Galaxy S4

How does Samsung's 1080p HD SuperAMOLED match up against last year's offerings and the latest LCD panels?

A pet technology of Korean giant Samsung, AMOLED displays have adorned every one of its flagship Android smartphones, going back all the way to the original Galaxy S. This year's Galaxy S4 ships with the sharpest AMOLED display yet, a Full HD SuperAMOLED display running packing 1920x1080 pixels at 440 pixels per inch. It's the first 1080p smartphone from Samsung, and so during the course of our review we decided to pit the S4's Full HD SuperAMOLED against a selection of competitors -- the iPhone 5, Nexus 4 and HTC One -- as well as last year's Galaxy S3.

We've got comparison photos -- and a general overview of where the S4 sits on our grand imaginary league table of smartphone displays -- all after the break.

More: Samsung Galaxy S4 review

Galaxy S4 screen

iPhone 5 screen Galaxy S3 screen Nexus 4 screen HTC One screen

Main: Galaxy S4 screen close-up; Below: iPhone 5, Galaxy S3, Nexus 4, HTC One (click to enlarge)

Before we begin, a few vital stats -- the Galaxy S4 packs a 5-inch, 1080p SuperAMOLED display with 440 pixels per inch and a PenTile subpixel matrix -- the arrangement of tiny dots of light that make up each on-screen pixel. Instead of to the red, green, blue, green (RGBG) stripe layout used by earlier PenTile panels, the Galaxy S4 arranges its subpixels in a diamond-like pattern in order to achieve this higher pixel density.

At first glance, the Galaxy S4's display is every bit as vivid as earlier AMOLEDs, and a good deal brighter at maximum brightness levels. The increased pixel density means it's almost impossible to notice any jagged edges around text -- on lower-resolution PenTile patterns, a telltale zig-zag pattern can be observed 

Compared the 720p HD SuperAMOLED panel found in last year's Galaxy S3, the difference is striking. The S4 is much brighter, and exhibits no discoloration virtually no discoloration in white areas -- likely due to improved software tuning and the new matrix pattern. The S3, which used a traditional RGBG stripe layout, as prone to grey and greenish discoloration in white areas. As you'll see from our comparison shots above, last year's Samsung flagship is also noticeably less sharp.

On the subject of sharpness, we should mention that while the S4 has a pixel density of 440ppi, the fact that it uses a PenTile subpixel arrangement means that it has only two subpixels per pixel, as opposed to three on a standard LCD. That's long been a point of contention for opponents of the technology, who point out that this gives it inferior subpixel density. At 1920x1080 resolution on a 5-inch panel, however, the Galaxy S4's display is more than sharp enough, despite its being theoretically less sharp than an equivalent LCD.

Another inherent weakness of AMOLED is daylight visibility, and although our S4 performed well enough outdoors, it wasn't as easy to see as the HTC One's super-bright SuperLCD3. Indoors, the S4 suffers from another curious issue, as the phone's auto-brightness setting doesn't ramp up aggressively enough.

In the Android space, the Galaxy S4's main competitor is the HTC One, which packs the same number of pixels into a 4.7-inch SuperLCD3 display. Having used both side-by-side, HTC's panel has a clear edge, although Samsung offers a larger screen with smaller bezels.

The comparison between the LG Nexus 4 is a little more interesting. The Nexus offers better daylight visibility, but its colors are significantly duller than the Galaxy S4 and HTC One. It also lags behind in resolution, although the difference here isn't as pronounced. And on the iOS side, the iPhone 5 continues to give all three competitors a run for their money with its 326ppi in-cell IPS display. Despite its lower resolution, it's right up there with the HTC One in terms of clarity and color quality.

For better or worse, Samsung looks set to continue using SuperAMOLED panels in its high-end smartphones, and like any design decision, it's a compromise. In the case of the Galaxy S4, you get a large display with vivid colors and deep blacks, at the cost of daylight visibility and a little subpixel density. Whether that's a compromise worth making is up to you.

More: Samsung Galaxy S4 review


Reader comments

Quick display comparison: Samsung Galaxy S4 versus the competition


>The Nexus offers better daylight visibility, but its colors are significantly duller than the Galaxy S4 and HTC One.

Easily fixable with gamma correction, and most custom kernels do this by default now. Unfortunately, you can't fix cheap pentile pixel layouts with software.

Yes, of course your typical customer will run custom kernels... not! This was an out of the box review, not a hacker's review!

Yea right dude I own an s3 and nexus 4 and although my nexus 4 is sexy and is an awesome device and fast the display even with the customers kernels and gama correction the display sucks compared to my s3 display stock or on cyanogen the nexus 4 is quite a beast phone as far as the specs but the display is sad and colors are never going to be as good as the s3,HTC one or the s4 then again that's why its not a high end device either.

Thanks for the review Alex, as usual it was super informative. I JUST played with the One today and to be perfectly honest, the display seemed very bland and uninspiring although very sharp and smooth. The reality is, that
when any galaxy phone is placed side by side to a respective competitor, the amoleds just pop more. So few of us put the phone that close up to the eyeball to notice ppi of any count. High contrast with rich colors will always have an edge.

I own a plasma TV, the picture quality in use at home is better than any LCD.

But people buy LCD TVs because they can be cranked up to really really bright levels and eye-popping contrasts and colour saturation. They make plasmas seem dull in the shop.

When you get the tv home it asks on first ever power-up "is this a shop display", if no, sets picture to normal!

Ok, my comparison fails a bit because people want phone displays which are visible outdoors, but not many will be looking for colour purity.

You say Cartoony, I say Vibrant. I can dim and adjust the S4 screen to look more like the one, however you cant turn up the one to look like the s4. But your point is valid - personal preference at the end of the day. When it comes to games and movies though, id rather have a 1080p screen that pops.

Make sure you check power saver mode when playing with One's in the store. For some reason the display models are very often set to power saver, which does significantly dim the display.

It would be great to see a comparison of power usage between phones. While it's touch to compare from one phone to another you can compare the change in power draw from one phone to another from one brightness level to another.

WOuld be better if your comparison shots all used a blue background instead of black. That makes a HUGE difference in the picture.

I was thinking the same thing, myself. I even did screen captures, and then placed them all into PowerPoint, so I could view them all at once, but the color difference really was noticeable. Plus, I'm not sure the main picture (of the S4) is of the same quality as the pop-up pictures of the other four. Really tough to see which one I like better.

Comparing how the screens look under a microscope is about a meaningful as comparing how well a Mercedes and a Fiat work as an artificial reef. No one buying any of the above will ever use them that way.

To the naked eye, even held close to the face, all the new devices have gorgeous displays.

Vibrant displays tend to turn more heads, even though the colors are less natural and more inaccurate. I prefer the display to be more color accurate and balanced and have found every Samsung display I've used to date to be inferior to the SLCD HTC uses and the IPS that Apple uses. That's just my tastes though. I'll see how the S3 stacks up but my gut feeling is I'll favor The One.

I can't believe reviewers still moan about the pentile; it is just not visible with the naked eye.

The colours on the S4 are much more natural than the were on all previous amoled displays. They toned it down a little (which you can reverse if you switch off the auto colour settings). You can't speak of 'unnatural pumped up colours splashing off the screen' anymore. The display is now very, very good, a real pleasure to look at. Excellent viewing angles. It's a reason to buy this phone.