Know your smartphone Screens

Know your smartphone Screens

There comes a point in time when everybody either wants or needs to buy a new phone. It might be today, or next year, but the fact remains that you will upgrade your phone.

Whenever my friends have found themselves wanting to upgrade their phones I have noticed they are usually unsure of what all the technical terms mean, a problem they share with most people. But the term that seems to cause the most distress appears to be none other than screen type. I was about to write up a quick explanation about them but I ran across as excellent article on cnet australia which we have also incorporated into this article. The article goes over the basic screen types, their explanation and also takes a brief look at touchscreen technologies.

Display technologies

Smartphone displays, like notebooks and tablets, are all based on LCD (Liquid Crystal Display) technologies. LCD has a fast refresh rate, which makes it great for mobile technologies that require bright displays with low power consumption.

TFT LCDthin film transistor displays are easily the most common in smartphones at this time, though manufacturers are paving the way for newer, better performing screen technologies. TFT LCDs are often used in laptop displays as well.

Advantage – Cheap to make, most commonly used screen.
Disadvantage –  Aging Technology, Not as bright or clear as other display technologies.

AMOLEDactive matrix organic light emitting diode is one of the prominent up and coming display technologies looking to take over from TFT displays.

AMOLED screens are visibly more colourful than TFT displays and have a lower power consumption with thanks to the intriguing fact that the colour black is produced by the OLED being switched off. AMOLED screens have been used by Samsung, HTC, Nokia and Dell to name a few, and continue to be in high demand. They give off clear, bright and sharp images as seen in the images below. The potential problem with AMOLED screens is that they are quite poor in direct sunlight, and the screen will be close to unusable.

Advantage – Bright and clear quality, Low power consumption for screens.
Disadvantage –  Almost un-viewable in direct sunlight, Display can appear pixelated.

The top pictures are LCD, the bottom two are AMOLED (Notice the screens below have a more ‘vivid’ color)

Super AMOLED — Samsung has positioned itself at the forefront of mobile display technologies producing its “Super” variant on the AMOLED display. By combining the touch panel and the top layer of glass, Samsung has created a screen that is visibly more vibrant than previous AMOLED screens, and more usable in direct sunlight.

Advantage – Everything AMOLED is but better, great for watching videos on.
Disadvantage –  Still poor in direct sunlight, but better than regular AMOLED.

 Super AMOLED Plus – Another Samsung fortified screen technology, which is available on the latest Samsung Phone Models. It is an advanced version of the Super AMOLED technology with better colour reproduction and scaling. Not as bright as Super AMOLED, but better. More subpixels are crammed into the screen tech, allowing it to be more pleasant for your eyes.

Advantage – Amazing color reproduction, better viewing angles.
Disadvantage –  Not good enough in the sun yet, colours can seem washed out on larger screens.

AMOLED CBD — A Nokia only technology in which their latest phones use an AMOLED Clear Black Display (CBD) screen which results in deep blacks. A CBD displays blocks incoming light reflections and so perform better under direct sunlight. Generally considered on par and sometimes better with Super AMOLED Plus with superior contrast and colours.

Advantage – The best screen under direct sunlight, deep blacks.
Disadvantage –  Does not take full advantage of AMOLED features.

Super LCD (SLCD) — another contender for screen dominance is Super LCD. A variant of traditional LCD technologies, SLCD offers better contrast and warmer colours than older LCD displays, but is said to drain more power than AMOLED displays.

Advantage – Cheaper to produce than AMOLED displays, Works better in direct sunlight over AMOLED.
Disadvantage –  Drains more power than AMOLED displays, not as bright as AMOLED either.

As you can see, the left AMOLED screen is brighter and sharper Super LCD screen on the right. However, the Super LCD screen displays a ‘warmer color tone’ (meaning it defines color better).

IPSin-plane switching smartphone screens are characterized by vibrant colours and excellent off-axis viewing angles. IPS screens are typically more expensive, but the result is a screen you can see clearly from any angle. Apple recently employed IPS technology in the LCD display of the iPad and iPhone 4 (which they are also referred to as Retina Screens in the iPhone 4 only). IPS has a resolution 960 x 640. This basically means that an IPS Display uses a SLCD screen, but packs more pixels which improve quality

Advantage – Able to create a more viewing angles than other displays, able to zoom in with more clarity
Disadvantage –  Expensive to create, very few companies use this technology so far

QhdQuarter HD Screen is exactly how it sounds, as it has quarter of Full HD. Full HD resolution is considered 1920 x 1080, so quarter HD is 960 x 540. It is not quite as good as IPS technology, but it’s has a great looking screen resolution on any device! Qhd is not a screen type, but the amount of pixels in that screen, exactly like Retina Screen’s.  

SLCD Retina SAMOLED 660x371 Shoot out: Retina Display vs. Super LCD vs. Super AMOLED

From left to right – iPhone 4 (IPS Retina Display), HTC Desire (Super LCD), and the Samsung Galaxy S (Super AMOLED). While it is quite difficult to tell from just photo’s (we recommend you actually have a look at them in person), we can probably assume that the Super AMOLED is brighter than either the Super LCD or IPS Retina Display (all phones are on maximum brightness). However, if you were to take a closer inspection at these phones, you would realise that The Super LCD screen and IPS Retina Screen are less ‘pixelated’ (meaning the pixels are packed tighter, giving it a clearer image) than the Super AMOLED screen.

Verdict – Truth is, there are quite a few people that don’t care about which screen types they are getting, but we want to change that. You’ve seen the advantages and disadvantages of each screen type, so your choice of screen type will depend heavily on how you will be using your phone, so you will have to decide yourself what screen type to get.

We personally quite like Super AMOLED displays. They have bright and vivid colors on display, which makes it great for general use and an absolute joy when it comes to watching videos. Despite being difficult to see under direct sunlight, it gives the brightest colors of any of the screens giving it a slight edge over our other favourite – the IPS Retina Display.

Phones that use Super AMOLED Displays – Samsung Omnia 7/Focus,  Google Nexus S, and the Samsung Galaxy S2.

You now have a basic knowledge of the different screen types available today and hopefully, an appreciation of the new technologies available to you. So next time your out picking up a new phone we hope you will take the screen type into account, because we guarantee you – they do make a difference in the long run.

Other things to note:

You may hear these terminologies used when refering to Mobile Phone Screens. Here is a breakdown of the Name, what it stands for, and the resolution.

  • QVGA: quarter VGA (240×320 pixels)
  • HVGA: half VGA (320×480 pixels)
  • WVGA: wide VGA (480×800 pixels)
  • FWVGA: full wide VGA (480×854 pixels)
  • nHD: one-ninth high definition (360×640 pixels)
  • qHD: one-quarter high definition (540×960 pixels)
  • 720p: 720p Resolution screens (720×1280 pixels)

Founder and Chief Editor of Techin5, currently based in Melbourne Australia. Has always had a deep appreciation of Technology and how it helps people, which led to the birth of Techin5. You can follow me on Twitter at @jubbing and on Instagram