Samsung Galaxy Note and Galaxy Nexus sport HD Super AMOLED - is the PenTile matrix bad for you?

Samsung Galaxy Note and Galaxy Nexus sport HD Super AMOLED - is the PenTile matrix bad for you?
The first generation Super AMOLED displays, as found on the Samsung Galaxy S, used a then new matrix arrangement called PenTile, which allowed for high resolutions on the tricky to manufacture OLED displays. For various reasons it degraded visibility in certain conditions, compared to the traditional RGB matrix. 

Since then many smaprthones, and even tablets, started using the PenTile matrix, in both AMOLED and LCD screens. Now that we are holding the first HD Super AMOLED display on a prototype Samsung Galaxy Note, we decided to check if things are advancing with the PenTile pattern on the new HD displays.

To PenTile or not to PenTile – where's my resolution?

Samsung's seed investment Nouvoyance, the company behind the PenTile matrix used in the HD screens of the Samsung Galaxy Note and Galaxy Nexus, informs us that the PenTile matrix technology complies with the accepted VESA standard for display resolution. 

While the PenTile creators say the technology is just different from the stripes we are used to look at with RGB matrices, but its subpixels are a third wider, thus increasing aperture, some argue about the "missing subpixel" paradigm. Others even go as far as cutting the default horizontal and vertical numbers by a third, and then calculating the density from a subpixel standpoint.

Nouvoyance says that the difference in pixel arrangement is clearly visible only when you look closer while displaying small details on saturated red for the RGBG PenTile in AMOLED displays, and when showing them on saturated green for the RGBW PenTile in LCDs, like the one on Motorola's qHD Droids. 

Moreover, the Android UI used some elements that exacerbated the PenTile pattern visibility, such as pixel-wide UI elements, and some fonts on saturated primary colors, where the matrix arrangement could make things appear fuzzy. The ATRIX, for example, used to have this solid green battery icon that showed RGBW PenTile pattern visibility when looked at from very close, so Motorola changed it with one of the software updates. With the new Roboto font in Android Ice Cream Sandwich, built from scratch for high-res displays, this should be even less of an issue.

The premise of the PenTile creators is that their invention is not inferior to the traditional RGB, but actually a different way to arrange a display matrix, where you lose some definition diagonally, visible at lower pixel densities, but gain brightness, ease-to-manufacture, contrast and power efficiency. For higher pixel densities you stand to gain from PenTile, they argue, and, since this novel arrangement is slowly creeping into both LCD and AMOLED screens of various high-end smartphones, starting with Samsung and Motorola, we'd better check if these claims hold water.

We test

The corporate Kool-Aid is neverending, that is why we were eager to explore the new HD Super AMOLED using PenTile against the Super AMOLED Plus with a traditional RGB matrix on the Samsung Galaxy S II. We threw in another new phone with huge display, but lousy WVGA resolution for its 4.7" size, the HTC Titan, and added the pixel density king to beat, Apple's iPhone 4, for good measure.

To save you the suspense we want to state clearly that at no point while using the 800x1280 pixels 5.3" screen on the Galaxy Note could we see any jaggies or the pattern of the pixels arrangement - even on individual letters at full zoom at the closest possible distance to our eyes we couldn't discern anything, let alone in normal use. Cold colors making white appear blueish ever since the Super AMOLED on the first Galaxy S - yes, that exists even in the new HD Super AMOLED , but details were the clearest we've seen on any AMOLED to date. 

This is somewhat visible in the pictures we took of the screens, but in reality the HD Super AMOLED screen fares even better. If you look at the zoomed in 100% crops of pics made from the same distance, the letter borders have deeper jaggies on the Samsung Galaxy S II, as opposed to the ones from the Galaxy Note display, which are closer to the smoothness of the iPhone 4's screen. 

If we follow the “cut a third” logic, then the Galaxy Note density should go down to about 190ppi from the official 285, and thus fare worse than the 217ppi on the Galaxy S II, which is not the case. Again, this is zoomed to a level that you will never encounter on the phones themselves. 

Of course, the best way to compare an HD screen with PenTile is to pit it against another HD one with traditional RGB matrix, but for now we are working with what we have.

We also ran the red test, and indeed the RGBG PenTile display on the Galaxy Note looks as if a fish net texture has been cast over, compared to the traditional RGB stripe matrix on the Samsung Galaxy S II, which shows lines. That, however, is not visible to the naked eye on the Galaxy Note, even if you stretch the picture at maximum in the Gallery.


To wrap it up we'd say that the fears about PenTile appear hugely overblown when it comes to the new HD Super AMOLED technology, which delivers higher pixel density. The folks from Nouvoyance seem to be open about the advantages and disadvantages of their  matrix arrangement, and never said flaws don't exist in certain conditions. Moreover, it seems that PenTile is here to stay, and Samsung is even prepping an RGBW LCD screen with 1600x2560 pixels resolution, resulting in 300ppi at 10.1-inch size.

