HTC Sensation's excellence on display

, posted: 13-Jul-2011 07:00

One of the standout features of the HTC Sensation is its generous LCD display, and at 4.3" diagonally and 540 x 960 pixels, it's a lovely thing to behold. But how does it shape up in everyday use? How does it compare with other screens? In this blog entry, I'm going to try to answer those questions, and offer some insight into aspects that you just can't see.

But before we get into the nitty gritty, a bit of background. The HTC Sensation sports a resolution known as qHD and it features the sort of pixel density that is virtually indistinguishable from that featured on Apple's iPhone 4, the class benchmark in squeezing pixels into a tiny space. With this display, the playing field has been levelled at a stroke.

Given its true 16:9 proportions and larger dimensions, this display is arguably the one to beat. So how does it perform? Read on.

Size is everything
OK, that's not true. But a 4.3" 16:9 display is a whole lot of real estate. Unless you're blessed with the visual acuity of an eagle, you'll appreciate the type size increase you'll enjoy when reading eBooks, web pages and documents when at the zoom sizes you've been using with smaller screens.

On the other hand, if you can easily read the fine print on the back of a microSD card from a metre away, you'll be rapt with all the extra stuff that will fit on your screen without your having to scroll.

The two screenshots following show that even zoomed browser pages at the sort of magnification that my reading glasses allow me to digest strain-free, demonstrate the extra content that the HTC Sensation's display (on the left) offers.


Compared to my Galaxy S, the larger, denser screen is a real benefit.

Clarifying a few things
Literally. The improved resolution of the display has a benefit that goes beyond improving the scalability of resolution independent UI elements. For one thing, no longer being able to see individual pixels adds a level of smoothness to images, gradients and fine lines without the blurring effects of anti-aliasing affecting the sharpness of the image.

Or it would do, if I could detect such effects. It's one of the tragic consequences of acquiring wisdom that time, that purveyor of experience and insight, should bugger your eyesight. So, much as I'd like to claim categorically that all the previous paragraph's claims are true, the truth is I have no way to verify it.

Luckily though, fellow tester lokhor has by all accounts the requisite eagle vision with which to make such judgements and he will be delighted to educate us. Meantime, if you're on the wrong side of 40 and not so blessed visually, the super-res thing is probably moot. But you'll still have the bragging rights.

Yeah, but can it beat AMOLED?
Before we look at the relative pugilistic prowess of our display antagonists, it's probably a good idea to explain briefly what AMOLED is. Besides an acronym for Active Matrix Organic Light Emitting Diode, it's a technology that uses LEDs instead of LCDs to display graphics on mobile devices. It has claimed benefits and drawbacks as all tech does, but it's in this blog because people want to compare. It's true. People have asked for it.

My having a cellphone that just happens to sport an AMOLED display has made it a doddle to compare the two in situations where their relative strengths can be compared.

HTC Sensation vs Galaxy S
Before the round one bell rings, a caveat: during testing it became clear quite quickly that much of the partisan rhetoric that's voiced on the web on the merits of LCD and AMOLED is based less on the actual needs of the opinion holder than the apparent need to gain points in some senseless debate.

A week of real use, where both phones were actively challenged in various situations and locations, shows that there is little if anything between the two technologies in everyday situations. But there are some readily observed areas where they are not equal and your buying decision may be influenced accordingly. That said, let's get ready to RUM-BLE! (yelled in best boxing referee style).

Round one
"It's what everybody wants to know - is AMOLED truly better in direct sunlight?"

No. The technology here from either camp is just not up to the job. To overcome the brightness of the sun's light shining directly onto the screen, the displays would need to produce significantly greater illumination than they currently do, even on maximum brightness. And even if they were able to achieve that level of brightness, the phones' meagre batteries (i500mAH or so) would only last a matter of minutes.


