Which Mobile Phone Display Technology is Best?
It wasn’t too long ago that mobile phone displays were pretty straightforward, monochromatic LCD or segmented LED affairs. They were, by nature, quite boring, but sufficed for the demands of users whose mobile phones were first and foremost telephones, rather than the all-purpose recreational and business appliances they have become in years hence. Of course, even today’s high-resolution colour displays would have been wasted on screens that measured a scant 25 millimetres across. Figuring out what the ever-growing list of different display acronyms means can be pretty confusing, especially when trying to decide which mobile phone will best suit your needs. To simplify the decision-making process, here is a breakdown of the different display types.
Obsolete or legacy display technologies
– Segmented light-emitting diode (LED) – An array of seven or nine single-colour LEDs arranged so as to display a single decimal numeral , depending upon which of the seven or nine segments was illuminated. These were used in the earliest mobile phones, but soon abandoned due to their limited capacity to display information.
– Monochromatic liquid crystal display (LCD) – This is the plain-jane, black and white display seen on most calculators. While the numbers can be quite crisp, graphic elements inevitably look crude. A backlight is required in order to see the display in lower lit areas. Used in early compact mobile phones with limited graphic capabilities.
Current standard technologies
– Thin-film transistor liquid crystal display (TFT-LCD) – Usually referred to as simply LCD, this is the most common type of mobile phone display. Each pixel displays a given colour, depending upon the voltage applied to its red, green, or blue sub-pixels. Quality can vary greatly from the dullness and poor resolution of some generic displays to the better displays, such as the Apple Retina display on some previous model iPhones and the Google Nexus 7. As with the monochromatic LCD, all LCD displays require a backlight, thus increasing their power usage.
– Active-matrix organic light-emitting diode (AMOLED) – Used extensively among high-end smartphones from Nokia, Samsung, and Motorola, the AMOLED offers more lifelike colours, better saturation and contrast, and faster response time than LCD displays. In addition, LEDs located where the display is black have no current applied to them, potentially reducing battery drain.
– Retina display – This is Apple’s proprietary variation of the LCD display, with a higher pixel-per-inch (PPI) density than standard LCD and increased viewable angle. Used in their iPhone 4, 4s, and 5 models, the Retina display is probably the most widely known of the manufacturer-specific “technologies,” most of which are in reality more marketing strategies than technologies.
– Retina HD or Retina 5K display – Introduced on the iPhone 6 models, this larger display contains an even higher PPI than the standard Retina display.
– Other, lesser-known “technologies” include Nokia’s ClearBlack and PuereMotion HD+, LG’s True HD IPS+, and Motorola’s ColourBoost. Each of these proprietary display technologies actually represents a slight enhancement of existing technologies, rather than an altogether novel approach.
Emerging technologies you cannot yet buy
– Super HD resolution – While it might sound ludicrous to offer a 4” screen that can provide true 300+ PPI resolution, consider how many people are downloading or streaming high-resolution and even 3-D movies to their smartphones, then plugging the smartphone into a huge HD flat screen television to watch it. Or, for that matter, consider the convenience for business people who can plug their smartphones into a projector and give a multimedia presentation to a large group, without having to lug a laptop everywhere they go.
– Flexible displays – Modern smartphone users are caught in a bit of a paradox. They want a large, clear display, but genuinely miss the portability that came with their older, less-capable, and much smaller mobile phones. The two factors that contribute most to the ever-growing size of the smartphone are the display and the keyboard. Modern displays are glass, which obviously doesn’t lend itself to being bent, at least not more than once. Imagine having a fully capable smartphone that was the size of a quality fountain pen, and whose display rolled out like an old-fashioned window shade. Or a small smartphone that had a display that could fold up, accordion-like, into a mobile phone not much larger than an old-style flip phone. Both with pressure-sensitive or capacitive resistance keyboards, of course.
Who knows what new display technologies will arise over the next decades, some of which will enhance our mobile phone experience or even allow us to do things about which we hadn’t even dreamt? By keeping abreast of the new developments in smartphone technology and comparing how different manufacturers and network providers apply those technologies, consumers can avail themselves of the best of the best, while at the same time avoiding “breakthroughs” that benefit the sellers more than their customers.