DisplayMate: Super AMOLED vs. Retina Display

DisplayMate’s Dr. Raymond Soneira has taken five smartphone displays and took a very close look at their displays. The five are: Google Nexus One, Samsung Galaxy S, Apple iPhone 3GS, Motorola Droid, Apple iPhone 4. What interests me most is whether Samsung’s Super AMOLED display engineered using Nouvoyance’s PenTile Matrix technology is better than LG Display’s 3.5-inch IPS LCD Retina Display in Apple’s iPhone 4. Test results don’t lie or exaggerate like marketing folks so read on to find out, once and for all, which display really is the best.

The Retina Display:

The iPhone 4 display, nicknamed the Retina Display, is an outstanding “Super” LCD delivering top performance in many of our test categories – it has the brightest and sharpest display, but on the other hand its color gamut is too small, producing under saturated somewhat washed-out colors, and its image contrast is too high, which produces punchier images and also partially compensates for its smaller color gamut. These were most likely intentional tradeoffs made by Apple to increase screen brightness, power efficiency and battery run time.

The Retina Display earned DisplayMate’s Best Mobile Display Award for best all-around mobile display.

Image source: Akihabara News

The Super AMOLED:

While OLED is still a relatively young display technology that has not yet been perfected to the performance levels of the very best mature LCDs, the Galaxy S is already an impressive display for an upcoming and rapidly evolving technology…

Samsung’s Super AMOLED incorporating Nouvoyance’s PenTile Matrix technology earned DisplayMate’s Best New Mobile Display Technology.

OLED Technology In General:

Contrast Ratio is visually insignificant except under dark ambient lighting, which is seldom the case for mobile displays. While OLEDs love to flaunt their vivid colors and large color gamut, that produces gaudy and over saturated pictures – someday they will turn those down and get it right… While the iPhone 4’s sharpness is something of an overkill (it’s that high for App compatibility) the PenTile arrangement of the OLEDs has only two sub-pixels per pixel instead of the usual three, so it sometimes appears more pixilated than its stated resolution implies – it’s excellent for photographic images but is noticeably degraded for colored (red, blue and magenta) text and graphics.

The blacks in OLED displays are very dark but that becomes apparent only when you’re in low-light ambient environments. Most of the time your smartphone is out and about and that’s where the contrast advantage of OLEDs become less important. Color accuracy is also another consideration. If you love taking photographs you want the colors to look reasonably similar to what’s real and that’s where OLEDs get into trouble with their large color gamuts. OLED technology has come a long way in such a short time and the next iteration will no doubt be even better.

LCDs are currently more power efficient for brighter images and OLEDs are more efficient for darker images. But for typical web and app content, which typically use bright backgrounds, the power balance is still decisively in the favor of LCDs by more than 2 to 1 in our tests – again, that should change as OLEDs continue to improve…

Of course, if you’re a crazed movie buff who loves to watch movies on smartphones, you might be able to get more battery life out of your OLED smartphone than if you were surfing the net. The reason being that most movies are on average much darker than a typical website.

What’s So Super In Super AMOLED?

Samsung advertises that the Galaxy S Super OLEDs are 20 percent brighter and use 20 percent less power than “non-Super” OLEDs, and have a screen reflectance of just 4 percent, down from 20 percent for “non-Super” OLEDs. In our lab tests the Galaxy S has a screen reflectance of 4.4 percent, is 25 percent brighter and uses 21 percent less power than the “non-Super” OLED in the Google Nexus One – meeting or exceeding all of Samsung’s specs. Particularly impressive is the very low screen reflectance, which is among the lowest we have ever measured – outdoors it can have a significant impact on screen visibility.

I’m glad to see companies getting honest about specifications. The new Super AMOLED display really is superior to the old AMOLED display found in the Google Nexus One. Screen reflectance on the Super AMOLED was found to be lower than the Retina Display, a big win for Samsung.

How Much Better Is The Retina Display Over The Non-Retina?

It has double the resolution, a 26 percent brighter screen, 24 percent lower screen reflectance, and 64 percent greater contrast under bright ambient light, plus it has 8 times the contrast under dim ambient light.

The iPhone 3GS has very low image contrast, which adds to the display’s washed-out appearance. The iPhone 4 has gone to the other extreme and has too much image contrast, which gives its images a punchier look and also partially compensates for its smaller color gamut. Lastly, the iPhone 4 display consumes only half the power of the iPhone 3GS display.

The Retina Display is better than the displays found on previous iPhones in almost every way, except for one: the color gamut. The color gamut sucks on the iPhone (too low) for precisely the opposite reason why the color gamut sucks on AMOLED displays (too high). I’m certain one of the two parties will get it soon.

Image source: Wired

Motorola Droid Remains Number One:

The original Droid, launched in October 2009, remains the number one smartphone in terms of overall picture quality and accuracy, close to what you see in a calibrated studio monitor and actually better than most living room HDTVs – just a lot smaller, but still impressive none-the-less.

Yes, quite impressive. If you want the smartphone with the best overall picture quality it is the original Motorola Droid thanks to the 3.7-inch 854×480 16:9 IPS LCD. Amazingly, there’s also a very good chance that it is better than the HDTV in your living room! And that’s why the Motorola Droid earned the Best Mobile Picture Quality Award by DisplayMate.

So, Which One Is The Best?

There is no decisive winner as each of the three “Super” displays significantly outperforms the others in more than one important area and significantly underperforms in other areas. The iPhone 4 by far has the brightest and sharpest display and is the most power efficient of the displays. The Motorola Droid by far has the best picture quality and accuracy. The Samsung Galaxy S by far has the lowest screen reflectance and largest Contrast for both bright and dark ambient lighting, and the best viewing angles. On the flip side, the iPhone 4 has a weak color gamut and viewing angles, the Motorola Droid has weak screen reflectance and viewing angles, and the Samsung Galaxy S has lower brightness, excessive color saturation, higher power consumption and some sharpness issues.

Buttucks. There’s no real winner, but you get to pick from three really great displays depending on what you prefer. If black is your thing get the Super AMOLED. If the number of pixels get you excited then you can’t go wrong with the Retina Display in the iPhone 4. If it’s all about color accuracy then the Motorola Droid is calling your name. For a lot of numbers and a more detailed explanation hop on over to DisplayMate.