Samsung Galaxy S4 vs. HTC One: Which has the better 1080p display?

Daniel Bader

April 28, 2013 3:19pm

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There’s a new standard in town and devices like the HTC One and Samsung Galaxy S4 are leading the way. Full HD screens are to smartphones in 2013 what 720p displays were a year earlier, and while the shift isn’t as dramatic as it was coming from WVGA to HD, the current crop of choices is an embarrassment of riches.

The Galaxy S4 and HTC One are two of the most anticipated devices on the market today, and though they’re as different as can be, they both boast screens with resolutions of 1920×1080 pixels. The former employs a 5-inch Super AMOLED display, which pushes deep blacks and heavy saturation over colour accuracy, while the HTC One’s 4.7-inch screen is slightly sharper and more colour-neutral.

We’re going to compare the phones’ displays with as equal lighting conditions as possible. There must be a disclaimer, though: I don’t currently have a light meter, so while both displays are set to max brightness, it appears that the HTC One is slightly overblown in these photos due to a higher maximum brightness setting. That being said, you can still derive the various traits of each display and their respective technologies. The Galaxy S4 was also set to “Adapt Display” mode which uses ambient light to trigger one of three.

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We’ll start with the greyscale test. You can see above that the HTC One has pretty fantastic black levels for an LCD screen, and whites appear a little more accurate than on the Galaxy S4, on which they appear slightly blue.

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galaxys4comparison-13Colours appear more heavily saturated on the Galaxy S4 and, combined with the larger screen, are more pleasant to look at. Though the One’s image contains more detail, it’s a toss-up as to which one produces the better image. The HTC One’s LCD display produces more even, natural colour, and text looks better on its 4.7-inch screen.

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galaxys4comparison-17Both devices hold up pretty well when it comes to subtle shades and gentle transitions between gradients. Their pixel densities are so sharp that photos look equally stunning, but I’d give the edge to the Galaxy S4 here, as its improved contrast produces more fluid photos.

galaxys4comparison-24 galaxys4comparison-23The HTC One again displays everything with a less saturated, cleaner palette that emphasizes detail over contrast. The water droplets on the rose, for instance, look more realistic and inviting on the One, though the Galaxy S4 maintains better dynamic range between the fore- and background objects.

The fiery night sky in the bottom photo appears softer on the One but you can make out more light shading detail on the rocks than you can on the GS4.

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Both devices have excellent vertical and horizontal viewing angles, though the Galaxy S4 seems to take the prize with this particular test. Neither phone shows any discolouration or ghosting when viewed at even the steepest of angles, making either one a good choice. The Galaxy S4 has a larger display and therefore more usable space, especially when using apps that make of the One’s virtual menu button.

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In our sunlight tests, the One is slightly more visible at maximum brightness than the Galaxy S4, though the iPhone 5 shows the most detail of all the phones. Maximum brightness is higher on the HTC One, and the LCD display is better suited for work outside, but no phone, iPhone 5 included, is completely usable in direct sunlight.

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So there you have it: the Galaxy S4 looks to have an overall better screen for most use cases, though I still prefer the sharpness and colour accuracy of the HTC One. Given the choice, I’d take the latter phone, but the Galaxy S4 is a fantastic choice for users who want a larger high-resolution phone.

  • EvanKrosney

    While I personally love the deep blacks and saturated colours you get with AMOLED displays, HTC’s done a fantastic job with the One’s colour accuracy, detail, viewing angles, and it pops a surprising amount for an LCD.

    • Eduardo

      Totally unrelated but I just wish both companies would make Touchwiz & Sense “opt out” I love everything about the One but I completely hate Sense

    • douglasaharry

      Don’t worry it will be rooted and a pure asop rom will be coming out soon. I’m holding off buying it till one comes out.

    • Elias Ortega

      Just curious, are you using sense 5 right now?

  • Sean Lumly

    3rd gen Samsung OLED displays are already posing serious competition to very mature LCD tech. OLEDs look like the future of displays.