The images shown have been given identical levels correction to allow the screens to be compared, but the reality is that the light grey backgrounds the phones are on are in fact black paper of the kind people might use in scrapbooks. Without the levels applied, both screens are practically unreadable black rectangles.

Judges' decision: Draw

Round two
"All right then smarty-pants - maybe not direct sunlight, but still bright."

Well now there's something we can test that's likely to give us a result. And it did. The images following show the two technologies on typical bright day, outdoors use, with and without shading.

The image above shows both handsets switched on but with their screens off, reflecting the ambient light (sky in this case). The AMOLED display's superior black level is readily apparent and image is included for that demonstration.

The image above depicts the handsets in the same position as the previous image, this time with their screens on at maximum brightness. The HTC Sensation's screen is evidently brighter than the Galaxy's screen, but the deeper blacks of the AMOLED display clearly aid legibility overall. If there's no alternative to having a high level of reflected light visible on the display, the AMOLED is the better performer.

Round three
"Okay, I'm still outdoors - what about in some shade? Like a sun umbrella maybe?"

The above image, still outside but with some shade (a fine net awning), and straight-on viewing angle is too close to call. Both displays perform extremely well in this situation although it must be remembered that brightness on both phones was cranked to the max.

Round four
"I want to know what viewing angles are like - what's the better performer?"



The images demonstrate the relative performance of the display angle offset to the viewer, in bright light and in shade. While the AMOLED display is clearly affected by the light source, the angle from the perpendicular relative to the viewer has little effect.

The HTC Sensation's screen on the other hand is visibly more affected by the light source reflection than the Galaxy's screen, and is also more affected by the angle relative to the viewer.

But the reflected light source is a problem inherent is glossy screens, so neither display performs particularly well in that situation. And although the angled display result is a win to AMOLED, the readability of both screens is very good.

Round five
"Yeah, but it's a touch screen - any winner in the touch stakes?"

That's an easy one. They're both top notch touch panels, responsive but not too sensitive, smudge resistant, glide-smooth finish and as accurate as you could want. If anything, the HTC Sensation's larger size aids precision, so I'd give it the win even if by a slim margin.

The Judges' decision
Actually there was only one judge, me, in this shoot-out but in the end, it'll be you who decides the ultimate winner. If you absolutely need the bragging rights for the latest tech, or even the winner on points, then you might be persuaded to pass on the HTC Sensation. And that would be a great pity.

A lot of what I tested for this post was in answer to the curiosity of people who'd read or heard something that either flattered or panned the displays. For those who were curious, I hope the results of the tests have provided some insight.

There are other screen attributes that could be a factor in deciding the result, like colour fidelity. Like, for instance, the fact that the display of the HTC Sensation has a magenta cast (and the Galaxy has a blue cast) which might be pleasing to some, or off-putting to others. Yet even with my best efforts, I cannot judge for you what will appeal or otherwise.

So, my judgement? Drop into your local Telecom New Zealand store and have a play with the device - see for yourself how good its display truly is. As so often in life, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and by any reckoning, the HTC Sensation is great.

About the author:

Andy (ArtooDetoo) may be a relative noob in comparison to his fellow HTC Sensation testers, being merely an "Ultimate Geek" in Geekzone, but it hasn't prevented him from commenting at length on numerous topics and forums, with a prolific presence in the Geekzone 'Android' area.

An advertising creative in his day job, he also possesses a passion for tech stuff - software and hardware - and besides having a number of gadgets to keep him interested, he also has a background in software development.

These attributes should at least give him the kind of analytical slant to temper opinion with reason. He and his fellow Telecom Ambassadors have already been hard at work testing and benchmarking so you'll get all the info without the effort. At least, that's the theory. Judge for yourselves.

Other related posts:
HTC Watch on HTC Sensation in New Zealand
HTC Sensation: The Story So Far
Testing mobile data speeds with HTC Sensation

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Telecom Tech is a different type of blog. We're sponsored by Telecom New Zealand, but most of the posts here are from every day users like you.

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