When Samsung first announced it would adopt OLED displays for its Galaxy line of smartphones, the response from reviewers and users wasn’t always. Samsung’s color gamuts were often far broader than the competition, but its displays tended to be dimmer and the hyperinflated color gamut didn’t appeal to everyone. Little by little, Samsung’s successive iterations of the technology have transformed it from an also-ran into the best display technology available today as ranked by DisplayMate.
According to Dr. Raymond Soneira, the Galaxy Note 5 takes over the role of best smartphone display on the market from the Galaxy Note 4. Note: The Galaxy Note 5 and the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge+ use the same display panel, so anything that applies to one screen in this write-up can be assumed to apply to the other. Color accuracy on the display is excellent, as are the screen brightness levels in ambient light (this has historically been a known weakness of the Galaxy and Note families).
Samsung first deployed OLED displays with a PenTile configuration, but these were criticized for offering double the resolution on green pixels as they did for red and blue. What this meant in real terms was that while green gradients looked “Retina” class, other colors showed individual pixels. That problem has largely vanished with the latest generation of Diamond Pixel displays; even the Galaxy Note 5’s red and blue pixels hit 366 sub-pixels per square-inch, while green pixels are up to 518. In short, Samsung has improved on the Galaxy Note 4 at every level and built an OLED display that rivals or surpasses even the iPhone 6. That’s significant, because LCDs have typically outperformed OLEDs in at least several capabilities ever since the two technologies debuted against each other.
Power efficiency, in particular, is worth a look.
The first two comparisons give the display’s power consumption in absolute terms without accounting for screen size, while the third option calculates power consumption for the display after it’s been normalized for brightness and size against the Galaxy Note 4. Overall efficiency improves by 21% at the same brightness level. Elsewhere, Dr. Soneira notes that the Galaxy Note 5 is 37% more efficient than the iPhone 6 Plus in displaying mixed content is the total image is 50% or less of the Average Picture Level. This is defined as the average brightness across the entire panel. At 67% or more average picture level, LCD technology still has an advantage — but how many of us use applications or programs that coat more than 67% of the display in white backgrounds?
Display quality is just one of the reasons that people buy smartphones, but up until now, it’s been possible to argue that the iPhone 6 and Samsung devices emphasized excellence in different ways as opposed to having one panel be better than anything else. With the launch of the Galaxy Note 5, that may not be true — we’ll have to wait and see what Apple unveils in September to know for certain. Whether the Note 5 actually fits your use-cases better than the Note 4, meanwhile, will depend on what those use cases are. In 2013, Apple CEO Tim Cookbashed OLED displays, but results like this suggest they could be the future of smartphone tech for both Apple and Samsung.
Update 1:56pm: This post originally conflated Samsung’s Diamond Pixel technology with its earlier PenTile screens. The two technologies are different; we regret the error.