Display

We wrote about how we suspected that SGS4 would go to a 5-inch 1080p SAMOLED display just after CES. Turns out that was spot on, as the SGS4 includes a 5-inch 1080p Full HD SAMOLED panel, the latest in Samsung's AMOLED roadmap. Samsung's naming stays true, and there's no Plus tacked on at the end, so we get another non-RGB stripe subpixel geometry with SGS4. The last few Samsung AMOLED variants we've seen have had different subpixel grids, and the one on the SGS4 is possibly the most interesting to date. There's still a bias toward more green subpixels than blue or red, this isn't an RGB stripe at all, but instead of the previous RG,BG layout we see this offset pattern with green on one line, then blue and red on another line. Interestingly enough the blue subpixel appears to be a square, and red and green appear to be circles, with the difference in area possibly offsetting the luminous efficiency of each material. Whatever the reason (Samsung has never been official or forthcoming any of these subpixel patterns each time they've changed them) it's present on the SGS4. 


At this size however I have to admit that I find the pursuit of the subpixel geometry more of an educational one than something which affects users. While I could occasionally see it on the SGS3, I definitely do not see it on SGS4. The subpixels are now small enough that whatever the pattern, it all looks like a homogenous light-emitting surface, which was the goal after all. I could bring up the visual acuity discussion again but just trust me that it's small enough to not be visible even with actually perfect (not legally perfect, which is different) vision. 

So resolution is great and up to par with all the other LCD-bearing flagships this year, lack of RGB stripe notwithstanding. There's that remaining question about brightness, contrast, outdoor visibility, and of course calibration and the saturation issue that has persisted with AMOLED from generation to generation. 

On the brightness front, the SGS4 includes dynamic contrast functions that cannot be disabled and change as a function of what is being displayed. There's an "auto adjust screen tone" checkbox under display but don't let that fool you, that doesn't disable dynamic contrast, just white point. Under screen mode are the mDNIe toggles we've seen on countless other previous Samsung Android phones with AMOLED panels, only here we notice something interesting. There have always been four toggles as long as this option has existed, only what's different is now, one of them is named "Professional photo." Reviews of other regional variants of the SGS4 have included the same button but marked "Adobe RGB." Oddly enough it seems that the North American versions at least have this renamed for some reason, but undoubtedly the function is the same. Many speculated that this is now a toggle for some full CMS (Color Management System) which "fixes" the inherent color space issues with AMOLED and oversaturation that occurs when looking at sRGB content on such devices. Unfortunately, I can confirm that my initial suspicions that this is just a continuation of the mDNIe (lite) settings from previous generation is in fact correct. I reverse engineered what I could of these settings from both kernel messages while changing the toggles, and looking at the kernel sources. Turns out that 'Professional photo' mode is actually the 'Natural' mode renamed from previous versions. 

So the question was whether the color space or white point actually does change with this mode enabled. I ran the SGS4 through our display tests in each of the modes and think the full color space plot tells the story. The sanest of them all really ends up being the strangely-named 'Movie' mode. Professional photo gives the big gamut with a white point closer to 'Movie,' which is to say around 7000K, but it doesn't fundamentally change the still-present oversaturation or color management issue that exists in Android with these wide gamut displays. Most users admittedly don't care however and just see "bright" colors. Theres' an Auto mode as well which the device ships with that basically has a matrix of mDNIe settings for targeted applications (for example the Gallery, Browser, Video playback) and so forth get settings, which you can see in the kernel.

CalMAN Display Comparison
Metric iPhone 5 iPhone 4S HTC One X SGS3 Samsung Galaxy Note 2 Google Nexus 4 HTC Droid DNA HTC One SGS4
Grayscale 200nits Avg dE2000 3.564 6.162 6.609 4.578 5.867 7.686 6.738 5.391 7.511
CCT Avg (K) 6925 7171 5944 6809 7109 8506 8108 8118 7020
Saturation Sweep Avg dE2000 3.591 8.787 5.066 5.460 7.986 8.517 5.856 3.365 7.823
GMB ColorChecker Avg dE2000 4.747 6.328 6.963 7.322 8.185 7.531 6.687 4.656 7.440

In the "Movie" mode things are better controlled than the Note 2 on the GMB color checker card test, which is the most important one for me. White point is also no longer the crazy 8000K that we saw before, 7000K is commendable for Samsung at this point. Keep in mind that maximum brightness changes in each mode as well as we effectively clamp things, I measured a maximum of 319 nits in Dynamic mode, 311 nits in Movie mode, and 255 nits in Standard, for example.

 

Running the display at maximum brightness for too long will also get you into an overheating or thermal protection mode as well, which we've seen on countless other AMOLED variants. Most of the time I suspect users will run on Auto brightness however which keeps brightness down to a much lower level to save battery and prevent that from becoming a problem. 


 

 


Because "Movie" was the closest to sRGB of all the modes, I selected it for the actual results that I'll present in the table. Admittedly this mode does tighten things up a bit, but it still isn't perfect and I'd still like to see Samsung do something to reign this in at some point. 

