Display: The New Super AMOLED

The Galaxy S5’s display is an incremental, but noteworthy update over the Galaxy S4’s display, despite a lack of significant changes on paper. The S5 packs a 5.1-inch 16:9 Super AMOLED display with a 1920 x 1080 resolution; crunching some numbers reveals a pixel density of 431 PPI, and a total screen area of 71.7 sq. cm.

Unlike LCD displays of this size and resolution, the Galaxy S5’s panel uses a PenTile subpixel matrix, which means there isn’t a dedicated red, green and blue subpixel per pixel in this display. This reduces the true resolution of the panel and, if this was an early AMOLED from 2011, would give it a grainy appearance. Luckily the technology has come a long way since then, and partially thanks to the high pixel density, the effects of the PenTile matrix are virtually unnoticeable.

The sharpness and clarity exhibited from the Galaxy S5’s Super AMOLED panel is as good as we’ve come to expect. Thin typefaces look especially fantastic on the S5’s display, giving that paper-like experience when browsing the web or viewing other text-heavy applications. The ability to view 1080p video content natively is always welcome, as is the extra detail you’ll see in images.

The AMOLED panels I’ve used over the past few years, in devices such as the Galaxy S4 and Galaxy Note 3, have almost always been a step behind the top-end LCD competition. They couldn’t match LCD technology on brightness, white levels and balance, outdoor visibility, and color accuracy. But this all changes with the Galaxy S5’s much improved display.

For the first time in a long time, the AMOLED display in the Galaxy S5 made me go “wow.” From the moment I powered on the device it was clear how much effort Samsung has put into improving their AMOLED technology: this is now a panel that competes well with top-level LCDs like the HTC One M8’s Super LCD 3 and the Xperia Z2’s Triluminious IPS LCD.

The colors produced by the S5’s display look astonishing, with a level of saturation that only an AMOLED can achieve. There doesn’t appear to be a tint towards a certain color like I’ve seen in the past, resulting in reasonably balanced images that look fantastic nearly all of the time.

Accuracy is still not as great as I’ve seen in LCD panels like the Nexus 5’s, as the gamut exceeds the sRGB spectrum resulting in inflated saturation and blown-out color levels. There’s also an issue with the gamma being slightly too high, which darkens and can oversaturate images. The good news is that these problems don’t stop the display from looking great; only the color accuracy is affected, and while I always look for an accurate display, most users will accept or not even notice this issue when photos look so good.

Contrast from AMOLED panels is as good as it gets – essentially infinite contrast – as the panel is ‘off’ when displaying blacks. Naturally this makes blacks and shadows unbelievably deep, and white levels are surprisingly good too, with only slight tinting towards the blue/cold end of the spectrum.

One of the most significant areas of improvement is the Galaxy S5 display’s outdoor visibility. The S5’s maximum display brightness appears to be only slightly higher than AMOLEDs of the past, but the construction of the panel has been altered in such a way that reflections have been reduced. The thickness of materials between the light-emitting diodes and the Gorilla Glass front panel has been reduced, which along with the diagonally-installed polarization filter actually make it possible to read the display in strong sunlight or backlighting.

A downside to getting a white model of the Galaxy S5 is the reflective white bezel around the display, which can give an illusion that the display is dim when outdoors as it reflects much more light than the panel itself. This didn’t hinder my ability to view the display in these conditions as significantly as it has in the past, thanks to the improvements in display technology, but the black model will be free from this issue altogether.

The viewing angles on this AMOLED panel have also been improved to the point where it matches the best panel in this domain: the Super LCD 3. There’s little loss of brightness when viewing the S5’s display from an acute angle, and although there’s a slightly greater shift in colors compared to the fantastic Super LCD 3 display on the HTC One M8, it’s hardly a huge issue.

I had no issues using the Galaxy S5’s touchscreen, and for those living in cold climates, you’ll be glad to hear that there is an option to increase the touch sensitivity, allowing you to use the display with gloves on. This isn’t a new feature – it’s been a major feature of some phones since the Nokia Lumia 920 – but nevertheless it’s a welcome one.