Lab tests show sapphire Apple Watch display suffers worse in ambient light than Ion-X glass

Posted:
in Apple Watch edited July 2015
Although the sapphire used in most Apple Watch displays is more durable than the Ion-X glass in the Apple Watch Sport, it comes with penalties to image quality -- especially in ambient light, according to lab tests published on Monday.

Ion-X on the left, sapphire on the right, both in 2,000 lux ambient light. | Image Credit: DisplayMate
Ion-X on the left, sapphire on the right, both in 2,000 lux ambient light. | Image Credit: DisplayMate


Apple's sapphire displays have 74 percent more screen reflectance than Ion-X, impacting contrast and color gamut, DisplayMate reported. While in total darkness performance between the two materials was essentially identical, at 500 lux -- mid-level indoor ambient lighting -- contrast ratios dipped to 64 for Ion-X and 38 for sapphire, even with Watch light sensors tricked into allowing maximum brightness.

In outdoor shade, or about 2,000 lux, those same ratios fell to 17 and 10 resepctively. Broad daylight reduced contrast further, down to ratios of 3 and 2 at 10,000 lux. Daylight can top out at about 25,000 lux.

Both Ion-X and sapphire are said to have displayed nearly 100 percent of the sRGB color gamut in complete darkness. By 500 lux though, those figures shrank to 93 percent for glass and 85 percent for sapphire. Ramping up to 2,000 lux dropped coverages to 68 and 54 percent.

The main way of narrowing the gap between materials may be to modify qualities of the sapphire used, DisplayMate suggested, since anti-reflective coatings can scratch too easily. Apple could also make use of some newer technologies, such as dynamic intensity and color management functions that both react to ambient light.

Apple charges a significant premium for sapphire-based Watches. While the Sport starts at $349, even the cheapest sapphire model is $549, although that also comes with the benefit of stainless steel casing instead of aluminum.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 41
    Don't they also use a sapphire coating on the camera lens?
  • Reply 2 of 41
    Contrastgate. I called it!
  • Reply 3 of 41
    This is a plus for my having gotten the sports watch version, but the bigger problem with sapphire is that it's more prone to shattering, which I've heard a couple of stories about.
  • Reply 4 of 41
    thrangthrang Posts: 866member
    Well, I haven't compared the two, but I've never had much of an issue seeing my Watch, even outdoors. Of course, bright sun will wash out almost any display except a Kindle digital ink...

    The bigger issue we all have is probably wiping our body oils away from any touch device...
  • Reply 5 of 41
    jkichlinejkichline Posts: 1,348member
    Why does the sapphire on the left look so much better than the Ion-X on the right then? That's pretty confusing and I'd much rather have the device on the left.
  • Reply 6 of 41
    rmb0037rmb0037 Posts: 142member
    I must be missing something. The one on the left is MUCH more readable than the one on the right.

    Ah I see. The description is backwards. The one on the right is the Apple Watch stainless steel. The one on the left is the sport.
  • Reply 7 of 41
    fallenjtfallenjt Posts: 4,018member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by sog35 View Post

     

    DisplayMate works for Samsung.


    And DisplayMate test was totally Bullshit before.

  • Reply 8 of 41
    jkichlinejkichline Posts: 1,348member

    The journalism here is dead if they can't get that right.

  • Reply 9 of 41
    radarthekatradarthekat Posts: 3,331moderator

    "While the Sport starts at $349, even the cheapest sapphire model is $549, although that also comes with the benefit of stainless steel casing instead of aluminum."

     

    What, exactly, is the benefit of the stainless steel casing?  

     

    From my perspective, the stainless steel model has three disadvantages versus the aluminum model

     

    1. Steel is heavier.

     

    2. Stainless steel is glossy, which means it shows fingerprints/smudges, a problem I have yet to have with my aluminum sport model.

