Galaxy S4 vs HTC One – Display Comparison

May 20, 2013
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The current Android titans — that’s how the Galaxy S4 and the HTC One are referred to these days. They’re Samsung’s and HTC’s most powerful offerings to the high-end Android market, and the two phones bring with them not just processing might or camera power, but also display prowess.

Both 1080p Full HD phones, the S4 and the One can be expected to deliver rich details, amazing color, and overall visual pleasure on their respective screens.

However, at the end of the day, what will most likely sway you will not be what technical experts say but what your very own eyes tell you when they see the awesome display on either phone. And, I’m telling you right now that whichever of these two phones you choose, you’ll find very few reasons — if at all — for disappointment over its display.

I’m not saying that the two phones are equals in terms of display power. They aren’t. One simply has an edge over the other in certain aspects in the display department. In this comparison of the Galaxy S4 vs HTC One displays, we take a closer look at the display on both phones and find out which one seems better, how, and in what area. (For a video version of this comparison, jump ahead to the end of this post.)

Display Specs

Galaxy S4 HTC
Screen size 5.0 inches 4.7 inches
Screen resolution 1080×1920 1080×1920
Screen technology Full HD Super AMOLED IPS Super LCD 3
Pixel density 441 ppi 469 ppi
Pixel Arrangement PenTile RGBG matrix RGB matrix
Screen protection Corning Gorilla Glass 3 Corning Gorilla Glass 2

The HTC One packs all its Full HD glory inside a smaller screen (0.3 inches smaller than the Galaxy S4’s), resulting in higher pixel density, which technically makes the HTC One’s display sharper and crisper.

The two phones also differ in screen technology: Full HD Super AMOLED on the Galaxy S4 and Super LCD 3 on the HTC One. Samsung’s Super AMOLED screens have been quite known for bright, vibrant, and saturated colors, while Super LCD 3 screens are known for realistic colors and overall brighter display.

hd-video-sbs

For protective cover, the Galaxy S4 uses Corning Gorilla Glass 3 while the HTC One uses Corning Gorilla Glass 2. According to Corning, Gorilla Glass 3 has Native Damage Resistance, which makes it more damage-resistant than its former glass components and up to three times damage-resistant than Gorilla Glass 2.

Though scratch-resistant, both phones aren’t shatter-proof. See our drop tests for both HTC One and Galaxy S4 for more info.

Matrices: PenTile RGBG vs RGB

The HTC One’s display uses the RGB (red-green-blue) matrix, a pixel arrangement in which each pixel consists of three subpixels — one each for red, blue, and green.

Here’s how the HTC One’s RGB matrix looks like up close:

RGB matrix on the HTC One (image credit: AnandTech)

RGB matrix on the HTC One (image credit: AnandTech)

In contrast, the Galaxy S4 stayed with the PenTile RGBG (red-green-blue-green) matrix, which the Galaxy S3 also used. In this pixel arrangement, a picture element consists only of two subpixels (either red and green together, or blue and green together). Since the two subpixels need a third one to form the trinity of primary colors, they do so by borrowing the appropriately colored subpixel from a neighboring pixel.

According to DisplayMate Technologies’ Raymond Soneira, screens using such pixel arrangement reportedly are easier to make, cost less, appear brighter, and “reduce aging effects.”

On the Galaxy S3, the PenTile RGBG matrix looks like this:

PenTile RGBG matrix on the Galaxy S3 (image credit: AnandTech)

PenTile RGBG matrix on the Galaxy S3 (image credit: AnandTech)

But, on the Galaxy S4, the subpixel shapes and layout have changed :

PenTile RGBG matrix on the Galaxy S4 (source: Samsung via DisplayMate Technologies)

PenTile RGBG matrix on the Galaxy S4 (source: Samsung via DisplayMate Technologies)

Soneira explains that, to pack the most number of subpixels and reach the highest possible density (ppi), Samsung used Diamond Pixels — for red and blue, in particular — the shape of which caused what Soneira calls a “45-degree diagonal symmetry in the subpixel layout.”

This pixel arrangement, however, uses two times more green subpixels than red or blue subpixels, a condition that often causes a greenish or bluish tint on the display.

To learn more about PenTile RGBG and RGB matrix, see our article comparing the PenTile matrix on the Galaxy S3 and the RGB matrix on the Galaxy Note 2. You can also read more about Samsung’s Diamond Pixel.

