Outdoor display comparison: iPhone 6s vs S7 edge vs 10 vs G5

The Sun is some 92.9 million miles (149.6 million km) away, or about 75 years worth of non-stop driving at 140 miles per hour (230 km/h). Even if you get a really fast car and set off today, chances are you won't get there on time. The point is, the thing's pretty damn far, yet the vast space of nothing between our lovely star and us doesn't seem to stop it from making our smartphone screens look pathetically dim on clear days. We've all been there – it's summer, the Sun's burning hot, you take your smartphone out of your pocket with a flick of a sweaty wrist, and start staring and squinting to painful degrees just to read an email.

And while we're not saying phone makers aren't trying, progress in the area hasn't been particularly intense in the last few years. The displays of top smartphone models usually hover around the 450 – 550 nits mark, which tends to be OK in cloudy conditions at least, but definitely not ideal. With this in mind, we were interested to see if the latest crop of superphones does anything special to push the envelope when it comes to outdoor visibility, or if we're pretty much stuck in the same place. Entering the arena are the Apple iPhone 6s, Samsung Galaxy S7 edge, HTC 10 and LG G5. The best of the best, right? Our first and admittedly not-so-exciting stop is the specs sheet. Let's see what we're dealing with!

The industry's top phones

Size and techResolutionMaximum brightness measurement
Apple iPhone 6s4.7" IPS LCD750 x 1334 px554 nits
Samsung Galaxy S7 edge5.5" Super AMOLED1440 x 2560 px493 nits
HTC 105.2" S-LCD 51440 x 2560 px375 nits
LG G55.3" IPS LCD1440 x 2560 px816 nits

Now that this is our of the way, it's time for the more intriguing part, and that's finding out which one of these screens is the least bad when viewed outdoors, in the real world.

Let's start with the elephant in the room, which we suppose is the maximum brightness measurement of the LG G5 – the outstanding 800 nits, which is indeed a ridiculously high output. This measurement, like those we made for all other phones, was taken in a fully controlled environment – an environment that ensures we're always testing displays in exactly the same conditions. We want this, because we want all our measurements to be comparable. And to a large degree, they are comparable, but not always. The trouble with controlled environments is, well, they are not real. You don't get them in the real world, where countless variables change every second. All this is to say that brightness measurements done in a lab won't always reflect how perceivably bright a screen is going to be.

To get to the point, due to higher reflectivity, the brightness boosting software not kicking in when it should, or something else, our real-life observations revealed that the G5 actually has the hardest screen to view under sunlight. We tried it in a number of different positions and angles, and just couldn't get it to shine any brighter, despite it being a very, very sunny day.

This is what their screens look like outdoors, on a sunny day:

Pathetic? Oh well, maybe just a bit.

Working our way up from the bottom, next up is the HTC 10, where the situation is slightly better, but not by much. This time, we'd say the 10's measured brightness output of 370 nits is way more representative of what's really going on – a screen which is far from ideal when viewed outdoors. We don't think HTC's department has made any real progress in this area during the last couple of years.

And the winners are...

Now we're left with the obvious leaders, the iPhone 6s and Galaxy S7 edge. On paper, the Galaxy S7 edge has lower brightness output, but it utilizes a software trick to effectively become as visible as the iPhone 6s. We aren't sure exactly what this 'trick' does, but it looks like a big boost to contrast and color saturation. We imagine it's doing a number of things, but the result is this: images on the S7 edge's display get heavily skewed, but easier to view. We're OK with this technique, as when outdoors, we rarely want to marvel at the beautiful colors our displays can output – we just want to be able to see stuff comfortably! Now, credit where credit is due: the iPhone 6s achieves this level of visibility with pure luminance – it preserves image properties.

Overall, the iPhone 6s and Galaxy S7 edge are noticeably easier to view on sunny days; definitely not perfect, but ahead of LG and HTC.

