Galaxy Note 2 vs Galaxy S3: Display comparison

by: Bogdan PetrovanOctober 13, 2012


The display is, for most users, the most important component of mobile devices. It’s no wonder that people love to pick favorites and then proceed to endlessly argue about which technology is better.

For the proponents of AMOLED, the display technology championed by Samsung and used in superstar devices like the Galaxy S series, one issue is especially controversial: RGB vs PenTile.

Both terms refer to the arrangement of the subpixels that make up each pixel on an AMOLED screen. The displays of Samsung’s two flagship devices, the Galaxy S3 and the Galaxy Note 2, use the PenTile pattern and the RGB pattern, respectively. Today, we bring you a comparison of the two displays. But first, let’s lay down a few theoretical notions.

A bit of theory

The RGB pattern (standing for red-green-blue) has one subpixel for each of the three primary colors, with each subpixel usually accounting for a third of the pixel size. Meanwhile, PenTile has a slightly more complicated pattern, with alternating red and blue subpixels sandwiched between green ones. For more info on AMOLED and sub-pixel patterns, check out our How It Works post here.


Left: RGB
Right: PenTile – notice the alternating red and blue subpixels

The PenTile pattern uses just two subpixels per one pixel, a green one and a red or blue one. The problem is you need all three primary colors (red, green, and blue) to display most colors. For instance, to show white, a pixel fires up all three subpixels at equal intensity. But with PenTile, you only have two subpixels, so to show white, the display “borrows” the third subpixel from a neighbor. In some cases (especially with text and graphics), those extra pixels cause a colored haze to appear.

Many users consider that RGB is superior to PenTile, although it has to be said that not all users are bothered by the fuzziness of PenTile screens. And the PenTile pattern has its advantages – displays that use it are cheaper to manufacture, are brighter, and according to Samsung, more durable in time.

Now that we’ve covered the theory, the fun part begins.

Samsung Galaxy S3 display

The Samsung Galaxy S3 features a 4.8-inch HD Super AMOLED display, with a 1280 x 720 pixels resolution. The pixel density of the display is 306 PPI, and the sub-pixel arrangement used is red-green-blue-green (RGBG). The Galaxy S3 display is capable of rendering 16 million colors, and its contrast ratio is 3,419 to 1.

The display of the S3 has been criticized by the display specialists at DisplayMate for the distorted color gamut, that casts a greenish hue to many images. Also, the experts say that many images appear “over saturated and gaudy” on the Galaxy S3, due to the prominence of the green subpixel and a lack of calibration. More about that here.

Samsung Galaxy Note 2 display

The Samsung Galaxy Note 2 features a larger, 5.5-inch display with the same HD resolution of 1280 x 720. Due to the larger dimensions of the screen, the pixel density on the Note 2 display is significantly lower than the Galaxy S3’s, at 267 ppi. Like the S3, the Note 2 boasts an HD Super AMOLED display, but one that uses an RGB pattern instead of Pentile.

The Note 2 features a unique RGB pattern; instead of having three equal subpixels, this pattern is comprised of a large blue subpixel, and smaller green and red subpixels. The blue subpixel is darker than the other two, to compensate for the larger size. The reason for which Samsung used this unusual arrangement is because the blue subpixel has a shorter lifespan than the other two. By making it larger, the Korean engineers prolonged its durability.

galaxynote 2 amoled

GSMArena Notice the larger blue subpixels.

Interestingly, Samsung has stated a few months back that one of the reasons they chose a Pentile arrangement for the GS3 is its longer lifespan compared with the RGB stripe pattern. The unique pattern used on the Note 2 indicates that Samsung has found a way to increase the lifespan of RGB panels.


Photo comparison

To show you the differences between the RGB display of the Galaxy Note 2 and the PenTile display of the Galaxy S3, we put them side by side and shot them at increasing magnification levels.

First, here are the two displays side by side. Click for larger versions.

galaxy note 2 vs galaxy s3 display

You can see that, at this level, there’s virtually no difference between the two phones. In spite of the different pixel densities, the two displays appear identical to the naked eye.

