DisplayMate is back with another smartphone display shootout, and this one's focused on some mighty big phones. Not big in terms of popularity like April's Galaxy S4 vs. iPhone 5 shootout, which revealed--surprise!--both phones have excellent screens. This shootout is focused on three flagship Android phones from three companies, the HTC One, the Huawei Ascend D2, and the Sony Xperia Z.
All three are 1080p displays pushing the size limits for smartphones. Only the HTC One is smaller than 5 inches--it measures 4.7 inches diagonally across its 16:9 display. These are big, big LCDs with pixels per inch measurements around the 450 mark. DisplayMate aims to ask and answer the inevitable question: Which one's better?
DisplayMate's Dr. Ray Soneira starts out by addressing the race to higher and higher resolutions in smartphones. It's not exactly a waste to make these incredibly pixel dense displays, but we're often not going to notice the difference, either: "The effective resolution of the human retina is much higher than Apple’s Retina Display, and corresponds to somewhere around 600 PPI at a 10 inch viewing distance, which is the limit for the best human vision, around 20/10. That is well above the highest 468 PPI display that we test here, so the Full HD higher resolution and sharpness should be visually apparent. On the other hand, very few people have that level of 20/10 visual acuity. In fact, a fair fraction of the adult population does not have corrected (near) vision even to 20/20. Furthermore, ambient light decreases visual acuity because the reflected light glare from the screen reduces image contrast..."
Once the shootout gets into comparisons, the Huawei Ascend D2 quickly pulls ahead. Due to the HTC One's slightly smaller screen, it actually has the highest PPI of the three, but the difference is only between 468 PPI and 443 PPI. Both the HTC One and Ascend D2 lose a small amount of color accuracy and a large amount of brightness when viewed off axis, while the Xperia Z has a large black level rise that "reduces contrast and washes out the images." DisplayMate also criticized the image processing on both the HTC and Sony, which produce inaccurate colors. That processing can be turned off on the Sony, but the Huawei phone still has the best screen of the bunch.
All three phones scored "very good" on brightness and contrast and screen reflectance, and only the Xperia Z stumbled when it came to color gamut (it was too large, at 115 percent), contrast, and gamma, which were both irregular.
Soneira concludes "In our extensive side-by-side viewing test comparisons the Ascend D2 was virtually indistinguishable from the iPhone 5 and iPad Retina Display, two of the most accurate and high quality mobile displays we have ever tested. The Huawei Ascend D2 joins an elite group of Smartphones with world class displays." The phone's only real weakness: its loss of performance at a 30 degree viewing angle, which is a challenge for all LCDs. Still, it outperformed both other phones in that test.
Soneira's main criticism of the HTC One display is its unnecessary image processing, which results in "distorted and over satured colors and contrast." He mentions, however, that a coming software update from HTC will make that processing optional.
The poor Sony Xperia Z fares the worst with its "extremely disappointing" display, though disabling its Bravia engine at least improves its color accuracy.
Bottom line: you might not think of the Huawei Ascend D2 in the same class of elite smartphones as the Galaxy S4 and iPhone 5, but it's sure got the screen to match.