The OLED display on the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 is the best-performing mobile OLED display to date in every way. But its most impressive achievement? It's the brightest mobile display we've ever tested.
The Samsung Galaxy Note and Galaxy S Smartphones are flagship products for Samsung to show off its latest and greatest OLED display technology. The Galaxy Note 3 has the newest generation of OLED display technology. The lab tests show that it is better than the Note II in every measurement category, and also comparable or better than the display on the Galaxy S4. It has double the resolution of the Note II, which is a major improvement, but the most impressive advancement for the Note 3 is its significantly brighter screen. We'll cover these issues and much more, with in-depth comprehensive display tests, measurements and analysis that you will find nowhere else.
While most mobile displays are still LCD based, OLEDs have been capturing a rapidly increasing share of the mobile display market. The technology is still very new, with the Google Nexus One Smartphone, launched in January 2010, as the first OLED display product that received widespread notoriety. In a span of just a few years this new display technology has improved at a very impressive rate, now challenging and even exceeding the performance of the best LCDs.
Virtually all of the OLED displays in current mobile devices are produced by Samsung. We have provided an in-depth analysis on the evolution of OLEDs in our Galaxy S I, II, III OLED Display Technology Shoot-Out and Galaxy S4 Display Technology Shoot-Out articles.
Samsung provided DisplayMate Technologies with a pre-release production unit to test and analyse for this article.
To examine the performance of the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 we ran our in-depth series of Mobile Display Technology Shoot-Out Lab tests and included the Galaxy Note II in order to determine how OLED displays have 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 mobile displays have progressed in just three 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 below. The Comparison Table section summarises the Lab measurements in the following categories: Screen Reflections, Brightness and Contrast, Colours and Intensities, Viewing Angles, OLED Spectra, Display Power. You can also skip the highlights and go directly to the conclusions.
The Galaxy Note 3 has the newest generation of Samsung OLED displays since the Galaxy S4 Smartphone, which launched in April. The Lab tests below show that it is better than the Note II in every measurement category, and also comparable or better than the Galaxy S4. It has double the resolution of the Note II, which is a major improvement, but the most important advancement for the Note 3 is its significantly brighter screen.
Up until the Galaxy Note 3, OLED displays have been somewhat to significantly dimmer than competing LCD displays. The Note 3 has changed that in a big way... it's an impressive 55 per cent brighter than the Note II and a solid 25 per cent brighter than the Galaxy S4. For most image content it provides over 400cd/m2, comparable or higher than most LCD displays in this size class. Even more impressive is that when Automatic Brightness is turned on, the Note 3 hits an incredible 660cd/m2 in high ambient light, where it's needed (85 per cent brighter than the Note II and 40 per cent brighter than the Galaxy S4 with Automatic Brightness) — the brightest mobile display we have ever tested in the Shoot-Out series. An impressive achievement for OLEDs!
Multiple Screen Modes And Colour Management
Most smartphones and tablets only provide a single fixed factory set display calibration, with no way for the user to alter it based on personal preference, the running application, or the ambient light level. An important capability provided by the more recent Galaxy Note and Galaxy S Smartphones is the inclusion of a number of Screen Modes that provide different levels of user selectable colour saturation and display calibration based on user and application preferences. The Galaxy Note 3 has 5 user selectable Screen Modes: Adapt Display, Dynamic, Standard, Professional Photo and Movie, which we discuss below and include measurements for several modes. The screen modes require the implementation of colour management to adjust the native colour gamut of the display plus additional factory calibration for each mode.
Colour Gamut And Absolute Colour Accuracy
The Note 3 movie mode delivers the most accurate colour and white point calibration for the standard sRGB/Rec.709 consumer content that is used for virtually all digital camera, HDTV, internet and computer content, including photos and videos. Use the movie mode for the best colour and image accuracy. The measured absolute colour accuracy for the movie mode is an excellent 3.1 JNCD. See this figure for an explanation of JNCD. The adapt display mode is the default mode for the Galaxy Note 3 — it provides adaptive image processing and delivers higher colour saturation, which appeals to some, and is also a better choice for high ambient light viewing conditions, which wash out image colours and contrast. This mode is very similar to the professional photo mode, but has a more bluish white point. Compare the colour gamuts in this figure and below.