Screen Modes

One of the few things that I like about the Galaxy S4 is that through Screen Modes, I can change the color contrast of the phone’s screen. If you find the default settings too saturated or the colors too bright, you can set the display to render subdued but more realistic colors. The nice thing about this feature is that the Galaxy S4 gives in to your visual whims.

screen-modes

These Screen Modes are available on the Galaxy S4:

  • Adapt Display — default Screen Mode. Enabling this will let the phone decide the most appropriate display settings to use according to the amount of surrounding light and the content displayed on the screen.
  • Dynamic — the most vibrant display among the other Screen Modes. This mode is perfect for bright environments.
  • Standard — displays images in high color saturation. This is well-suited for bright environments.
  • Professional Photo — calibrates the screen to the Adobe RGB standard. Useful for digital photography applications.
  • Movie — best choice for color and image accuracy, as this mode sets the display to closely match the color and white point standard for displaying consumer content on consumer electronics such as digicams, HDTVs, Internet and computer media, and the like.

The HTC One doesn’t seem to have any means for the user to manually adjust display settings in a similar manner as the S4’s Screen Mode does. However, AnandTech found out in the HTC One’s logs that the phone has a dynamic contrast function that adjusts the screen according to the content.

Display comparison

Technical gobbledygook aside, which display is better? Like many things in this world, the answer to that is a subjective one. Some people don’t want to be told, “It all depends on what your eyes are most comfortable looking at.” Yet, most people base their purchase decisions on subjective perceptions, especially those coming from first-hand contact with the object. In addition to that, the answer may also vary according to your phone usage habits.

At first look by a casual user with an unsophisticated eye, there are no differences between the Galaxy S4’s Full HD Super AMOLED screen (with its PenTile RGBG matrix) and the HTC One’s Suer LCD 3 screen (with its RGB matrix). But, we took a second closer look and found that there’s more than meets the eye.

Brightness and visibility (indoor)

We displayed a color chart on each phone and took photos of the two phones indoors, in the dimmest part of the house. The photo below shows the phone’s screens at 50% brightness:

Indoor shot, both screens set to 50% brightness

Indoor shot, both screens set to 50% brightness

The colors shown on the Galaxy S4 in this photo appear brighter, with many of the darker shades still visible. The HTC One’s colors in this photo appear darker, less saturated, and seem natural. Also, some of the darker shades are no longer visible on the HTC One.

Brightness and visibility (outdoor)

To compare the two screens in terms of outdoor visibility, we brought the two phones outside and took photos in broad daylight. Here’s how a mix of text and graphics appear on the two screens when placed under sunlight:

Outdoor shot (daylight); screens on auto brightness

Outdoor shot (daylight); screens on auto brightness

The HTC One’s display appears brighter and more visible in this set, most likely because its whites are whiter, compared to the Galaxy S4’s tendency for bluish whites.

Outdoor shot (daylight); screens on auto brightness; backward tilt at about 45 degrees

Outdoor shot (daylight); screens on auto brightness; backward tilt at about 45 degrees

In the set above, the phones were leaning backwards at an angle of about 45 degrees. At this angle and time of day, the screens reflected some of the midmorning sun. The Galaxy S4 seems to reflect more sunlight more brilliantly, reducing its visibility effectively.

Next, we also wanted to compare how images looked like. In the set below, both displays are visible and clear under the mid-afternoon sun. However, I personally find the HTC One’s screen brighter, while the Galaxy S4 seems to show richer color but darker tones.

Outdoor shot (daylight); screens on max brightness;

Outdoor shot (daylight); screens on max brightness;

Then, we tilted the two phones backwards to about 45 degrees, and the result appears to favor the Galaxy S4:

Outdoor shot (daylight); screens on max brightness; backward tilt at about 45 degrees

Outdoor shot (daylight); screens on max brightness; backward tilt at about 45 degrees

We also made the two screens reflect some afternoon sunlight, just to see which one has more glare. In this case, the Galaxy S4 still showed more glare, diminishing the visibility of the display. Here’s how the two looked like:

Outdoor shot (daylight); screens on max brightness; screens reflecting sunlight

Outdoor shot (daylight); screens on max brightness; screens reflecting sunlight

We brought the two phones under a shade and tried to see which one delivers a more pleasant display:

Outdoor shot (daylight, shade); screens on max brightness

Outdoor shot (daylight, shade); screens on max brightness

The photo above shows the Galaxy S4 with richer color and more marked contrast. The HTC One’s display, though, appears brighter.

