Let’s talk Google Pixel 2 XL Screen – What can be fixed, what can’t, and what doesn’t matter!

To say Google’s new Pixel 2 line of Smartphones have had a smooth start, would be about as accurate as a Smartphone stock Calculator app getting 1+2+3 wrong, but, hey, that’s the crazy world we live in (seriously, any iOS users on 10.2 or later try it). Whilst the smaller Pixel 2 has come relatively unscathed, minus the odd hissing sounds with NFC, which a returned unit hasn’t replicated, when it comes to the larger Pixel 2 XL, thing’s begin to get a bit more troublesome.

BIG UPDATE: Google have updated us since their investigation in to screen problems on the Pixel 2 XL.

Substantial updates coming to the devices very soon. Whilst the update Google provided doesn’t affect most of what was posted in this post, in fact, if anything it greater proves us correct, it will be available to view at the bottom of this post for you to see.

Or do they? Listen, we’re not going to defend any device costing in the regions of £799+, why would you, but, what we are going to do is both clear things up for the majority of users who may be, or have been, considering these devices as their next Smartphone, and zoom out and do a bit of analysis of what we know.

What works?

Everything, and that’s honestly the thing we find rather hilarious! We live in a very crazy world sometimes, especially when you see folks out there comparing this to last years Samsung Galaxy Note 7, and to those who are, and continue to, we have to shout the largest heap of bs, as this is not on that level at all.

In fact, all of the “issues” plaguing the Pixel 2 XL can be lived with, a Smartphone exploding however, no, that doesn’t even barely compare, so we can scratch that off the list of things to worry about, right now!

But seriously, minus the display complaints on the XL model, of which we’re about to run through, the Pixel 2 and the Pixel 2 XL remain incredibly solid Smartphones, and, for those Android pureists out there, like us, remain the perfect sequel, to, what was, the best Android phone from last year, the original Google Pixel.


OK, let’s get to it…

That display

It is worth noting, before we get in to any of this, that all reports are not linked to the smaller Google Pixel 2, but only the larger Google Pixel 2 XL. This is likely due to the fact the smaller unit uses pretty much the same panel from last years Pixel, being a Samsung AMOLED panel, whereas the 2 XL uses a variant of LG’s P-OLED display, previously found on the LG V30, though at least doesn’t have screen banding like that one did.

Though, we also expect this is due to the fact that the Pixel 2 XL display has been far further analysed due to the first thing we’re about to cover here, leading to over-analysis. Reason we state this, is minus the first thing we’re going to get to, everything else is fairly typical of many OLED panels.

Blue tint

Pixel 2 (left) next to Pixel 2 XL (right) at around a 40 degree angle.

The blue tint on the Google Pixel 2 XL is definitely an issue right, or is it, well, let’s have a look. As you can clearly see from the picture above, the Pixel 2 (left) and the Pixel 2 XL (right) are being presented at a certain angle, whilst not a typical scenario, may be something which you do some time with your devices. However, on the Pixel 2 XL comes a blueish hue. There’s no two ways about it, this is what many will find as an issue, but, this is a hardware shortcoming of the P-OLED panels included coating. We’re unsure why that coating is on the display, but has led to some less than great viewing angles, however, view the display head-on, you won’t see anything out of the ordinary.

Does that defend it, of course not, no, but here’s something to keep in mind. For about 99% of users who’ve had a Pixel 2 XL in hand, including the normies who don’t deliberately use their phone at an off angle, the display colours remain at the whites they should on the panel, and so those users didn’t even realise their was an issue until it was pointed to them!

Even then, it’s not much of a deal breaker, though naturally if it does bother you, that’s what the return policy is there for.

RESULT

Hardware Problem: This issue is hardware related, and can’t be fixed based on hardware configuration.

Severity: 4/10: Most, if not all users won’t be affected by this problem, but it is there so could bother some. That coating doesn’t help things in low light either, though not as noticeably so.

“Washed out” and “dull” Colours

Image: Creative Pro

You’re probably wondering why we’ve brought up a chart instead of talking about the alleged washed out displays right? Well, put simply, this is the best way to explain it. The chart above shows a representation of colour accuracy, which are based around colour listings. The prior standard was the sRGB colour gamut, though more recently Smartphones have been adopting the P3 colour gamut, as this provides the same level of accuracy whilst also drawing in more colours from the Reds and Greens. The Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL displays have a set sRGB colour level set on them out of the box, yet there’s more to it than that…

You see, the display in the Pixel 2, though more so on the Pixel 2 XL, are both capable of delivering more colours and displaying way more vibrancy than they are actually showing, in fact in terms of the XL, that display is capable of both HDR (not used) and the full P3 colour gamut (again, not used)! However, instead, Google have made the odd decision to calibrate these displays to the far less-so sRGB colour setting! However, this is the unfortunate thing, it ain’t a Setting, it’s there, and not customisable… for now, we hope.