 

Camera and Video Analysis Final Words
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  • airspoon - Sunday, June 23, 2013 - link

    Believe it or not, some people actually do consider phones to be a fashion accessory -obviously, because that is what the guy is saying. He is telling you that he does, in fact, consider a phone to be a fashion accessory. I happen to agree with you that it is silly and function before form is certainly motto for smartphones, but unless the guy is your employee then it shouldn't matter to you how he chooses his phone. It's one thing to argue OUR opinion that function beats form in the phone department, but you can't really make a reasonable argument that HIS phone is not a fashion accessory.

    With that said, the function of a non-unibody plastic chassis beats the form of a unibody aluminum chassis any day. Not because it may or may not provide increased sturdiness or less weight, but rather because it allows you crucial access to the battery compartment and storage I/O. Obviously, a unibody chassis cannot provide said access and a non-unibody aluminum chassis would be far too bulky and a lot less sturdy. In fact, a non-unibody aluminum chassis is simply not feasible in a premium phone worth anything. The fact that I can remove or replace the battery and add an SD card is well worth the plastic to me (and I'm sure the vast majority of S4 owners). The benefits of plastic far outweigh any perceived drawbacks. However, those who choose phones based SOLELY on its fashion statement rather than functionality -would obviously prefer the unibody aluminum (as it does arguable look and feel better). Personally, I like the look and feel of the unibody aluminum shells and if the plastic body of the S4 didn't offer the tremendous functional advantages that it does, then I would much prefer an aluminum unibody. However, the ratio of function to form of the S4's plastic non-unibody chassis makes it a "no-brainer" in my opinion. I sure hope Samsung doesn't cave in to the pressure and go aluminum unibody in the S5 to appease the vanity seeking consumers because Samsung would have to sacrifice major function to do so. I like being able to instantly add 64 gigs of storage in an interchangeable medium. I like being able to carry around a spare battery and not have to worry about carrying around a USB cable and looking for a usable plug when I'm traveling or out on the town. I like the peace-of-mind in knowing that the life expectancy of my phone is not dependent on the cheapest commodity batteries that the telecom company could secure. To me, that is well worth the plastic non-unibody design. Again, the function far outweighs the form -even for those who value form.
    Reply
  • speculatrix - Sunday, April 28, 2013 - link

    I'm a form-follows-function person but I agree with Upspin

    If you're paying quite a few hundred for a phone then you want it made of premium materials and to not be ugly.

    Provided the style and materials don't affect performance, which the iphone4 suffered.

    I have a note 2 and would prefer if it had more metal in the outer frame to make it tougher. But I am pretty sure RF performance would suffer if it was totally metal backed.
    Reply
  • danbob999 - Monday, April 29, 2013 - link

    Metal wouldn't make it tougher. Nobody change its phone because the plastic broke. People change phone because it is too old or because the display is broken.
    You want metal either because you think it looks better, or because it will look more expensive and you want people to know you have an expensive phone.
    Reply
  • patlak - Saturday, May 18, 2013 - link

    So, all these people that buy Mercedes and BMW are dumb? Why should they cash out 20 grand extra when they can just buy a Kia that provides the same functionality as a car, but also with similar engine power and capacity for much much less. Since you sit inside the car all the time, just like your phone sits in the pocket, why would you bother with the premium look. Reply
  • TedKord - Thursday, May 02, 2013 - link

    There's nothing wrong with desiring a product look the way you prefer. But using the glasses analogy, which would you buy? The really stylish pair that doesn't fit your head/nose and only corrects your vision to 20/50, or the ugly pair that fits perfectly and gives you 20/20?

    I know there are more choices, this is just an example to fit the current discussion. I love the HTC One (especially the front speakers), but I'd have to choose the Galaxy S4 (if I really needed a phone right now). The microsd slot and swappable battery are important to me, and Samsung is much better at updates and releasing source for devs. I choose function over form.

    Now, I really wish HTC would at least add the built in kickstand back in. That was a great little touch they had for a while.
    Reply
  • dyc4ha - Wednesday, April 24, 2013 - link

    lol look at all the designer labels, appearance matters in real life I assure you. Reply
  • MrSpadge - Thursday, April 25, 2013 - link

    He didn't say he would. Reply
  • Reikon - Wednesday, April 24, 2013 - link

    Is it that hard to realize that a lot people don't actually use cases for their phones? Reply
  • darwinosx - Wednesday, April 24, 2013 - link

    I never use a case. Lots of people don't. Quit making excuses for Samsungs cheapness. Reply
  • Notmyusualid - Wednesday, April 24, 2013 - link

    Exactly - mine won't see a case at all.

    I wanted to hold out for my removable battery & SD slot, but since my SGS2 had such poor audio, (thus meaning I often missed calls in a noisy communications / server environment), I gave in, and my new HTC One will arrive tomorrow.

    I might have lived with the plastic though, I had no case on my SGS2, and loved how light it was.

    A 4" version of either the SGS4 or HTC One with no skimping on internals would have me jumping for joy though...
    Reply

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