     

    3. The Stainless steel model costs more.

  • Reply 10 of 41
    maestro64maestro64 Posts: 4,908member
    Now a review from real world use verse some test designed to show some results which may not translated into a real world use case. I have the sapphire crystal watch, and I choose it for that reason, I do not want to deal with scratch crystals or it being broken easily, I have destroy more watch crystal than I like so I use nothing by sapphire today.

    I have used my Apple watch all the time, and there are times in sun light it can be a bit hard to see, but I have the back light turned all the way down since battery life is of a higher value to me than seeing the face 100% of the time. Even in bright sun light the watch is useable and most time if you can not see it clearly you can sheild the display from the direct sun light and you can see it perfectly fine.

    After using it for a month and half under lots of varying conditions, I had no issue using the watch, it works well and is no worst than using the iPhone 6 in the same lightly conditions.

    At the end of the day, you have to decide which trade off is most important to you and how you want to use the Apple Watch. If seeing the time under all condition is the upmost important, then get a regular watch it will serve you well.
  • Reply 11 of 41
    prolineproline Posts: 201member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by AppleinsiderFrm View Post



    Don't they also use a sapphire coating on the camera lens?

    Yes, but reflectivity off the lens cover isn't really a problem aside from the small amount of light lost.

     

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by fallenjt View Post

     

    And DisplayMate test was totally Bullshit before.


    DisplayMate's analyses have always been quite fair. They have praised many Apple products where praise was due- go look up the iPhone 4 and iPhone 5 reviews. They've also rightly panned certain Apple products, such as the terrible iPad Mini 2 and 3. Similarly, they were very critical of Samsung's early PenTile bullshit but have rightly accepted that at this point the number of points is so high PenTile is probably OK.

     

    I don't see why you hate DisplayMate so much, other than sometimes the truth hurts?

  • Reply 12 of 41
    gatorguygatorguy Posts: 22,826member
    sog35 wrote: »
    nope.  Samsung 'invested' a good chunk of money in DisplayMate a few years ago.  Read all the reviews since the iPhone5S.  The Samsung bias is obvious.
    I've looked for something that supports your claim and can't find anything. Where did you see that Samsung had a substantial investment in Displaymate?
  • Reply 13 of 41
    lkrupplkrupp Posts: 8,998member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by gregquinn View Post



    This is a plus for my having gotten the sports watch version, but the bigger problem with sapphire is that it's more prone to shattering, which I've heard a couple of stories about.



    Synthetic sapphire has been used on watch crystals since the 1970s. But this is Apple so a huge debate has to ensue. Apparently only Apple sapphire shatters. Only Apple’s Ion-X glass scratches easily. Only Apple’s watch isn’t totally, completely waterproof, not water resistant.

     

    This whole subject is being driven by people with OCD issues. If they were buying a Rolex or Tag Heuer would they be waffling over what the crystal was made of? Again, because this is Apple a ‘-gate’ issue has to be started and argued over for months. YouTube videos must be posted, “Sapphire sucks, Ion-x sucks, Apple sucks” websites must be created.

     

    Apple certainly has its share of weirdo customers and haters who obsess over the dumbest things. You should see the Apple discussion forums threads about “Apple Watch screen scratches easily.” Everybody on there claims that their watch screen got scratched without ANY interaction form them. “I didn’t do nutt’in. I went to bed and the next morning my watch was scratched.” Yes, people are saying that. Go read for yourself. 

  • Reply 14 of 41
    jfc1138jfc1138 Posts: 3,090member

    I've already, in the couple of weeks I've had it, whacked my watch into door jams way too many times to count (once every couple of days I seem to cut that corner just a bit too close...). Not a mark on it so I, for one, am going to stay pleased with the more scratch resistant Sapphire I seem to need!

     

    Haven't noticed any readability issues. People's ITRW mileage varies I assume.

  • Reply 15 of 41
    maestro64maestro64 Posts: 4,908member
    "While the Sport starts at $349, even the cheapest sapphire model is $549, although that also comes with the benefit of stainless steel casing instead of aluminum."

    What, exactly, is the benefit of the stainless steel casing?  