But, what this does mean, well put simply, it means that the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XLs washed out and dull colours, can be addressed in a Software Update. This is something actually pre-defined out of the box for the Pixel 2 devices. Whilst it’s clear Google made a mistake in this, for those who can, it may be worth just seeing what your current Smartphone looks like with the sRGB colour gamut in use. Interestingly, even the original Pixels had this as an option in Settings, and users have reported they see the same style of colour output. This doesn’t make it a non-issue now, but does hold up the hope that it can, and likely will, be fixed in an update.

Keep in mind, however, that whilst we still believe Samsung make far better panels than LG do, it’s just fact that they’re more ahead in the OLED game than LG, the colours represented on Samsung specific hardware is incredibly un-natural and deliberately drawn out. What this creates is an illusion that the colours pop further than they would do, which may explain why the “dull” look of the colours on the new Pixels is as dramatic as it may seem side by side.

The great news about this however, as we briefly mentioned, is that Google are listening to this complaint, and, are expected to release an update to provide more granular controls to the colours, though honestly we’d just like anything other than the sRGB setting please Google. Though, it is worth noting, it’s not a terrible colour representation, just less than ironically the hardware can deliver on.

UPDATE: Oreo Colorizer has been released showing the quick and easy ability to fix colours. A great temp fix 

Video here of it in action!

RESULT

Software Problem: The display colour representation is by design at sRGB. Users have being successful in side-loading colour profiles to the Pixel 2 XL showing more vividness. This can be fixed in software, and based on Android 8.1 beta, it’s beginning already.

Severity: 2/10: For now, mainly from users switching from a super vibrant Galaxy screen, the Pixel 2 configurations will be striking, though from an iPhone, this will be less so. Most users won’t be affected by this problem, and for those who are, will be relieved to know, a fix is on the way.

Screen retention / Screen burn-in

Senior Editor at Android Central, Alex Dobie, posted probably his 15 minutes of fame early this week, posting that his Pixel 2 XL unit had experiencing what appeared to be Screen burn in. Alex claimed that the device had been used for barely over a week, and the device had begun to show signs of either screen retention or burn in, around the Software navigation buttons at the bottom of the device.

It’s worth noting, that Screen retention, and Burn In, are fairly common practice in the OLED display market, this isn’t a great thing but something to note, specifically on areas of the display which show the same thing over the course of a long period of time, which in case of the software navigation buttons, they’re typically always there, so it’s only natural that they’ve become the centre of this attention.

The big news, however, surrounding this topic, isn’t the fact that it’s happened, but how quickly the issue seems to have happened. For the record, fellow reviewers devices haven’t been half as severe as Alex’s device seemingly on shared Photos, of which many have had their units over 2 weeks, which could mean this is more of an issue on some units than others (this does happen), or screen retention instead of burn in. Though, yes, we’ll give you this, it ain’t good.

Screen burn-in on Samsung Galaxy S8. Image: Android Authority.

However, let’s not beat out of the bush, this also isn’t just a problem facing the Pixel 2 XL, or is just an LG display problem. The image shown above, shows a Samsung Galaxy S8 presenting more or less the same burn in issue as that very photo Alex posted with his Pixel 2 XL!

What’s more interesting to us about this image, is it’s background.

The Samsung Galaxy S8 was announced late March, and released in April. Naturally, the majority of units entering peoples hand middle of April, some in May due to the high demand, this makes sense it’s a big Samsung flagship.

So, let’s ask you this, when do you think reports of ‘Screen Burn-in’ problems were reported on the Galaxy S8? Couple of months maybe, or maybe just recently in light of the Pixel issues due to people double checking theirs … nope, this was taken just over a week after the launch of the Galaxy S8! Sound familiar anybody?!

Yep, the Galaxy S8, with the same top in class AMOLED display everyone’s been ranting on about has the same issues as this very Pixel 2 XL the internet is ranting about! This is an issue with OLED displays. Do we think it’s right that a display on an expensive Smartphone gets this, and can get it this early, of course not, but to say this is only affecting the Pixel 2 XL is more than just a stretch..

