While today’s smartphone screens are all getting bigger, brighter and sharper, the technology used to produce the wonderful images we see varies among different smartphone manufacturers. You may have noticed that Samsung’s smartphones appear to be much more colorful and saturated than other handsets, or HTC’s phones giving off a more calm and natural color set. But why is this? Let’s take a look at the different types of screens you’ll find when deciding your next smartphone.
AMOLED stands for Active-Matrix Organic Light-Emitting Diode, but you can think of this as “the super colorful screen”. AMOLED technology is widely used for smartphones because of their gorgeous color reproduction abilities and very deep blacks. These screens don’t need a backlight, as each pixel is able to produce its own light when it needs to. This makes blacks look amazing when viewing a picture or video, because the pixels do not have a to provide light at all, rather than LCD displays where the backlight bleeds through and you get a dark grey color where there should be black.
AMOLED displays do have their drawbacks however, as they are more expensive to produce, and are not as sharp as LCD displays when looking up close. This is because AMOLED uses a different subpixel arrangement than LCD displays do, which makes individual pixels more noticeable. Below is an example provided by surfreview.com of the layout of pixels between AMOLED on the left and LCD on the right.
Motorola is a recognizable example of a manufacturer that uses AMOLED screens on their smartphones, like the Moto phone series. The Moto X, Droid Turbo and Nexus 6 produce colors that almost pop right out of the screen, however the whites on the screen appear slightly more yellow than LCD screens. But doesn’t Samsung use AMOLED too?
This is the more advanced screen technology Samsung uses in their phones. The key difference between this and regular AMOLED screens is that Super AMOLED is built with touch sensors in the display itself, rather than adding another touch sensitive layer on top, resulting in one of the thinnest displays on the market. Other benefits to Super AMOLED include better brightness and battery life compared to regular AMOLED.
Liquid Crystal Displays. These are commonly used on televisions, computer monitors and more, but continues to advance further every year. These displays offer the most realistic colors you can find on a screen, but they won’t offer as great of contrast ratio as you would find on an AMOLED screen (deep blacks, brighter colors). LCD panels require an extra layer of glass than AMOLED displays, and use a backlight for brightness, which can lead to light bleeds leaking through the display or awkward looking viewing angles. There are a few types of LCD displays used in phones:
Standing for Thin Film Transistor, this display makes wiring of LCD screens more efficient by reducing the number of electrodes per pixel, or giving the display better image quality over standard LCD displays.
Another popular form of LCD displays are IPS, or In-Plane Switching displays. IPS screens offer a broader range of viewing angles and colors than TFT displays, and are used much more often. LG uses IPS LCD displays on their phones, such as the G2, G3, Nexus 4 and Nexus 5.
HTC is a proud user of Super LCD technology, as they use the S-LCD 3 displays on their One lineup. Super LCD removes the air gap between the outer glass and LCD display. Super LCD displays offer better power consumption when viewing lighter colors, such as the whites when web browsing. With this technology, HTC offers some of the sharpest displays on the market, making it very hard to see pixels up close.
So, which one’s better?
Taking a look at a few categories, each one has their strengths and weaknesses. In terms of brightness, LCD displays come out on top. A good comparison example would be the HTC One M7 and Galaxy S4, as the One was able to put out 500 nits of light output, compared to the S4’s 300 nits, along with a similar comparison between the One M8 and Galaxy S5. This is a pretty significant difference, and gives HTC and LG’s phones a better edge when viewing outdoors in sunlight.
On the flip side, contrast ratios appear much better on AMOLED displays. When viewing your phone in the dark, you won’t even be able to tell that your phone is on, if for example, a video goes to a black scene. This allows the phone to save power when using dark-themed apps or if you use a dark wallpaper. LCD displays do not compete as well, as you will notice the backlight even when viewing dark images. However, Super LCD and IPS LCD are better at handling white screens, as they use less power and appear less “yellow” than AMOLED screens.
Viewing angles tend to look better on AMOLED displays, such as the Galaxy phones and Moto phones than LCD displays do, meaning when viewing an AMOLED display from the side, you won’t notice a backlight leaking through as you typically would on an LCD.
As the years have gone on, both types of displays have adapted to fix their own problems to compete with the other. The Galaxy S5 last year offered more realistic colors than it’s predecessors, but still overs-saturates a bit. LCD displays have improved as well to offer greater viewing angles and better colors to compete with AMOLED displays. If you want your colors to “pop out at you” and witness the deepest blacks possible on a display, then AMOLED is for you. If you prefer natural and more realistic colors and the brightest possible screen on the market, then LCD is the way to go. As a side note, many photographers prefer using LCD displays, as the photo previews give the user the most exact look of the photo, rather than exaggerated colors on AMOLED displays, such as greener grass and more blue skies.
So, when you bought your smartphone, was the screen the biggest deciding factor? Which one is your preference and why?