OVERRATED: 1080p Displays and Quad-Core Processors

I went to the mall today, and there is an AT&T store there, so I decided to check out the Lumia 1020. Aside: I was impressed with the camera overall, but I have to say I wasn't wowed by the shots when zoomed in. The full-size shots looked great, but when zoomed in, it didn't look exactly lossless. It might have had to do with the lighting indoors (it was a little on the dim side), or it might have had to do with it being essentially a landscape shot. The object that I zoomed-in on was at least 40 feet away--I was at the far end of the store, and I snapped a picture of a booth just outside the store in the mall. Samples of zoomed-in shots that I've seen on the Internet were macroshots of small objects (like insects and such) rather than larger objects from a great distance.

Anyway, the 1020 happened to be sitting right next to a Samsung Galaxy S4, so I had a chance to do a comparison of the SGS4's 1920x1080 display and the 1020's 1280x768 display. For comparison, I used Chrome on the SGS4 and, of course, IE on the 1020. Both were set to desktop mode. I picked the same article from the Verge and zoomed-in to the maximum size on the 1020 and zoomed to a similar size on the SGS4 (but not to max zoom since the display is larger than on the 1020).

After checking out the 1020 and the SGS4, I went next door to the Verizon store to check out the 928. This one happened to be next to a Droid DNA, which also has 5" 1920x1080 display. I did the same comparison for these two.

Here are my observations:

The SGS4's display was definitely more crisp than the 1020's OLED display. On the 1020 display, lines seemed slightly softer than on the SGS4. However, the difference was barely noticeable unless you're really staring at one spot. If you were reading normally and your eyes were actually moving, I can't see how it would make much of a difference at all. YMMV.

When comparing the display on the SGS4 with my 920's SLCD display, there is literally no difference in crispness that I could detect. This is not an exaggeration. I think anybody who's telling you that there's a huge difference has not seen the two displays next to each other. If you notice a difference, then maybe your vision is better than mine. I use a 11.6" Windows 8 tablet with 1080p display on 100% scaling, and I have no problems viewing even the tiniest UI elements on the display, so it' not like my vision is poor. For me, there was no detectable difference in sharpness. As I said YMMV, so check for yourself instead of just believing the hype.

The display on the SGS4 is dim compared to either the 1020 or 920. When set to 100% brightness, the whites were super bright on the 1020, and I saw no noticeable checkerboarding of the Pentile display. Whites on the SGS4 appeared dim and tended toward a blue hue. I had to check the settings to make sure it wasn't on low or automatic brightness, but it wasn't. It was set to manual and max brightness.

Zooming in and out on the SGS4 was very choppy. It looks like Android tries to cheat to make the rendering smoother by blurring fonts of text rendered on the screen for as long as possible while you are doing the pinch gesture to zoom-in, but if you stop pinching for even a moment before zooming more, it stutters big-time. On the 1020, 928, and 920, there is also a blurring of the text when zooming-in, but the blurring lasts for a microsecond and the text renders at full resolution immediately after that.

Zooming out is even more problematic on the SGS4. When you zoom out, the rectangular area of the display that was previously visible shrinks down, but it leaves a field of white around it. Sometimes it would automatically render the rest of the web page after a good 1 to 2 seconds, but other times it just sat there. A couple of times, I even had to click the refresh button to have it re-render full screen. I was appalled.

Anybody who's using a flagship Windows Phone would never experience anything like this. This is why I question whether or not Android users really understand what smoothness is all about.

Lest you think these observations are specific to the SGS4, I had the EXACT SAME observations when comparing the Droid DNA to the 928 at the Verizon store. The DNA's display was slightly sharper than the 928's, but it was virtually identical to the 920's display. The low brightness and choppy browser rendering was also evident in the DNA. This is clearly a problem with Android and not device-specific.

In conclusion, I can say that a 1920x1080 display is slightly crisper at normal viewing distances than a 1280x768 Pentile OLED display, but that difference is imperceptible when comparing it to an SLCD display of the same resolution. As far as brightness goes, the Lumias (all of them) were the clear winner. So now you're facing a six of one, half a dozen of the other proposition. The difference is almost like when you go to the eye doctor, and he asks "Is 7 better or 8 better?", and you kinda think one is better than the other terms of sharpness but the other one seems a little better in some ways because the lighting seems brighter through that lens for some reason. So you need to decide what matters to you more: a slight improvement in sharpness or an even more obvious difference in brightness.

As for smoothness, let's come back when your Android device is running 12 cores and we can compare again.