Plus, the reason we’ve targeted the Galaxy S8, is that it too has typically always on software navigation buttons, a first for Samsung at the time as the company switched from having capacitive buttons and a physical home button, to reducing bezels. Samsung fixed, for the most part, this issue by hiding the navigation bars when possible, and performing the typical dancing affect, where the bars move ever so slightly over time. This is something Google could, and likely will do in an update.

But, before you start case closing even your Smartphone, or the Pixel, it’s worth knowing the difference between Screen Retention and Burn-in;


SCREEN RETENTION VS SCREEN BURN-IN

It’s worth noting that Screen Retention is commonly mistaken for Screen Burn-in as it basically is, at least visually, the same problem! However, the two differ in terms of age, and, how they are over time. Whilst these issues are most typical of OLED, or Organic Light Emitting Diodes, screen retention and even burn-in can still occur on LCDs as well, though commonly referred to as light leakage, or bleeding, on LCD. The equivalent to screen retention on LCD is also typically just called ghosting.

Both screen retention, and burn-in, emit a ghosting affect of any previously shown content, typically content that’s stuck there for a long period of time, most visible over certain blank backgrounds in low brightness. However, Screen Retention is temporary, and begins to fade away over the course of around 30 minutes to an hour of the displays either under constant refresh, or off entirely.

The typical way to ease the affects of Screen Retention is by watching a full screen video on the device over the course of that period of time to clear the problem out. Naturally, if you have an 18:9 aspect ratio like the Pixel 2 XL, do remember to fill the screen, which you can do in the YouTube by pinching and zooming.

Screen Burn-in, however, is much worse of an issue. Where screen retention, for the most part, is temporary, burn-in is permanent and doesn’t fade away. Pretty much if it doesn’t fade away (even slightly) after 24 hours, you know that’s most likely the case. The bigger issue with Burn-in, is that the issue can get worse and more pronounced. This led to follow up coverage, made recently by Alex, followed his coverage, by checking between the two issues. Supporting video can be found here of his checks on whether it’s screen retention, or burn in. In his, admittedly rather unscientific, findings, he did find that the navigation bars did begin fading during 30 minutes of consistent video watching. This led him to an uneducated conclusion, that the issue is being exaggerated by Screen Retention, though, naturally Burn-in needs to be proven out of the equation before it can be ruled out, but most likely looking like Retention, which for how the navigation bars are displayed, is the most expected and likely outcome.

Once again, most users never even realised their display had this problem until it was pointed out, and even then couldn’t find the issue. Should you wish to check your device, click the link below and save the image to check for Screen Retention on your device;

Test your screen here

To test your device, save the image, and open the image on full screen (no options present) with your display at lowest possible brightness. The image is clear throughout


Again, let us re-iterrate, we’re not defending this issue, and we hope for the day when OLED panels don’t do this, but right now, they do, whether it’s a Smartphone, a Smart Watch or even a large OLED TV!

The display technology has evolved better than LCD, there’s no doubt about that, and those blacks are to die for, but these are the caveats we’ve to live with for now!

RESULT

Hardware Problem: Any display suffering this problem is concerning, and we recommend returning if the issue doesn’t fade after checking for screen retention. But, as found, this is an OLED issue that affects all devices, even those fancy Samsung devices. Screen retention is typical, burn in is also unfortunately typical, though after a year, which based on findings will be the same typical case with the Pixels.

Severity: 5/10: Investigations are still going on surrounding these issues, though we return this outcome. Users even with the ‘issue’, never even noticed through use of their devices until specific backgrounds and brightness was presented to them, so we doubt this will be any big issue for anyone. Should it lead to early life burn-in, then we expect new units to be exchanged, though not looking likely.

To conclude

So, where does this leave us with the Pixel 2 XL display? Well, it ain’t as good as it should be, that’s for sure, BUT, it also ain’t half as bad as the media would lead you to believe, shocker right! Whilst the blue colour shifting may bother some users, and trust us we get that one, the other issues are either temporary, or, typical, due to hardware limitations.

Don’t get us wrong, if you do get screen retention, or definitely burn-in, on your Pixel 2 XL within the 1-2 week return and exchange period, by all means please do return the unit as you may have one of the poorer units, but to state that it’s a terrible display, or, specifically, a deal breaker, is just straight up wrong. Though we’d also state this, don’t go looking for problems. If you’ve had the device for over a week and have been using it in the typical honeymoon fashion way, way more than normal as it’s new, and don’t have any display issues you can see, that’s it for your device, case closed.

