Screen comparison: Galaxy S5 vs iPhone 5s vs One (M8) vs Note 3 vs Nexus 5 vs G2
So, being a fresh representative of Samsung's flagship smartphone line, the Galaxy S5 is, naturally, equipped with Samsung's favorite display technology - Super AMOLED. It's a somewhat controversial display tech that captivates users with its contrasty and punchy visuals, but fails to achieve the level of color accuracy exhibited by the quality LCD screens out there. More often than not, the choice smartphone users have to make is just that - will they take the striking, yet unrealistic colors of the AMOLED, or will they stick with a more natural, ordinarily-looking LCD.
As a quick teaser before we dive in, we'd mention that with the GS5, Samsung's AMOLED display is moving yet another step forward. However, as you'll see in the following lines, there's still quite a bit of room for improvement for the company's display technology. Yes, outdoor visibility is now pretty decent, but overall color balance still leaves a lot to be desired. If you simply put a quality LCD next to the GS5's screen and play a video, you'll instantly notice the predominant greenish hue in the GS5 that make things seem a bit weird (mostly visible when you have a reference right in front of you).
Brightness and visibility
On the other hand, the Samsung Galaxy S5 is a winner when it comes to minimum brightness - you know, the kind of thing you'd greatly appreciate while viewing your handset in the dark. The GS5 is superb in that, as it can go to as low as 2 nits. The iPhone 5s is close behind with its 5 nits minimum brightness, followed by the G2 and its 8 nits.
Nowadays, most high-end smartphones come with 1080 x 1920 resolution, guaranteeing incredibly high density and clarity. Due to that, all handsets tested in this display comparison offer a more or less spectacular pixel density. The iPhone 5s, with its 640 x 1136 pixel resolution, is slightly behind the pack, but due to its smaller screen size, things still look extremely clean.
An interesting specific of the AMOLED displays installed on the Galaxy S5 and Note 3 is that they are using a different, diamond PenTile pixel arrangement. This used to introduce some graininess in the image, compared to a standard RGB matrix, but with resolutions of about 1080p and up, this nasty side effect is now next to invisible. Check out the following picture for a close-up shot on the different pixel arrangements of the participating handsets!
Inaccurate color reproduction has long been an issue for AMOLED screens. Here's the thing: AMOLED screens, especially those used by Samsung, produce extra-saturated, contrasty, and punchy colors that happen to be very alluring for consumers. However, what's often missed is that those colors are also quite off. For example, green and blue are usually too strong, while secondary colors, like yellow, often appear greenish. That is not the case with IPS LCD screens. So, why should we care if Samsung's screens are inaccurate, when they actually look so eye-catchy? Well, this type of issue certainly isn't going to annoy some users that much, but in our opinion, it's relatively important, because it has a substantial impact on the look of all content on your phone. For example, if you're watching a video, people usually do not appear with a natural tone to their skin, but rather, they start looking like carrots - with an orange look, due to the overly-boosted color tones. Besides, everything has a bluish/greenish tint on it, because of the disbalance of colors. Another reason why you want the colors of your screens to be as close as those specified in the sRGB colorspace (that's what we mean by saying 'an accurate screen'), is that most content out there is created with this colorspace in mind, meaning that if you want content to look as intended, you need to have a screen that's as close as possible to the reference sRGB values.
The Galaxy S5's display isn't such a screen. Yeah, Samsung lets you choose between a number of screen presets, but each of them is more or less far from the target. The Standard mode provides that striking punchy effect, however, its color temperature is very high, suggesting an overall bluish look (color temperature of 8100 K). The Professional Photo mode will get you closest to an accurate and pleasing look with the GS5. With it enabled, color temperature drops to about 7200 K (6500 K being the reference point), while colors are no longer super-saturated (although they are still quite vivid). Sadly, the display keeps its greenish tint, which, as you can guess, isn't something to be happy about. The so-called Cinema mode dials things down just a bit more, making colors look calmer and a bit more ordinary, however, red gets too dim in this mode, rendering the screen somewhat lifeless and dull-looking. Even in this mode, Delta E (color error) is still quite high, at about 7 for grayscale and 5 for RGBCMY measurements, meaning that colors are still far from reality.
When it comes to overall color balance and accuracy, the iPhone 5s and Nexus 5 have the best screens around, with the iPhone 5s having a slightly better balance between primary and secondary colors, and the Nexus 5 exhibiting a more accurate color temperature. All other handsets participating in this comparison are far behind these two in this department.
Seemingly not as important as the other aspects that we examine in a screen, viewing angles are still an important factor for the user experience with a smartphone. It's simply annoying when things get washed out at the slightest tilt of your phone! Well, that's one area where AMOLED screens, such as the one on the Galaxy S5, are traditionally strong. The thing about them is that they keep their brightness and contrast to a large extent, which is not the case with LCDs, which get very dim and uncontrasty even at angles smaller than 45 degrees. On the other hand, colors in AMOLED screens typically get more degraded when viewed at an angle, but that's not such a big deal, having in mind that you actually have a perfectly viewable screen, even when viewing them at more extreme angles.
The superior viewing angles of the AMOLED screens of the Galaxy S5 and Galaxy Note 3 can be seen in the following image.
At the end of the day, we can conclude that while Samsung's Super AMOLED screens have come a long way since their debut, there's still much to ask for. If you simply love their extra-vivid and punchy nature - that's perfectly OK - no one can deny that they really look fancy and impressive. They also have the notable advantage of being able to display perfect black, which enables their attractive, contrasty look. On the other hand, though, the LCD tech's ability to replicate colors exactly as they are in reality is a whole other type of achievement, and one that should not be underestimated. It's the same with comparing a photograph that has some kind of an effect applied to it, versus a photo in its natural state. The effect will sometimes look cool, but not always, and definitely not when it's overdone.
So, when the Galaxy S5 came out, there was quite a bit of discussion about its screen and how much better it is than its previous generations. Sure, it's gotten better, but the improvement over the Note 3 isn't really that big. Most importantly, outdoor visibility is no longer such an issue, but yeah, the typical AMOLED problems continue to exist, namely the omnipresent oversaturation, out-of-control green, and lacking red. Hopefully, Samsung's going to keep enhancing AMOLED further and further, but until then, we just can't see it as a truly mature screen technology.
Meanwhile, the IPS LCD screens of the iPhone 5s and Nexus 5 are continue to be two of the very best displays to ever grace a phone.
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