Samsung is continually improving upon the quality of its smartphone displays, and the screens on the Galaxy Note 4 and the Galaxy Edge are no exception. In fact, according to extensive testing from DisplayMate, one of them has the best smartphone display yet.
A key element for a great smartphone has always been a truly innovative and top performing display, and the best leading edge smartphones have always flaunted their beautiful high-tech displays. The Galaxy Note and Galaxy S series are flagship smartphones for Samsung to show off its latest and greatest OLED displays and display technology. Samsung has been alternately releasing one of the models every six months, so there are two OLED generations per year, each with significant improvements and enhancements. The models then leapfrog each other in display performance. This series of regular systematic improvements has resulted in excellent high performance OLED displays.
The new Galaxy Note 4 and Galaxy Note Edge are two versions of the latest Samsung OLED display technology. Both are also called phablets because of their larger screen sizes. The Galaxy Note 4 has a 5.7 inch high-resolution quad HD 2560x1440 pixel display with 518 pixels per inch on a hard glass substrate — it is a significantly enhanced version of the display on the Galaxy Note 3. The Galaxy Note Edge display is similar, but it has an OLED display that is manufactured on a flexible plastic substrate so that it can bend around the side of the phone to provide a second display area that can be viewed from both the front or the side.
Our detailed lab tests show that there have been significant display performance improvements in the new Note models including higher resolution, higher absolute colour accuracy with better calibration, higher peak brightness with improved screen visibility and readability in high ambient light, and higher display power efficiency, resulting in a number of new records for smartphone display performance. We'll cover these issues and much more, with in-depth comprehensive display tests, measurements and analysis that you will find nowhere else.
Samsung provided DisplayMate Technologies with pre-release production units of both the Galaxy Note 4 and the Galaxy Note Edge so that we could perform our well-known objective and comprehensive display Lab tests, measurements, and analysis, explaining the in-depth display performance results for consumers, reviewers, and journalists. This article will focus primarily on the Galaxy Note 4, which will launch first, but we have also included a section with some test results for the Galaxy Note Edge.
The display shoot-out
To examine the performance of the Galaxy Note OLED Displays we ran our in-depth series of Mobile Display Technology Shoot-Out lab tests and measurements in order to determine how the latest OLED displays have improved. We take display quality very seriously and provide in-depth objective analysis based on detailed laboratory tests and measurements and extensive viewing tests with both test patterns, test images and test photos. To see how far OLED and LCD mobile displays have progressed in just four years see our 2010 Smartphone Display Shoot-Out, and for a real history lesson see our original 2006 Smartphone Display Shoot-Out.
Display Shoot-Out Comparison Table summarizes the Galaxy Note 4 Lab measurements in the following categories: Screen Reflections, Brightness and Contrast, Colours and Intensities, Viewing Angles, OLED Spectra, Display Power. You can also skip these Highlights and go directly to the Galaxy Note Edge Overview, and the Galaxy Note 4 Conclusions.
Systematically improving OLED displays
What is particularly significant and impressive is that Samsung has been systematically improving OLED display performance twice a year with each Galaxy generation since 2010. With the Galaxy Note 4 there are many significant improvements over the Galaxy Note 3 that we tested a year ago, but also with the Galaxy S5 that we tested in March, and Galaxy Tab S that we tested in June. The most impressive improvements for the Galaxy Note 4 are in the pixels per inch and resolution, the Absolute Colour Accuracy, Peak Brightness and screen viewability in High Ambient Light, and display Power Efficiency, which we discuss in turn below.
2.5K quad HD 2560x1440 display
The Galaxy Note 4 has a Quad HD 2560x1440 pixel display, currently the highest resolution for smartphones, with 3.7 megapixels, almost double the number on your HDTV. It provides lots of image detail — it can display four complete HD 1280x720 images at once. The display has diamond pixels (see below) and sub-pixel rendering with 518 pixels per inch (ppi), providing significantly higher image sharpness than can be resolved with normal 20/20 vision at the typical viewing distances of 10 inches or more for smartphones, so the display appears perfectly sharp. The Galaxy Note 3 and Galaxy S5 both have very respectable full HD 1920x1080 displays with 2.1 megapixels. At typical viewing distances they also appear perfectly sharp for 20/20 vision.
However, there are some significant advantages in going higher than the visual acuity for 20/20 vision at typical viewing distances. For smartphones they include a closer match to digital photo resolutions, the ability to display full HD 1920x1080 images with an additional 1.6 megapixels left over for displaying additional content at the same time, plus efficient and simple rescaling (with small integer ratios) of various HD and quad screen resolution formats to improve processing efficiency and resulting picture quality.
