Samsung Galaxy S4 Display Shoot-Out Shows Strong OLED Improvements

By Wesley Fenlon

DisplayMate puts the Galaxy S4 through its battery of tests and likes what it sees.

With the launch of the Galaxy S4 a mere month away, DisplayMate's Dr. Soneira has subjected Samsung's new phone to its traditional display shoot-out, scrutinizing everything from DPI to color temperature to battery draw. This time around, Samsung's flagship phone sports a 1080p OLED screen at a monstrous five inches, which works out to 441 pixels per inch. That high resolution is partially thanks to Samsung's PenTile display technology, which has produced inferior image quality to LCDs in the past. DisplayMate's summary of PenTile (and how it has improved through the Galaxy line) paints a bright picture for the S4's display:

"The pixels on most current OLED displays have only 2 sub-pixels in each pixel instead of the standard 3 Red, Green, and Blue sub-pixels found in most other displays and display technologies. Half of the PenTile pixels have Green and Red sub-pixels and the other half have Green and Blue sub-pixels, so Red and Blue are always shared by two adjacent pixels. This makes PenTile displays easier to manufacture and at a lower cost. It also improves brightness and reduces aging effects. Because the eye has lower visual acuity for color this works very well for photographic and video images. But for digitally generated fine text and graphics with precise pixel layouts the eye can visually detect the reduced number of Red and Blue sub-pixels unless the number of Red and Blue Sub-Pixels Per Inch is very high. And it is for the Galaxy S4 – there are 312 Red and Blue Sub-Pixels Per Inch, which is only a few percent lower than Apple’s Benchmark 326 PPI iPhone Retina Display. Visually the Galaxy S4 PenTile display delivers excellent visual sharpness across the board."

Photo credit: Flickr user Kārlis Dambrāns.

DisplayMate also happily points out that the Galaxy S4 offers several different screen modes, much like an HDTV: Adaptive, Dynamic, Standard, Professional Photo, and Movie. Soneira especially highlights the accurate color accuracy of the Movie mode, though notes its high color saturation. When it comes to brightness and contrast, the Galaxy S4 dramatically outperforms the Galaxy S III across the board, but has slightly oversatured colors, lower overall brightness, and a lower contrast ratio in high ambient light than Apple's iPhone 5 display.

Similarly, the Galaxy S4 tones down on the S III's too-large color gamut but is still "somewhat large" at 122. That's much better than the S III's 139 percent but still higher than the iPhone 5's 104 percent. When it comes to brightness decrease at off viewing angles, however, the Galaxy S 4 spanks both the S III and the iPhone 5. It remains the brightest and presents the smallest color shift of the three phones.

Despite its size, the Galaxy S4's display actually draws less power than the iPhone 5's at average brightness--0.7 watts to 0.74 watts. Maxed out it's a different story--the iPhone's power consumption remains the same, while the Galaxy's doubles to 1.5 watts. This is still the biggest drawbacks of OLEDs, but things are getting better. DisplayMate concludes:

We measured an impressive 20 percent improvement in power efficacy between the Galaxy S4 and S III, and a 25 percent increase in brightness (and up to 68 percent with Automatic Brightness). If this keeps up then OLEDs may pull ahead of LCDs in brightness and power efficiency in the near future…

The shoot-out ended in a tie between the Galaxy S4 and iPhone 5--LCD and OLED still have strengths and weaknesses--but if you were worried about the PenTile display technology, you'll be happy to know the sub-pixels are indistinguishable at more than 7.8 inches away from your face.