Display outdoor visibility comparison: Samsung Galaxy S6 vs Apple iPhone 6 vs HTC One M9 vs Note 4

Display outdoor visibility comparison: Samsung Galaxy S6 vs Apple iPhone 6 vs HTC One M9 vs Note 4
With summer right around the corner, many will be curious to learn which of the popular smartphones this year has the best-looking and most-legible display when used under direct sunlight.

In order to learn more about the outdoor visibility qualities of displays, we tested four top-tier phones: the Samsung Galaxy S6, the Apple iPhone 6, the HTC One M9, and the Samsung Galaxy Note 4

You don't need to know a lot about the technology they use - it's enough to just look at the pictures below to see clearly the differences in screen visibility under the direct sunlight. However, if you want an explanation of the results, read on. 

The major difference between the devices is that Samsung phones feature Super AMOLED displays, while the remaining two have an LCD panel. Also, Samsung's displays are capable of getting super bright once the ambient light sensor detects that you are out on a sunny day with very bright ambient light. This results in a burst of brightness boost that raises the brightness above the usual levels. Note that this only occurs on Samsung's AMOLED displays, while other phones, including the Apple iPhone 6 and HTC One M9, don't have such a 'turbo' brightness mode.

There is, however, another factor that makes arguably even more of a difference: AMOLED displays don't have a backlight that controls brightness across the whole display, but are instead able to control the luminance intensity of each pixel separately. In practice, this means that brightness intensity on AMOLED screens varies depending on the image. If you have a picture with more darker tones, the fewer bright pixels can become really bright and such an image (like the jelly fish one below) is much better visible even under direct sunlight. If you, however, have an image with a white/bright background, you have less total power to spare among the remaining pixels, and this results in a comparatively less bright image. Look below at the image of the browser where we have a white background, and you see that the iPhone 6 with its LCD screen, for instance, is on par, if not better than the Galaxy S6, in terms of outdoor visibility.

With no further ado, here are the actual results of our test that we performed with all phones set at maximum brightness in the mid-day heat.

Overall, one can argue about the winner (and admittedly, it's still hard to see clearly on either device when you use them under direct sunlight), but the Samsung Galaxy S6 is clearly ahead, at the top, and in most cases it trumps all others. The Apple iPhone 6 and Samsung Galaxy Note 4 come in as runner-ups (but in particular images, like the browser, the iPhone gets practically on par with the S6), and finally, the HTC One M9 seems to be seated firmly on the last place with its slightly dimmer screen.

You can see our lab display measurements and compare them with the real-life test images. Feel free to express your thoughts about how important is display outdoor visibility and which phone of these four you find performs best.

Maximum brightness Higher is better Minimum brightness (nits) Lower is better Contrast Higher is better Color temperature (Kelvins) Gamma Delta E rgbcmy Lower is better Delta E grayscale Lower is better
Samsung Galaxy S6 563
Apple iPhone 6 606
HTC One M9 508
Samsung Galaxy Note 4 468



1. Toneknows

Posts: 8; Member since: Apr 09, 2015

they all suck

8. BruceLeeRoyJenkins

Posts: 51; Member since: Feb 27, 2015

The Xperia Z3 can hut 700 knits, incredibly easy to view in direct sunlight

18. hung2900

Posts: 966; Member since: Mar 02, 2012

27. arch_angel

Posts: 1651; Member since: Feb 20, 2015

sony's displays are incredibly bright indeed.

37. shuaibhere

Posts: 1986; Member since: Jul 07, 2012

While brightness plays a role in sunlight visibility.. It is not all, light reflection matters too.. In that regard Samsung phones with automatic brightness looks best in sunlight....

70. hound.master

Posts: 1044; Member since: Feb 27, 2015

Yes brightness is not everything Lumia phones with clear black display for example 930 with have a poor brightness of barely 300 nits have a very good sunlight ability comparable with these phones too.