  • Ole fra trondheim

    I disagree with the conclusion of this review: HTC One seems to be the overall best display. I can`t stand the over saturated screen on the Galaxy

  • marorun1982

    I tested both device and I disagree about viewing angle the S4 color do shift a bit when folded where the one don’t. Otherwise pretty good review but the one screen is a tad better sorry.

    • matt

      Completely agree.

  • Darth Paton

    I’m just happy that both displays are so good. Last year it was just an embarrassing loss on Samsung’s part, this year they did a lot better.

  • Shawn Zhang

    I wouldn’t mind if the color is saturated on the S4 display, after all the display is there for users to look at, so as long as the saturation is always pleasing the eyes it should be a plus. What would come into my concern is, if I take pictures with the phone and they look very fine on this display, how much crappier should I expect the real images to be?

    • alexxx

      When I look at my graphic design, photos and stuff, I DON’T want a fake candying of it all and not allowing me to see how things really look like and that’s exactly what is happening – I’m sorry AMOLED in the S4 is a baby, look at the first picture-there are no grays! ZERO! The contrast seems even better on the One as well as blacks. I own the One X, and only SLCD3 on the One can replace it. WTF IS WITH THIS DELUSION, why would I FAKE the look of ALL my media on the device, its just krap, like the whole Galaxy lineup. Touchwiz, forceclosing, ughhh so ugly and painful. Samsung is not a brand of sophistication and quality, they just wanna push their own technology, screens, cpu’s, grocery bag polycarbonate…and charge premium.

    • sak hus

      Thanks alexxx. Here’s your cheque from HTC.

    • alexxx

      I fking wish, how much positive s$%t I say about them, in a million posts.

  • Jason Nexus

    I’m sorry the s4 is such a fail. Everything Samsung users insulted apple for has bit them in the butt. I have a nexus 4 and I’m completely satisfied. There is nothing exciting in the wake of smartphones this year. The only thing worth discussing is the next version of android 4.3 or 5.0 which ever they decide to go with. When it comes to speed it all comes down to software optimization. Touch wiZ will always be behind stock android in that department. RAM consumption is also a big problem with touch wiz and yes even on the s4. If your not running stock you need minimum 3 gigs of ram.

    • nexus sucks

      MUH STOCK ANDROID!

      my s3 on touchwiz runs fine, thanks

      enjoy your horrid battery life, bugs and instability on your no features nexus

      also… remember when android users made fun of apple for using glass backs on iphone 4s? LOL enjoy that cracked back on your nexus

    • Me OpenId

      Jason is a probably a 14 years old kid who can only afford a Nexus 4.

    • Ketchup

      Too bad for your ignorance but the nexus is ten times the phone the s3 is. Better build quality. Better hardware. Better display. Better camera. Better software. Cheaper to buy. Unlocked by default. First to get updates. And lastly not made out of fisher price plastic. You are such a tool.

    • WOOOOOOOPPIIII!

      WOW who cares? Noooooobody!

    • Riley Barnett

      My nexus 4 is doing great, caseless for months with plenty of drops. With that said, he was trolling super hard with that attack on touchwiz. Its ugly, not slow!

    • Riley Barnett

      I dont like touchwiz or the galaxy series, but your trolling super hard. I love my nexus 4 but the 1080p screens and big sensor/megapizel cameras coming out are already calling me!

  • matt

    I have never seen a review that has said AMOLED has better viewing angles than an LCD.

    • artstate

      You must be kidding…
      You might be able to find IPS LCD panels with a bit better viewing angles, but in general LCD has worse viewing angles

  • Rich

    The bright side (no pun) is that with custom kernels you can typically adjust the screen saturation, etc.

  • DC

    Despite the display (which I agreed HTC One is better), when comparing these two side by side, Samsung looks like an unattractive housewife who has numerous plastic surgeries while HTC looked like Miss Universe. Plastic is plastic. No matter how they name it.