It’s also worth noting that the cause of the display issues can be fixed. Samsung, since the reports, made the navigation buttons on the Galaxy S8 occasionally move so they weren’t burning the same pixel whilst in heavy use, this is also true of Always On Displays, including the one on the Pixels too, to avoid this very issue, and, is something we expect Google will do as well. Plus, in relation to the colours, that is expected to be resolved in an update as well.

If you’re expecting a Pixel 2 XL when it launches 15th November in the UK, like us in fact, we wouldn’t hold off your purchase, though naturally if it’s a problem to you, that’s why returns exist! You have a right as a consumer to return the device within 14 days for a new unit, or, for majority of places, for a cash refund.

 


Google’s response to the criticism

Google’s VP of Engineering, Seang Chau, posted a pretty in depth relation to the criticism of the new Google Pixel 2XL, and in a lesser way the Pixel 2 as well, displays. In the discussion, he talks around what fixes are coming down the line, and more that will be done to help customers.

Something that’s not imperially obvious in the post, is that Google have extended the standard 1 year Warranty on all past and future Pixel 2 or Pixel 2 XL devices, to 2 years. This will cover any screen problems, should it occur, on your device, to which exchanges will be possible. Though Google believe you’ll be alright.

You can read the full post here, or, more easily, we’ve post-quoted it all right here;

==

Diving Deeper on the Pixel 2 XL Display

Three weeks ago we announced Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL, our new 5” and 6” smartphones with beautiful, high-resolution OLED displays; all-day battery that charges super fast; easy access to an even more capable Google Assistant; and, the world’s highest rated smartphone camera, along with free, unlimited storage of all of your photos and videos. We’ve been excited by the positive response from many of you and reviewers who have praised the new Pixel 2 phones.

Over the past few days, we’ve been investigating reports of suspected problems with the Pixel 2 XL display related to differential aging (also referred to as “burn-in”) as well as evaluating overall display vibrancy based on some user feedback. We take every report seriously because we want to ensure that the experience on our phones has not been compromised. Our investigation so far has given us confidence that our displays are as great as we hoped they would be, though we’re also taking steps to address the concerns we’ve heard.

In this post, we provide detail regarding the engineering of the Pixel 2 XL’s pOLED display, in tight coupling with Android 8.0 Oreo, for natural and accurate colors; we describe image retention artifacts in OLED technology; and we share our UI design efforts for optimizing user experience and performance of the display.

Android 8.0 Color Management

We’ve received some feedback about the Pixel 2 XL displays not appearing as saturated as other phones. We attribute this perception to our choice to calibrate the Pixel 2 XL for delivering natural, accurate colors, taking advantage of the new color management support in Android 8.0 Oreo.

Displays on mobile phones are often calibrated to the sRGB color profile, indicated by the black triangle in the diagram below. With the advent of OLED screens, things changed. An OLED display typically has a much wider gamut than sRGB. For example, the Pixel 2 XL has a Display P3 gamut (depicted by the larger yellow triangle).

Chromaticity diagram: You can think of x as the amount of red, and y as the amount of green. Blue is implied by the lack of red and green. The diagram represents colors independent of luminance (loosely, the amount of light). The colors in the chromaticity diagram have a tongue-like shape. The edge of the tongue represent pure wavelength light. The colors on the inside are made up of mixing the pure colors in different proportions. Colors outside of the tongue cannot be perceived by humans. Original source: Wikimedia

Before Android 8.0 Oreo, the Android OS was not aware of the color space of the content (e.g. image files) nor of the display. For JPEG or PNGs encoded in sRGB and with an LCD display typically calibrated to sRGB, color management wasn’t a pressing problem. For the most part, the “right” thing happened.

Now, Display P3 can render more colors than sRGB because it has a wider gamut. Without color management, the Android OS passes the decoded sRGB image through to the display, unaware that the display has a wider gamut than the content. As a result, the display reinterprets the color values in this wider gamut and effectively “stretches” the colors. This makes the reds more red, the greens more green, etc. To the user, the screen looks more saturated and colors “pop” more. But the stretching is imprecise; it’s not what the image designer intended. There’s no way for the designer to calculate the stretching effect, hence the rendered colors are not accurate. Most Android mobile phones with OLED displays look saturated for this reason.