In addition, if you really want (or need) to take advantage of the extra fine display sharpness and resolution above normal 20/20 vision, you can. If you study and stare at the image on the screen, move it closer and move it around, you'll be able to make out considerably more fine image detail because you are building an integrated visual map of the image in your brain. So, when you are looking at an image with very finely detailed graphics and small text, most people with reasonably good vision will be able to make out and take advantage of the extra sharpness and image detail if they take the time to do so. See our 2014 Innovative Displays and Display Technology article for more details.
Multiple screen modes and colour management
Most smartphones and tablets only provide a single fixed factory display Colour Gamut and colour calibration, with no way for the user to alter it based on personal preferences, running applications, or Ambient Light levels. An important capability provided by the OLED Galaxy smartphones and the new Galaxy Tab S tablets is the implementation of Colour Management that provides a number of Screen Modes, each with different Colour Gamuts and levels of user selectable colour saturation and display calibration based on user and application preferences. Colour Management with multiple and varying Colour Gamuts are a very useful and important state-of-the-art capability that all displays will need to provide in the future. The Galaxy Note 4 has four user selectable Screen Modes: Adaptive Display, AMOLED Photo, AMOLED Cinema, and the Basic Screen Mode, which matches the Standard sRGB/Rec.709 Colour Gamut that is used for virtually all current consumer content. See this Figure for the Colour Gamuts of the different tested Screen Modes and the Colours and Intensities section for measurements and details. We discuss each of the tested Screen Modes next.
Adaptive display mode with a wide colour gamut
The Adaptive Display screen mode provides real-time adaptive processing to dynamically adjust images and videos — for some applications it will vary the White Point, Colour Gamut, and Colour Saturation based on the image content and the colour of the surrounding ambient lighting measured by the Ambient Light Sensor (which measures colour in addition to brightness). The Adaptive Display mode also delivers significantly higher colour saturation, with 130 per cent of the Standard sRGB/Rec.709 Colour Gamut, among the highest that we have ever measured for smartphones and tablets. Some people like the extra saturated vibrant colours, plus it is useful for special applications, and for viewing the display in medium to high levels of ambient light, because it offsets some of the reflected light glare that washes out the on-screen image colours.
AMOLED photo mode with an Adobe RGB colour gamut
Most high-end digital cameras have an option to use the Adobe RGB Colour Gamut, which is 17 per cent larger than the Standard sRGB/Rec.709 Colour Gamut used in consumer cameras. The AMOLED Photo screen mode on the Galaxy Note 4 provides a very accurate calibration to the Adobe RGB standard, which is rarely available in consumers displays, and is very useful for high-end digital photography and other advanced imaging applications. The measured Absolute Colour Accuracy of the AMOLED photo screen mode for the Galaxy Note 4 is 1.6 JNCD, which is impressively accurate. See this Figure for an explanation and visual definition of JNCD and the Colour Accuracy Plots showing the measured display colour errors. There are very few consumer displays that can accurately reproduce Adobe RGB, so this is a significant plus for serious photography enthusiasts. See the Colour Accuracy section and the Colour Accuracy Plots for measurements and details.
Basic mode with the standard sRGB/Rec.709 colour gamut
The Basic screen mode provides a very accurate Colour and White Point calibration for the Standard sRGB/Rec.709 Colour Gamut that is used in virtually all current consumer content for digital cameras, HDTVs, the Internet, and computers, including photos, videos, and movies. The Colour Gamut of the Basic screen mode is very accurate, with a nearly perfect 101 per cent of the Standard sRGB/Rec.709 Colour Gamut. Even better, the Absolute Colour Accuracy for the Basic screen mode is an impressive 1.5 JNCD, the most colour accurate display that we have ever measured for a smartphone or tablet, which is visually indistinguishable from perfect, and is very likely considerably better than your living room TV. See this figure for an explanation and visual definition of JNCD and the Colour Accuracy Plots showing the measured display Colour Errors, and also this regarding Bogus Colour Accuracy Measurements.
Use the basic screen mode for the best colour and image accuracy, which is especially important when viewing photos from family and friends (because you often know exactly what they actually should look like), for some TV shows, movies, and sporting events with image content and colours that you are familiar with, and also for viewing online merchandise, so you have a very good idea of exactly what colours you are buying and are less likely to return them. See the Colour Accuracy section and the Colour Accuracy Plots for measurements and details.