    • nexus sucks

      hurrr durrr plastic

      htc one is ugly with those rtarded speakers and logo placement, made of cheap recycled soda can aluminum and is a copy of z10

      I’d rather use brands like huawei before i even use htc

    • Riley Barnett

      the z10 is nothing like the One? and have fun while huawei steals your data, it doesnt seem like youd have anything important though.

    • djinn123

      even better if it is using recycled soda can aluminum! Better for the environment. Can’t say the same about plastic.

    • djinn123

      even better if it is using recycled soda can aluminum! Better for the environment. Can’t say the same about plastic.

    • TechyMarkbo

      Those rtarded speakers sound ridiculously awesome for a phone….. Just make sure to cup your single speaker forward…..

  • jeff siri

    I compared the htc one vs the samsung. Go into a store like at&t and compare the two screens side by side go into an internet site and turn off the power saver on the htc one. Its night and day, the htc one has amazingly striking whites while the samsung white looks dull and has a slight bluish cast. By the way i own the htc one. Put riptide gp on it and you wont even want the samsung. HTC one is so far ahead with gaming with speakers on both sides the experience is immersive to say the least.

    • sketaful

      Seriously? I can understand that you find one screen sharper and better than the other. But seriously. You’re calling one of these “dull” when these are the best screens on the market.

      Spoiled are you? :P

  • Riley Barnett

    What phone is under the n4 in the last picture?

    • Lukeiphone

      It is the Xperia ZL.

  • evosero

    This review is so all over the place. It’s as if they were trying to review it, but knowing the community can’t dare give anything but a close win to either phone.

    Objectively it’d seem they side with the One, but subjectively still prefer the S4.

    In other words, when it comes to things like a phone’s display, don’t read reviews and just go look at it for yourself first hand.

  • Deveal2014

    Htc one looks very nice. Both are great tho

  • Rio

    It is called reading…. They got to analyze the phones first hand so either take their word on it or go find them in store to compare.

    • sak hus

      I have an Asus VG278H 27″ 3D monitor @ 1080p 120hz and I find S4’s picture to be the best.

    • d3v14n7

      And your monitor is one of the worst out there in terms of color accuracy, it’s a cheap, 6 bit TN panel… Try looking at the photos with a professionally calibrated 10+ bit IPS panel and you’ll see VERY different results.

    • TheShader

      Here’s the thing about your statements.. they’re your opinion, and his are his. He’s more typical of an average user and reader, you’re not. And while I understand what you’re getting at, you’re totally missing the point of the review and the site. It’s not to come out an empirically state that A is 10.759 % better @ RGB-clour-space coverage than option B or 99.44% greyscale accurate ; it’s to say that under some typical content found on reproducible sites, this is the author’s experience and how that may related to users.

      I still rock a very high-end Trinitron because I want gradient accuracy for my photos (and a high end NEC for colour), but it doesn’t mean I can’ appreciate the points made by the author.

      Me think you need to un-clench and bit and not expect a PhotoPro review on a cell-phone site. =;~P

  • sketaful

    Agree fully. And I also like how people try complain about one screen as a way to say how much better the other screen is.

    These are som damn awesome screens. And these are still phones. Both awesome.
    But I guess everyone is an expert these days? :P

  • luvmygadgets

    would be nice to actually see the screens in person… just about every mobile store I came across had the dummy plastic shells on display :( I’m actually torn between the 2 phones… have an SGS2 and still love the phone… but it’s getting a bit wonky… I do like Sammy’s oversaturated displays but not crazy about the look of the phone itself… the One is gorgeous (especially the black one which we’ll probably never get to buy here) but the battery life scares me a bit… heavy user and I’m so used to swapping out my battery on my SGS2 so never have to worry about making it to the next charge… with the One I would probably have to keep tabs on how much juice I have left… what to do !! I’m also happy with my Fido contract so I’m willing to pay for an unlocked phone… but will any of the ones you can buy on expansys for instance work on the LTE bands here ?