At roughly 1.5X magnification, we begin to see the rows of pixels. The Galaxy Note 2 seems just a tad sharper and the difference is especially visible in the green areas of the image. Remember that the PenTile matrix arrangement has two green subpixels that are shared between different logical pixels.

galaxy note 2 vs galaxy s3 display 2

The difference between the display of the Galaxy S3 and the Note 2 really becomes obvious at a ~2.5X magnification. You can notice the pixel rows on the two displays. On the Galaxy S3, the large green pixels pop out, which makes the image appear a bit more grainy that the Note 2.

galaxy note 2 vs galaxy s3 display 3

Finally, we zoomed in at ~5.5X, a level at which you can identify individual pixels in both images. Note that the image of the Galaxy S3 display is slightly more magnified (about 6X) to highlight the pixel arrangement. You can clearly see the difference between the two sub-pixel arrangements, with the PenTile being less crisp.

galaxy note 2 vs galaxy s3 display 4

Text and graphics comparison

The PenTile arrangement shows its weaknesses when displaying text, icons, and other fine graphics. For this type of imagery, you can sometimes notice a colored “haze” around the graphic elements.

Here’s a magnified sample of text:

Galaxy Note 2

Galaxy S3

You can notice that the Galaxy S3 has a more pronounced haze around the text; that fuzziness is not a design element, and on the Note 2, you can clearly see it’s less pronounced.

In the next image, which is even more magnified, you can clearly see the red and blue pixels that cause the fuzziness.

Galaxy Note 2

Galaxy S3

Here’s an image that shows that greenish cast that whites have on the Galaxy S3 when viewed under certain angles.

Galaxy Note 2

Galaxy S3

The fuziness of the Galaxy S3 is also visible in this magnified shot of the Play Store icon.

Galaxy Note 2

Galaxy S3

And again, in the next shot:

Galaxy Note 2

Galaxy S3

Wrap up

To bring this post full circle, picking a display over another is largely a debatable affair.

In the case of today’s Galaxy Note 2 vs Galaxy S3 comparison, the differences in crispness are only noticeable when you magnify the image. The greenish or bluish cast that occurs in some situations can be bothersome, especially if you call yourself a display purist. If that’s the case, pick up the Galaxy Note 2, which features the “better” display. But the truth is most users would never notice the difference, unless someone would specifically point it out.

I handled both the Galaxy S3 and the Note 2, and I can’t say that one display was better than the other. At 1280 x 720, the shortcomings of PenTile are hard to notice. I did notice a bluish hue on the GS3, but perhaps that was subjective. Bottom line, don’t let others tell you which one is better. Spend a few minutes with both phones and make sure to read some text or do some browsing (the use cases where the issues of PenTile are most visible) before making a decision.

What about you? What do you think about the two displays?

  • Very informative article.
    I am using Samsung Galaxy S3. I agree that the pictures appear over saturated. But that is probably because of the Screen Mode one uses.
    By default it is set to Standard Screen Mode.
    But I changed my Screen Mode in the Display Settings to Natural & now pictures look exactly how they are & the display isn’t loud or gaudy anymore.

    • Anis

      I have the Galaxy Note 1 and the Note 2. I really am not satisfied with the colours. Standard mode is too saturated and Natural is too washed out. I genuinely think the colour reproduction is better on the note 1.

      • Wade06

        The only time I notice the over saturation on the note 2 is on skin tones in a movie… its more pronounced when beside another phone but not too bad.

    • JT

      Hello, I too have a S3 and was wondering where you were able to change the setting to Standard?Mine des not give that option.

  • TNM

    You forgot something. The Note2 Display is significantly brighter (about 400c) then the SGS3 (about 220c), a clear difference when outside. For that reason alone the Note2 clearly wins.

    Btw, the SGS3 marketing-gag about “more lifespan” was a clear hoax from Samsung, they just didn’t want to use the new screen on 30 Million devices to safe money. So they left it for the Note2.

    The screen was ready back in May for mass production as Samsungs Display Consortium stated openly.

    • kgyjfy

      I don’t think so. Why would they do that when they expect the phone to be the greatest phone out there? That’s why they resolved the issue now. I think they weren’t able to in the past due to time constraints.

      • TNM

        Sry mate, but thats open knowledge, no conspiracy theory here. They did that because the new RGB-Screen needs 2 production cycles, they use 2 different ways to put the pixels on the matrix, thats more expensive obviously. The GSG3 was the official Olympia phone and they had to prepare for that event, preproduced alot of devices (preorders where significant!). So they got along with the “older” screen, more reliable and easy to produce (less scrap). To produce the better Screen they have to combine the FMM with the Liti process, they only got around to it it April. If you want to educate yourself further, here is a good start:

  • Darky

    I WAS a little disappointed when I tried out Galaxy S3. It is a really good phone but seeing pixels on a 1280 X 720 screen is really painfull. So I changed it for Note 2 even if I prefer the size of Galaxy S3.