Professional Photo Mode
Most high-end digital cameras have an option to use the Adobe RGB gamut, which is 17 per cent larger than the Standard sRGB/Rec.709 gamut used in consumer cameras. The professional photo mode on the Note 3 provides a fairly accurate calibration to the Adobe RGB standard, which is rarely available in consumers displays, and is very useful for high-end digital photography applications. The measured absolute colour accuracy of the professional photo mode is 4.4 JNCD, which is very good. See this figure for an explanation of JNCD.
Performance in High Ambient Lighting Mobile displays are often used under relatively bright ambient lighting, which washes out image colours and contrast, reducing picture quality and making it harder to read the screen. To be usable in high ambient light a display needs high screen brightness and low screen reflectance — the Note 3 has both. In fact, with Automatic Brightness turned on, the Note 3 has the highest contrast rating for high ambient light we have ever measured, which quantitatively measures screen visibility under bright ambient lighting — the higher the better. This article has screen shots that show how screen images degrade in high ambient lighting. On the Note 3 the brightness can be set much higher for Automatic Brightness so that users can't permanently set the manual brightness slider to very high values, which would run down the battery quickly. This extra high level of brightness is only needed for high ambient light. In addition, the adapt display, standard and dynamic modes also have much higher colour saturation, which also improves screen visibility in high ambient light.
Viewing Angle Performance
While the Note 3 is primarily a single viewer device, the variation in display performance with viewing angle is still very important because single viewers frequently hold the display at a variety of viewing angles. The angle is often up to 30 degrees, more if it's resting on a table or desk. While LCDs typically experience a 55 per cent or greater decrease in brightness at a 30 degree Viewing Angle, the Note 3 shows a much smaller 22 per cent decrease in brightness at 30 degrees. This also applies to multiple side-by-side viewers as well, and is a significant advantage for OLED displays.
A Full HD 1920x1080 Display
The Galaxy Note II (like the Galaxy S III) has a 1280x720 display. The Galaxy Note 3 (like the Galaxy S4) provides a full High Definition 1920x1080 display, with more than double the number of pixels — the same pixel resolution as your 50 inch living room HDTV — that's very impressive! First of all, this is a benchmark spec with tremendous marketing power for driving consumer sales. But there are other important reasons for going to Full HD — there is a tremendous amount of 1920x1080 content available. Displaying that content at its native resolution (without the need to rescale up or down) results in the best possible image quality, plus rescaling requires processing overhead that uses (wastes) precious battery power.
Image Sharpness And Pixels Per Inch
The Galaxy Note 3 has a pixel density of 388ppi, which is very high, but lower than the 441ppi for the Galaxy S4 and other full HD Smartphone displays. It's important to recognise that this is not a decrease in visual image sharpness because the display still appears perfectly sharp for 20/20 vision at typical viewing distances of 33cm or more because the pixels and sub-pixels are below normal visual acuity. (The Galaxy Note is 14 per cent larger than the Galaxy S4 so it is typically held further away). The Galaxy Note 3 also has a "PenTile" sub-pixel arrangement like the Galaxy S4, with only two sub-pixels per pixel instead of the usual three. But at these very high pixel densities, it's not visually noticeable because of the use of sub-pixel rendering and the diamond sub-pixel arrangement discussed below. For more information on visual image sharpness see High PPI PenTile Displays and Visual Sharpness and Resolution.
A high resolution screen shot of the Galaxy Note 3 (provided by Samsung) shows an interesting design and sub-pixel arrangement, which Samsung calls Diamond Pixels. First of all, the red, green and blue sub-pixels have very different sizes — blue is by far the largest because it has the lowest efficiency, and green is by far the smallest because it has the highest efficiency. The alternating red and blue sub-pixel PenTile arrangement discussed above leads to a 45 degree diagonal symmetry in the sub-pixel layout. Then, in order to maximise the sub-pixel packing and achieve the highest possible pixel density, that leads to diamond rather than square or stripe shaped red and blue sub-pixels. But not for the Green sub-pixels, which are oval shaped because they are squeezed between two much larger and different sized red and blue sub-pixels. It's display art.