    • Azix

      amoled in my opinion seem to take better screen pictures than the LCD screens. I had thought from pictures that amoled looked better till I saw lcd. Was just so nice in comparison. The saturated look of the galaxy phones is somewhat more eye catching

  • ThisGuy

    Having seen both side by side, the One wins simply with better accuracy with my subjective eyes, but I colour calibrate my screens close to perfect using just my eyes.

  • Yermumma

    Hands down LCD over oled. No contest.

  • Les Blumhagen

    Bear in mind that the above was the opinion of a MobileSyrup contributor. The entry was written to excite comment in its readers. And I’ve certainly seen some thoughtful comments here; Pavel’s for example, make a good case. However, eye of the beholder. The best way is to look at the displays yourself and make your own determination. Besides, it won’t necessarily be the displays alone that dictate your choice of phones. For me, the previous phone I had was an HTC Touch Pro. This IS a while back, but I was very happy with the build quality of the unit. It’s good to see HTC back in the game with the One.

  • RoboBonobo

    I wish there was a picture showing how their displays compare when used outdoors.
    How about battery draw; which screen uses less power? You could test this by
    1. Setting the screen timeout to 30 minutes on both devices
    2. Charge them both to 100%
    3. Leave them both turned on until they timeout
    4. See which screen used a lower % in the battery stats in the settings menu.
    PS: Nevermind, I found the info elsewhere on the web.

    • c0bra

      Care to share the url?

    • RoboBonobo

      It looks like the moderator deleted my post with the links.
      It was a link to some battery tests on gsm arena. google ‘gsmarena battery’ with the phone name and they should be easy to find.
      The One did better in web browsing by slightly over an hour, with the GS4 doing slightly better in the rest of the tests.
      In the endurance test (idle load + 1 hour each of calling/browsing/videos) the GS4 beat the One by quite a bit. 63h vs 48h.
      I didn’t have a link to a picture comparing the screens outdoors. I just mainly read a lot of people complaining that neither screen really works in direct sunlight.

    • c0bra

      Hi RoboBonobo,

      Thanks for the reply and taking the time to type out your findings.

      Shame on the moderator for deleting links to helpful information.

    • RoboBonobo

      No problem for the reply. I love talking about these gadgets.

      Actually, my mistake, it was 1 hour each of calling/browsing/videos *per day*, in the idle battery test.
      Screen is off during calls, so that would make it:
      63h on, ~6h screen on, for the GS4
      48h on, ~4h screen on, for the One
      Which makes a difference, so I thought it was an important correction to make.

    • c0bra

      Thanks again RoboBonobo, you rock!
      :-)

  • monsterduc1000

    From almost every other site i have perused talking about the S4 display, they have said it is truly amazing if set into the calibrated mode (I can’t remember if it is called “movie” mode or not), and easily on par with the neutral settings of the HTC one. So, you get the best of all worlds with the new S4. Infinite blacks AND natural looking colours.

  • tech addict

    putting Samsung S4 side by side with the HTC One only shows how ugly this phone is.

  • GeezUp

    To me, the GS4 was better in nearly every pic! Gotta see in person to be sure though

  • Valhingen

    I just hope that Samsung has fixed AMOLED problems with their 3rd gen AMOLED.
    I just post these problem swhich haunts my current SGS3 :(( :
    1. Screen burns. Just turn your phone off. If you still can see the faint image. Especially the status bar above, then you’re suffering screen burn just like me :((
    2. Color washout. I’ve compared my 1 year old SGS3 with my friend’s newer SGS3. Such a huge difference :((. I heard this only happens to AMOLED devices.
    So before I upgrade to newer phone I need more reviews to the problems above.

  • Michael Lee

    That goes away if you use a custom CM10 or AOSP ROM. :(

  • Cedup

    One year old Note AMOLED has blackclipping, and washed out colors. AMOLED gets worse and worse every day you use it.