With Android 8.0 on Pixel 2 XL, the phone now understands color spaces. It reads the color profile from JPEG, PNG, and WebP files so it’s aware of the color space used to author the content. And the OS is aware of the color space of the display. The Android graphics system uses more bit precision to represent a wider range of colors. As a result, the OS can make sure images are rendered with accurate colors, exactly as the author intended. We think it’s important that User Interface (UI) designers are in control of the rendered colors for their experience. In addition, Android 8.0 enables applications to opt-in to wide color support—an Android app developer can now make use of the wider Display P3 color gamut precisely for a wider range of colors. Google apps will take advantage of wide colors in the future.

Pixel 2 XL Display Tuning

The Pixel 2 XL has a wide Display P3 color gamut. The display is calibrated to a D67 white point. D67 refers to a color temperature of 6700 K. A D65 value (6500 K) corresponds to the color of the average midday light in Northern Europe, so the Pixel display errs ever so slightly on the blue side (users generally perceive the screen more “fresh” this way, probably because in the real world a yellow hue often indicates something has aged).

Out of the box, the Pixel 2 XL display defaults to sRGB + 10%. This is the sRGB gamut, expanded by 10% in all directions to make it slightly more vibrant. Humans perceive colors as less vibrant on smaller screens, such as on a smartphone, so we chose this for aesthetic reasons.

Color mode is really a user choice. Many users prefer accurate colors; others prefer more saturated colors. What we’ve found is that you can become acclimatized to either.

Based on the feedback we’ve received since announcing Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL, we learned that some users do want even more vibrant colors. So, through a software update to Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL, we will soon be adding a new “saturated” color mode. The saturated mode puts the display into an unmanaged configuration, similar to how the Pixel 1 operates. The colors will be more saturated and vibrant, but less accurate (similar to most other smartphones which display more vibrant colors): we give consumers the option to choose the color saturation.

OLED Differential Aging & UI Management

All OLED screens exhibit a degree of image retention (short-term) or burn-in (permanent) over their lifetime, starting the moment they are first powered on. This is also sometimes referred to as “differential aging” in the display industry. It appears as a faint outline of content on the screen from a previously displayed graphic.

We’ve received reports of Pixel 2 XL devices exhibiting image retention on the screen and have been actively investigating them. Extensive testing of the Pixel 2 XL display show that its decay characteristics are comparable to OLED panels used in other premium smartphones. The differential aging should not affect the user experience of the phone, as it’s not visible under normal use of your Pixel 2 XL. We understand, however, that it can be concerning to see evidence of aging when using a specialized display test app, so we’ve taken steps to reduce differential aging through software.

We designed the UI of the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL to mitigate this phenomenon from being seen by the user over the lifetime of the phone. We are continuously updating our software to safeguard the user experience and to extend the life of the OLED display. This means finding ways to ensure consistent, predictably placed, high-contrast, efficient layouts without aging the display unnecessarily. For example, the always-on-display lock-screen moves the clock in a subtle zig-zag pattern on every minute boundary. It’s almost imperceptible yet it ensures that the same pixels do not stay lit persistently.

We’re currently testing a software update that further enhances protections against this issue by adding a new fade-out of the navigation bar buttons at the bottom of the Pixel screen after a short period of inactivity. In addition, we’re working with more apps to use a light navigation bar to match their app’s color scheme. The update will also reduce the maximum brightness of the Pixel 2 XL by a virtually imperceptible 50 cd/m2 (nits), thereby significantly reducing load on the screen with an almost undetectable change in the observed brightness.

The new saturated color mode mentioned above, the fade-out of icons on the navigation bar, more use of a white as a navigation bar color, and the max brightness curve change will be available as an update to Pixel 2 XL in the next few weeks.

Blue Tint

We want to add some info regarding the blue tint that some of you have been asking about. The slight blue tint is inherent in the display hardware and only visible when you hold the screen at a sharp angle. All displays are susceptible to some level of color shift (e.g. red, yellow, blue) when viewing from off angles due to the pixel cavity design. Similar to our choice with a cooler white point, we went with what users tend to prefer and chose a design that shifts blue.

In Closing

We’re excited about seeing Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL in the hands of more and more users to experience the beautiful displays; the ever-smarter Google Assistant; the highest rated smartphone camera; peace-of-mind about storage, battery, security; the new two-year warranty; and much more. The new Pixel is the radically helpful smartphone that combines the best of Google AI, software and hardware. We hope you’ll love it as much as we do.

Posted by Seang Chau, VP, Engineering, Google


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