However, the One’s brightness seems diminished, resulting in dimmer and subdued color when tilted backwards about 45 degrees, while the Galaxy S4’s brightness, contrast, and rich color remain, although also a bit diminished, as reflected in the photo below:

Outdoor shot (daylight, shade); screens on max brightness; backward tilt at about 45 degrees

Outdoor shot (daylight, shade); screens on max brightness; backward tilt at about 45 degrees

Lastly, a few photos of a mix of images and text:

Outdoor shot (daylight, shade); screens on auto brightness

Outdoor shot (daylight, shade); screens on auto brightness

Outdoor shot (daylight, shade); screens on auto brightness; backward tilt at about 45 degrees

Outdoor shot (daylight, shade); screens on auto brightness; backward tilt at about 45 degrees

The two photos above show the bluish-greenish hue on the Galaxy S4’s display; the black text on the S4 look thicker and more solid. The Samsung phone also shows darker shades of black. Meanwhile, the HTC One shows an overall brighter display and whiter whites.

So far, our observations have remained consistent:

  • The Galaxy S4 has a wider viewing angle — just don’t let the sun bounce back and hit your eyes.
  • The HTC One has a whiter screen compared to the greenish-bluish white screen on the Galaxy S4.
  • The HTC One doesn’t reflect too much light, thus the display remains somewhat visible even under very bright light.
  • The Galaxy S4 has a richer contrast and deeper blacks.

Color, sharpness, and resolution

Which phone delivers sharper and crisper display? Which has better color? We had these questions at the top of our heads when we took the photos featured in this section.

In the studio shot below (with the phone screens set to 50% brightness), our test image turned out crisp and sharp on both phones.

Studio shot showing HD photo; screen brightness at 50%

Studio shot showing HD photo; screen brightness at 50%

I find the colors of the HTC One’s display more realistic than the seemingly washed out colors of the Galaxy S4. The HTC One’s colors also appear richer, and the contrast appears higher, than on the Galaxy S4. I observe that the red-orange tinge in the center of the flower and the pink of the flower petals appear deeper and more vibrant on the HTC One display. The Galaxy S4 screen appears brighter overall.

We took a closer look to see things in greater detail.

Magnified screen showing portion of HD photo (left -- Galaxy S4; right - HTC One)

Magnified screen showing portion of HD photo (left — Galaxy S4; right – HTC One)

There are more blue/green pixels on the Galaxy S4 screen than on the HTC One. The pixels on the Galaxy S4 appear bigger than those on the HTC One. Also, the pixels on the HTC One appear tightly packed. We can see here the difference in pixel densities on the two displays: there are more pixels per unit area on the HTC One screen than on the Galaxy S4. The higher pixel density on the HTC One gives it a sharper display.

Magnified screen showing portion of HD photo (left -- Galaxy S4; right - HTC One)

Magnified screen showing portion of HD photo (left — Galaxy S4; right – HTC One)

On the Galaxy S4, the bluish tint somehow alters the redness of the petals. The HTC One’s red is more vivid and vibrant than the Galaxy S4’s.

Magnified screen showing portion of HD photo (left -- Galaxy S4; right - HTC One)

Magnified screen showing portion of HD photo (left — Galaxy S4; right – HTC One)

The bluish-greenish pixels are visible in the photo (above) of a magnified section of the Galaxy S4’s display. These pixels tend to make the image appear brighter. On the HTC One, I notice more accurate and more realistic colors.

We got curious about how plain black and plain white looked magnified on both phones. The set below is a magnified portion of each phone’s screen showing plain black at full screen brightness.

Magnified screen showing plain black (left -- Galaxy S4; right - HTC One)

Magnified screen showing plain black (left — Galaxy S4; right – HTC One)

The Galaxy S4’s black is blacker, as the comparative photos above show. AMOLED-based displays generally have pixels that emit light. To create black, the pixels are usually just turned off. This can probably explain why the S4 displays deeper and more solid blacks than the HTC One does, especially for text and gradients of black.

