Smartphone Displays Get Better and Better
Two smartphones with astounding new displays entered the market this fall – the Apple iPhone 7 and the short-lived Samsung Galaxy Note7.
Compiled by Information Display Staff and Based on Reports from DisplayMate and IHS Markit
September brought us the usual round of new product announcements from Apple – including the Apple Watch S2 and the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus. While enthusiastically received by consumers looking forward to the latest Apple devices, both products were generally accepted to be incremental rather than major upgrades to their predecessors. To be sure, the iPhone 7 now offers water resistance, a faster processor, an improved camera, and other notable features, but the ones most talked about were somewhat controversial – the elimination of both the headphone jack and the mechanical home button. The display was also (greatly) improved, but was mentioned in just one sentence by Apple far down in its press release, below the new colors and glossy finishes: “The new iPhone features the brightest, most colorful Retina HD display ever in an iPhone, now with a wide color gamut for cinema-standard colors, greater color saturation, and the best color management in the smartphone industry.”1
Yet, the iPhone 7 display, according to DisplayMate’s Ray Soneira, merits far more mention. Here is what he had to say about the phone in his recent online review, “iPhone 7 Display Technology Shoot-Out”2 “The display on the iPhone 7 is a truly impressive top-performing display and a major upgrade and enhancement to the display on the iPhone 6. It is by far the best performing mobile LCD that we have ever tested, and it breaks many display performance records.”
Here are some of the highlights Soneira pointed out in his review:
• Two standard color gamuts: the new DCI-P3 wide color gamut that is used in 4K UHD TVs and digital cinema and also the traditional smaller sRGB/Rec.709 color gamut used for producing most existing consumer content for digital cameras, TVs, the internet, and computers, including photos, videos, and movies.
• The highest absolute color accuracy for any display (1.1 JNCD) – visually indistinguishable from perfect.
• The highest absolute luminance accuracy for any display (±2%) – visually indistinguishable from perfect.
• Peak brightness of 705 nits when automatic brightness is turned on in high ambient light, where high brightness is really needed.
• Record high contrast ratio for IPS-LCDs.
• Record low screen reflectance for smartphones.
(For many more iPhone 7 measurements, visit DisplayMate.com)
Writes Soneira: “Given the exceptional performance of the iPhone 7 LCD, there will be many consumers, journalists, reviewers, and even manufacturers wondering if Apple will actually be switching to OLED iPhone displays in 2017, as has been widely reported.” About the lack of fanfare: “Steve Jobs clearly always highly valued display performance and loved bragging about Apple displays, so he would definitely be extremely proud of the exceptional performance of the iPhone 7 display, but probably be dismayed at how little public attention Apple has given to their outstanding iPhone 7 display – which provides a major competitive advantage that most consumers and reviewers are not yet aware of. Other manufacturers will need to play catch-up fast.”
In August 2016, Samsung began shipping the Galaxy Note7, the new and highly anticipated version of its OLED-based smartphone. In September, after reported problems with customers’ Note7 devices overheating and catching fire, Samsung announced a global recall and replacement. Batteries were the suspected cause of the trouble, but replacement units with new batteries from a different supplier experienced the same issues. Samsung then issued a second recall and ceased production of the Note7 in October. The company has not announced the cause of the problem.
Obviously, this is a challenging development for Samsung and a disappointment for customers, especially because the phone had been receiving rave reviews: On August 9, IHS Markit noted the following in a press release3: “The Note7 ... includes all of Samsung’s latest technologies, including speedy eye-based phone unlocking, edge display interface, innovative hover stylus, and new uses for the always on display enabled by Samsung’s AMOLED screen technology. Impressively, Samsung includes all of the new innovations, as well as IP68 water/dust resistance, in a design which is more compact than older Note models.”
Soneira was even more impressed with the Note7’s display than he had been with the iPhone’s. In his online review, “Galaxy Note7 OLED Display Shoot-Out,”4 he wrote: “The Galaxy Note7 provides many major and important state-of-the-art display enhancements, with mobile OLED-display technology now advancing faster than ever. It is the most innovative and high-performance smartphone display that we have ever tested.” He noted its curved OLED display, color gamut, and HDR, as well as a new record high peak brightness of over 1,000 nits and much more. “What is particularly significant and impressive,” wrote Soneira, “is that Samsung has been systematically improving OLED-display performance with every Galaxy generation since 2010, when we started tracking OLED displays.”
While the discontinuation of the Note7 is obviously a disastrous setback for Samsung, perhaps it is not a long-term disaster. The company was swift in recalling all units once it was clear that a quick fix was not at hand. At press time, the company had begun offering exchange incentives – a $100 credit (in addition to the full exchange) to any customer who exchanged the Note7 for another Samsung smartphone and a $25 credit for customers who turned in their phones for full refunds or exchanged their Note7s for any other brand of phones, including iPhones.5 That kind of support is likely to engender good will and customer loyalty. We hope we will see this OLED display in another Samsung smartphone offering soon. •
Fig. 1: The iPhone 7’s optional glossy black finish has received more press than the smartphone’s exceptional new display.