The iPhone 5 has been the most anticipated mobile device of 2012 together with its cousin the iPad Mini, which we expect to be seeing shortly. Apple has made displays their most prominent marketing feature because it determines the quality of the visual experience for everything on a smartphone or tablet—including apps, web content, photos, videos, and its camera. The retina displays on the iPhone 4 and the new iPad were significant advancements—not just in sharpness but in picture quality and color accuracy, which is what provides the display's real wow factor.
So how good is the display on the iPhone 5? There has been an incredible increase in competition since the introduction of the iPhone 4 in 2010: displays have gotten a lot bigger (possibly too big), more manufacturers are using similar high-end IPS LCDs like Apple, and many smartphones are using the latest OLED displays manufactured by Samsung—with the Samsung Galaxy S III as the premier flagship product.
Dr. Raymond Soneira of DisplayMate Technologies has made it his mission to suss out the best smartphone, tablet, HDTV, and multimedia displays from the worst with his Display Technology Shoot-Out series. Here, the iPhone 5 and Samsung Galaxy S III fight.
First we'll compare the display on the iPhone 5 to the iPhone 4 to see if it is indeed much better, which could be an important factor for those considering whether to upgrade. Then we'll compare the iPhone 5 to its primary competitor, the Samsung Galaxy S III, and we'll also see how well it compares to the outstanding display on the new iPad.
To compare the performance of the Apple iPhone 5 and Samsung Galaxy S III we ran our in-depth series of Mobile Display Technology Shoot-Out tests on them. We also included the iPhone 4 in order to determine how the display on the iPhone 5 has been improved. We take display quality very seriously and provide in-depth objective analysis side-by-side comparisons based on detailed laboratory measurements and extensive viewing tests with both test patterns and test images. To see how far smartphones have progressed in just two years see our 2010 Smartphone Display Shoot-Out, and for a real history lesson see our original 2006 Smartphone Display Shoot-Out.
In this results section we provide highlights of the comprehensive lab measurements and extensive side-by-side visual comparisons using test photos, test images and test patterns that are presented in later sections. The comparison table in the following section summarizes the lab measurements in the following categories: Screen Reflections, Brightness and Contrast, Colors and Intensities, Viewing Angles, Display Power Consumption, Running Time on Battery. You can also skip the highlights and go directly to the conclusions.
Comparing the Displays on the iPhone 4 and iPhone 5:
The display on the iPhone 5 is a significant improvement over the display on the iPhone 4. Apple has uncharacteristically understated how much better the display is on the iPhone 5—something that could be an important factor for those considering whether to upgrade. In every category that we measure (except brightness decrease with viewing angle), the performance of the iPhone 5 display has improved over the iPhone 4, sometimes by a bit and sometimes by a lot. Everyone knows about the 18 percent increase in screen area, but here are 3 major display enhancements on the iPhone 5 that we will discuss in detail below:
Screen reflectance on the iPhone 5 has decreased substantially—the iPhone 4 has 52 percent brighter reflections than the iPhone 5. This means you won't be distracted as much by reflections that appear on the screen. The iPhone 5 has among the lowest reflectance values we have ever measured on a mobile device.
The iPhone 5 has the highest contrast rating for high ambient light for any mobile device we have ever tested, and it's 57 percent higher than the iPhone 4. This means screen readability in bright ambient lighting has improved substantially—both the image colors and contrast won't appear as washed out outdoors as on other smartphones, including the iPhone 4.
The color quality and color accuracy have improved substantially. The iPhone 5 received a color gamut and factory display calibration upgrade similar to the new iPad. While it's not quite as accurate as the excellent calibration on the new iPad, it is still very good and probably more accurate than any consumer display you own (including your HDTV), unless you have a new iPad.
The iPhone 5 Display:
It's still a retina display with 326 pixels per inch and with a resolution of 1136x640 pixels. We were hoping for 1280x720, which is standard high definition HD, but presumably that will be for the iPhone 6. That's not a disappointment, just a wish list... Based on our extensive lab measurements, the iPhone 5 has a true state-of-the-art display—it's not perfect and there is plenty of room for improvements (and competitors) but it's the best smartphone display we have tested to date.
