Apple Warns iPhone X Has A Nasty New Surprise

Google’s Pixel 2XL is a fabulous smartphone whose reputation has been dragged through the mud. This is due to its display which has a blue tint at angles and isolated reports of OLED ‘burn-in’. Now Apple AAPL +2.64% has just warned the iPhone X, the most expensive iPhone ever released, carries the same risks…

‘Great Secret Features’ and ‘Nasty Surprises’ are my regular columns investigating the best features / biggest problems hidden behind the headlines.

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Apple iPhone X has an eye catching display but it has problems

In a new support article titled ‘About the Super Retina display on your iPhone X’, Apple warns owners:

“If you look at an OLED display off-angle, you might notice slight shifts in color and hue. This is a characteristic of OLED and is normal behavior. With extended long-term use, OLED displays can also show slight visual changes. This is also expected behavior and can include “image persistence” or ‘burn-in,’ where the display shows a faint remnant of an image even after a new image appears on the screen.”

Apple stresses it has engineered the Samsung-supplied panel to be “the best in the industry in reducing the effects of OLED ‘burn-in’.” This is all well and good but having reviewed phones for nearly 20 years, I can tell you blue tints and burn-in on modern day OLEDs is not “normal behaviour” for smartphones in this price bracket.

In fact it is for these exact flaws that Google has had such a hard time with the Pixel 2XL and rightly so. Blue tints and burn-in on an $849-949 smartphone are not acceptable. So by extension it most certainly is not acceptable on a $999-$1,149 smartphone either.

The obvious reference point here is Samsung, which actually manufactures the panel in the iPhone X. For several years now Samsung’s smartphone panels have been undisputed class leaders and there have been no industry-wide witch hunts about blue tints or burn-in.

Galaxy Note 8 (left) shows no blue tint at angles, Pixel 2 XL (right) does
Galaxy Note 8 (left) shows no blue tint at angles, Pixel 2 XL (right) does

 

The former is illustrated in my side-by-side shots of the Galaxy Note 8 and (blue-tinting) Pixel 2 XL, while the latter – an inherent risk to OLED – has been avoided by some Samsung software smarts. Here it subtly manipulates areas prone to burn-in like the home and navigation buttons: they subtly fade in and out on the Galaxy S8 and move ever so lightly on the Galaxy Note 8:

So what are the facts?

In short: OLED comes with trade-offs. In return for its next generation image quality (primarily due to black levels which literally shut off parts of the display where pitch black is needed) there is added fragility. Poorer quality panels have a noticeable blue tint at angles but not the best while burn-in is an inherent risk but one which has been successfully avoided for a number of generations now.

So why are both Google (retrospectively) and Apple (proactively) suddenly defending OLED flaws in super premium smartphones that shouldn’t be acceptable in 2017?

In Google’s case, I think it simply messed up. LG, a master of OLED televisions, has long had problems with OLEDs in smartphones and its latest flagship (the V30) suffers from similar flaws. Google protested its weaker colours are the result of a focus on accuracy but it’s simply poor calibration and Google is working on improvements with a software update (though the blue tint will remain).

iPhone X display won't look like this from such an extreme angle
iPhone X display won’t look like this from such an extreme angle

As for Apple, the issue is scale. Smartphone OLED panels have never been mass produced to the scale Apple requires for iPhone sales (one of the reasons Apple has not used it until now) and on top of this the iPhone X requires a specially cut OLED panel to fit around the Face ID notch. That’s a bad combination.

Still it is important to stress in everyday use both the Pixel 2 XL and iPhone X have superb displays (check out this HDR video on your Pixel 2 XL if you still have doubts). But that doesn’t excuse the attempts of either company to normalise defects that shouldn’t be there, especially in a year where both Apple and Google significantly raised their prices…

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