Google said there's nothing wrong with the display of its flagship smartphone --  but it's going to fix it anyway

Pixel 2 XL displayMKBHD/YouTubeGoogle’s Pixel 2 XL.
  • Numerous complaints about the Pixel 2 XL’s display have emerged over the past week.
  • The main issues people had with it were related to poor colour vibrancy as well as screen burn-in.
  • Google said that these are all normal and predictable things, but it’s going to fix them anyway.

Google has issued a formal response to the numerous complaints that emerged over the past week about the seemingly poor quality of the display in its Pixel 2 XL flagship smartphone.

One of the firm’s VPs of engineering, Seang Chau, tried to address two of the main issues users encountered with their Pixel 2 XLs: Screen burn-in, and colour accuracy and dullness.

Screen burn-in, also known as differential ageing, is a common issue among organic light-emitting diode (OLED) displays, such as the one used in the Pixel 2 XL.

What happens is that as pixels light up individually (there isn’t a backlit panel that is either turned on or off all at once), having the same graphic displayed for too long can cause those particular pixels to “burn,” and show a ghost image that doesn’t go away.

Google’s Android, for instance, uses software navigation buttons, which stay at the bottom of the screen constantly. In some Pixel 2 XL owners’ experience, that caused screen burn-in, visible in situations where the bottom bar disappears (such as in full-screen video, or while browsing pictures in the gallery).

As Chau said, “Extensive testing of the Pixel 2 XL display shows that its decay characteristics are comparable to OLED panels used in other premium smartphones.”

That may be true on paper — as, again, all OLED displays end up “burning,” eventually — but it’s very rare for new devices to show defects on the panel so soon.

Google seemingly acknowledged this, if between the lines, and is “currently testing a software update that further enhances protections against this issue,” by tweaking things such as brightness and adding subtle animations that avoid the same images to stay on screen for too long.

As for colour accuracy, Chau insists that the Pixel 2 XL’s calibration was purposefully made in conjunction with Android Oreo’s new graphics system, to make colours accurate and “exactly as the author intended.”

The Pixel 2 XL’s display takes advantage of the Display P3 colour gamut, which is wider than standard RGB. Usually, when panels with wider gamuts are used, manufacturers simply leave things as they are, and colours “stretch” to deeper, richer hues by virtue of the display’s property.

But this is, in fact, a distortion; those colours may “pop” more, and be pleasing to the eye, but are not representative of the object’s real colour. To avoid this, Google adapted the Pixel 2 XL’s wider gamut to scale colours proportionally (in accordance with the colour profile of JPG, PNG, and WebP files).

Pixel 2 XL Colour GamutGoogleThe Pixel 2 XL’s colour gamut (the yellow triangle) is wider than the standard RGB’s (black triangle). Until now, the Android OS was unaware of the fact that the display may have a colour gamut wider than RGB, and simply reinterpreted the colours by ‘stretching’ them (greens becoming more green, reds more red). Android Oreo, instead, uses colour space awareness to recalibrate the image colours in accordance with the display, making colours more true to life — but also less saturated and eye-pleasing.

And here lies the problem, as this accurate calibration made colours dull and not very vibrant, especially compared to those on competing smartphones, such as the Galaxy S8 or Note 8.

So Google decided it’s going to fix what it calls a non-problem: “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 colours. So, through a software update to Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL, we will soon be adding a new ‘saturated’ colour mode,” the post reads.

“The colours will be more saturated and vibrant, but less accurate (similar to most other smartphones which display more vibrant colours): we give consumers the option to choose the colour saturation,” Chau wrote.

There is no precise date as to when the update will be released, but Google says that Pixel 2 XL owners should expect it some time “in the next few weeks.”

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