57. Fedorook

Posts: 2; Member since: May 12, 2015

Remember the YotaPhone2 is real winner in this case

15. hung2900

Posts: 966; Member since: Mar 02, 2012

When i read "all phones set at maximum brightness in the mid-day heat." I'm confusing. Was the automatic brightness turned on? The above part mentioned it, but i'm not sure.

22. Neros

Posts: 1016; Member since: Dec 19, 2014

The word "set" implies that they probably set the brightness manually to the maximum level, which is rubbish because both s6 and n4 can be much brighter in the auto mode. S6 gets sth like 700nits, so this test is pointless. Edit: the text states the s6 was in the auto mode.

25. TyrionLannister unregistered

No, that's an image. A camera has much worse dynamic range compared to human eye. So they are much more visible than the image suggests.

67. javy108

Posts: 1004; Member since: Jul 27, 2014

Youre right Tyrion.

76. TheStanleyFTW

Posts: 252; Member since: Feb 20, 2013

The dynamic range of the average human eye lays a bit over 20 stops, and high end DSLR's like Nikon D810 have a dynamic range of max 15 stops :) AND OVER 5 STOPS IS A LOT!!! Just to show everyone that they shouldn't judge those phones screen by the images :)

35. joevsyou

Posts: 1093; Member since: Feb 28, 2015

pretty much hahaha

58. Fedorook

Posts: 2; Member since: May 12, 2015

Remember that the YotaPhone 2 is real winner there

83. whysoserious

Posts: 318; Member since: Jul 20, 2012

The sun wins.

2. buccob

Posts: 2981; Member since: Jun 19, 2012

Is it just me or the display of the S6 under sun looks oily... like when you see gasoline on water...?

5. Jason2k13

Posts: 1478; Member since: Mar 28, 2013

yes it does, its weird because i never experienced that weird effect on my S6 edge. Anyway as usual, the author got the description wrong, it should be the "S6 is bottom left and note 4 bottom right"

21. bur60

Posts: 981; Member since: Jul 07, 2014

Yup. There is a very big topic about that on xda and tweakers (dutch techsite).

3. ithotarachi

Posts: 7; Member since: May 12, 2015

I see it to buccob but its not really a big deal considering the fact that I have an s6 edge and I've never noticed that effect on the screen in sunlight. But back to the legibility of the screens in sunlight, the galaxy s6 gets really bright in direct sunlight at full brightness, so you should have no problems with it.

34. buccob

Posts: 2981; Member since: Jun 19, 2012

Yeah I also think this is not such a big deal, the screen is otherwise gorgeous... but I was just pointing that out because it seemed weird here. My Z3 Compact shows its touch panel under a certain light and angle so that is its defect, but in general it is not annoying. At least it hasn't prevent me for loving it... So I assume this oil look wouldn't bother me either... Just curious about it

4. BaffledTruffle

Posts: 523; Member since: Dec 07, 2013

Aren't AMOLED's generally less reflective than LCD's? I'm quite pleased, Samsung.

6. waddup121 unregistered

ggwp Sammy

7. invulnerable888

Posts: 1; Member since: May 12, 2015

And what about Xperia Z3 ?? It must be the best here

19. hung2900

Posts: 966; Member since: Mar 02, 2012

9. MrHate

Posts: 318; Member since: Feb 09, 2015

Wow the Note 4 looks like crap.. No wait it doesn't look like crap because you can't see anything. Same with the M9. The S6 has horizontally the edge and vertical the iPhone 6 is the best. By the way they mixed the Note 4 and S6 up.

23. tedkord

Posts: 17514; Member since: Jun 17, 2009

Do you ever get tired of being wrong?

39. MrHate

Posts: 318; Member since: Feb 09, 2015

tedkord I think you have your eyes closed.

42. tedkord

Posts: 17514; Member since: Jun 17, 2009

If only, then I wouldn't have read your silly comment.

45. MrHate

Posts: 318; Member since: Feb 09, 2015

+1 for that one.

69. JumpinJackROMFlash

Posts: 464; Member since: Dec 10, 2014

And I think you can't read as it clearly says in the article that S6 wins and N4 and iPee6 are on par. Judging from photos? Stupid kid.

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