The LG G3’s display has been a choice subject to immense controversy. While the LG G3 is the first international phone to ship with a QHD (2560 x 1440) display resolution, those following the industry saw the inevitable trend as Android OEMs made the jump from 720p to 1080p displays at the 4.7-5” display size. While it’s now obvious that going from 720p to 1080p brought a significant increase to perceived resolution, the same dilemma is brought up when debating whether 1080p to 1440p will bring a significant increase to perceived resolution.

Answering this question requires an understanding of both human vision and the tradeoffs that come with increased pixel densities. The short explanation is effectively that while Apple was right to say that 300 PPI or so is the correct pixel density needed to no longer perceive individual pixels at 12 inches away, the issue is more complex than that. There are edge cases such as Vernier acuity that require pixel density up to 1800 pixels per degree (PPD) in one’s field of view. What this means is that once that pixel density is exceeded, it’s possible to make two lines appear to be aligned even if they aren’t. Of course, this is extremely difficult with current technology, although there are displays in existence that do approach the 2000-3000 PPI needed to reach those levels.

There are more edge cases though. While I’m not going to go into deep depth, the eye is effective capable of sampling detail at .8 to 1 arcminute for the most part. This ignores exceptional cases such as Vernier acuity where interpolation in the mind effectively achieves much higher resolution. While this means that 300 PPI at 12 inches is “enough” to match that sampling rate, the Nyquist-Shannon sampling theorem actually means that preventing aliasing requires twice the resolution. In other words, 600 PPI is the realistic upper bound for most displays. This also ignores cases where the display is held much closer for detailed examination. For those interested in learning more about this, I would refer back to our article on display resolution and human vision.

At any rate, this is the first time that we’ve actually used a 1440p display in a smartphone. In practice, it is possible to see more detail on the LG G3’s display, but it’s hard to tell in most cases. Examining the display closely brings out the differences much more, but it’s not quite the jump that going from 720p to 1080p was. Unfortunately, this doesn’t change the cost of increasing pixel density. As I explained in previous articles, increasing pixel density comes with a greater power cost due to the need for a stronger backlight due to lower active area on the display and smaller transistors. It’s clear that LG has had issues with this, with some rather drastic measures taken.

To save power, LG specifically called out three different mechanisms used to save power on the display. LG states that panel self-refresh is still present in the LG G3, but dumping information from SurfaceFlinger reveals that it's a MIPI video panel, not a command panel. This means that either LG has implemented panel self-refresh in another manner, or that it's no longer present.

Issues with panel self-refresh aside, LG specifically calls out dynamic display clocking as one aspect of their system to save battery life. Inspecting the system files shows that the refresh rate for the display is set by a software governor, which has interesting implications for the custom ROM community and the effect that OTA updates can have on battery life. The system files suggest that the dynamic clocking mechanism isn't quite as broad as one might expect, as the only two frequencies that seem to be exposed are 50 and 60 hertz. I suspect that the nature of an LTPS panel means that it's not quite possible to realize a 0 hertz refresh rate for still images, but it may be that this is effectively a replacement for panel self-refresh. I'll save the other that I've found for the battery life section, as it goes beyond normal power-saving measures.

Outside of just power saving measures, I've also noticed artificial sharpening. This effect is obvious enough that you will notice it immediately. As a result, halos are all over the display in certain situations, and in general I hope LG adds an option to turn this off.

I’ll also touch briefly upon some of the things that I’ve found regarding the touch panel. For one, this is a Synaptics solution, the S3528A. This is the same solution found in the One (M8). Unfortunately, there’s no other information that I could find online. Fortunately, digging through the phone reveals other information. It appears that the QuickCover window is actually defined by ranges in x and y coordinates, and I assume that the same is true for the LCD itself, however all of the information is presented in a circular format.

When it comes to how the rest of the display performs, we turn to Spectracal’s CalMAN 5, with a custom workflow to test our displays and quantify performance. To start things off, we’ll take a look at maximum brightness and contrast. We’ll then move onto grayscale accuracy, then saturation accuracy, and finally the Gretag MacBeth ColorChecker test.

Display - Max Brightness

Display - Black Levels

Display - Contrast Ratio

In the maximum brightness department, LG noticeably struggles here. While the G2 had around 410 nits peak luminance, the G3 regresses to around 390 nits maximum. I didn’t find any outdoor brightness boost function in this case either. This means that outdoors, the display will be worse than 1080p devices like the One (M8) and Galaxy S5. The other issue is contrast, which is around 900:1. This isn’t actually as bad as most have made it out to be. The big issue with contrast here is how it degrades with viewing angles. In most angles, a black test image will rapidly wash out towards white when viewing the display at oblique angles.

