You love your smartphone and the satisfaction that it brings you when you watch movies on the go or video chat, one-on-one, with your loved ones half way around the world. Whether you're using an Android handset or one of Apple's iPhones, you wouldn't be able to do all the things you do without that display you stare into each day. Like our computer monitors and television sets, the smartphone's screen is another piece of technology that’s evolving at a rapid pace. The science behind all of those LCD and OLED displays are a big part of what sets each mobile phone apart from each other, but to the average consumer, what do the different display technologies really mean? Like our other gadgets and entertainment portals, smartphones come in all shapes and sizes, but each one displays photos, your Twitter feed and your text messages on displays with different contrasts, colors, and clarity. You can see the difference, but can you really tell what’s what?
Dr. Raymond M. Soneira, president of DisplayMate Technologies, is a display research scientist who can answer your screen questions. He wanted to put a stop to the vague reviews of displays and add another level of qualification between smartphone screens (aside from your typical screen size and resolution specs). After considerable testing and extensive scientific lab measurements, Dr. Soneira has managed to put together a thorough comparison of the most widely used cell phone displays available on the market. He took the display data of Google’s Nexus One (manufactured by HTC), the Samsung Galaxy S, Apple's iPhone 4 and 3GS, and the Motorola Droid and pitted them against each other to discover the differences between each display, and the true meaning behind OLED and LCD. Read on to get a quick, Mac|Life Cliff Notes version of his study, and follow the link (here and at the end of the article) to check out his detailed charts, organized by category, to find out why the pixel count and display resolutions really set these smartphones apart.
All phone screens were not made equal. In the category of picture quality and accuracy, the Motorola Droid graduated with honors, while the Samsung Galaxy S trumped for the lowest screen reflectance and largest contrast for both bright and dark ambient lighting. So, if you’re looking to watch a movie on the go and get the absolute best picture out of your photos and video, the Droid is the way to go.
Here's a look at the charts that compared the five devices, head-to-head, in all sorts of categories (click to embiggen):
Despite the fact that Motorola and Samsung wound up on top of the contrast categories with their impressive displays, it was the iPhone 4 that took home the cake. The device outshined competitors with its IPS LCD Retina Display, which was referred to as an "outstanding LCD." The iPhone 4 not only delivered in performance and tested high in many of the categories, but it also took home the trophy for brightest and sharpest display--and boy is that apparent when you take one of these puppies out of the box and into broad daylight.
However, the iPhone 4 fell short with its limited color gamut--essentially, the range of colors that the phone displays--which tends to cause under saturated and somewhat washed-out colors.
Taking into consideration the fact that many phone enthusiasts may not be early adopters, Dr. Soneira also included the iPhone 3GS in his tests. In this case, it’s no surprise that new trumps old. Its successor has double the resolution, a 26 percent brighter screen, 24 percent lower screen reflectance, and a 64 percent greater contrast under bright ambient light. This could explain why the iPhone 4 isn't too bad out in the bright sunlight. There’s also something to be said for the fact that the iPhone 4 has too much image contrast, while the iPhone 3GS just doesn't have enough. Dr. Soneira concludes that the iPhone 4’s cleverly named “Retina Display” makes it the sharpest smartphone on the market.
In the battle between good versus evil, sweet versus savory, and Red versus Blue, there can only be one winner. In this case, Dr. Soneira pitted the family of LCD and OLED screens against each other to see which one would come out on top. The Galaxy S, as aforementioned, made the grade with its AMOLED display (the "AM" standing for Active Matrix, though all smartphone displays have that). But it fell short because of the Android operating system's own mediocre color calibration. In theory, the Galaxy S could have outshined competitors had it come loaded with an entirely different operating system. Additionally, the PenTile matrix--the arrangement of color subpixels--in the OLEDs tested have only two-subpixels per pixel instead of the usual three, which is excellent for photographs, but not too good for text and graphics using the color red, blue and magenta.
The LCDs that were tested were considerably brighter their OLED counterparts, which is great news for iPhone 4 users. Dr. Soneira adds that the Retina Display has its sharpness levels set a bit high so that it can deal with App compatibility. It's what makes our favorite mobile games look great in any sort of light, while the OLED screens are too reflective. And while OLEDs have roughly fifty times the contrast ratios of their dimmer counterparts, the difference is visually insignificant except when you're in a completely dark room.
Get more of the story at DisplayMates's website, or click the link to get a closer look at the impressive graphs that Dr. Soneira included from his studies. You’ll be able to compare the display technologies, resolutions, brightness and contrast, colors and intensities, viewing angles, and display power consumption among the five different devices covered in the study. In case you’re wondering, the iPhone 4 takes the bacon when it comes to that last category. Another win for Apple!
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