iPhone 4 Retina Display: Not Perfect But Best*

Dr. Raymond Soneira, President of DisplayMate Technologies Corporation, comments on PCMag’s “Is the iPhone 4’s LCD the Best?” article.

Brighter: The iPhone 3GS was the previous record holder for brightness among smartphones. The iPhone 4 trumps the 3GS, by 25%.

Better Than Spec’ed Contrast Ratio: The spec on Apple’s page states a contrast ratio of 800:1. PCMag measured 1097:1, which is 37% more. Dr. Soneira on the iPhone 4’s contrast:

That’s very impressive because you seldom ever see manufacturers conservatively understate their specs to that degree – but then see my widely reported (and often misquoted) comments on the iPhone 4 Retina Display, where it falls short on that spec. The iPhone 4 is a tremendous improvement over the iPhone 3GS, which only had a measured Contrast Ratio of 138.

The king of contrast is still the Motorola Droid (check out DisplayMate’s test results).

Disappointing Color Gamut: 64% of the industry sRGB/Rec.709 standard color gamut. Too much or too little color gamut is both bad. Dr. Soneira on the less-than-desirable color gamut:

As a result all iPhone 4 images will have colors that are somewhat under-saturated and on the weak side. The same was true for the iPhone 3GS and all previous iPhones and iPods. I was really expecting the iPhone 4 to correct that deficiency and perform as well as the Motorola Droid, an IPS LCD that matches the standard color gamut almost exactly and delivers essentially perfect color accuracy images, as good or better than most HDTVs. So the iPhone 4 is disappointing in color saturation and color accuracy, but is state-of-the-art in pixel resolution and sharpness.

Real Contrast & Reflectance: OLEDs have stratospheric contrast ratios (30,000:1 or more) but that’s only relevant when you’re in the dark. Outside you need to worry about screen reflectance. Dr. Soneira chimes in:

While the iPhone 4 LCD has a significantly lower contrast ratio than OLEDs, which typically have contrast ratios of 30,000 or more, it’s not particularly relevant for mobile displays because they are typically viewed under bright ambient lighting, where screen reflections of the surrounding ambient light are much greater than the display’s own internal black level. The Contrast Ratio spec only applies for viewing in the dark. The iPhone 4’s bright screen and low reflectance means that it delivers a much higher REAL screen image Contrast under typical ambient lighting than OLEDs, which are not as bright and have inherently higher screen reflectance than the iPhones. But in dark ambient lighting the OLEDs deliver outstanding contrast.

*The bottomline: the iPhone 4’s Retina Display isn’t perfect but it is darn good and probably is the best mobile display you can get your hands on. The one caveat: if you’re a cave dweller I recommend getting a smartphone with an OLED display. For all others the Retina Display is king of the smartphone mountain.