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.

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Galaxy S4 screen

iPhone 5 screenGalaxy S3 screenNexus 4 screenHTC 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.

Samsung Galaxy S4 review