Apple iPhone 5 Features: New Retina Display Beats Out Samsung Galaxy S3 In Lab Comparison

 @redletterdave on September 25 2012 3:00 PM
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The iPhone 5 is Apple's sixth-generation smartphone. Reuters

On the surface, it looks like the only changes between the new iPhone 5 and last year's iPhone 4S are cosmetic; both Apple smartphones run the same operating systems (either iOS 5 or 6) and include all of the same software features, including the 8-megapixel camera with Panorama mode and the AI personal assistant better known as Siri. And while it would seem the only change to the screen was making it bigger than its predecessors, Apple has actually delivered some major improvements into its display technology in the iPhone 5.

DisplayMate, the Amherst, NH-based company that specializes in evaluating and comparing all types of display technologies, released an extensive analysis on Tuesday of the new Retina Display on the all-new iPhone 5, which Apple finally released to the public last Friday.

Despite the growing number of high-end IPS LCDs and OLED displays, DisplayMate chose to compare the iPhone 5 against just two benchmarks: The iPhone 4, which was the original standard of display quality for Apple with its landmark Retina Display, and the Samsung Galaxy S3, which is this year's premier flagship smartphone from Samsung, and the prime competitor of the iPhone 5. DisplayMate measured and compared the phones’ varying degree of screen reflections, brightness and contrast levels, colors and intensities, viewing angles, display power consumptions, as well as the battery lives of the individual devices.

In comparing the iPhone 5 with the iPhone 4, DisplayMate found the iPhone 5’s screen was a “significant improvement” over its predecessor.

“Apple has uncharacteristically understated how much better the display is on the iPhone 5 – something that could be an important factor for those considering whether to upgrade. In every category that we measure (except Brightness Decrease with Viewing Angle), the performance of the iPhone 5 display has improved over the iPhone 4, sometimes by a bit and sometimes by a lot.”

Even though the iPhone 5 has 18 percent more screen area than the iPhone 4 and 4S, DisplayMate said the iPhone 5 has substantially less screen reflections and glare – the iPhone 4 reflects 52 percent more than the iPhone 5 – and the iPhone 5 also has the highest contrast rating for high ambient light in any mobile device ever tested by the company -- a rating 57 percent higher than the iPhone 4.

“This means screen readability in bright ambient lighting has improved substantially – both the image colors and contrast won’t appear as washed out outdoors as on other Smartphones, including the iPhone 4,” DisplayMate said.

The reason glare is significantly reduced in the iPhone 5 is because the screen was built using in-cell technologies, rather than the on-cell process used to create every prior Apple iPhone. In-cell panels, which effectively remove a layer between the multi-touch screen and the LCD display, far outperform their on-cell counterparts. Taiwan-based AUO Optronics explains the difference:

"Compared to in-cell technology, the conventional technologies have an additional sensing glass, which not only increases the overall thickness of the LCD, but also adds an extra lamination process step, translating to increased cost and relatively lower yield and reduced transmittance," the company said. "Compared to the traditional resistive touch control, in-cell voltage sensing not only has the above advantages, but also is superior in that its sensitivity is less subjective to environment changes, no calibration mechanism required, and capability of supporting multiple-point touch control."

AUO Optronics adds that the touch sensors are vastly improved in in-cell technologies, but they're still powerful enough to resist scratches on the touch panel, resulting in "a longer product lifetime."

"In contrast to the traditional resistive digitizer touch controls, since a mere light touch can be picked up, the operation interface of in-cell charging sensing is more humanized," AUO said. "In addition, charging sensing not only can support multiple point touch controls, but further support pen writing at present to meet different requirements by the clients."

DisplayMate also said the iPhone 5’s color quality and color accuracy have improved substantially from two years ago, now that the iPhone 5 has a color gamut and factory display calibration upgrade to ensure a highly accurate display experience.

But while the iPhone 5 was expected to better its predecessors, the real test for the iPhone 5 was comparing its screen to that of the Samsung Galaxy S3, especially since Samsung takes a much different approach to display-making: the Galaxy S3 features a proprietary PenTile OLED screen, which has advantages in aging and cost to manufacture, but disadvantages in pixel resolution and brightness.

OLED displays, according to DisplayMate, are not yet as refined as LCD technologies, but have a “very promising future,” given that the technology is rapidly improving. Nevertheless, DisplayMate compared the iPhone 5 screen to Samsung’s Galaxy S3 screen, only to find that the Galaxy S3’s display had about half the brightness of the iPhone 5, had a much larger color gamut that “leads to distorted and exaggerated colors,” and has very little calibration, “so many images appear over saturated and gaudy.” DisplayMate also found that screen readability in high ambient lighting was much poorer in the Galaxy S3 than the iPhone 5.

Overall, the iPhone 5’s display scored an A, whereas the iPhone 4 had scored an A-, and the Galaxy S3 had scored a B+. DisplayMate took into consideration various viewing tests of photos and video, various viewing angles, and the overall assessments and calibrations of the display itself. The iPhone 5, according to DisplayMate, has accurate color and contrast for images and videos, small color shifts and a large shift in brightness depending on the viewing angle, as well as an “excellent” LCD display and calibration.

Visit DisplayMate’s site to read more details about the differences between the devices and see charts comparing their features.

The iPhone 5 features a taller and thinner build from previous models, including a new 4-inch Retina Display with a 16:9 ratio for watching widescreen videos in HD. The iPhone 5 also comes with new smaller dock connectorLTE support, an improved camera infrastructure, as well as the all-new custom-built A6 chip, which is said to contain three cores and run twice as fast as the A5 chip that powers the iPad 2, iPhone 4S, new iPad and Apple TV.

The iPhone 5 comes pre-loaded with the iOS 6 mobile operating system, which features more than 200 new features including an all-new Apple-made Maps application, as well as a newly-enhanced version of Siri, the virtual personal assistant introduced by Apple last year in the iPhone 4S.

All retailers and carriers currently sell two-year plans for the iPhone 5, and will not sell the phone for any less or more than Apple's set prices. The iPhone 5 costs $199 for 16GB of storage, $299 for 32GB, and $399 for 64GB, and comes in two color schemes: black and slate, or white and silver.

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