Screen brightness and performance in high ambient lighting
Mobile displays are often used under relatively bright ambient light, which washes out the image colours and contrast, reducing picture quality and making it harder to view or read the screen. To be usable in high ambient light a display needs a dual combination of high screen brightness and low screen reflectance — the Galaxy Note 4 has both. For most image content the Galaxy Note 4 provides over 400 cd/m2 (Luminance, which is a measure of brightness sometimes called nits), comparable or higher than most LCD displays in this size class. Its screen reflectance is 4.8 per cent, close to the lowest that we have ever measured. Our Contrast Rating for High Ambient Light quantitatively measures screen visibility under bright Ambient Light — the higher the better. As a result of its high brightness and low reflectance, the Galaxy Note 4 has a Contrast Rating for High Ambient Light that ranges from 71 to 93, among the highest that we have ever measured.
More importantly, on the Galaxy Note 4 the maximum brightness can go much higher when Automatic Brightness is turned on, so that users can't permanently park the manual brightness slider to very high values, which would run down the battery quickly. High screen Brightness is only needed for High Ambient Light, so turning Automatic Brightness On will provide better high ambient light screen visibility and also longer battery running time.
When Automatic Brightness is turned on, the Galaxy Note 4 reaches an impressive 750 cd/m2 in High Ambient Light, where high brightness is really needed — it is the brightest mobile display that we have ever tested. As a result of its high brightness and low Reflectance, the Galaxy Note 4 has a Contrast Rating for High Ambient Light that ranges from 100 to 156, the highest that we have ever measured for any mobile display. See the Brightness and Contrast, the High Ambient Light and the Screen Reflections sections for measurements and details.
Super dimming mode
The Galaxy Note 4 also has a Super Dimming Mode that allows the Maximum Screen Brightness to be set all the way down to just 2 cd/m2 (nits) using the Brightness Slider. This is useful for working comfortably without eye strain or bothering others in very dark environments, or affecting the eye's dark adaptation, such as when using a telescope. The display still delivers full 24-bit colour and the picture quality remains excellent.
A high resolution screenshot (provided by Samsung) shows an interesting design and sub-pixel arrangement for the Galaxy Note 4, 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 arrangement leads to a 45 degree diagonal symmetry in the sub-pixel layout. This allows vertical, horizontal, and particularly diagonal line segments and vectors to be drawn with reduced aliasing and artifacts. In order to maximise the sub-pixel packing and achieve the highest possible pixels per inch (ppi), 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 a form of high-tech display art.
Display power efficiency
With each successive generation Samsung has been systematically improving the power efficiency of their OLED displays. We measured a 14 per cent improvement in display power efficiency between the Galaxy Note 3 and the Note 4, which is especially impressive given that the Note 4 has almost double the number of pixels and therefore much higher processing overhead. The Galaxy Note 4 also has an Ultra Power Saving Mode that lowers the Screen Brightness and also sets the background to Black, both of which significantly reduce display power and can double the running time on battery. See the Display Power section for measurements and details.
Viewing angle performance
While smartphones are primarily single viewer devices, 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 is 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 OLED Galaxy Note 4 display shows a much smaller 19 per cent decrease in Brightness at 30 degrees. This also applies to multiple side-by-side viewers as well, and is a significant advantage of OLED displays. The Colour Shifts with Viewing Angle are also relatively small. See the Viewing Angles section for measurements and details.
The Galaxy Note 4 basic screen mode provides very nice, pleasing and accurate colours, and picture quality. Although the Image Contrast is slightly too high (due to a slightly too steep Intensity Scale), the very challenging set of DisplayMate test and calibration photos that we use to evaluate picture quality looked Beautiful, even to my experienced hyper-critical eyes. The basic screen mode is recommended for indoor and low ambient light viewing of most standard consumer content for digital camera, HDTV, internet, and computer content, including photos, videos, and movies. The Adaptive Display screen mode has significantly more vibrant and saturated colours. Some people like that. It is also recommended for viewing in medium to high levels of ambient light because it offsets some of the reflected light glare that washes out the images.
