Screen comparison: iPhone 6 vs Galaxy S5 vs G3 vs One (M8) vs iPhone 5s
Whenever a new major flagship smartphone comes out, we tend to stage an in-depth screen comparison in order to determine if the manufacturer has managed to leapfrog the stiff competition in this all so important aspect. Of course, the just-released Apple iPhone 6 is major enough to justify a new screen comparison, especially since Apple prides itself in producing some of the very best displays in the industry.
So here's how this is going to go down. We'll be examining all essential components of the phones' displays, including brightness and outdoor visibility, color quality, and resolution. There will be images in each section, illustrating the devices' performances, and in the color quality part, we'll also be taking a look at our extensive display benchmark data in order to figure out which mobile display currently brings the most accurate and pleasing image quality, and, naturally, the place of the iPhone 6 in the whole picture. Last year's iPhone 5s had one of the best all-around displays – a true benchmark for the industry, so you can imagine how interesting it'll be to see if Apple has managed to surpass its own effort with the iPhone 6. Let's hope that it has, because... you know, things have to keep moving forward.
Brightness and visibility
We thought the small size of the iPhone 5s' screen had a hand in it achieving that impressive brightness output of 580 nits, but it turns out this wasn't so, because the iPhone 6's screen is now way bigger, but can actually reach the spectacular 600 nits! That's one truly enviable brightness output, however, we've found out that the screen actually appears just a notch dimmer than that of the 5s, when viewed under bright sunlight. We can't be sure if it's due to slightly worse reflectivity or something else, but the fact is that even with a stronger brightness output, the iPhone 6 remains just ever so slightly dimmer outdoors, compared to its predecessor. Nevertheless, 600 nits are 600 nits, so the brightness of Apple's latest gadget is still to be considered top-notch, especially when it can hardly be challenged by most of the high-end Android smartphones out there.
The volatile Galaxy S5, however, reminds us that it still packs quite a punch. It can consistently reach about 450 nits when displaying pure white, but its brightness actually goes up when there are darker areas in the screen (i.e. when it's not perfectly white), and as you can imagine, most content does include items of wildly varying colors, so more often than not, the Galaxy S5's image manages to surpass the 500 nits mark. When outdoors, the Galaxy S5 tends to be ever so slightly easier to view than the iPhone 6, and on par with the iPhone 5s. Trailing behind these three are the HTC One (M8) (490 nits) and the LG G3 (455 nits). The HTC manages to trump its LG counterpart, but remains slightly behind the top three.
After the iPhone 5s' terrific characteristics in terms of screen quality, we were hopeful that the iPhone 6 will push things even further with its 4.7” display. Sadly, we can't say that this is what happened in reality.
When we first reviewed the iPhone 5s a year ago, we measured a color temperature of 7150 K. However, displays obviously have the tendency to alter their colors slowly over time, which has shifted the color temperature of the 5s to 7350 K over the course of one year (hopefully the rate of alteration will be getting much slower going forward), which is still fine, although definitely not ideal (the ideal display color temperature is considered to be 6500 Kelvin). Putting the brand new iPhone 6 through our extensive display tests, we have to say that we're slightly disappointed to find that it doesn't improve upon the offering of the 5s when it was new – the iPhone 6's color temp is ~7150 K. Don't get us wrong – that's still among the best out there, but the nerds in us would have been much more satisfied if that figure was sub 7000 K. Just to make things clear for everyone, having a color temperature higher than 6500 K means that the display will have more intensive blue colors, compared to its red colors. In other words, in the case of the iPhone 6, it will appear slightly bluish, or cold, in comparison with what's considered the reference value.
So, let's see what the competition brings to the table. Being the most prominent rival of all, the Galaxy S5's AMOLED screen is notorious for its polarizing color reproduction. On one hand, there are many users in love with its ultra-vivid colors, but on the other, it wouldn't be an overstatement to say that more often than not, those same colors are simply wrong – way off from target. Indeed, as we're examining the Galaxy S5's display in its Standard mode, the temperature gets to the excessive 8100 K. Having in mind that color temperature is a metric that exclusively deals with the balance between blue and red, one may think that the problem for the Galaxy S5's display is simply its overly-intensive blue. However, it also suffers from excessive green, which casts an unpleasant tint over all color tones, making them look as if you're viewing them from some kind of a filter. The amount of color error in the Galaxy S5's screen is much higher than those in the iPhone 6 and 5s, as seen in its fairly high Delta E values (Delta E greyscale of 7.38, and Delta E rgbcmy of 5.08). In comparison, those numbers stand at 3 and 3.51, respectively, for the iPhone 6 (when it comes to Delta E, lower is better). Sadly, things don't get much better with the S5's other display modes, but if you're willing to learn about how its screen looks with the different screen modes activated, be sure to read this article of ours.
Meanwhile, the LG G3's gargantuan 5.5” screen isn't bad at all. It's definitely much more accurate than that of the Galaxy S5, though there are certain practices LG has employed in its calibration that prevent it from successfully competing for the top. Namely, there's been some artificial oversaturation done to the screen, which aims to make colors more punchy. Whether or not the effect enhances the actual color quality, or ruins it, is mostly subjective, so everyone will have to decide for themselves. The HTC One (M8) is a bit less tense in this respect – colors are not so exaggerated, though they still tend to be over their standard values.
For a smartphone, it's extremely important that the screen has a very high resolution, so that all the little thingies that pop up on it can be viewed in a comfortable manner. Indeed, fuzzy fonts and jagged edges are far from ideal when one's reading a lengthy article or playing a game on a phone, and that's why manufacturers have made substantial efforts to pack more and more pixels into these lovely, but relatively small panels. When we're talking about resolution, though, the resolution itself isn't the only important factor. It's the combination of resolution and screen size that gives us an idea of how fine things are going to look on a particular display. The metric we use to measure this is pixel density (measured in ppi, or pixels-per-inch). Beginning with the iPhone 4, all the way to the new iPhone 6, the pixel density of Apple's smartphones has been 326 ppi. That's mighty fine, and some might argue that there isn't much use in going north of that number, but nonetheless, Android phone manufacturers have been pushing higher pixel densities en masse. The Galaxy S5's 5.1” screen, for example, has a resolution of 1080 x 1920 pixels, which results in the spectacular pixel density of 432 ppi. That means things will look even cleaner than those on the iPhone 6's screen, but since the iPhone 6 already has a very high pixel density, the total difference in clarity isn't that substantial.
Easily the most intriguing participant in this category is the LG G3, because it's equipped with the overly generous Quad HD resolution, or 1440 x 2560 pixels. Spread across the phone's 5.5 inches of screen, this makes for a pixel density of 538 ppi. We know what you're wondering – isn't that a bit too much? Well, all signs until now show that there are quite a few unneeded pixels in that screen, especially when one factors in their negative effect on performance and battery life.
At the end of the day, all smartphones that we're examining here have more than sufficient resolution. Those devices with 1080p res and up do offer a slightly cleaner image, but the practical differences are so small, it makes us wonder if the performance and battery trade-off isn't too big. Still, it's unlikely that manufacturers will tone things down in the future, so it looks like ultra-high resolutions is where we're heading. For the time being, though, the iPhone 6's 750 x 1334 pixels will be more than enough.
Close-up shot of the screens' pixel layouts
What we're looking forward to now is the upcoming crop of Android flagships, because it'll be interesting to see if they have managed to produce big displays of even higher quality.
For now, that's what we'll be dealing with, and, as you can see from the scores below, most offerings on the market are great, and pretty close to each other. But there's still room for improvement.