We measured an impressive 26 per cent improvement in power efficiency between the Galaxy Note 3 and Note II. While LCDs remain more power efficient for images with mostly white content (like text screens, for example), OLEDs are more efficient for darker content because they are emissive rather than transmissive like LCDs. In fact, the Galaxy Note 3 is 31 per cent more power efficient than the Full HD LCD Smartphones we recently tested for mixed image content (that includes photos and videos, for example) with a 50 per cent Average Picture Level (APL).
One subtle but important advantage of OLEDs is their excellent screen uniformity compared to LCDs, which often show hot spots and shadows from edge LED lighting.
The Galaxy Note 3 Movie Mode provides very nice, pleasing, and accurate colours and picture quality. The Movie Mode is recommended for indoor and low ambient light viewing. The adapt display and standard modes have significantly more vibrant and saturated colours. Some people like that. They are recommended for medium levels of ambient light viewing because it offsets some of the reflected glare that washes out the images. The dynamic mode provides incredibly powerful colours that are overwhelming in low ambient lighting. The dynamic mode is recommended for high ambient light viewing, for some games and cartoons, and possibly for persons with visual impairments.
Comparison With The Galaxy Note II
The Galaxy Note 3 display is a major enhancement and improvement over the Galaxy Note II — a good reason to consider trading up. The full HD 1920x1080 display on the Galaxy Note 3 has more than double the number of pixels and is noticeably sharper then the lower resolution HD 1280x720 display on the Note II, particularly with text and graphics. But the most striking difference is the 55 per cent brighter display on the Note 3 (and 85 per cent brighter with Automatic Brightness). Consistent with the differences in their colour gamuts and intensity scales, the movie mode was slightly more vivid on the Note 3 and the standard mode slightly more vivid on the Note II.
Galaxy Note 3 Conclusions: An Impressive OLED Display
The Galaxy Note 3 continues the rapid and impressive improvement in OLED displays and technology. The first notable OLED smartphone, the Google Nexus One, came in decidedly last place in our 2010 Smartphone Display Shoot-Out. In a span of just a few years OLED display technology is now challenging and even exceeding the performance of the best LCDs across the board in brightness, contrast, colour accuracy, colour management, picture quality, screen uniformity and viewing angles. OLEDs are also considerably thinner than LCDs but still cost considerably more to manufacture.
The Galaxy Note 3 has the newest generation of OLED display technology. The Lab tests show that it is better than the Note II in every measurement category, and also comparable or better than the display on the Galaxy S4. It has double the resolution of the Note II, which is a major improvement, but the most impressive advancement for the Note 3 is its significantly brighter screen, which hits an incredible 660 cd/m2 in high ambient light, the brightest mobile display we have ever tested in the Shoot-Out series. An impressive achievement for OLEDs!
OLEDs need to continue improving their power efficiency, which is critically important for mobile displays. We measured an impressive 26 per cent improvement in power efficiency between the Galaxy Note 3 and Note II. While LCDs remain more power efficient for images with mostly white content (like text screens, for example), OLEDs are more efficient for darker content because they are emissive rather than transmissive like LCDs. In fact, Galaxy Note 3 is already 31 per cent more power efficient than the Full HD LCD Smartphones we recently tested for mixed image content (that includes photos and videos, for example) with a 50 per cent Average Picture Level, APL. If this keeps up then OLEDs may pull ahead of LCDs in total power efficiency in the near future.
What's Next: The most important developments for the upcoming generations of both OLED and LCD mobile displays will come from improvements in their image and picture quality in ambient light, which washes out screen images, resulting in reduced readability, image contrast, and colour saturation and accuracy. The key will be in dynamically changing the display's colour management and intensity scales in order to automatically compensate for reflected glare and image wash out from ambient light. See this article on display performance in ambient light. The displays and technologies that succeed in implementing this new strategy will take the lead in the next generations of mobile displays.
Display Shoot-Out Comparison Table
Below we compare the display on the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 with the Galaxy Note II based on objective Lab measurement data and criteria. For additional background and information see the Galaxy S4 Display Technology Shoot-Out that compares the Galaxy S4 with the iPhone 5, and the Galaxy SI, II, III Display Technology Shoot-Out that compares and analyses the evolution of the OLED displays on the Galaxy S I, II, and III.
Below is a partial excerpt of the table; you can see the full comparison at DisplayMate.
This article has been republished with permission from DisplayMate.com, where it can be seen in its entirety.