Galaxy Note Edge overview
Along with the Galaxy Note 4 that we tested in-depth for this article, Samsung also introduced a second model called the Galaxy Note Edge, which has a very innovative curved OLED display that extends all the way around to the entire right side edge of the phone. The curved Edge provides a second separately configurable display area that can be viewed from both the front or the side. It provides a new space for displaying and interacting with widgets, apps, menus, controls, icons, favourites, social media, notifications, stock tickers, and news feeds. You can set up and customise up to 7 configurable Edge panels and then scroll through them as if they are on a rotating cylinder by swiping your finger right or left on the curved edge. The Edge screen provides an important new UI User Interface enhancement. You can pack a lot of easily accessible information there. It's quite functional and useful, and even fun cycling through the Edge screens. Edge aware apps like the camera can place their controls and functions on the Edge, where they don't interfere with whatever is on the main screen. When the main screen is off you can still see messages and other alerts on the Edge screen. There is even a night clock that will dimly show the time all night long on the Edge screen.
Samsung provided us with a pre-production Galaxy Note Edge for preliminary testing. Once the final firmware and software are available for the Note Edge we may publish our complete in-depth display tests and measurements — until then here is an overview of the Galaxy Note Edge and its display technology.
The Note Edge has a single 2560x1600 OLED display with 540 ppi that is configured as two displays using software, with 2560x1440 for the main front screen, the same as the Galaxy Note 4, and then 2560x160 for the Edge screen, which is about 0.30 inches (0.75 cm) wide, enough for a single column (or row) of icons and functions. Since the pixels on OLED displays are all powered independently, the main and Edge screens can be either turned on and off together or separately. Monitoring with just the Edge screen turned on significantly reduces display power and can significantly extend the running time on battery.
The Galaxy Note Edge is actually a flexible OLED display manufactured on a flexible plastic substrate rather than on a hard glass substrate like almost all other OLED (and LCD) displays. This allows the display itself to bend, but it is then placed underneath a hard Gorilla Glass 3 cover for protection and to maintain its desired shape, which for the Note Edge is curved along the entire right side edge. It is similar to the curved screen Galaxy Round that we tested in 2013, where we showed that its slight concave screen curvature significantly reduces ambient light reflections, which then significantly improves screen readability in high ambient light. The Galaxy Round is a curved screen version of the Galaxy Note 3, so it's nice to see the Galaxy Edge as a curved screen version of the Galaxy Note 4.
Galaxy Note Edge conclusions
What is especially news worthy and significant is that the performance of the OLED display on a flexible plastic substrate for the Galaxy Note Edge is now essentially the same as on a traditional glass substrate for the Galaxy Note 4, even at 500+ pixels per inch and 2560x1600 resolution. The most important point is that curved and flexible displays are definitely the wave of the future because they offer many important visual and functional advantages for both mobile displays and TVs as explained in our 2014 Innovative Displays and Display Technology article. Follow DisplayMate on Twitter to learn about our Galaxy Note and upcoming display technology coverage.
Galaxy Note 4 conclusions: An impressive smartphone and phablet display
The primary goal of this Display Technology Shoot-Out article series has always been to point out which manufactures and display technologies are leading and advancing the state-of-the-art of displays by performing comprehensive and objective lab tests and measurements together with in-depth analysis. We point out who is leading, who is behind, who is improving, and sometimes (unfortunately) who is back pedaling… all based solely on the extensive objective measurements that we also publish, so that everyone can judge the data for themselves as well. See the main Display Shoot-Out Comparison Table for all of the measurements and details.
OLED display evolution
What is particularly significant and impressive is that Samsung has been systematically improving OLED display performance with every Galaxy generation since 2010, when we started tracking OLED displays. 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 four years OLED display technology is now challenging and even exceeding the performance of the best LCDs. The Galaxy Note 4 continues this impressive systematic improvement in OLED displays and technology.
Best smartphone display
With the Galaxy Note 4 there are many significant improvements over the Galaxy Note 3 that we tested a year ago, but also with the Galaxy S5 that we tested in March, and the Galaxy Tab S that we tested in June. The most impressive improvements are in the pixels per inch and resolution, the Absolute Colour Accuracy, Peak Brightness and screen readability in High Ambient Light, and display Power Efficiency. See the main Display Shoot-Out Comparison Table for all of the measurements and details.
Based on our extensive lab tests and measurements, the Galaxy Note 4 is the best performing smartphone display that we have ever tested. It matches or breaks new records in smartphone display performance for: Highest Absolute Colour Accuracy, Highest Screen Resolution, Infinite Contrast Ratio, Highest Peak Brightness, Highest Contrast Rating in Ambient Light, and the smallest Brightness Variation with Viewing Angle. Its Colour Management capability provides multiple Colour Gamuts — a major advantage that is not currently provided by any of the other leading smartphones. The Galaxy Note 4 delivers uniformly consistent all around top tier display performance: it is the first smartphone display to ever get all green (very good to excellent) ratings in all test and measurement categories (except one Yellow for a Brightness Variation with Average Picture Level) since we started the Display Technology Shoot-Out article Series in 2006, an impressive achievement for a display. The Galaxy Note 4 has again raised the bar for top display performance up by another notch.
