Nov 18 AT 12:51 PM Nick Gray 22 Comments

Building the perfect Nexus: display

Mirasol displays

When building the perfect Nexus phone, the display is certainly one of the most important factors that will determine the success of the handset. Over the years we have seen displays grow in size while pixel density has skyrocketed. The evolution of the screen can easily be traced just by looking at the various screens used on Nexus phones over the years.

  • Nexus One: 3-7-inch 480 x 800 (252ppi) AMOLED
  • Nexus S: 4.0-inch 480 x 800 pixels (233ppi) Super AMOLED
  • Galaxy Nexus: 4.67-inch 720 x 1280 pixels (316ppi) Super AMOLED
  • Nexus 4: 4.7-inch 768 x 1280 pixels (318ppi) True HD IPS+
  • Nexus 5: 4.95-inch 1080 x 1920 pixels (445ppi)  True HD IPS+

Having a larger display on a phone make consuming media a lot more enjoyable, but larger screens are the main culprit for increased handset size. The Sony Xperia Z Ultra and HTC One max are definitely too large for wide consumer appeal, but that has not stopped manufacturers from bumping the standard screen size for flagship phones by roughly a quarter inch each year. I’m sure we’ve all forgotten how big the HTC EVO 4G felt with its 4.3-inch display when it came to market in 2010.

But screen size is only part of the equation. The other factor to consider is the technology used in the display. There are dozens of display technologies on the market, but the ones used most frequently in today’s flagship Android phones are IPS LCD, Super LCD and Super AMOLED. Because there’s little difference between IPS LCD and Super LCD displays, we’re simply going to point out some of the obvious factors that set LCD technologies apart. The main advantage offered by AMOLED technologies is the ability to illuminate pixels individually, allowing manufacturers to develop unique use cases (Moto X’s active notifications and Samsung’s S-View) that don’t consume an exorbitant amount of power. Unfortunately, AMOLED displays come with a PenTile RGBG subpixel matrix layout, which is inferior to the traditional RGB layout used by LCD displays. While the underlying LCD technology may be a lot older than AMOLED, its maturity allows for more accurate color reproduction and better visibility in direct sunlight.

It’s impossible to know what the perfect screen size is, and we know that we will never be able to agree on which display technology is better. That said, we still want to know what you’d pick if you were piecing together the perfect Nexus phone.

Nick is a tech enthusiast who has a soft spot for HTC and its devices. He started HTCsource.com (the first HTC blog) back in 2007 and later joined the Android and Me family in the summer of 2010.

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  • h0ruza

    I’d have to admit I’ve been using Amoled for years now and IPS may be better for some but I’ve not felt like I needed to change my phone.

    Plus the upsides are power consumption and true blacks… Yes Please

  • jamal adam

    Personally, I think a 5″ screen with a Super LCD 3 (or the next version of it) like the one found in the One is the perfect combo.

  • http://nickvettesephotography.com Nicholas Vettese

    I think Google should move forward with the technology they put into the MotoX for the Nexus Phone 2014. The X8 system works great, and the AMOLED Screen allows Motorola/Google to do some really cool things without having to drain the battery.

  • Stephen Sagers

    I got a Nexus 5 to replace my Verizon Galaxy Nexus. One of the things I looked forward to was the higher res display (I like to read eBooks on my phone). While I the higher res does make the text look nicer, the rest of the display I’ve been disappointed with.
    The N5 display is a dark gray. The colors are more yellow vs the GN’s bluish tint. Colors also tend to not be as vibrant. It all combines to make the display look a bit washed out.
    While I am glad to be moving on to a more powerful phone, in terms of display my take is 1 step forward, 2 steps back.

    • Stephen Sagers

      * I meant to say the absolute blackest of the N5 is more of a dark gray.

      • clocinnorcal

        I felt the same way when going from an Galaxy device to the Nexus 4. Blacks were gray, viewing angles were much worse and colors in general were not as vibrant. Now when in a wireless store looking at Samsung devices I notice colors are really over saturated, but I do miss the true blacks and viewing angles quite a bit.

  • Walkop

    I’m surprised at the amount of misinformation in this article. Especially for Android and Me.

    1. AMOLED displays are NOT all PenTile. That is just plain incorrect. The Galaxy S2 was not PenTile, for example, but used an equalized RGB layout.

    At PPIs above 400, this is almost a negligible difference anyway. You won’t notice it in regular use (note: I am not saying that higher PPI doesn’t make a difference; the angular resolution, IIRC, of the eye is well above 700 PPI).