Display - White Point

Display - Grayscale Accuracy

In grayscale, the LG G3 does quite well. Most OEMs continue to target around 7000k instead of 6500k, and the result is that there’s a lower bound on the average dE2000 scores. I’d still like to see OEMs include a mode that allows selection of a 6500k target, but LG does acceptably well here. As always, it's important to emphasize that the grayscale measurements will produce inaccurate contrast values due to the nature of the i1Pro.

Display - Saturation Accuracy

Saturations are where LG has gone a bridge too far. While some may enjoy “vivid” color, the saturation compression is insane here. In many cases, 80% and 100% saturations are effectively identical. This can be seen on the red and green sweeps. 60% saturation is often closer to the 80% saturation target. LG really, really needs to either stop doing this or give an option to disable it. This is simply just immensely detrimental to the viewing experience, especially in any situation where color accuracy is actually necessary. Editing photos is effectively impossible on this display because the results will look completely different on most other displays that are closer to following sRGB color standards.

Display - GMB Accuracy

In the Gretag MacBeth Colorchecker, the G3 manages to do well, but it’s likely that its grayscale performance is lowering the dE2000 average. Overall, while this isn’t a terrible display, it’s disappointing that LG has decided to go for showroom appeal over great color calibration out of the box. While HTC’s saturation compression algorithms can be disabled with an init.d script, I haven’t found any evidence that the same is true for the LG G3. The low peak brightness is concerning as well, and likely a mitigation for the higher pixel density. 

Introduction & Hardware Battery Life and Charge Time
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  • sherlockwing - Friday, July 4, 2014 - link

    You listed Nexus 4 in the first Display Brightness graph then Nexus 5 in all the rest, could it be a typo?
  • sherlockwing - Friday, July 4, 2014 - link

    Nvm, I misread and didn't see Nexus 5.
  • Niteowl360 - Friday, July 4, 2014 - link

    Thank you for an awesome review.
    Technically better than most reviews whilst ensuring the layman remains in touch.
    Only thing I found a little strange was the lack of excitement over the display.
    Particularly most reviews have pointed to a slightly undersaturated display, in contrast to your findings.
    Whilst your review states audio quality on per with the M8, I would have liked you to spend more time on this. After all we are still talking about a device which is primarily a phone!
    I'm an HTC purist, but I believe HTC have continued to disappoint in the Camera department.
    At the same time I believe the HTC logo and speakers however good, do come at an unacceptable wastage of display real estate.
    I have always loved the realistic color saturation of HTC devices, and again raise reference to your findings on the over saturated G3 which seems to be a view shared by yourselves.
    Thank you for an excellent overall review. Refreshingly detailed in substance.
  • Alexey291 - Sunday, July 6, 2014 - link

    The display is of below average quality, albeit with higher resolution which reduces performance and battery life.

    Its a lot of tradeoffs for a small gimmick which is barely visible in reality.
  • zodiacfml - Friday, July 4, 2014 - link

    Nahh, LG knew everything about this and just wants to compete with Samsung. How can LG beat Samsung's AMOLED display?
    I don't know but LG is probably not going the OLED route because Samsung's tech is superior.
  • peterfares - Friday, July 4, 2014 - link

    This phone looks really awesome, especially finally going back to removable battery and SD card.

    But what's putting my off is the QHD screen. It's just a waste in every way. Waste of money. Waste of battery power. Waste of CPU and GPU resources. Waste of RAM. Shame. Everything else about this phone is AWESOME.
  • flyingpants1 - Friday, July 4, 2014 - link

    Having onscreen buttons costs you 7% in screen are, and defeats the whole purpose of having a larger screen.

    Buttons should be capacitive, no bezel, and the browser UI and notification area should be cut down by about half.

    Should have made a G2 with front speakers..A
  • UpSpin - Friday, July 4, 2014 - link

    I disagree with you. On screen buttons vanish in full screen apps like games, video players, browser if you like, photo viewer, ... so practically no screen area is lost at all.
    On screen buttons allow a larger level of customization if you root. For example left right arrow in text fields once the keyboard shows up.
    On screen buttons allow edge to edge displays. So practically you get a larger usable display at a smaller physical smartphone size.

    If you feel too much space is wasted, I recommend you to root your smartphone, reduce the lcd density value, reduce the on screen button size and use the immersive mode of android.
  • Death666Angel - Saturday, July 5, 2014 - link

    My on-screen buttons disappear when I'm not using them and almost all apps are good enough to use that space to display more stuff. Only means I have to swipe up or down to active them again, which hasn't been a hassle when using the G2 for the past 2 months. The design is much nicer as a result as well. My wifes SGS3 looks so ancient even compared to my Galaxy Nexus.
  • Cruisecontrol - Friday, July 4, 2014 - link

    Too bad about the display. That was one of the things I was hoping would make this phone stand out. I guess I'll have to wait to see if Samsung delivers an S5 Prime and what that has to offer.

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