We'll examine the iPhone 5 display in detail below, but here are the highlights: it is the brightest smartphone we have tested in the Shoot-Out series, it has one of the lowest screen reflectance values we have ever measured, it has the highest contrast Rating for High Ambient Light for any mobile device we have ever tested, and it's color gamut and factory calibration are second only to the new iPad. What are the downsides? The white point is still somewhat too blue like most smartphones, and at maximum brightness it has a shorter running time than the iPhone 4, which is not surprising since it has a larger screen and a larger color gamut but roughly the same capacity battery.
The Galaxy S III Display:
Samsung also features their displays when marketing smartphones, but they have taken a very different approach—they are using Samsung's own OLED displays, a new and rapidly evolving display technology that is very different from LCDs, with its own particular set of advantages and disadvantages. It's a new technology that attracts early adopters, but it has not yet been refined to the same degree as LCDs, which have been mainstream for over 20 years. It's clear that OLEDs in the near future will do to LCDs what LCDs did to CRTs, but we are not there yet. So OLEDs have a number of rough spots that show up clearly in our objective Lab testing.
We'll examine the OLED Galaxy S III display in detail below, but here are the Highlights: the brightness is about half of the iPhone 5 due to power limits from the lower power efficiency of OLEDs and concerns regarding premature OLED aging. The color gamut is not only much larger than the standard color gamut, which leads to distorted and exaggerated colors, but the color gamut is quite lopsided, with green being a lot more saturated than red or blue, which adds a green color caste to many images. Samsung has not bothered to correct or calibrate their display colors to bring them into closer agreement with the standard sRGB / Rec.709 color gamut, so many images appear over saturated and gaudy. Running time on battery is less than the iPhone 5 due to the lower power efficiency of OLEDs, even given that the Galaxy S III has a much larger battery capacity and much lower brightness.
The Galaxy S III has a PenTile OLED display, which has only half of the number of red and blue sub-pixels as in standard RGB displays, like those on the iPhones. The eye's resolution for color image detail is lower, so this works well for photographic and video image content, but NOT for computer generated colored text and fine graphics because it produces visible pixelation, moire, and other very visible artifacts, so a PenTile display is not as sharp as its pixel resolution and PPI would indicate. PenTile technology does have advantages in manufacturing, aging and cost. For a more detailed analysis see our Samsung Galaxy S OLED Display Technology Shoot-Out.
Color Gamut and Color Accuracy:
While the display PPI and pixel resolution seem to get most of the attention, it is the display's color gamut together with the factory display calibration that play the most important role in determining the wow factor and true picture quality and color accuracy of a display. The color gamut is the range of colors that a display can produce. If you want to see accurate colors in photos, videos, and all standard consumer content the display needs to closely match the standard color gamut that was used to produce the content, which is called sRGB / Rec.709. A display with a larger color gamut cannot show colors that are not in the original content - it just exaggerates and distorts the colors. Most of the recent generation LCD Smartphones have color gamuts around 60 percent of the standard gamut, which produces somewhat subdued colors. The iPhone 4 has a 64 percent color gamut, but the new iPad pulled way ahead and has a virtually perfect 99 percent of the standard color gamut. The iPhone 5 has an almost identical color gamut to the new iPad and the viewing tests confirm its excellent color accuracy.
While Apple has clearly made a big effort in getting the color gamut very accurate for the new iPad and iPhone 5, Samsung has not bothered to calibrate the color gamut on any of its OLED displays, so they are wildly inaccurate and produce inaccurate and over saturated colors. The Color Gamut is not only much larger than the standard color gamut, which leads to distorted and exaggerated colors, but its color gamut is quite lopsided, with green being a lot more saturated than either red or blue, which adds a green color caste to many images. The viewing tests bear this out. Compare the color gamuts in this Figure and below.
