samsung galaxy s4 4 aa 600

Full HD displays in premium handsets are a regular sight amongst hardware spec tables, and companies are often keen to tout their display as the next big thing when when you look at a manufacturer’s website. Currently, LCD tops the table as the most commonly used technology when it comes to HD screens. You’ll find one in the 4.8-inch HTC One, 5-inch Sony Xperia Z, ZTE Grand S, OPPO Find 5, the 5.5-inch LG Optimus G Pro, and Lenovo Ideaphone K900.

You’ve probably heard of AMOLED displays before as well, in fact the smartphone you’re using right now could well have an AMOLED screen. The popular Galaxy S2 and S3 both use lower resolution AMOLED displays. Currently, technological barriers prevent manufacturers from producing 1080 HD versions.

However the Samung Galaxy S4 is set to be the first smartphone released using a Full HD AMOLED display, bringing the technology up to par with LCD smartphones, at least regarding pixel density.

The visual difference between AMOLED and LCD mostly boils down to individual preference; darks are better on the former, but LCD has a more natural contrast. Whilst one technology isn’t obviously better than the other, the important thing is that AMOLED is now ready to give consumers more choice, as it can finally take on HD LCD displays head to head.

galaxy note 2 vs galaxy s3 display 3

Click to enlarge pictures of Samsung’s flagship Super AMOLED displays

Making the move to Full HD AMOLED

Previously, reaching a pixel density greater than 300ppi has been the problem when producing Full HD AMOLED displays. This is due to the Fine Metal Mask processes used to produce the screen, designers have to balance the number of pixels against display brightness and power consumption. Unfortunately it’s just not possible to cram in enough pixels without draining the battery.

But thanks to some clever technical tweaks made by Samsung, the switch to 1920 x 1080 AMOLED displays is now possible. By making use of an entirely new Pentile matrix for the pixel arrangement and phosphorescent materials for OLEDs (PHOLEDs), Samsung has overcome the pixel density and battery consumption issues.

Samsung’s new pixel arrangement tweaks the layout of the screens subpixels slightly from the Pentile arrangement used in the Galaxy S3. According to the information we’ve seen about the Galaxy S4’s screen, the use of larger green subpixels in a diagonal shape reduces the number of green subpixels required to produce the same image. This means that you can either reduce power consumption by using fewer subpixels whilst keeping the same resolution, or allows you to squeeze more pixels into the same space, increasing the resolution of the display.


Changes to Samsung’s subpixel layout.

PHOLEDs are also an important aspect of the new design. PHOLED technology uses phosphorescent materials in order to reduce the power required to produce light, but they don’t tend to last as long as regular OLEDs. For this reason Samsung has chosen to use only green PHOLEDs in its new screen, balancing power consumption and screen life expectancy. Combining this with the new pixel arrangement, which reduces the number of green subpixels, you can see how the significant energy savings are made.

Market growth

Now that Full HD AMOLED screens are available for production we should see the technology start to be taken up by various manufacturers. According to technology research firm IHS, high-quality AMOLED display sales are expected to double by the year 2017.

In terms of raw numbers that puts expected AMOLED display shipments for mobile handsets at around 447.7 million units in 2017, a pretty substantial growth from the 195.1 million units expected to ship in 2013.

Director for mobile and emerging displays and technology at IHS, Vinita Jakhanwal, had this to say about the future of AMOLED:

“Because of their use in marquee products like the Galaxy S4, high-quality AMOLEDs are growing in popularity and gaining share at the expense of LCD screens.”

So IHS expects some of the growth in market share to come from LCD displays, which is an analysis I deem highly likely given LCDs current prevalence in the HD smartphone market. Rather confusingly though, IHS predicts that AMOLED’s market share will mainly increase in devices using smaller display sizes.

The company predicts that AMOLED’s total smartphone market share will increase from 7.9% to 15.2% over the next 4 years, but will only grow by 1.4% in handsets using 4-inch or larger displays, only slightly improving from 23% this year to 24.4% by 2017.

IHS’s prediction for larger displays seems rather subdued, by there are still some issues with screen lifetimes, color balance, and limited production capabilities which it believes are still prohibiting AMOLED displays from stealing a more significant share of the LCD market.

To conclude, AMOLED is now a better technology than ever and the Galaxy S4 will be the first in a line of smartphones making use of Full HD AMOLED displays. This direct competition with LCD displays for screen resolution will certainly help to improve AMOLED’s market share, but there’s a large sales gap between the two display technologies to make up.

Robert Triggs
Lead Technical Writer at Android Authority, covering the latest trends in consumer electronics and hardware. In his spare moments, you'll probably find him tinkering with audio electronics and programming.
  • Bone

    i like that you can adjust the screen to a more natural color balance yet retain the wider palette, can’t wait to see an accurate brightness, contrast and color reproduction test.