And so, it appears our initial thoughts going into this article were mostly correct: there hasn't been much progress with regards to how easy it is to read a smartphone screen out in the open. As before, the iPhone offers the best results, with Samsung now pulling off some clever tricks to deliver comparable performance. What is especially disappointing is that other big companies, like LG and HTC, can't seem to keep up, meaning that if you don't happen to get your smartphones from either Apple, or Samsung, you'll most likely be stuck with poor outdoor visibility.

We're obviously yet to witness a breakthrough technology that will eventually let us comfortably enjoy our smartphones in all kinds of conditions. Display companies, put your lab coats on and get to work, because the Sun won't be getting any dimmer at least for the next few billion years!



2. tech2

Posts: 3487; Member since: Oct 26, 2012

You guys should've also given due consideration to battery ie how long does the display remains lit outdoor. I think iPhone simply notches up the brightness unlike S7's display which does lots of things under the hood to get greater visibility without compromising on battery. High contrast of Amoleds, GG4, thinner glass, less reflection of lights, etc.

16. jeevanand88 unregistered

LCD displays disappear if u put on polarized sun glasses...!! LCD display becomes complete dark while using such glasses. Its also a major inconvenient thing which nobody highlights over AMOLEDs.

45. avalon2105

Posts: 352; Member since: Jul 12, 2014

I call BS. I wear polarized sun glasses all the time and display never "disappeared" on my G2. There isn't even a color shift when looking at screen through the glasses. It gets slight tinge, but so do real world objects.

54. yann

Posts: 614; Member since: Jul 15, 2010

Then your gasses are not polarized or just a fake copy. Every LCD became dark shifting 90 degrees.

57. avalon2105

Posts: 352; Member since: Jul 12, 2014

Just tested my glasses against a "invisible" sticker inside their case and both my laptop and phone screen. Laptop screen does completely disappear when I rotate my glasses 45° counter clockwise. Rotating 90° does nothing. Same for rotating 45° clockwise. Panel on the laptop is s**t, no two ways about it. On the phone I do get some purple tint but I can still see the screen. I would make a video, but only camera I have is on my phone. I could try something with front camera and mirror.

73. marorun

Posts: 5029; Member since: Mar 30, 2015

Not all LCD disappear when using polarized glass its depend on the type of glass used on the screen as well. I know iphone do disapear but not my moto x play by example.

55. maherk

Posts: 6879; Member since: Feb 10, 2012

It's a fact, not an opinion. The 10 disappears when rotated to landscape, and the LG G5 is even worst, the screen disappears when in portrait mode, which is worst. As the guys above mentioned, if you're sunglasses arw 100% polarized, then you will face this issue for sure.

58. avalon2105

Posts: 352; Member since: Jul 12, 2014

I checked my glasses, and they are polarized. See my reply to yann above for more details. Don't know about G5 since i don't own it but on the G2, it's really mild. Also, who uses their phone in landscape while walking outside?

74. marorun

Posts: 5029; Member since: Mar 30, 2015

If i play a game in landscape outside....

62. Iodine

Posts: 1480; Member since: Jun 19, 2014

The difference is that iPhone 6 got drastically improved polarizer, not only compared to last gen, but definitely most other phones too, oled or not. The colors are heavilly skeved, but there are no rainbow stripes and you can actually see what's on the screen easily.

75. marorun

Posts: 5029; Member since: Mar 30, 2015

Well depend on phone. Just tested my M7 outside with my colleague 6S and well my M7 was a tad more clear.. but my m8 and m9 where less clear and iphone 6S beaten them. So i guess its depend on how the screens are made. My moto X play is a tad less clear than 6S of my colleague but much brighter than any of those picture they put in this article i think they are doing something wrong..

112. TheOldOne

Posts: 196; Member since: Mar 29, 2012

well, they are design to work in portret mode: try rotating the device in landscape mode and see what happens ;) (you can google how polarization of light work to understand why is rotation dependant). I found this to be a problem to me when driving and using the device as GSP in landscape mode. In all honesty, the AMOLED is affected too when viewing it through polarized glasses, but you can still utilize the screen in every rotation.

