Modern phones have matured to the point that there’s often relatively little performance difference between high-end devices. Visual technologies, like display or camera quality, are another matter, particularly when you factor in subtleties of color accuracy and battery life. For years, Samsung and Apple have been duking it out for the title of best display, but the fight was often apples-to-oranges for the simple fact that Apple relied on LCDs for the iPhone while Samsung used OLEDs for its Galaxy and Galaxy Note devices. When OLEDs were new, Apple’s LCDs often beat Samsung’s AMOLED panels by multiple metrics; as time passed it became more a question of which technology you preferred. Apple’s decision to use an OLED panel with the iPhone X was something of a coup for Samsung, which had spent years improving its mobile AMOLED technology.
As of today, Dr. Raymond Soneira of DisplayMate has put the Galaxy S9’s AMOLED panel through his usual battery of tests and come back with a definitive answer: the S9 beats out the excellent (Samsung-built) display on the iPhone X.
Dr. Soneira’s reviews are known for being weighty, but this particular one is the approximate density of a white dwarf or your average fruitcake. Here are some — some of the listed improvements:
Compare the Galaxy S9 with the iPhone X, and you’ll see Samsung matching or besting Apple in most categories. The iPhone X’s average screen reflection is an excellent 4.5 percent, but Samsung sneaks past at 4.4 percent.
Similarly, Apple’s average color error at 0 lux is an excellent 0.9 JNCD (Just Noticeable Color Difference) in its DCI-P3 gamut and 1.0 JNCD in the Rec. 709 color gamut. But Samsung pulls off an even smaller JNCD of 0.7 in both of those gamuts with the Galaxy S9.
One of the largest differences is between the iPhone X’s dynamic brightness falloff with off-angle viewing and the Galaxy S9’s performance in the same type of test. The 27 percent decrease figure in the far left column refers to Samsung’s wide color gamut, which intentionally uses “vivid” colors that are, in fact, blown out compared with a more accurate color gamut. For the purposes of an apples-to-apples (pun intended) comparison, the second two columns are the appropriate points of reference. The iPhone X is on the bottom and the Galaxy S9 is on top.
It’s differences like this, combined with an essentially unchanged power efficiency curve, that win the Galaxy S9 the coveted title of best smartphone display ever. That’s not to say the iPhone X doesn’t chalk up a few wins — it’s still much brighter than the Galaxy S9 in outdoor light, so if you often find yourself using your phone outside, there may be other options you want to consider.
Now, will you notice these differences? It depends. Certainly the gains year-on-year are smaller than they used to be when everyone was going from pixelated displays circa 2009 to the much higher DPIs available by 2011 or 2012. But if you’re still holding on to an older device from several years ago, you should definitely notice a major improvement. Either way, Samsung outdid themselves on the S9’s display.