Multiple screen modes and colour management
Most smartphones only provide a single fixed factory display colour calibration, with no way for the user to alter it based on personal preferences, running applications, or ambient light levels. Samsung has implemented Colour Management for their OLED smartphones and tablets allowing them to provide multiple Screen Modes with different Colour Gamuts and colour calibrations — other Smartphones only provide a single fixed screen Colour Gamut and calibration. Colour Management with multiple and varying Colour Gamuts are a very useful and important state-of-the-art capability that all displays will need to provide in the future — see the next generation of mobile displays section below.
Most accurate colours
The Galaxy Note 4 basic screen mode has the most accurate colours for Standard (sRGB/Rec.709) consumer content of any smartphone or tablet display that we have ever measured. See our Absolute Colour Accuracy Results and also this regarding Bogus Colour Accuracy Measurements. The measured Absolute Colour Error for the Galaxy Note 4 is just 1.5 JNCD, which is visually indistinguishable from perfect, and is very likely considerably better than your living room TV. Colour Accuracy is especially important when viewing photos from family and friends (because you often know exactly what they actually should look like), for some TV shows, movies, and sporting events with image content and colours that you are familiar with, and also for viewing online merchandise, so you have a very good idea of exactly what colours you are buying and are less likely to return them.
Adobe RGB AMOLED photo mode
Most high-end digital cameras have an option to use the Adobe RGB Colour Gamut, which is 17 per cent larger than the standard sRGB/Rec.709 Colour Gamut used in consumer cameras. The AMOLED Photo screen mode on the Galaxy Note 4 provides a very accurate 1.6 JNCD calibration to the Adobe RGB standard, which is rarely available in consumer displays. It is very useful for viewing high-end digital photos and other advanced imaging applications. This is a significant plus for serious photography enthusiasts.
Adaptive display wide colour gamuts
The OLED display's native Wide Colour Gamut in the Adaptive Display screen mode has significantly more vibrant and saturated colours, with 130 per cent of the standard sRGB/Rec.709 Colour Gamut, among the highest that we have ever measured for smartphones and tablets. Some people like the extra saturated vibrant colours, plus it is useful for special applications and is recommended for viewing in medium to high levels of ambient light because it offsets some of the reflected light glare that washes out the on-screen image colours.
Display power efficiency
With each successive generation Samsung has been systematically improving the power efficiency of their OLED displays. We measured an impressive 14 per cent improvement in display power efficiency between the Galaxy Note 3 and Note 4. While LCDs remain more power efficient for images with mostly white content (like text screens), the Galaxy Note 4 is 40 per cent more power efficient than the Full HD LCD Smartphones we tested with mixed image content (that includes photos, videos, and movies, for example) with a typical 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. See the Display Power section for measurements and details.
Improvements for the next generation of mobile displays
The most important improvements for both OLED and LCD mobile displays will come from improving their image and picture quality and screen readability in ambient light, which washes out the screen images, resulting in reduced image contrast, colour saturation, and colour accuracy. The key will be in implementing automatic real-time modification of the display's Colour Gamut and Intensity Scales based the measured Ambient Light level in order to have them compensate for the reflected light glare and image wash out from ambient light as discussed in our 2014 Innovative Displays and Display Technology and SID Display Technology Shoot-Out articles. The displays, technologies, and manufacturers that succeed in implementing this new high ambient light performance strategy will take the lead in the next generations of mobile displays.
Display shoot-out comparison table
Below we examine in-depth the OLED display on the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 based on objective Lab measurement data and criteria. For comparisons and additional background information see the Galaxy Note 3 Display Technology Shoot-Out, the Galaxy S5 Display Technology Shoot-Out, and theOLED Tablet Display Technology Shoot-Out. For comparisons with the other leading smartphone, tablet and smartwatch displays see our Mobile Display Technology Shoot-Out series.
Below is a partial excerpt of the table; you can see the full comparison at DisplayMate.
DisplayMate Technologies specialises in proprietary sophisticated scientific display calibration and mathematical display optimisation to deliver unsurpassed objective performance, picture quality and accuracy for all types of displays.