Using our extensive library of challenging test and calibration photos, we compared the smartphones to a calibrated professional studio monitor and to the new iPad, which has a virtually perfect factory calibration and color gamut. As expected from the lab measurements, the iPhone 5 produced beautiful picture quality, much better than the iPhone 4, which has a much smaller color gamut, and comparable to the new iPad, but with slightly greater image contrast and color saturation due to its steeper intensity scale and larger gamma. See these color gamut and Intensity Scale figures for details and explanations.
But what really impressed me was that all of the photos and their colors on both the iPhone 5 and new iPad appeared virtually identical. You never see that in any consumer product unless it has been professionally calibrated (with varying degrees of success). So if you switch devices or share photos and content with friends and family you know that they will be seeing exactly what you are seeing.
The color gamut of the Galaxy S III is significantly larger than the standard color gamut so it produces over saturated colors that can appear comic book like and gaudy in some instances. Photos appear with way too much color. It's similar to turning the color control way up on your HDTV. If the images have relatively low color saturation to begin with then they look more vibrant but not objectionable. However, if the images have vibrant colors to begin with, like a fire engine, then the images can be visually painful to look at. When compared side-by-side to the accurately calibrated iPhone 5 and new iPad, the Galaxy S III looked gaudy.
Screen Reflectance and High Ambient Lighting:
The screens on almost all smartphones and tablets are mirrors good enough to use for personal grooming. Even in moderate ambient lighting the image contrast and colors can noticeably degrade from ambient light reflected by the screen, including objects like your face and any bright lighting behind you. So low reflectance is very important in determining real world picture quality. This article has screen shots of how images degrade in bright ambient lighting. The iPhone 5 has the highest contrast rating for high ambient light for any mobile device we have ever tested. Because of its low screen brightness the Galaxy S III has a much poorer contrast rating and screen visibility in bright ambient light.
The Rumored Apple Television?
If you have ever walked into Walmart or Best Buy and compared the multitude of HDTVs you know that every single TV produces a different looking picture (and they are all inaccurate). So why should Apple introduce its own Apple Television with an actual TV screen as opposed to just relying on an Apple TV streaming box connected to any TV? Because existing TVs are poorly calibrated and produce inaccurate and inconsistent colors and images that will be poor matches to Apple's own accurately calibrated iPhones and iPads. The best solution will be for Apple to manufacture its own television with the same accurate calibration as its other displays. Consumers will love the fact that everything including their personal photos, TV shows, movies, and videos will all look exactly the same on all Apple devices.
Smartphone displays are continuing their rapid evolution in performance. Apple has again taken the lead in methodical refinements and factory calibration that are necessary to produce accurate very high picture quality. Based on our extensive lab measurements the iPhone 5 has a true state-of-the-art accurate display—it's not perfect and there is plenty of room for improvements (and competitors) but it is the best smartphone display we have seen to date based on extensive lab measurements and viewing tests. In particular it is a significant improvement over the display in the iPhone 4 with much lower screen reflections, much higher image contrast and screen readability in high ambient lighting (the highest we have ever measured), and a significantly improved and accurate color gamut and factory calibration that delivers very accurate colors and very good picture quality. While it's not quite as accurate as the new iPad, it is still probably more accurate than any consumer display you own (including your HDTV), unless you have a new iPad.
The display on the Samsung Galaxy S III uses OLED technology. It's a new technology that has not yet been refined to the same degree as LCDs, particularly the IPS LCDs on the iPhones, so it doesn't objectively test or perform as well as the iPhone 5. But OLEDs have been evolving and improving very rapidly as shown in our OLED Display Technology Shoot-Out so it has a very promising future. Here are the biggest issues we found in our extensive lab measurements and viewing tests of the Galaxy S III: the brightness is about half of the iPhone 5 due to power constraints resulting from the lower OLED power efficiency and concerns regarding premature OLED aging. As a result the image contrast and screen readability in high ambient lighting is much poorer than the iPhone 5. The color gamut is not only much larger than the standard color gamut, which leads to distorted and exaggerated colors, but the gamut is quite lopsided, with green being a lot more saturated than either red or blue, which adds a green color caste to many images. And for some reason Samsung has not bothered to calibrate the color gamut on any of its OLED displays, so they are wildly inaccurate and produce inaccurate and over saturated colors.