The black on the HTC One’s LCD screen appears a bit bright and somewhat maroonish or very dark brown/red. LCD screens generally use back lighting, and the layer of liquid crystals block out parts of the light to produce the needed colors.

Magnified screen showing plain white (left -- Galaxy S4; right - HTC One)

Magnified screen showing plain white (left — Galaxy S4; right – HTC One)

Between the two, I observe the HTC One’s white as truer and closer to real white than the Galaxy S4’s. The magnified screen photos above seem to validate my observation. On the S4, you’ll see some bluish-greenish pixels, which are not very apparent on the HTC One.

Next, we wanted to compare the quality of text display on both the Galaxy S4 and HTC One. Below are studio shots of the same Android Authority page loaded onto the stock Android Browser on both phones. The display brightness was set to 50% on both phones.

Closeup view of webpage text on HTC One stock browser

Closeup view of webpage text on HTC One stock browser

Closeup view of webpage text on Galaxy S4 stock browser

Closeup view of webpage text on Galaxy S4 stock browser

Undoubtedly, text appears readable, crisp, and sharp on both displays. However, I observe that the black text on the S4 seems thicker and bigger. On the HTC One, text appears narrower/thinner and smaller; I actually find the text on the HTC One crunchier. This, of course, can be explained by the difference in pixel density.

I personally find the HTC One’s text display generally bright enough for quick, short reading sessions. Yet, the brightness and high contrast can cause eye strain during long reading sessions. As for the Galaxy S4, reading text (even with screen brightness maxed out) may not be as strainful to the eyes as on the HTC One, owing to the S4’s generally dimmer, slightly lower-contrast white.

Below are magnification photos of text on both screens (50% brightness):

Magnified screen showing portion of text (left -- Galaxy S4; right - HTC One)

Magnified screen showing portion of text (left — Galaxy S4; right – HTC One)

The S4 screen still shows the green/blue pixels in the white areas of the photo. There are also some noticeable red and green highlights around each letter, creating some sort of fuzziness around the text edges. The HTC One, on the other hand, simply has crunchy text and solid lines with minimal outlining.

Lastly, we wanted to check which phone renders app icons much better. As far as I’m concerned, my naked eyes see no glaring difference in the sharpness or color by which the app icons are rendered on the Galaxy S4 and HTC One. They’re as perfectly sharp as they can be.

But, if you look more closely, there are actually differences, as shown in these magnified photos of the Play Store icon (with the phone’s screen at 50% brightness):

Magnified screen showing app icon (left -- Galaxy S4; right - HTC One)

Magnified screen showing app icon (left — Galaxy S4; right – HTC One)

As expected, the white parts of the icon on the S4 show bluish-greenish pixels. The fuzzy edges and green highlights are also noticeable, as in the text comparison earlier. But, all these don’t seem to affect sharpness or the crispness of icon. The photo of the icon on the HTC One has some reddish, light-brownish tint, although that’s not visible to the naked eye.

Video comparison

Watch our video comparison of the Galaxy S4’s and HTC One’s display:

Conclusion

The displays on both the Galaxy S4 and HTC One are amazing. On the basis of screen and display alone, I find it hard to take sides. Based on this comparison, the following positive points can be ascribed to each phone:

Galaxy S4 pros

  • richer contrast and deeper blacks
  • wider viewing angle
  • generally brighter, with saturated colors
  • various Screen Modes

HTC One pros

  • whiter whites
  • more realistic colors
  • sharper display
  • reflects less light

Which display suits much better your usage habits and needs? Which phones provides a display that works for you or that satisfies your visual preference? Let us know in the comments.

(with contributions from Alvin Ybañez)

Works cited

  • Corning Incorporated. (2013). Innovating with Gorilla. Retrieved from http://www.corninggorillaglass.com/#innovating-with-gorilla
  • Klug, Brian. (2013, April 24). Samsung Galaxy S 4 review – part 1. Retrieved from http://www.anandtech.com/show/6914/samsung-galaxy-s-4-review/8
  • Klug, Brian (2013, April 5). The HTC One review. Retrieved from http://www.anandtech.com/show/6747/htc-one-review/10
  • Soneira, Raymond. (2013). Galaxy S4 display technology shoot-out. Retrieved from http://www.displaymate.com/Galaxy_S4_ShootOut_1.htm

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