Why a 4K Display on the Note 5 Is a Very Smart Move
Screen resolutions are a polarizing topic in the mobile enthusiast world, as with each new jump in pixel count come new requirements that are sometimes not met. Typically, the first generation of phones to handle a higher resolution display are the ones that suffer the most, given that the new panels can drain a substantially higher amount of battery as well as require extra graphics processing power. Last year’s G3 had a chipset and a screen that were not quite ready for 1440p, which resulted in worse battery life than the G2 and some performance quirks as well.
The other part of the debate is the a priori assumption that higher resolutions are unneeded at this point. We explored this in a feature where we found that there is still a lot of room for growth in pixel density, especially if we want the most convincing life-like results. For most people, however, 1080p is fine, and 1440p is overkill. Having recently jumped to a 1440p panel, I can vouch for the noticeability of the difference, but it is a difference I personally could live without.
Samsung is not one to lead the pack in resolution jumps, as LG and HTC usually scoop the early jumps. In these cases, the phones weren’t quite ready. Samsung’s Galaxy Note 5 flagship phablet will come later this year, and for a while now it’s been rumored than it would feature a 4K display. Recent reports from trusted Samsung leaker Sammobile tell us that the Note 5 will, in fact, host a 4K display with an astounding 762ppi (for the Edge model). Why would Samsung be making the jump so early?
Samsung has been said to be working on a 4K display for mobile for at least a year now, and when it comes to mobile displays, Samsung has improved dramatically. Their AMOLED panels had growing pains for years, as many hated the oversaturated look of screens like the ones in the S3 and S4. Starting with the Note 3, the calibration began getting much better, but the pentile matrix was still a problem. This was solved through higher pixel densities, and the Note 4 became Samsung’s crowning achievement in the AMOLED game: while their first AMOLED display was dead last against the competition, reputable DisplayMate says that the Note 4 was the best mobile display they had ever tested.
Samsung’s panels have evolved to the point where many manufacturers are requesting their displays, particularly Motorola as their latest Nexus 6 uses Samsung’s AMOLED technology as well. But it is not just the mobile world that wants tiny Samsung screens, as VR manufacturers need the pixel dense displays as well. Oculus Rift itself used the Note 3’s display for their second headset, even when this one was only 1080p.
The real strength behind Samsung panels lies in their optimizations: the Note 4’s display could get extremely bright for an AMOLED display, and the S6’s display was tested to reach 784 nits when needed – making it one of the brightest screens in the market (read this for comparison). And despite the extra crispness and bright, the panels use increasingly less power output. The 1440p panel in the Note 4 is more power efficient than the 1080p panel in the Note 3, something many of us could simply not believe. All of these technical aspects make Samsung one of the best players to tackle the next jump to 4K screens, given that they’ve been working on it for a while and have an impressive track record. If anyone can handle the drain of a 4K display and still make it look amazing, that would be Samsung and their insane R&D.
Samsung is in a privileged spot right when it comes to mobile silicon: the bombing of the once-hyped Snapdragon 810 lead to competitor phones overheating and throttling, and Qualcomm has now lost a lot of reputation and credibility among mobile enthusiasts and OEMs alike. Meanwhile, the Exynos 7420 has featured excellent performance across all metrics, and so have the new memory solutions in the Galaxy S6.
This is where Samsung can take advantage: the Snapdragon 810 is simply not capable of handling a 4K display, and the Snapdragon 820 (which will sport a new GPU & custom cores again) is allegedly not coming until 2016. People were hoping that a savior Snapdragon 815 intermediate SoC could come up mid-2015 and lessen the hit, but Qualcomm confirmed that there is no such chipset in the works. If Samsung manages to put out a 4K screen with their Note 5, they would not only (most likely) have an industry first, but they could also be an industry exclusive for quite some time. The question is, can they handle it?
The Exynos 7420 is leaps ahead the Snapdragon 810, but it probably couldn’t handle a 4K display anywhere near optimally. Let’s not forget that 4K is 4 times the resolution of FHD screens, and still more than twice the pixel count of a 1440p display. However, new goodies are coming to Exynos in the form of the two things that their processors were always behind in:
Samsung is reportedly working on a custom GPU to break free of their dependence on ARM’s Mali GPUs, which up until this last round against the Adreno 430 were behind Qualcomm’s GPUs. Exynos cores also have had amazing multi-core capabilities, but their single-core performance could have used more power. Now reports say that Samsung is working on their own custom cores, dubbed “mongoose” (funny: mongooses eat krait cobras), which supposedly score 45% higher in single-core performance on Geekbench. These cores would be clocked at 2.3GHz and could finally have Samsung ditch the standard Cortex-A72 core designs provided by ARM.
VR is coming here and it is coming fast, and the technology is already enticing a lot of manufacturers to jump into the game. HTC is nowhere near as big as Samsung or Facebook, yet they are also betting on the future of the platform with their HTC Vive. These headsets can come in many shapes and forms, be them wireless or not, or dependant on computers or phones. The Oculus Rift is aimed at PC gaming, but Samsung’s Gear VR depends on Galaxy phones to be powered up by both the screen and the processors. This is where it all ties up.
Samsung’s VR incursion started with the Gear VR for the Note 4, which offered a neat experience that was not quite unique in the sense that things like Google Cardboard could emulate similar results. The Gear VR is getting a refresh for the new S6 & S6 Edge, but it is still limited by the 1440p panels of these phones. Not too long ago we explored why 4K was necessary for VR, and if Samsung wants to be the leading pack of VR, a 4K Galaxy Note 5 for their Gear VR platform would be the way to do it.
With such configuration, they could be one of the first players to put mass-produced 4K VR headsets in the hands of consumers, and as an early player they could control much of the game. Moreover, given that they are the best manufacturers for the job right now, they would have a lot of influence over the competitors in that space. With their insane R&D, fabrication procedures and distribution lines, Samsung could shake up both the mobile industry and the newborn VR one in a single swing.
It is understandable that people are scared of high-resolution displays, and a year ago I would have been too – the compromises back then were simply too high. Nowadays it seems that current 1440p panels don’t drain as much as they should, and as Note 4 owner I can attest to the great battery life I get as well as the beauty of the panel. Samsung has proven that they can handle display jumps fine, and they are also at the highest-end of display production with currently unmatchable results.
At the same time, their memory solutions such as e-PoP and their upcoming SoC revolutions might be enough to give us a performance jump despite the 4K display – but we can not downplay the fact that it is still too many additional pixels to handle. Nevertheless, if Samsung manages to put out said display, they could be the only ones that can effectively power it until the next Snapdragon 820 and its more advanced GPU. The new mongoose cores and an in-house GPU are long-overdue necessities of Samsung, and they could be cooking up a hell of a chipset for the job.
Finally, VR will be here to stay, and an early push can mean a lot for Samsung in this space. If they can provide the best viewing experience of any VR headset, in time and in mass quantities, they might just make VR synonymous with Samsung early enough for people to get established into the brand. We still don’t know if the new SoC in the Note 5 would handle both 4K and the 4K content for VR, but we can hope. Needless to say, Samsung knows how to play in this market and an early 4K display on a Note 5 could be a hell of a move for them. All we can do now is wait. Even if we don’t need 4K on our phones, the development is bound to be interesting.
Would you like a 4K display on your phone? What do you think about VR? Tell us below!