Quad-core shootout: Four of a kind

GSMArena team, 27 July 2012.
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Screen comparison

Even though this article is centered around the premise of comparing phones with quad-core processors, the screen is almost as important - what would be the use of all that computing power if the screen is going to limit what you can do.

Three phones seem to have roughly similar screens (4.7"-4.8" big, 720p resolution) and it's only the Meizu MX 4-core that stands out with its more compact, lower-res screen. We'll summarize the various specs of each screen in a table and try to hash things out.

The table covers the basics - size, resolution, pixel density and so on - plus "bezel". Bezel is our attempt to estimate how much the bezel around the screen takes up - the less bezel, the smaller phone for the screen size.

Samsung Galaxy S III HTC One X LG Optimus 4X HD Meizu MX 4-core
Technology sAMOLED Super IPS LCD2 TrueHD IPS LCD ASV LCD
Size 4.8" 4.7" 4.7" 4"
Resolution 720 x 1280 720 x 1280 720 x 1280 640 x 960
Matrix type PenTile RGB RGB RGB
Aspect ratio 16:9 16:9 16:9 3:2
Pixel density 306 ppi 312 ppi 312 ppi 288 ppi
Protection Gorilla Glass 2 Gorilla glass Gorilla glass -
Bezel 34.17% 35.24% 32.52% 37.99%

The difference between 4.7" and 4.8" isn't that big - it only offers around 4% more viewing area and it only leads to a minimal drop in pixel density. The three big screened phones all have 300+ ppi pixel density (qualifying them for the unofficial "Retina" label), but the Meizu MX 4-core is a bit below that mark.

The difference in sharpness is only there if you look really closely, though. If you keep the smartphones a few inches away from your face, you might see some jagginess on the MX 4-core screen, but it's not something you'll notice in daily operation.

The Samsung Galaxy S III uses a Super AMOLED screen with a PenTile matrix, so it only has two thirds of the subpixels of the other two 720p screens. So, even though it technically has a high pixel density, jagginess and a cross-hatch pattern might appear, but again you'd need to be looking from way closer than what permits comfortable usage.

The Meizu does lose points for its iPhonish 3:2 aspect ratio - it fits neither 4:3 photos nor 16:9 videos without letterboxing, making the usable area of the already small (relatively speaking) screen even tinier.

Our bezel measurement isn't perfectly accurate (the shape of the phones is rounded and we estimated the area using rectangles), but it shows what you can probably see from photos of the four phones - there's a lot of bezel above and below the Meizu's screen, while the LG wastes only a minimal area on its front for bezel.

As for protection, the big-screen phones rely on Corning's Gorilla Glass, while the Meizu lacks toughened glass to guard its display. The Galaxy S III stands out here with Gorilla Glass 2, which Corning describes as 20% thinner but just as tough as the first version.

So far so good, but these specs don't tell us much about how the screens look. For example, the Galaxy S III has a Super AMOLED screen with excellent black levels, but the LCDs on the other three are brighter.

Here's the table that summarizes our results from tests we've performed on the screens.

Samsung Galaxy S III HTC One X LG Optimus 4X HD Meizu MX 4-core
Black levels 0 0.39 0.68 0.69
White levels 300 550 750 581
Contrast (nominal) 1410 1102 846

Contrast (sunlight)

  • Samsung Galaxy S III
    3.419
  • HTC One X
    2.158
  • LG Optimus 4X HD
    1.691
  • Meizu MX 4-core
    1.462

The Galaxy S III (expectedly) impresses with perfect blacks and contrast, but it's the contrast in bright sunlight that stands out the most - even though it's not very bright, the reflectivity of the screen is very low and offers much better sunlight legibility than the rest.

The HTC One X can't match the dark blacks of the S III, but its contrast is still very good - some of the best we've seen from LCDs (though not the best),. Sunlight legibility is above average, but not as good as on the Super AMOLED either.

The LG Optimus 4X HD's screen has the distinction of being the brightest of the bunch - while it's not the brightest LCD we've seen (even from LG themselves), 750 nits are plenty. Sadly, that couldn't help its sunlight legibility too much, but if there's no direct sunlight hitting the screen, the 4X HD screen offers pretty image quality.

The Meizu MX 4-core has a screen that has the worst black levels of the four, while offering not much more brightness than the dimmest LCD here (the One X screen). As a result, the contrast isn't good even under ideal conditions and it only gets worse under sunlight.

There's a bit more that can't be put in a table. The Meizu MX 4-core screen has noticeable contrast degradation when you look at it at an angle, plus there's some color shifting.

The screen on the LG Optimus 4X HD maintains its contrast regardless of viewing angle, although the colors shift when you view it in certain angles.

The HTC One X has neither of those issues, plus it has that desirable laminated feel where the image appear as if painted on the surface of the screen.

The Samsung Galaxy S III doesn't suffer from contrast degradation, but there is some bluish tint appearing at an angle (typical for AMOLEDs). It also has the makings of the laminated look, but the One X does it better.

In the end we have to split things into two groups. Some love the deep blacks and vibrant colors that AMOLED screen enjoy, so the Galaxy S III would be perfect for them. And let's not forget its excellent sunlight legibility.

Members of the other camp are not willing to sacrifice brightness and subpixel count, so they stick with LCDs - they'll love the HTC One X. It offers excellent contrast and viewing angles, the coveted laminated look and pretty decent sunlight legibility.

The LG Optimus 4X isn't far behind either - offering the same level of sharpness and even higher brightness, its True HD-IPS LCD is quite nice to look at. Not to mention that it's mounted on the most compact body of the three larger screens, which is an achievement on its own.

If we had to criticize a screen, it would be the one on the Meizu MX 4-core - it's not properly protected, has a aspect ratio that's not ideal for neither photo nor video watching and the viewing experience just can't match that of the other three. It's not a bad screen at all, but it's not exactly flagship material.

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