The Samsung Galaxy S III, due to arrive in the U.S. this summer, is the current hot Android phone of the moment. Anticipated for months and unveiled last week at a gala event in London, the latest model in Samsung’s Galaxy line of phones brings to the table many impressive features, including Siri-like voice control and auto-tagging of photos.
However, the new superphone may have one weak spot: the display. Samsung decided to give the Galaxy S III a 4.8-inch PenTile display — what the company refers to as HD Super AMOLED. The relatively new display tech works differently than other types of screens, using individual pixels in novel ways to boost resolution.
Here’s how it works: In a normal display, the individual pixels are made up of three sub-pixels — one each for red, green and blue (making them “RGB” displays). Those sub-pixels switch on and off depending on what color the pixel is tasked to display.
A pixel on a PenTile screen, however, has just two sub-pixels. It doesn’t need the third because the pixels actually work together to display visual information. If a pixel needs a third sub-pixel, it can effectively “borrow” one from a nearby pixel to render the proper color. The display is essentially doing more with less, at least in theory.
In practice, it’s much less clear. Reviewers, including Mashable‘s, tend to view PenTile displays somewhat unfavorably, believing they display some artifacts by the nature of how they work. Comparing a PenTile screen with a regular LCD rated at the same resolution, the PenTile may sometimes appear a bit fuzzy around edges. However, it’s a difficult thing to notice without really looking for it.
“‘Super’ AMOLED display sounds fantastic, but a PenTile display has 33% fewer sub-pixels than a traditional display,” says Raymond Soneira, president of DisplayMate. “These are phoney pixels. A 1,280 x 720 PenTile display is much less sharp than a true 1,280 x 720 RGB display. ”
If PenTile displays have issues, then why does Samsung use them instead of a traditional high-definition screen? Officially, Samsung says it’s because the technology lasts longer than a regular AMOLED, according to a report from MobileBurn. Although AMOLED screens, which Samsung says are popular with customers, have great brightness and color, they tend to get worse over time.
A PenTile AMOLED mitigates that deterioration. Since it uses fewer blue sub-pixels — the ones that have the shortest life — the display will perform for longer than the 18 months people usually wait to upgrade their phones.
There may be other reasons behind Samsung’s choice, though.
“It’s a lot easier and costs a lot less to make a display with just two sub-pixels per pixel instead of the full complement of three,” Soneira says. “Light throughput is also higher. These are all ‘pluses’ for PenTile, but the minus is reduced image sharpness for the stated pixel resolution.”
With better light throughput, that would also mean a benefit to battery life, since the screen won’t need to run as brightly to have the same effective brightness. Since the demand for more features is constantly outpacing advances in battery tech, device manufacturers look for any opportunity to save power through design.
Finally, there’s the marketing answer. By putting “HD” and “Super” in the name of the product, consumers are led to believe it’s a superior technology than AMOLED. “People think they are getting a much sharper display,” says Soneira.
What do you think of Samsung’s choice of a PenTile display for the Samsung Galaxy S III? Sound off in the comments.