In any case, if we nitpickers couldn't find anything troubling with the screen on our prototype Galaxy Note, then the average user shouldn't even care what matrix their smartphone or tablet display uses to bring them those entertaining YouTube clips of cats falling off TVs. 

additional info: OLED-A & PenTileBlog

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56. denney

Posts: 98; Member since: Oct 20, 2011

Does anyone else notice that the text pixelation closeup makes the HTC Titan's display look better than the others when it has the lowest resolution and PPI of them all? SLOGAN!: "Microsoft- Better... even when it's not."

55. bananakid

Posts: 7; Member since: Oct 24, 2011

Like many had pointed out, non-pentile still has an edge over pentile in terms of sharpness, hands down - for now. I own the original pentile N1 and comparing to the later SLCD variant of it, pentile clearly sucks. But with the introduction of 720p mobile screens this year, their gap apparently got a lot closer. Next year, when they pump it up to 1080p, the remaining gap will be insignificant, if not gone. Together with the fact that pentile matrix costs less and easier to manufacture, pentile is the future.

53. vette21man

Posts: 351; Member since: Apr 06, 2011

GREAT ARTICLE!! I especially love the photo that shows each screen close up in its own quadrant. However, it still bugs me about the advertising, I know we nerds are the only ones that care about the advertised ppi vs perceived ppi. I'm just wondering what a Super AMOLED "PLUS" 720p display would look like. Would we notice a difference between the pentile version and the "plus" version on a 4.65" screen? Further, wondering if Samsung, etc. would market it like crazy as the next best thing..."Super AMOLED+ HD" if pentile is truly "good enough." If nothing else, I tip my hats to the genius marketers that cater to the general public that don't care about such details. At the same time, it angers me that it basically feels like lying.

52. glos7777

Posts: 5; Member since: Oct 22, 2011

btw galaxy note have to NFC support ?

46. NeXoS

Posts: 292; Member since: May 03, 2011

How the hell is Samsung able to make a1600x2560 pixels resolution, 10.1-inch size screen for a tablet, but I can't find a 13" laptop with a 1080p screen? And have it be IPS or even better, Super AMOLED Plus? And laptop manufacturers wonder why laptop sales are slowly dropping?

47. AppleConspiracy

Posts: 637; Member since: Oct 18, 2011

Laptops belong to the PC paradigm, not the new handheld paradigm introduced by Apple, and they can't be viewed with same criteria. There are number of reasons why PC screen resolutions are "low" and with small pixel densities. The main reason is gaming industry, which utilizes state-of-the art real-time graphics, followed by graphic card manufacturers, who adapt performance according to standard display resolutions. For instance, at this moment, most advanced consumer graphic cards are able to give satisfying performance on 1080p resolutions. However, they will choke on higher resolutions, say 2560x1440, which are obligatory if someone wants to have near-300ppi density on 10-inch tablet... that's why tablet gaming industry is still on 2D graphics with 3D on a 1999-level... It is generally accepted that in PC industry simple anti-aliasing can provide adequate compensation with gain in performance. The second reason is adaptation on 72 (Mac) and 96 dpi (Win) standards - pixel densities on computer monitors are around that number (although they can vary) - with high pixel densities typefaces and UI elements would be extremely small as they don't have scalable dimensions. In early 2000s IBM developed extremely high-resolution monitors, but they were impractical and graphic cards were too weak for demanding applications. Besides, PC and laptop monitors are mostly viewed with different distances in comparison to handhelds, so even 150+ pixel density would be sharp enough for the human eye from that distance, while smartphone or tablet demand over 250+ density - at least! The other reasons are historical develoment of standards with various technical parameters, which could change in the near future as tablet market is conquering the world. I'm sure we wil soon see the change it that paradigm as conditions of consumer market is adapting on different approach and as hardware is becoming more and more capable, but it's not an easy task - it never is with changing of standards.

49. remixfa

Posts: 14605; Member since: Dec 19, 2008

another reason would be shelf life. PC monitors need a much longer shelf life than phones. If i remember correctly, a Super Amoled screen only has an average shelf life of 3-5 years of usage, where a PC monitor of course can go for probably a decade or longer.

50. AppleConspiracy

Posts: 637; Member since: Oct 18, 2011

OLED technology has a problem with lifespan in general, are you sure you didn't mix that with LCDs?

45. cncrim

Posts: 1590; Member since: Aug 15, 2011

Who care ..... the screen looking awesome to me I would buy Nexus. I don't think the average people can tell the diffirence.


Posts: 3131; Member since: Jan 12, 2010

I cannot wait for the Galaxy Nexus, ICS is going to be amazing.

42. taz89

Posts: 2014; Member since: May 03, 2011

i know how you feel have not felt this excited over a phone and os since the iphone 4 the nintendo ds the gs2 so the only thing i want is ICS and thankfully am in the UK where samsung phone get regular and quick update

40. pegasus912

Posts: 1; Member since: Oct 21, 2011

Thank you for posting this balanced article. I just came from Engadget and saw that awful article about the Galaxy Nexus' screen being a minus, so it's nice to see someone actually doing some side by side comparisons instead of a short opinion piece.