    From my perspective, the stainless steel model has three disadvantages versus the aluminum model

    1. Steel is heavier.

    2. Stainless steel is glossy, which means it shows fingerprints/smudges, a problem I have yet to have with my aluminum sport model.

    3. The Stainless steel model costs more.

    The problem with your assessment it is all opinions.

    On your heavy statement as an example, There is a belief heavier items tend to have a higher intrisic value, people tend to feel that heavy something is the better made the product. Lighter implies cheaper and there is a balancing act on this as well. I use to own a titanium watch, and it was expensive but very light weight and it was the lightest watch I ever own, after some time it did begin feeling cheap, so I swtich back to heavy watches. It just felt flimsy, because it was so light but took lots of abuse becuase I always forgot it was on the wrist.
  • Reply 16 of 41
    konqerrorkonqerror Posts: 685member
    Quote:



    Originally Posted by RadarTheKat View Post

     

    What, exactly, is the benefit of the stainless steel casing?  

     


     

    Quote:
    Originally Posted by sog35 View Post

     

     

    Aluminum easily chips/bends/breaks.  SS is much stronger.


     

    Aluminum tends to be more reactive, and prone to rust when its attacked by things like acids (from skin, contaminants you pick up in every day use, etc) compared to stainless steel.

     

    The softness of aluminum is why Apple makes their gadgets out of it. It easily chips which means its easy to machine. Even easier than plain carbon steel. Stainless is hard = pain to machine = expensive to make a watch.

     

    Quote:
    Originally Posted by AppleInsider View Post



    Although the sapphire used in most Apple Watch displays is more durable than the Ion-X glass in the Apple Watch Sport, it comes with penalties to image quality -- especially in ambient light, according to lab tests published on Monday.

     

     

    Simple physics.

    Gorilla glass refractive index n=1.51

    Sapphire n=1.77

    Air n=1

  • Reply 17 of 41
    lkrupplkrupp Posts: 8,998member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Gatorguy View Post





    I've looked for something that supports your claim and can't find anything. Where did you see that Samsung had a substantial investment in Displaymate?



    The bigger question is whether DisplayMate’s opinions and tests matter to anyone other than nerds. Does anyone make decisions based on their studies? Or is it, as I suspect, just another tech site that attempts to be relevant. Compare them to iFixit for example, who always rags on Apple products for their repairability, or lack thereof. Nobody cares except nerds who like to tinker. Consumer Reports is another one. They refused to recommend the purchase of the iPhone 4 because of antennagate. Their report didn’t matter, the iPhone 4 went on to sell very well.

     

    My take is DisplayMate says the sapphire crystal is less viewable in ambient light than the Ion-x glass. My response is, “So what?”

     

    Haters gonna hate.

  • Reply 18 of 41
    jbdragonjbdragon Posts: 2,244member
    Don't they also use a sapphire coating on the camera lens?

    There's no coating, the camera lens and the rich TouchID sensor both use Sapphire. Sapphire is a crystal, they they artificially grow and then slice and that's what the iPhone is using along with the screen on the higher end Apple Watches. There's no coating. Coatings can get scratched!!!
  • Reply 19 of 41
    maestro64maestro64 Posts: 4,908member
    gregquinn wrote: »
    This is a plus for my having gotten the sports watch version, but the bigger problem with sapphire is that it's more prone to shattering, which I've heard a couple of stories about.

    Not true, I been using sapphire watch crystalls for 20 yrs now and switch to sapphire after breaking one too many standard glass or plastic watch faces. I tend to be hard on watches and bang them into things. Only once did I have one break, and that is becuase the band broke and the entire watch hit the concrete sidewalk and cause the crystal to pop out of the watch and only once the unprotect crystall hit the ground did it shatter.

    Do not believe the stories because as a generall rule sapphire is generally more durable than any glass face on a watch.
  • Reply 20 of 41
    mobiusmobius Posts: 378member
    I thought this fact was already known and established months ago?
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