The new Samsung Galaxy S7 has just arrived for advance sampling and testing as the Korean electronics giant’s latest flagship smartphone, with actual market debut forecast for March 11th. It’s already attracting quite a few plaudits, notably one from mobile device display specialist site DisplayMate, which declares that it has “the Best Performing Smartphone Display that we have ever tested.” But is that enough to sway your choice of your preferred mobile e-reading device? And how important are those performance points to the actual experience of reading ebooks?
First off, there’s little doubt that DisplayMate‘s conclusions are objective, accurate, and seasoned by deep domain knowledge and experience. It’s Dr. Raymond M. Soneira himself, President of DisplayMate Technologies Corp., writing the piece. And the tests and technical benchmarks used to arrive at that headline conclusion are exhaustively detailed. So that all-time-best evaluation is ostensibly the simple truth, as DisplayMate sees it.
So let’s look at how the standout performance points work in the context of ebooks. To start with the bare specs, the Galaxy S7 has a 1440 x 2560 pixel 5.1-inch screen, and runs Android Marshmallow 6.0. That’s an extraordinarily high screen resolution, but as DisplayMate points out, in pure resolution terms it represents no advance on the Galaxy S6 – a point also being made about many of the S7’s other specs. There’s other technical points that do make it a better ebook platform than the S6, though, including a micro SD card socket for more ebook and other files, and a larger battery for longer life.
As Dr. Soneira says, though, “they look perfectly sharp (for normal 20/20 human vision) under all normal viewing conditions, so it was pointless to increase them. Samsung has instead concentrated on increasing the display’s maximum brightness and improving its performance in ambient light, which has real demonstrable and easy to see visual benefits that every consumer will immediately appreciate.” It also means that the Galaxy S7 is not in phablet territory, so if you believe that 2016 is “going to be the year of the phablet,” you probably want to go for a Galaxy Note or even the S7’s slightly larger stablemate, the Galaxy S7 Edge.
What the Galaxy S7 does bring to the table is a new “interactive Personalized Automatic Brightness Control that learns and remembers the display brightness settings that you set for different ambient light levels so you get your own customized personal visual brightness preferences.” Will that make a difference to your ebook reading comfort? Arguably, yes it will, though probably a very slight and incremental one.
More importantly, “the Galaxy S7 has a Maximum Brightness that is 24% higher than the Galaxy S6, which is a significant and visually noticeable improvement, particularly in high ambient light. The Contrast and Contrast Rating in High Ambient Light have also significantly improved.” Regardless of how bright you actually want your display to be, I’d concur that that is an actual improvement in e-reading quality. If you can find your onscreen reading more comfortable and less of a strain in high ambient lighting conditions, then Samsung has delivered a definite win.
“Mobile displays are often used under relatively bright ambient lighting, which washes out the image color saturation and contrast, reducing picture quality and making it harder to view or read the screen,” says Dr. Soneira. “As a result of its high Brightness and low Reflectance, the Galaxy S7 has a Contrast Rating for High Ambient Light that ranges from 88 to 118, among the highest that we have ever measured for a smartphone.”
There’s also a new Always On feature, which keeps a portion of the screen … well, always on, at a much reduced power drain. You could imagine this being adapted into something like a Kindle’s persistent text display for low-power e-reading, but there’s no sign of that actual implementation – yet at least.
All told, there’s no reason to dissent from Dr. Soneira’s opinion that the Samsung Galaxy S7 has “the Best Performing Smartphone Display” ever commercially released. And the S7’s ambient-light performance as a reading platform for ebooks is likely to be especially impressive. That said, as Dr. Soneira also notes, “the Galaxy S7 and Galaxy Note 5 are neck-and-neck record holders for display performance, effectively tied or alternating between first and second place in almost all categories except screen size for the much larger Galaxy Note 5.” The S7 does have a higher ppi, but the larger screen size for the Galaxy Note 5 might sway ebook fans towards the earlier device, as well as the promise of price discounts as Samsung’s new generation rolls out. If you have already have a Galaxy S6, likewise, you shouldn’t feel under immense pressure to upgrade. And if you’re an iPhone fan, you might want to consider a switch, bearing in mind that Samsung has persistently topped Apple in DisplayMate‘s tests – but that probably won’t be enough incentive to justify giving up your existing platform-dependent libraries and habits. Still, anyone who wants the absolute best of what smartphone displays can now offer for e-reading – and doesn’t mind paying for the privilege – should opt for the Galaxy S7.
(Photo courtesy of GSM Arena)