The Samsung Galaxy Nexus is the first Android phone to get close to matching the tremendous pixel density of the iPhone 4. The higher a screen’s pixel density, the sharper images tend to appear – a boon for reading, browsing the web and playing high-end games.
Samsung’s Galaxy Nexus uses a completely different type of screen from the iPhone 4. It features a Super AMOLED panel, an advanced take on standard OLED that melds the touchscreen layer with the display, allowing for a thinner screen element.
The key benefit of OLED screens is that they do not use a traditional universal backlight, using light-emitting pixels instead. Black parts of the screen can maintain much purer black levels than standard LCD alternatives. OLED therefore offers fantastic contrast, resulting in vivid colour reproduction. The lack of a backlight becomes particularly prominent in low light, where the luminescence of a traditional LCD screen is clearly noticeable.
In the dark the difference is clear
The Super AMOLED panel isn’t without its own set of issues, though. Colours are oversaturated, and while this isn’t immediately apparent when flicking through the menus, you will notice the difference in familiar games and web pages. There’s no way to alter the colour tone within the phone’s software. Apps like Voodoo Screen Tuning let you fiddle with this yourself, but a root of the phone is required. If you’re not a pretty serious Android scholar, you’ll have to live with this oversaturation.
Colour shift is apparent throughout too, and is impossible to get rid of. Tilt the phone to the left or right and whites take on a blue/green tint that you wouldn’t see in IPS panels. Each type of screen has its own set of benefits and drawbacks, however, and this is ultimately a superb screen that easily beats the S-LCD displays of the similarly-sized HTC Sensation XL and XE.
Its key feature is its alarmingly high resolution – full 720p or 1,280 x 720. That’s 921,600 pixels, 50 percent more than the iPhone 4S and almost two-and-a-half times as much as the Nokia Lumia 800.
A macro shot of the RGBG Pentile sub-pixel array
Although it features a Pentile Matrix sub-pixel layout, which we found reduced sharpness and clarity in the Samsung Nexus S and Motorola Droid RAZR the high resolution here mostly quashes the problems it can introduce. Pixels here only have two sub-pixels rather than the usual three, but there are so many to go around here, you have to look hard to tell.
With 316dpi pixel density, it has the “Retina Display” effect of the iPhone 4S – where you can’t discern individual pixels in normal usage. The Pentile screen does leave its mark, though. There’s a very slight texture to block white areas, which is the sub-pixel layout in action. This can be lessened by upping the brightness, but this will naturally have a knock-on effect on battery life.
Maximum brightness is great, but the automatic brightness setting – which uses the light sensor on the front to judge ambient light levels, altering the screen intensity to match – is a touch dim. This is a common tactic in AMOLED phones, as it will increase battery life. Although not absolutely perfect, this is the best 4.6in Android phone screen we’ve seen to date, and by quite a large margin.
The touchscreen layer is – naturally – capacitive, and can sense up to 9 points of contact at once. It’s beyond reproach, as it should be on a £500 phone.
Ice Cream Sandwich comes with new browser software. It’s rather different from the Android 2.x browser – much closer in look and feel to the tablet Honeycomb edition. This is a part of the phone that’s strongly affected by the lack of soft keys. To access the main menu here, you scroll up to the top of the web page, which brings up the address bar that also houses the menu button. Functionality-wise it’s similar to previous editions, with some neat extras. There’s a “request desktop site” mode, which banishes mobile sites whenever possible, and a button to save pages to view offline.
Tiny text? Still clear
The incredible screen resolution also boosts the quality of the browsing experience. When zoomed-out to a level where text would usually devolve into a blocky mess, even minute characters remain readable. Interestingly, text reflow, where passages of text are re-formatted to fit the width of the screen, has been made manual. During normal scrolling, text will roll off the edge of the screen – as in iOS – and only reformat itself once you double-tap. Those used to the aggressive text reflow of Android 2.x may find it hard to get used to, but this more relaxed approach suits the large, high-res screen to a “T”.