Screen comparison: Galaxy Note 3 vs iPhone 5s and other flagships
Having been relying on and perfecting it, Samsung is easily the biggest proponent of AMOLED screen technology, and we can certainly understand the Korean manufacturer for sticking with it. Although it does have a number of disadvantages, it cannot be denied that AMOLED is eye-catchy. With its lush and vibrant colors, as well as striking contrast levels, thanks to the perfect black color, AMOLED screens look quite impressive when viewing colorful photos or video. However, this is where we have to acknowledge the fact that as fancy as they look, AMOLED displays are still suffering from a lack of brightness and exhibit color imbalances that make them look weird at times. Not that you can't get used to it, but once you compare an AMOLED screen to a quality LCD one, the cons of Samsung's technology of choice become quite apparent.
As luck would have it, we've witnessed the launch of a number of hot smartphones recently, such as the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 and Apple iPhone 5s, which happen to be the benchmark devices for both screen technologies – AMOLED and LCD. That's a great occasion for an in-depth screen comparison that we wouldn't miss for the world! What's more, we're going to add a bunch of other sizzling-hot handsets, such as the HTC One, LG G2, and Galaxy S4 to make things even more intriguing!
Please note that there might be some visible artifacts in the images of the displays, due to the fact that we've captured those with a camera. Those artifacts shouldn't be considered when evaluating the screens!
Brightness and visibility
Although Samsung is constantly working to improve its AMOLED screens, one of the issues that are yet to be solved is the relatively weak brightness output. The Galaxy Note 3, for example, maxes out at about 310 nits when displaying perfect white, and a bit more when displaying a mix of colors. Still, that's a lot less than the iPhone 5s' 530+ nits. Needless to say, it'll be harder to view the Note 3 in broad daylight, compared to the IPS LCD screen of the iPhone 5s, or those of the HTC One and LG G2. Still, we have to point out that Samsung has made progress with the screen of the Note 3, which is considerably easier to view than that of the Galaxy S4 when outdoors.
Another interesting aspect of these screens, when it comes brightness, is how dim they can get. After all, you'd need your display's brightness to get really low if you want to view it in the dark. In that respect, the the Note 3 and iPhone 5s are ahead of the others with their minimum brightness of 5 nits, with the the G2 being a close third with its 8 nits. Check out the following chart to see how each handset stacks up against the others in terms of brightness.
It's safe to say that getting the colors right is the trickiest part for display manufacturers nowadays. Size, brightness and resolution are no longer a problem, but boy does that blue always get on top of all the other colors? It's still a rarity to find a well calibrated display with no compromises, so it'll be interesting to see if there are any improvements in that respect with this latest generation of AMOLED and LCD technologies.
Starting off with the Galaxy Note 3, we don't necessarily find any substantial difference between its Super AMOLED panel and the one utilized by the Galaxy S4. Both look horrendously imbalanced when set to their default 'Standard' mode, with the Note 3 treating us to image quality that's even farther from the reference values. In Standard mode, the Note 3's color temperature is about 8100 K (kelvin), which means that it has too much blue, and not enough red. Average color error (Delta E) when measuring a greyscale stands at 6.34, which is higher than the 'caution' mark of 5. Overall, if you're looking for a true-to-life color reproduction, you should stay away from the Note 3's Standard screen mode. The 'Professional Photo' mode is a different story. Switching to this mode will substantially lower the color temperature to about 7000 K, which is much closer to the reference point of 6500 K. Colors generally have a decent balance this way, though there is still a bit too much green in there, causing everything to appear slightly greenish. This issue becomes blatantly evident if you put the iPhone 5s' IPS LCD panel right next to the Note 3. In short, white appears... much more white on the iPhone 5s' display. Actually this observation will remain valid if you compare any of the AMOLED screens to any of the LCD screens taking part in this comparison.
So, taking a look at the figures we've gotten after measuring the IPS panel of the iPhone 5s, things actually don't seem perfect there as well. Average color temperature hovers around 7300 K, due to a slightly dominant blue and an insufficient red. Greyscale Delta E (color error) is much lower than that of the Note 3, though, at around 3.75. Overall, color tones are much more realistic on the iPhone's display, while at the same time they, too, appear nicely saturated and vivid.
The HTC One's IPS LCD display continues to be a solid performer overall, though not as superb as the iPhone 5s. With a color temperature of 7600 K and a Delta E of 4.36, it presents us with a high image quality, though it definitely gravitates towards the colder side. The LG G2 is even worse in that respect, as its color temperature nears 8000 K.
The HTC One is still the owner of the densest screen with its 468 ppi (pixels per inch). Thanks to its 1080 x 1920 resolution, as well as the 4.7” diagonal, it manages to display the finest of details in a seamless and pixelization-free manner. However, the difference between it and the other handsets with 1080p screens isn't really that big in terms of clarity. Due to its large, 5.7” diagonal, the Note 3's pixel density has fallen below 400 ppi, reaching the still wonderful 386 ppi. In case you're wondering, everything looks perfectly fine on this display. You really have to look extremely carefully and closely in order to notice some slight jaggedness in the extremely small text. Of course, everything is superb with the other 1080p screens.
When it comes to the iPhone 5s, it's still rocking the good old 640 x 1136 resolution, and while that's not high enough to deserve the 'HD' label, the 4” 'Retina Display' is dense enough to guarantee a comfortable and seamless viewing. If you look closely, you may start to notice individual pixels here and there, but overall, things are still very crisp and clear.
While viewing angles are not as important as the other aspects that we've already examined, it's still interesting to see how the devices' screens are holding up in this respect. It's actually all a matter of preference between color accuracy and luminance, as all the LCD screens tend to get significantly dimmer when viewed at an angle, while the Super AMOLED displays of the Galaxy Note 3 and S4 doesn't lose their brightness so much. However, the AMOLED panels' colors exhibit some noticeable degradation in terms of balance, with the displays starting to look quite bluish even at smaller angles. Such kind of color balance degradation isn't observed with the IPS LCD displays... not to such a great extent, that is.
If we have to pick our favorites from the LCD crowd, we'd say that the iPhone 5s is doing the best overall job. All AMOLEDs seem to perform similarly in this category – it's remarkable how their manage to retain their brightness output even at extreme angles!
AMOLED screens have made some visible progress this year. Without a doubt, the panels of the Galaxy S4 and Galaxy Note 3 are substantially better than what the Galaxy S III offered last year. When it comes to LCDs, we can't really say that there's been that much of a progress. Easily the best IPS LCD screen in 2012 was that of the iPhone 5, and it doesn't seem like Apple has introduced any improvements to the technology since then. It's still a great screen - probably the best there is with regards to color accuracy and overall quality, though we'd have loved it if we were treated to something even better with the iPhone 5s.
The rivalry between AMOLED and LCD is sure to continue. For now, Samsung is still struggling to keep its displays within the realm of normal colors, but it seems to be getting better and better at that. It also has some work to do when it comes to brightness output. On the other hand, the LCD camp seems to be having a bit of a rest this year, but hopefully things will get moving once again on the screen front when the next generation flagships start entering the scene.