    2. AMOLED displays are not less accurate than LCD. The “maturity” of LCD technology means basically nothing; calibration is totally up to the OEM. Samsung even includes custom calibrations that the user can pick on the Galaxy S4 and Note 3. There is a natural setting which is extremely well calibrated, especially compared to some other OEMs and their LCD displays.

    Also, on the Nexus 5 display: it is worlds ahead of the Galaxy Nexus. The GNex (I used to have one) was not very bright, and although I loved the deep blacks the colour reproduction on the Nexus 5 is much, much better and the blacks are much deeper than the Nexus 4.

    • http://htcsource.com Nick Gray

      Actually, all AMOLED displays feature a PenTile matrix sub-pixel arrangement. The displays used on the Galaxy S II were Super AMOLED Plus which is considered a different technology due to the traditional RGB arrangement. Samsung has not use AMOLED Plus in their flagship devices since the SGSII due to its higher cost and shorter life cycle.

      I do think that technology maturity does play a huge role in distinguishing these two technologies. AMOLED displays get better each and every year. I would not be surprised if it would be nearly impossible to distinguish between LCD and AMOLED displays within 5 years.

      • Walkop

        Actually; that isn’t the case. “AMOLED Plus” is just a marketing gimmick totally made up by Samsung; it isn’t a technical specification. Case in point: The Moto X. It uses a full, 100% authentic RGB pixel arrangement. See here (search “pentile” in page)

        http://www.droid-life.com/2013/08/02/9-things-you-may-not-know-about-the-moto-x/

        PenTile and RGB arrangements, however, are technical specifications.

        • Droid Sam

          Hmmm… thats not what Anandtech reported on their review of the Moto X. Close up pictures of the display show the same PenTile pixels as the Note 2. It’s certainly better than other AMOLED displays, but that does not change tue fact that it does not have a standard RGB pixel layout. http://www.anandtech.com/show/7235/moto-x-review/5

          • Walkop

            That isn’t PenTile, though.

            It’s RGB, with a different layout. Meaning you get basically the same effect as a regular RGB display; they just swapped things around instead of removing pixels.

      • clocinnorcal

        No they don’t all use a PenTile matrix sub-pixel arrangement.

    • dh33r4j

      I agree with you, Walkop. Apart from Galaxy S II, there are other phones that use Full RGB. The Note II is an example and the Nokia Lumia 900 is another. The choice is completely of the OEM.

      • Walkop

        Exactly, I forgot about the Lumia 900. The Note II is another good example, yes.

        BTW, I learned a lot about displays and some qualities that can vary a LOT between OEMs (like screen reflectance) from http://www.displaymate.com ‘s mobile section. They have a lot of info, and go really in-depth in their analysis. Just a tip. :P

        Just so I don’t sound like a shill, Anandtech also does fairly comprehensive display reviews.

  • SGB101

    I always had a downer on amoled, but only because Samsungs implementation of the colour. I don’t mind either as long as it’s not saturated to the high heavens. So I didn’t vote on that one.

    The next is likely to grow a little more, and may have no side bezels so 5.2 would be the same size as the N5

  • michael

    I prefer IPS. Before the my nexus 4 and now nexus 5, Ive owned the S4, S3, S2 and Samsung Vibrant. Though the Amoleds colors are Richer, I feel that the IPS display is sharper and overall more pleasing. 5 inch is the perfect size

  • Jimmy_Jo

    I think a 4.7in 1080p SuperAMOLED display would give a sharp image with true blacks. But since my N5 is on it’s way to me now I may feel differently next week!!!

  • thymeless

    Considering I bought a Note 3, it should be clear where my vote lies. It’s been great in the sun, great to use, and 4.7 and 5 inch is just too small anymore.

  • redraider133

    I really have no complaints with any of the current crop of 1080p devices. I like amoled for the colors, but I also like the screens that HTC uses on their devices. Pentile should go away, but at 1080p on 5″ screens I could not see any pixels anyway.

  • CTown

    I may be getting a Nexus 5 tommorow (after using an AMOLED-equipped Vibrant for years) but I am not going to lie and say that a LCD screen is more useful than an AMOLED especially after what Moto showed what could be done with a screen that can partially turn off…

  • Mark T

    I would like to see a 5.2 Super Amoled Screen on the Nexus provides the vibrant contrasts i like

  • donger

    5 inch!