  • whoknowswhereor

    Amoleds own lcds imho. Pure blacks outweight whatever color issues it has, and on top of that they have color tweakers.

    • fixxmyhead

      yea i wish my nexus 4 was amoled. lcd sucks and makes all the colors washed out and the blacks look greyed out cuz of the light

      • kascollet

        That’s because the N4’s screen is a cheap one. Good IPS/LCD screens do exist ! Just see what HTC, Microsoft, Nokia, Apple, Asus and LG offer in their flagships.

        • Eric Mukuna

          lmao.. just because nexus 4 has a 720p screen compared to the 1080p, its now a cheap screen? nkt!

          • kascollet

            Absolutely not. 720P is perfectly OK to me. I was referring to color accuracy, contrast, brightness and reflectance, all of which are not first class on the Nexus 4.
            I have one, and an iPhone 5 ATM.

  • hatefanboys

    AHAHAHAHA AHAHAHAHA the best joke ever ? how can the amoled hd pentile crap from s4 even compare with the awesomeness of lcd 3 one or ips from z please sammy sheeps take it easy

    • Toss3

      Better contrast, deeper black, wider color gamut etc. Pentile also only mattered before when it resulted in weird grays, but now in the SGS4 they’ve fixed that problem.

      • jusephe

        Much much higher brightness, less reflectivity (better sun readability), narrower color gamut, lower power compustion, accurate contrast, more accurate touch input (AMOLED creates a lot of electromagnetic noise, most notable with styluses), much less eye fatigue, minimally ten times longer lifespan, gamut is not changing over time, cheaper, higher subpixel density (SGS 4 is still pen-tile it’s got only 880 sub pixels per inch ! Even three years old iPhone 4 got 978 SPI and folks like HTC one got 1404 SPI.).

        That is few reasons for LCD, but I actually think that the AMOLED is the future of displays, but today is too soon for it. AMOLED just has a long long journey on the top of the hill, just like LCD, and it will be killed by another even better technology, like LCD.

        • Toss3

          Aren’t amoleds less reflective than lcds? Also amoleds are more accurate as they integrate the capacitive touch layer into the cells themselves(haven’t seen any amoled phone have issues with touch sensitivity, which is very common in LCD phones such as the Nexus 4), and have faster response times (no ghosting).

          For power consumption I won’t argue as I don’t have any exact numbers, but I doubt there’s a big difference between the Amoled display in the S4 and LCD one in the HTC One.

          Ten times longer lifespan doesn’t really matter as the other components will probably break before the amoleds do.

          Accurate colors and contrast can be achieved by calibration(Samsung has included an sRGB setting this time around(needs to be measured)). Also it doesn’t really matter on a phone as you don’t do design or professional photography on it.

          • kascollet

            You both say true facts.
            The two technologies have pros and cons and LCD being more mature offers the best compromise at the moment.
            This biggest drawback concerning the AMOLED screens avalaibable today is the limited brightness (300 nits max in recent Samsung phones) which results in poor outdoor legibility. Hopefully this will improve in further LED iterations. Pentile arrangement isn’t a problem anymore on full-HD 5″ screens (but was just bad on the S3).

          • Toss3

            Outdoor legibility should be pretty great with the S4 at 400nits and ultra low reflectivity.

  • blairh

    Amoled: Deeper blacks.

    IPS: Accurate colors, higher nits (brightness), strong white production, uses less power to produce whites, superior in sunlight, ages slower.

    IPS is a much superior choice for smartphone screens IMO.

  • Berry

    Robert States:

    “PHOLED technology uses phosphorescent materials in order to reduce the power required to produce light, but they don’t tend to last as long as regular OLEDs. For this reason Samsung has chosen to use only green PHOLEDs in its new screen, balancing power consumption and screen life expectancy. ”

    You should check your facts on this. EVERY commercial AMOLED display produced by Samsung (96+% of the market) has used red PHOLED materials. Red PHOLEDs have better lifetimes and power consumption stats by far relative to traditional flourescent materials. It appears that Samsung is using both green and red PHOLED in the Galaxy S4 display to further increase power efficiency. Blue is the only color for which a long life PHOLED emitter is not currently available.
    The use of PHOLED materials actually increases the lifetime of the display. By efficiently converting energy to light PHOLED materials generate far less heat than conventional flourescent materials. Heat leads to accellerated degradation of the materials (i.e. shorter display lifetime).

    Universal Display Corporation is the pioneer behind PHOLED technology. They have a chart on their web-site detailing the specs for their emitter materials currently being used in Samsung AMOLED displays.