dual color gamuts (what Apple calls the wide color gamut), and its ability to effortlessly shift between the two when required, making the color accuracy of the displays “visually indistinguishable from perfect.” DisplayMate even went on to say that the iPhone 7’s display is “very likely considerably better than any mobile display, monitor, TV or UHD TV that you have” when it comes to color accuracy.
The iPhone 7’s displays also outperform most of their competitors when it comes to screen brightness, as well. PhoneArena recorded a minimum brightness of 2 nits for both the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus, and a maximum brightness of 632 and 672 nits for the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus, respectively, although the displays can brighten up to above 700 nits in automatic brightness mode while placed in high ambient light – substantially brighter than the displays on the Pixel or Pixel XL.
The low screen reflectance, great viewing angle, strong contrast ratio, and virtually every other display area received high praise from DisplayMate, as well. Not even taking into account the benefits of Night Shift mode and the impressive 3D Touch capability of the display, the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus contain two of the best displays on the market. Although the two phones may look like the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus, they contain many huge improvements over their predecessors – especially when it comes to the displays. “The iPhone 7 display is a truly impressive major enhancement and advancement on the iPhone 6 display… and even every other mobile LCD display that we have ever tested,” says DisplayMate.
Although it uses older technology, and doesn’t feature nearly the resolution or ppi that the Google Pixel or Pixel HD does, the iPhone 7 displays outperform the Pixel displays in most areas. If you plan on taking an interest in virtual reality any time soon, the Pixel series is likely a better choice for you, otherwise the iPhone 7 displays easily top the Pixel’s.
It will be interesting to see the display advances Apple makes with its 2017 phone – rumor has it that Apple will be switching to OLED technology, among a myriad of other changes, for the iPhone 8. Hopefully they will be able to repeat the incredible display performance of the iPhone 7 series with the new technology, if not out-do themselves entirely.