Samsung Galaxy S4’s display analysed: A big improvement on the S3

Screen quality is a critical factor when it comes to any new mobile device. For years, Apple has generally ruled the roost in this regard; the LCD displays on the iPhone and iPad have typically outperformed their Android equivalents.

Samsung’s PenTile displays have been steadily closing the gap for several years, and the latest Galaxy S4 has finally bridged it. There are still some differences between the iPhone 5 and Galaxy S4, owing to the different technologies in play (OLED vs. LCD), but Samsung now has noted strengths of its own.

That’s according to Dr Ray Soneira, owner of Displaymate Technologies. Dr Soneira has a long history of carrying out comprehensive display analyses, and he’s put the S4 under the microscope. Compared to the Galaxy S3, the S4′s maximum brightness is higher and its 1920 x 1080 screen packs almost as many subpixels per inch as the iPhone 5.

In PenTile displays, there are twice as many green subpixels as red and blue. Colour reproduction in “Movie” mode is excellent, light reflection is as good or better than the iPhone 5, and the S4′s colour gamut is significantly smaller than the S3′s.

This last fact is a point that tends to confuse people – overly wide gamuts can produce a worse visual effect than too small gamuts. The S3′s gamut, at 139 per cent of standard, has a tendency to produce over-saturated images.

The S4 tightens this – “Movie” mode is set for a colour temperature of 6,591 compared to the iPhone 5′s 7,461. The colour gamut is also smaller, at 132 per cent of sRGB in standard mode and 122 per cent in movie mode. The iPhone 5′s colour gamut of 104 per cent still leads this category, but the S4′s improvement is appreciable.

The colour transition points are also somewhat different, as shown below. In this image, the S3′s colour is on top, the S4′s on the bottom.

The S4′s display is also notably more efficient than the S3′s. Average power efficiency for the S3 (compared at the same hypothetical screen size) came out to 0.83 Watts. The S4, in contrast, hits 0.70 Watts. That’s within spitting distance of the iPhone 5′s 0.66 Watts and it’s another sizable improvement for OLED technology.

Obviously there are people who have always preferred Samsung’s display design over Apple’s, and who like the oversaturated, wide gamut visuals on the S3. And that’s fine. Display choice is a personal choice. What’s valuable about Soneira’s work is that it shows how Samsung is evolving its OLED capabilities. LCD tech still has advantages in certain areas, but the underlying manufacturing technology has matured. OLED is still getting started.

If you’ve held off on a Galaxy-series phone because you preferred Apple’s image quality, the Galaxy S4 could be the phone to change your mind. One more generation, and we may see the Galaxy S5 even take the lead over the equivalent iPhone – in at least some metrics.