Suggestions for Apple: Keep up the good work in improving picture quality through accurate display calibration! To produce a better display please don't make the White Point Color Temperature so blue—it's the only significant calibration flaw and it gives some images a bit of a cold bluish caste. The Intensity Scale on the iPhone 5 should be changed to match the excellent calibration of the new iPad. Finally, consumers have varying tastes in color saturation and image contrast—why not give displays the equivalent of an audio equalizer to let everyone adjust the display to their own personal visual preferences?
Suggestions for Samsung: Keep up the good work in improving OLED displays! To produce a better OLED Smartphone, use a smaller size display (that uses less power), add a bigger battery to increase the screen brightness and running time on battery, and most all—please calibrate the display so that its color gamut matches the standard color gamut and the display delivers accurate rather than distorted, exaggerated, and gaudy colors!
Suggestions for all manufacturers: There is still plenty of room for improvement. See the new iPad shoot-out conclusion for a discussion of the many improvements that are needed for the next generation of Smartphone and Tablet displays.
All Smartphone and Tablets displays can be significantly improved using DisplayMate's advanced scientific analysis and mathematical display modeling and optimization of the display hardware, factory calibration, and driver parameters. We help manufacturers with expert display procurement and quality control so they don't make mistakes similar to those that are exposed in our Display Technology Shoot-Out series. We can also improve the performance of any specified set of display parameters. This article is a lite version of our intensive scientific analysis—before the benefits of our DisplayMate Display Optimization Technology, which can correct or improve all of these issues. If you are a display or product manufacturer and want to significantly improve display performance for a competitive advantage then Contact DisplayMate Technologies.
We also compare the displays on the Apple iPhone 5 and Samsung Galaxy S III together with the iPhone 4 based on objective measurement data and criteria. Note that the tested Smartphones were purchased independently by DisplayMate Technologies through standard retail channels.
For additional background and information see the iPad Retina Display Technology Shoot-Out article that compares and analyzes the new iPad, the iPad 2, and iPhone 4, and the Samsung Galaxy S OLED Display Technology Shoot-Out that compares and analyzes the evolution of the OLED displays on the Galaxy S I, II, and III and compares and analyzes PenTile displays compared to standard RGB displays.
This article has been republished with permission from DisplayMate.com, where it can be read in its entirety.
About the Author
Dr. Raymond Soneira is President of DisplayMate Technologies Corporation of Amherst, New Hampshire, which produces video calibration, evaluation, and diagnostic products for consumers, technicians, and manufacturers. See www.displaymate.com. He is a research scientist with a career that spans physics, computer science, and television system design. Dr. Soneira obtained his Ph.D. in Theoretical Physics from Princeton University, spent 5 years as a Long-Term Member of the world famous Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, another 5 years as a Principal Investigator in the Computer Systems Research Laboratory at AT&T Bell Laboratories, and has also designed, tested, and installed color television broadcast equipment for the CBS Television Network Engineering and Development Department. He has authored over 35 research articles in scientific journals in physics and computer science, including Scientific American. If you have any comments or questions about the article, you can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About DisplayMate Technologies
DisplayMate Technologies specializes in advanced mathematical display technology optimizations and precision analytical scientific display diagnostics and calibrations to deliver outstanding image and picture quality and accuracy – while increasing the effective visual Contrast Ratio of the display and producing a higher calibrated brightness than is achievable with traditional calibration methods. This also decreases display power requirements and increases the battery run time in mobile displays. This article is a lite version of our intensive scientific analysis of smartphone and mobile displays – before the benefits of our advanced mathematical DisplayMate Display Optimization Technology, which can correct or improve many of the deficiencies – including higher calibrated brightness, power efficiency, effective screen contrast, picture quality and color and gray scale accuracy under both bright and dim ambient light, and much more. Our advanced scientific optimizations can make lower cost panels look as good or better than more expensive higher performance displays. For more information on our technology see the Summary description of our Adaptive Variable Metric Display Optimizer AVDO. If you are a display or product manufacturer and want our expertise and technology to turn your display into a spectacular one to surpass your competition then Contact DisplayMate Technologies to learn more.