113. avalon2105

Posts: 352; Member since: Jul 12, 2014

Yeah, I commented more on that in my replies above. Still, the effect was really minor on my G2. Just a slight purple/pinkish tint when in landscape mode (both clockwise and counter clockwise). My laptop on the other hand has a really cheap panel and goes almost black when viewed at 45° counter clockwise. I guess it depends on the quality of LCD panel and polarizer.

114. jeevanand88 unregistered

HTC 10 disappears in portrait mode and works in landscape mode...https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U5snWrD6txI

119. PhoneFixer unregistered

Hahaha iPhone propaganda AGAIN ! APE loosing so apple this-owning website OFCOURSE needs to applause ONLY for them .. This article is pointless and no use!

3. thegeneral7010

Posts: 437; Member since: Dec 10, 2014

Looks like u never learn PA use the dam auto brightness on s7 and u will see the difference

6. maherk

Posts: 6879; Member since: Feb 10, 2012

There is nothing for them to learn, they know that galaxy phones have a higher brightness output when auto brightness is on, they just love to ignore it. The same goes to screen colors, they always mention how amoled screens on Samsung flagships are over saturated compared to the more natural colors on the iPhones, when everyone else knows that when basic mode is selected, it delivers the most accurate colors among smartphones.

130. Unordinary unregistered

Except the author stated that Auto Brightness was on, LMFAO..... #REKT

133. IFireflyl

Posts: 2; Member since: Jun 09, 2016

@Unordinary: I'm not saying that auto-brightness was or was not on. But I reread this article twice and I don't see anywhere that mentions that auto-brightness was turned on. By all of your posts that I have read you appear to be biased towards Apple, so maybe that's why you're saying what you're saying.

7. tedkord

Posts: 17357; Member since: Jun 17, 2009

Of course not, then the iPhone would lose.

131. Unordinary unregistered

Scroll down. Lol. iPhone still won. Go cry somewhere else cutie

8. jeevanand88 unregistered

the sensor adjust the brightness level evn wen the auto brightness is turned off if the outdoor is too bright...!! I just checked it!! but I see s7 brighter than what has shown in this article!! :(

15. Ordinary

Posts: 2454; Member since: Apr 23, 2015

Whats funny is that you dont need to turn it on when its on by default when you first power the phone.

50. MrElectrifyer

Posts: 3960; Member since: Oct 21, 2014

Haha, so they desperately go through every means to downplay the successful competition...that list of iPhonearena problems just got bigger. Even real world user feedback prooves this to be BS:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8uCyIjUt_b8

123. Ahovking

Posts: 711; Member since: Feb 03, 2015

This Pro Apple site is a joke.. so here is a Pro Android site to prove my point... your a joke.

72. TmoRep

Posts: 107; Member since: Apr 20, 2016

I feel as though the photographer didn't adjust his camera settings to take pictures of the phones screens, I have a s6 active and The only time the screen looks that dark is when I'm in the sun at 30% brightness with powersave on. With auto brightness on everything is lit up in direct sunlight.( A little too bright IMO)

9. sukrith2194 unregistered

How did i know that is**t would win before even clicking the link?! Oh wait its PA that's how!

28. Arch_Fiend

Posts: 3951; Member since: Oct 03, 2015

Not only that but the outdoor visibility of iPhones have always been some of the best. We all know PA is for the most part biased when it comes to iPhone but in this test the 6s actually earned the top spot all on its own.

38. Ordinary

Posts: 2454; Member since: Apr 23, 2015

Not really. 6s is even worse than previous gen when it comes to outdoor visibility. Check GSMArena

64. Iodine

Posts: 1480; Member since: Jun 19, 2014

It's not. Same reflectivity as iPhone 5. Same display panel and brightness as iPhone 6. Of course there is product to product variability.

* Some comments have been hidden, because they don't meet the discussions rules.

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