    • the note 2 you can see more pixels…….

    • Kok Hean

      Not sure if you’re looking at your phone too closely or you just have good eyesight. I’ve seen one in my hands myself and I can barely see any pixels at all.

    • Bervick

      What you’re really seeing is worse pixelation. Not less pixels. The GS3 has more pixels BUT if some those pixels are showing an inaccurate color, then the overall impression may not appear smooth and appear pixelated. It can be seen in the zoomed in image of the flower where the Note 2 shows a less pixelation “effect” although it has lesser resolution than the GS3.

  • Thanks for the comparison. It would have been nice if you had included a top notch 720p LCD RGB panel for comparison.

  • What about burn in?

  • Zeals

    Is it me or did you flip the RGB and PenTile.
    “Right: RGB
    Left: PenTile – notice the alternating red and blue subpixels”
    When on the image the picture on the left is the RGB

  • taits

    Wondering if the screen got the Note 2 is made or corning Gorilla Glass. Have been unable so see in specs.

    • Yes, it’s Gorilla Glass 2, just like on the GS3.

    • ges

      The Note 2 has corning gorilla glass 2

    • corymcnutt

      Yes, Gorilla Glass 2.

  • corra

    The sequence in the Note 2 is RGBG, not RGB. It’s something different from normal RGB

    • ferd

      You’re wrong. You’re talking about the pentile display in the S3. Yes it’s different from the normal RGB, since it’s arranged differently, but it still is RGB.

  • Samvith V Rao

    great article guys! good job!

    • Thanks very much! You can expect more quality in depth pieces here on Android Authority from here on in!

  • mikedo2007

    Interesting review between Galaxy Note 2 and Galaxy S3.

  • Galaxy Note 2 much better on my eyes ;)

  • Bervick

    Very interesting. Halfway through, I began to side with the GS3 although I’m a note fan. But I changed my mind when I read that you’d have to magnify it beyond a normal use case to see the difference in TEXT clarity.IF that is true, then I would pick the Note as you’d notice the oversaturation in the pentile (which I have) in REGULAR use cases without any magnification and you’d notice it often.

    Because the screen is so large on the Note (compared to phones smaller than the S3), you do not need that higher ppi as you should be able to see things quite easily. It certainly would be a plus to have the higher ppi of the S3 though.

  • Xeltos

    When having a hands on I did notice Note 2 having a tad brighter screen than GS3.
    And The blue/greenish tinge to white is much less. So For me Note 2 wins hands down.

    • Wade06

      I agree. My partner has a SGS3 and I have had a note 2 for almost a week.

      Personally the sharpness might be a slight win to the SGS3 but most people wouldn’t pick it up.

      The note 2 is a lot brighter (the SGS3 is actually quite dull) and the SGN2 has a lot whiter whites. All in all the Note 2 screen wins hands down without even considering the size.

  • np

    this is a good comparison however it would be better if the images were side by side at the same level of zoom. clearly the gs3 has smaller pixels so you show here significantly smaller text on the gs3 when compared with the note2. i would like to see how fuzzy the text on the note 2 would look if the word was an identical physical size to that on the gs3, not identical font size.

  • BFS

    Great article!!!
    The two displays are wonders of technology!
    The technology behind the display of the NoteII is better than that of the SGSIII, but the extremely high pixel density on the SGSIII makes the pentile unnoticiable in everyday use!
    I always liked Amoled displays, love the color saturation, love the super constrast, the real blacks, the superb viewing angles!

  • Ewoks

    I’m impressed. There is so little difference between the two displays that it is negligible. Both phones are great. The screen of the Galaxy Note II is better to watch movies, but the size of the Galaxy S3 is more pocket friendly. Choices… Choices… :D

  • Ewoks

    Is it wrong to actually like the over saturated colors of Galaxy S3? :D

  • Superb article and very informative! Thanks! But I’m wondering, what about the brightness and contrast of each phone? Would be great adding that info :)

  • Honestly, I can tell you having owned both devices that the Note 2 has a substantially better display. It’s packing Samsung’s most advanced consumer AMOLED tech to date, and the whites truly are that much better. Text is amazing on it, and, after you get used to its immensity/manliness, you simply can’t go back to any other phone. My two cents for you guys.

  • tiger

    these question has been locked in my head for sometimes, thanks for your clarification , i got the answer by now, it’s Note 2!! the display is one of my most factor for buying phone . even i see the LCD2 and IPS HD are awesome, the bigger screen is the one!

