Dr. Raymond M. Soneira, president at DisplayMate Technologies, decided it was worth putting the Samsung Galaxy S4, Apple iPhone 5 and Samsung Galaxy S3 in a head-to-head match-up to answer two questions: does the GS4's display match the iPhone 5's, and how far has OLED screen technology come since last year's GS3?
Let's recap what each screen offers:
The Galaxy S4 has a 5-inch OLED (organic light-emitting diode) screen that includes 1920 x 1080 pixels with a density of 441 ppi. The iPhone 5 has a 4-inch in-plane switching LCD screen that includes 1136 x 640 pixels with a density of 326 ppi. The Galaxy S3 has a 4.8-inch OLED screen that includes 1280 x 720 pixels with a density of 306 ppi.
[ Is the Galaxy S4 the best smartphone available today? Read Samsung Galaxy S4 Oozes Innovation. ]
The GS4 clearly has a higher pixel density than the other two devices. There's a significant design element inherent in OLEDs that must be discussed: the pixel arrangement.
The GS4 and GS3's OLED screens use a PenTile pixel arrangement. PenTile screens have alternating red-green-blue-green sub-pixels. This plays on the human eye's natural sensitivity to green. The effect is that OLED screens use fewer sub-pixels to show the same image. The effect doesn't matter when looking at pictures or using the camera, but it is very noticeable when reading text on a PenTile screen. When viewed at close range, PenTile OLED screens produce a fuzzy effect on text. Traditional LCD screens use one red, one green and one blue sub-pixel per pixel. LCD screens produce sharper text but cost more to make.
The GS4's sheer density of pixels helps it overcome the inferior sub-pixel arrangement. Cramming so many pixels into such a small space allows the pixels to be close enough together that the human eye doesn't notice the missing sub-pixels on the GS4's screen.
According to Soneira, the GS4 makes huge gains in color accuracy, too (the PenTile pixel arrangement tends to skew things towards green). It also helps that Samsung offers five different screen modes on the Galaxy S4: Adaptive, Dynamic, Standard, Professional Photo and Movie. Users can change the screen mode, which helps the GS4's screen to offer more accurate color representation. Soneira says that the Movie mode offers the best all-around color performance on the GS4.
Brightness is still a problem for OLEDs. The GS4's screen is much brighter than the GS3's, but it still lags behind the iPhone 5. This is an issue inherent in OLED screens versus LCDs. Soneira notes that OLED screens set to maximum brightness will drain the battery much faster than LCDs set to maximum brightness. Of course, users can always trade brightness for battery life on any device with a screen, but LCDs are more efficient, thanks to extensive calibration at the factory.
Speaking of power consumption, the iPhone 5 wins there, though not by much. The GS4's OLED screen is much more power-efficient than the GS3's, but the iPhone 5's edges it out. The GS4's screen used 0.70 watts of power, while the GS3's used 0.83 watts and the iPhone 5's used 0.66 watts.
Soneira concluded that PenTile AMOLED screens have come a long way over the last few years and have almost caught up with LCDs in most measurements.
"The Galaxy S4 continues the rapid and impressive improvement in OLED displays and technology," wrote Soneira. "The biggest challenge for OLEDs is continuing to improve their power efficiency and full screen peak brightness. Of course, LCDs are not standing still either. There has been a remarkable increase in their resolution and pixels per inch."
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