I mentioned briefly in another post that my first Nexus 5 had a yellow tint to the screen, and the issue seems to be a complaint for a number of Nexus 5 owners since its introduction. I’ll link to two forum discussions that highlight what has become a bit of a minor controversy, at least among those who’ve paid attention to the issue—is the yellow tint a flaw, or is it actually indicative of a more natural color temperature (i.e., warmer, which some argue is better)?
What’s interesting to me is that I’ve seen this issue with almost every mobile device I’ve used since capacitive touchscreen devices became popular. It may have existed prior to then, but I seem to remember LCD and other technology panels increasing in resolution, color depth, and other qualities around the same time and so I might have only started noticing it when the screens were worth looking at in such detail.
I remember going through numerous ASUS, Apple, Toshiba, and Samsung tablets with what I considered to be very unattractive yellow tints (sorry, but the best way I can describe them is that they seemed to be floating in a pool of urine) before getting good ones. The effect made whites and grays look yellowish, significantly decreased contrast especially between whites and grays (e.g., the address bar in Chrome), and generally muted colors. The only screen technology that has seemed immune to the problem is OLED (and its variants, such as AMOLED), and those tend to be unnaturally bluish (or colder).
An image posted by XDA member debubi. Some people notice the yellow
tint, others don’t. To me, the Nexus 5 on the right is far superior.
Valid arguments have been made in a number of directions. There’s the one that says the yellow tint isn’t actually simply a function of color temp but of some other flaw (note that I’m specifically not talking about glue or other chemicals that haven’t dried yet; I’ve used devices side-by-side over weeks and months with no change). Then there’s the one that says it is just color temp, and that in fact the yellow-tinted screens are warmer and more natural—a position I personally reject because of the impact on contrast alone.
The real point, I’ve decided, is that the issue certainly isn’t limited to the Nexus 5, nor to any given manufacturer, and that it’s disconcertingly variable. In fact, it’s the variation that bothers me the most—my experience with the ASUS Transformer Prime TF201 is a case in point. Due to a number of issues what that device, including GPS, haptic feedback, speakers, and others, I literally tried over 10 tablets before giving up and getting a refund directly from ASUS. I had a number of tablets in my possession at the same time (as many as three), and I could see glaring “color temp” variation between the screens on each of them. Some had whites that looked white, others looked like yellow-stained parchment paper, and still others were somewhere in between. Color depth and contrast quality was directly correlated—the whiter the screens, the deeper the colors and the better the contrast.
If you read the forum threads (and do a Google search for more than I listed above), you’ll find that there’s a bit of a controversy. Some folks argue that it’s not worth worrying about, that it’s merely a fiction, that it’s just glue that hasn’t dried (which can be a real problem, but isn’t not what I’m talking about here), that the yellow screens are actually the “good” ones, etc.
To me, the real problem is that LCD screens are being manufactured with wildly variable color quality. I once wondered why some reviews would applaud a device’s screen for brilliant colors and deep contrast, while others would attack it for the opposite. I don’t wonder any longer. I think the reviews simply reflect which screen the reviewer received, a good one or a bad one.
For users in general, I think it’s a mixed bag. Some people likely don’t even notice a “bad” screen, without anything to compare it to. They might not be terribly sensitive to colors, or they might just think the device isn’t as good as they’d hoped in that department. I think the yellow tint problem reveals itself to those who are very sensitive to colors (my wife and daughter notice it immediately, and they both have a fair amount of artistic talent), and most often to those who happen to hold two devices side-by-side. The Nexus 5 discussions are full of accounts where people bought multiple units, and can see the yellow tint when they compare them directly. And I’ve already mentioned my similar experiences.
I don’t know if there’s a solution to this issue, or if it’s simply the nature of the beast. Perhaps manufacturing millions upon millions of such highly complex components introduces a certain amount of natural variation, or perhaps the quality control required to keep things consistent would be too expensive for devices that sell for hundreds and not thousands or millions of dollars. Or, perhaps it’s a problem that could be solved by individually calibrating each screen, which might also be too expensive. I really don’t know.
All I know for certain is that when you buy a mobile device today, what kind of screen you get depends a bit on the luck of the draw. My replacement Nexus 5 has a much nicer screen than the original, and I feel bad for those folks who have Nexus 5’s and aren’t enjoying the best visual experience. But without knowing that better screens are available, they’re just suffering in ignorance.
Let me know in the comments where you stand on this issue, even if it’s that you don’t see it as an issue at all.