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Smartphone Screen Shoot-Out: Which Has the Best High-Def Display?

The HD smartphone revolution is here. With the recent release of the LG Spectrum, Android users now have four HD (1280 x 720) smartphones from which to choose: the Spectrum, Samsung Galaxy Nexus,  HTC Rezound and LG Nitro HD. Not all HD smartphone displays are created equal, however, so we decided to evaluate each phone's panel for brightness, viewing angles, color accuracy, sharpness and outdoor visibility. Which HD smartphone display came out on top? Read on to find out.

The Technology Behind the Displays

The LG Spectrum and LG Nitro HD both use True HD AH-IPS technology. IPS, or in-plane switching, is a technology that improves upon the limitations of LCD displays -- namely limited viewing angles and a poor color reproduction --  by placing all of the liquid crystals in the same plane (hence the name, "in-plane switching"). An electric current runs through the liquid crystals horizontally (rather than vertically, as in other LCD displays), giving the display a faster response time and accurate color reproduction from all viewing angles.

The advanced high performance IPS (AH-IPS) used by the Spectrum and Nitro HD improves upon regular IPS technology by offering better color accuracy, allowing for easier transmission of light (which lowers power consumption), and increases the number of pixels. The result is a more vivid and sharp display. The True HD, in this case, refers to the fact that the screens offer a 1280 x 720 resolution.

The HTC Rezound, on the other hand, uses Super LCD (SLCD) technology to give it an edge in the number of pixels it can display per inch. In addition, SLCD is said to offer truer blacks than other LCD displays and warmer colors than AMOLED displays.

Last -- but certainly not least -- is the Super AMOLED technology used in the Galaxy Nexus. Samsung's proprietary Active Matrix Organic Light-Emitting Diodes (AMOLED) technology uses luminescent organic materials, which emit light when stimulated by an electric current. Because AMOLED displays use light-emitting diodes to create light rather than backlighting (as in LCD displays), they supposedly offer a number of advantages over LCD, including lower power consumption, a higher contrast ratio, wider viewing angles, and faster response times.

Editor's Note:

After we initially published this post, a reader pointed out that the protective film was still on the LG Spectrum. We retested the phones and took new comparison photos, and have updated this post accordingly. Despite removing the protective film, the results of our comparisons remained the same.

Round 1: Brightness

When we compared each of the phones for brightness using a light meter, the difference between LCD and AMOLED displays became quickly apparent. Although LCD supposedly offers brighter colors than AMOLED, the Galaxy Nexus's 340-lux Super AMOLED display outshines its competitors' LCD displays. The LG Spectrum matches the the Galaxy Nexus at 340 lux, while the LG Nitro HD's 324-lux display comes close. The HTC Rezound offers the dimmest display, registering only 278 lux.

At 340 lux apiece, the LG Spectrum and Samsung Galaxy Nexus are tied for display brightness. 

Winner: LG Spectrum/Samsung Galaxy Nexus

Round 2: Viewing Angles

When testing the phones' viewing angles, the Samsung Galaxy Nexus's Super AMOLED display came out on top. Among the HD smartphones, only the Galaxy Nexus retained the vividness and brightness of its colors when viewed from the side. The True HD LCD displays of the LG Spectrum and LG Nitro HD fared almost as well, while the HTC Rezound's Super LCD display offered poor viewing angles. 

When viewed at a 45-degree angle to the right, the colors on Galaxy Nexus remained vivid and true. By contrast, the LG Spectrum's normally vivid True HD IPS display became slightly washed out, as did the LG Nitro HD to a lesser extent. The HTC Rezound fared the worst when viewed at a 45-degree angle, its colors becoming muted and the screen becoming noticeably darker.

The Galaxy Nexus looks just as good when viewed from a 45-degree angle to the left. The Spectrum looks much better than it does on those on the right, with true colors that are just as vivid as when viewed head on. The Rezound, on the other hand, looks even worse that it did from the right. The already dim display became even darker, and the normally vivid reds of its home screen appeared washed out. The LG Nitro HD, like the Galaxy Nexus, looks just as good from the left side as it does from the front.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy Nexus

Round 3: Color Accuracy

We compared the color accuracy of the HD phones using a tiger wallpaper. At first blush, the colors on the HD smartphones look identical. Upon closer inspection, however, subtle but important differences became noticeable.

The colors on the LG Spectrum's True HD IPS display were dark and rich. The difference between the Spectrum and the Samsung Galaxy Nexus was most immediately apparent when looking at the tiger's orange fur and the blue sky framing its head. On the Spectrum, the orange of the tiger's fur appears deeper in color, closer to red than yellow. Similarly, the sky on the Spectrum is a darker shade of blue than on the Galaxy Nexus.

Looking at the tiger on the Rezound, the colors were far less lustrous and vivid than on either the Spectrum or the Galaxy Nexus. The grey-blue sky looks similar to that on the Galaxy Nexus, and the tiger's normally eye-popping orange fur appears muted. The stripes in the shadow on the left side of the tiger -- which are visible on the Spectrum and Galaxy Nexus -- can barely be seen on the Rezound.

The colors on the LG Nitro HD's True HD IPS LCD display are lighter than on any of the other phones, giving the tiger a somewhat washed out appearance.

Winner: LG Spectrum

Round 4: Sharpness

For level of detail, the LG Nitro HD was the worst performer. Its text is grainy, and no matter how many close-up photos we took of its screen, a green distortion always appeared. The LG Spectrum, Galaxy Nexus and HTC Rezound, on the other hand, looked similarly crisp and clear -- until we zoomed in even further.

The LG Spectrum's 4.5-inch True HD IPS display offers a whopping 329 pixels per inch -- and it shows. Even when viewed at extreme-close-up, text on the Spectrum looked crisp.

Because it uses the largest panel, the 4.7-inch Super AMOLED display on the Samsung Galaxy Nexus only sports 316 ppi -- less than any of the other HD displays. At an extreme close-up the text still looks sharp, although there was more graininess than the Spectrum and Rezound.

The HTC Rezound's 4.3-inch True HD IPS display boasts a staggering 342 ppi, the most pixels per inch of any of the HD displays. Unsurprisingly, text on the Rezound looked crisper than on the Spectrum, Galaxy Nexus and Nitro HD, with pleasantly bold letters and clean lines.

Although the LG Nitro HD's 4.5-inch, 329-ppi AH-IPS display offers 329 pixels per inch -- the same as the Spectrum -- text on the Nitro HD appeared far more grainy than it did on any of the other displays. 

Winner: HTC Rezound. The LG Spectrum was a very close second.

Round 5: Outdoor Visibility

The visibility of the phones' displays varied widely when viewed outdoors. The Galaxy Nexus suffered from the least amount of glare: even in sunlight, the tiger's lustrous coat lost almost none of its luster. By comparison, the colors on the LG Spectrum and LG Nitro HD look washed out: the sky is closer to grey than blue, and the fine details of the tiger are lost. Visibility on the HTC Rezound was particularly poor outdoors -- the tiger, sky and snow blend together in a grey haze.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy Nexus


LG SpectrumSamsung Galaxy NexusHTC RezoundLG Nitro HD
Viewing AnglesX
Color AccuracyX
Outdoor VisibilityX

Though it didn't win every round, the Samsung Galaxy Nexus and its Super AMOLED display outperformed the competition overall. While the Galaxy Nexus's 4.7-inch display isn't as sharp as its smaller-screened competitors and the LG Spectrum's True HD IPS display boasts slightly more vivid colors, the Nexus's brightness, wider viewing angles, and suprerior outdoor visibility combine to give it the best HD screen on the market today.