  • The Galaxy Note 2 display is better! :)

  • Ray

    Excellent Article. I would definitely say that the Note 2 has a slight advantage over the S3. I am an S3 owner. Not biased.

  • I like to see people saying the Note 2 is brighter and whiter. The off white and dim screen of the S3, along with it’s poor reception was the 2 main factors for my returning it and going back to a 2 year old Droid X. I’ll be do a side by side with my Droid X for brightness and whiteness when the US gets the Note 2 on VZW. I’ll be heading over to Sprint to play with their floor model though.

  • KyleRay

    Totally lame comparison…. because nobody looks at their phone screen through a microscope. The screens are two different sizes, so zooming on the smaller to make the icons or content the same size is just ridiculous. On Pentile? If you don’t understand the technology (which you obviously don’t) then you should just SHUT UP!

    There have been many theory what is natural or better seen by the human eyes. When RGB first came out, many people had problems with it’s pixel array as well. Over the years it’s been refined, but if you are someone who had never seen an RGB screen today, if may look just as odd as Pentile Array. Some people and actually they are actually the most vocal minority, see something that most others don’t. If they allow their eyes to get used to it, they wouldn’t see it. Just like what took place when RGB Pixel Array came out. BUT……. the larger argument against opponents of Pentile, is that they are too busy looking for something to hate about SAMSUNG!

    Obviously that’s pointing a BIG FAT FINGER RIGHT AT YOU!!! ;-P …..pssst come on just admit that you are a closet iCrAppleholic!

  • Kish

    This was great.. Thnks :) Note 2 is AMAZING !!!

  • Mikeyreds

    Without doubt the S3 display is superior to the Note 2. I am becoming very cynical about reviews. I was really looking forward to the Note 2 because I wanted a bigger screen basically beyond what Apple offers currently. I have been using the iPhone since it first came out and have loved it but now getting a bit tired of the same old thing and the screen for me is just not big enough. I recently bought a Nexus 7 and thing that is really good. Fast, bright screen nice operating system. However in my view the Note 2 screen is basically a bit dull and the icons do not look as sharp as they do on the iPhone4 for instance or the S3 or my Nexus 7mso expected the same from the Note 2. I have spent a number of hours now testing the Note 2 in various stores for prolonged periods (today for an hour with 2 Note 2s and an S3) and I found it laggy and as I say the screen disappointing. What I can’t fathom is the glowing reviews it seems to get. By comparison I tried the iPhone 5 and it was in a different league speed wise and screen quality, but the screen is just too small for me.
    To me the original Note looks better than the new one. Does anyone else think the same?

    • ken124

      AGREE. Original Note seriously looks and feels better. I have neither, and am deciding between these two. Can say for sure that the Note II feels as if constructed of flimsy plastic when I held it (nothing against this gadget, had wanted to buy it at the time).

  • Ok very nice review I thank you for it! c: /)
    I had a GS3 and I was deeply dissatisfied with its screen I unfortunately had the blackened haze of subpixels all over it, of course that was usually only visible in dark areas but I live in a dark area most of the time and I keep the brightness down to a minimum it tends to bother my eyes at full brightness plus it saves battery. Anyway it was noticeable at nearly all times I sometimes found myself just starring at the blackened pixels it was very upsetting so I got rid of the phone that was my only problem the GS3. I am a display purist that’s for true! I am deeply looking forward to the Samsung Galaxy Note 2 after reading your review. I was considering the iPhone 5 but I just simply love that gigantic screen on the Samsung Galaxy Note 2 it’s magnificent simply wonderful watching My Little Pony Friendship is Magic should be a real joy on that behemoth of a screen as well as paying games.
    Thank you for the fantastic review!
    Also Brohoof! /)

  • JT

    Does Jellybean vs Ice Cream make a difference in some of these noticeable differences in the screens?

  • saurabhaj

    This is the reason why i Liked Android Authority on Facebook,Google+ and

    cant forget s3 and iphone 5 droptest by Android Authority on Youtube,

    carry on guys.

  • Kathryn Hampton

    Can anyone comment on the comparison of the two screens in bright daylight?

  • hvl9988

    Best review article I’ve ever seen. Keep it up! I become your fan now. Thanks.

  • What are the RGB color levels on a scal from 0-255 for each individual one.

  • NEIL

    very nicely put together article, Just what l was Looking for
    Thanks very much for sharing

  • JYJ

    Anybody know if the S4 PenTile layout does any better as far as green color goes?