35. AppleConspiracy

Posts: 637; Member since: Oct 18, 2011

With super high pixel densities PenTile screens should not have problems with graininess and similar issues, but I think they allways suffer from inaccurate color reproduction, especially in white, because they have to compesate for different surface areas of subpixels. That's why white balance is disturbed and generally they like to go on the bluish side. I don't even want to think what's going on with other colors if white is already a problem. However, I support AMOLED technology even with PenTile configuration because it offers something more significant for handheld use - extreme contrast, vibrant colors and easy readability overall. Phone users are not graphic designers and professional photographers and that's not their primary workstation, we could live without exact color reproduction on phones as long as we have crystal clear images.

30. c1985

Posts: 10; Member since: Oct 21, 2011

"We also ran the red test, and indeed the RGBG PenTile display on the Galaxy Note looks as if a fish net texture has been cast over, compared to the traditional RGB stripe matrix on the Samsung Galaxy S II, which shows lines. That, however, is not visible to the naked eye on the Galaxy Note, even if you stretch the picture at maximum in the Gallery." Do they not realize that the 'fishnet texture' is on the screen itself and not the picture? Zooming in on a picture will not zoom in on the fishnet texture that you see on the screen. Pen-tile is not a deal breaker but I do prefer standard RGB LCDs.

37. remixfa

Posts: 14605; Member since: Dec 19, 2008

lol. nice catch. lolol. a good pentile screen hides its faults well. the naked eye cant tell the difference at regular usage distances.

29. protozeloz

Posts: 5396; Member since: Sep 16, 2010

if this is the huge galaxy note then this may look even better on the Nexus whereas the screen is much smaller

19. superguy

Posts: 489; Member since: Jul 15, 2011

I'll need to see the screen before I make a call. People were saying the PenTile on the Bionic wasn't a big deal and not that noticeable, but I thought it looked like crap. It was very noticeable to me. I'll have to see it in action to see if the blockiness is there. The note looked good in some ways, but saw the blockiness in the red wavy pic. I'll wait and see. Shouldn't be a big deal as long as it looks better than my Fascinate.

26. roldefol

Posts: 4745; Member since: Jan 28, 2011

People who said PenTile on the Bionic wasn't a big deal and not that noticeable were making excuses for the phone. "So the screen isn't that great... it's the BIONIC! The best phone ev-- ooo look, Droid Razr!"

28. terabyteRouser

Posts: 457; Member since: Oct 18, 2011

The Bionic's PenTile is different than the AMOLED PenTile. The Bionic uses RGBW PenTile - which is an exrtra white pixel. And the AMOLED uses RGBG PenTile.

18. McLTE

Posts: 922; Member since: Oct 18, 2011

This is a great article! Instead of a bunch of whining and speculating.. some real images to backup the talk! Judging by these images, I think the PRIME display will be more than adequate. Yes, I'd probably prefer RGB if given a choice.. but I'm feeling confident that the PRIME display will be awesome! Hope we even get a little battery savings from the screen too! :) The other thing to consider is that the Galaxy Note display is significantly larger than the Primes.. this will only make the PRIME screen that much better!!

16. som

Posts: 768; Member since: Nov 10, 2009

Galaxy Note new name SmarTab.

14. Snapdude

Posts: 128; Member since: Aug 27, 2009

pentile on the nexus is barely noticeable, i had to throw up screens of all primary colors and stare very closely to see the matrix underneath... and i have more than half decent vision... the brighntess of amoled washes out the pentile imperfections

27. terabyteRouser

Posts: 457; Member since: Oct 18, 2011

As long as it is not as bad as my Droid 3...

31. roldefol

Posts: 4745; Member since: Jan 28, 2011

Trust me, it won't be. 316 ppi RGBG PenTile SAMOLED will make 275 ppi RGBW PenTile LCD look like 200 ppi RGB LCD.

11. PimpStrong

Posts: 310; Member since: Jul 25, 2011

I personally do not like the skinny 16:9 ratio of the Sensation screen which means I won't like how the Nexus' screen will be equally skinny. Thumb me down if u want but I'll take SAMOLED PLUS in 16:10 over this HD.

17. Leodrade

Posts: 87; Member since: Aug 26, 2011

16:9 is the best aspect ratio to watch movies but if you don't like it then you should look into the Galaxy Note that is 16:10

32. PimpStrong

Posts: 310; Member since: Jul 25, 2011

I'm good I have the GS2

23. roldefol

Posts: 4745; Member since: Jan 28, 2011

Also 8% of the screen will be for the menu buttons, so the useable space will be a 4.4" 15:9 screen.

33. PimpStrong

Posts: 310; Member since: Jul 25, 2011

So that makes it skinny AND shorter?

36. remixfa

Posts: 14605; Member since: Dec 19, 2008

not true. those buttons dissapear in context to what your doing on screen. watch the video, when your watching a video on the phone, the buttons dissapear and it becomes a giant screen. Im pretty sure individual apps will get control over that feature.

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