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Fact Checking Apple Inc.'s iPhone X Super Retina HD Display Claims

By Ashraf Eassa - Oct 4, 2017 at 10:26PM

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This Fool puts Apple's claims of display innovation to the test.

At Apple's (AAPL -0.34%) Sept. 12 product launch event, the company announced the iPhone X. The iPhone X brings a lot of new features to the table, including what the company refers to as a Super Retina HD Display -- Apple marketing speak for the organic light emitting diode, or OLED, based display found on the new device.

During Apple's product launch event, Apple marketing chief Phil Schiller said the Super Retina HD display on the iPhone X is the first OLED-based display to be good enough for an iPhone.

Apple's iPhone X.

Image source: Apple.

In particular, he said while OLEDs have traditionally offered advantages in resolution, thinness, and contrast compared to Apple's liquid crystal display (LCD)-based Retina HD displays, they have offered worse brightness, color accuracy, and support for wide color.

Unsurprisingly, Schiller said the display on the iPhone X offers all the advantages of OLEDs while eliminating the drawbacks of other OLED-based displays.

What we know so far

The iPhone X doesn't go on sale for another month, and it'll probably be a little longer than that before we see the likes of DisplayMate publish detailed display performance tests of the device.

So, what I'm going to focus on here isn't verifying that the display on the iPhone X is unequivocally better than the supposedly new LCDs on the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus (since I have no way of doing that), but instead focus on Apple's claims about the deficiencies of other OLED displays.

With that in mind, we can finally fact check Apple's claims.

Color accuracy

Apple claims that, until now, OLED displays couldn't match the color accuracy of its LCDs. Although it's impossible to find display test results for every OLED screen ever put on a smartphone, it's well known that Samsung (NASDAQOTH: SSNLF) is the best in the mobile OLED display business.

In fact, Samsung is the manufacturer of the OLED screen on the iPhone X.

So, to check Apple's claim, let's look at the detailed display performance results published by DisplayMate to compare the color accuracy of the LCD on the iPhone 7 with that of the OLED panel on the Samsung Galaxy S8.

DisplayMate's results indicate that the average color error in the RGB color space on the Galaxy S8's display is 2.3 (lower is better), with the largest error coming in at 4.8.

DisplayMate's testing shows that the average color error in the RGB color space for the iPhone 7's display is just 1.1, with the maximum color error coming in at 2.8.

Based on DisplayMate's results, I have to say that Apple's claim that previous best-in-class smartphone OLED displays could not match the color accuracy of Apple's iPhone LCDs is true.

Wide color

With the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus, Apple introduced displays that supported a color space, known as DCI-P3, that enabled 25% better color saturation than was possible in the traditional sRGB color space.

DisplayMate's testing shows that the iPhone 7 display was very accurate within the DCI-P3 color space, with an average color error of just 1.0 and maximum color error of 2.6. In fact, these numbers suggest slightly better color accuracy in the wider DCI-P3 color space than in the narrower sRGB color space.

The iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus certainly had impressive displays.

But, is it true that best-in-class OLEDs prior to the announcement of the iPhone X didn't support the wider DCI-P3 color space?

Well, according to DisplayMate, the Galaxy S8 display supports what Samsung markets as a Cinema Mode that supposedly covers the DCI-P3 color space. Within that color space, the display on the S8 is not as color accurate as the display on the iPhone 7 -- in fact, both average and maximum color errors within this space are larger in the DCI-P3 color space than in the sRGB color space.

Based on this testing, I would say that Apple's claim is a bit murky. Apple's iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus LCDs certainly were far more color accurate in the DCI-P3 space than the Galaxy S8 display was, but the average color error exhibited by the S8 in the DCI-P3 space is hardly poor.

Brightness

Apple claims that other OLED-based displays can't quite match the brightness of its Retina HD LCDs.

To fact check this, I once again turn to DisplayMate's test results for the newer Galaxy Note8 (which has a brighter display than the Galaxy S8).

Per the testing, with the automatic brightness enabled, the display on the Galaxy Note8 delivers brightness levels of between 575 nits and 1020 nits. By contrast, with automatic brightness enabled, the iPhone 7's display can achieve a brightness of 705 nits.

Interestingly, Apple says the iPhone X's display offers a maximum brightness of 625 nits.

At this point, I'd say that Apple's claims regarding brightness are on shaky ground, though I'll wait for detailed testing of the iPhone X's display by DisplayMate or another similarly reputable set of experts before casing final judgment here.

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