There are now (fortunately) times, when talking about mobile screen (especially touch screen) for Smartphones and tablets, it was necessary to consider whether they were resistive (pressure operated) or capacitive (touching).
But the triumph of capacitive displays does not mean that now all mobile screens and tablets are the same, and in fact currently live many different types: Super AMOLED, Retina, OLED, IPS, LCD …
So, if you want to know what type of screen to choose for your mobile device, we explain the differences between them.
Table of Contents
IPS / Retina
When choosing a new smartphone or tablet, you must consider many factors such as the processor you mount, the battery or one of the components you spend the most time watching while you use it: the screen.
The screen is the main channel for a successful user experience. As much power as the processor of a device has, if your screen is not adequate, it will deplete the entire experience of use since the user will not appreciate quality in anything you see.
Around the screens revolve a large number of acronyms that define the quality and definition of the images or colours that are displayed or their energy consumption that, although you have seen them thousands of times in the specifications of the devices, perhaps do not know what they mean exactly.
To begin with, not all screens use the same technology to display the images. In fact, you can currently find devices with IPS, AMOLED, Super AMOLED, Retina, IGZO, etc. screens. We will discover that it hides behind these acronyms and what characteristics differentiate them from the rest.
Although with so many acronyms it may seem the opposite, in reality, there are only two types of screen technology or panels: LCD and OLED.
The remaining acronyms that appear associated with the screens refer to the materials or the type of construction of each of these types of screen.
The LCD ( Liquid Crystal Display ) is the most common type of display among mobile devices, but you can find it in multiple manufacturing variants.
1. TFT LCD Panels
For a long time, one of the types of LCD most used in smartphones was the LCD TFT (Thin Film Transistor).
The TFT LCD panels have a transistor for each pixel shown on the screen that can be controlled individually, so it offers a much faster response time than any other panel while offering a good contrast ratio.
Making this type of panels has a really low cost, but needs high energy consumption. This is an insurmountable obstacle given the generous screen sizes of today’s mobile devices. For this reason, the TFT LCD panels have been relegated to the background during the last years.
However, there are evolutions of this system of panels that are already showing spectacular results, such as Sharp IGZO (Indium Gallium Zinc Oxide) LCD panels, which use a new semiconductor material to facilitate a more compact panel structure, so that more pixels fit on the same surface. This is facilitating the implementation of the finest displays, with tighter consumption and with a 4K definition on mobile devices.
A. Super LCD panels
Another evolution of the LCD panels are the Super LCD panels, which is currently in its third version. Devices like the HTC One M8 include this type of panels.
It has managed to eliminate the air that exists between the external glass and the other layers that make up the screen. This reduces energy consumption compared to TFT LCD panels and improves the visibility of the screen, although the reduction of consumption is still insufficient.
B. IPS and Retina LCD panels
Due to the low energy efficiency of the TFT LCD and Super LCD panels, the demand for IPS (In-Plane Switching) LCD panels has been favoured, which surpasses some of the limitations of other panels, including energy consumption.
IPS LCD panels are the most common today and offer a great balance to show clear images and consistent colours from very wide viewing angles, as well as good levels of brightness and contrast, with a very high energy consumption.
Within the IPS LCD panels, the ones that Apple called Retina screens stand out. Although this type of screens is closely associated with Apple, in fact, hose of Cupertino did not invent this type of screens, did IBM there by 1998.
Apple baptized this type of screens like Retina by the high density of pixels that allowed.
Retina screens were among the first mass-produced screens to break the 300-dpi barrier (326 dpi on iPhone 4, to be more exact) that, as Steve Jobs announced during his presentation, were supposed to be more pixels of which he could distinguish the human eye at some distance. Affirmation that many studies were in charge of later deny, and that has been demonstrated with later screens with the greater density of pixels.
2. Panels OLED, AMOLED and Super AMOLED
The other type of screen you can usually find among mobile devices is the OLED ( Organic Light-Emitting Diode ) panels.
These panels consist of an organic polymer that lights up when charged with electricity, being much more efficient, thin and bright than LCD panels.
The most common type of OLED panel on mobile screens is AMOLED (Active Matrix Organic Light-Emitting Diode), or some of its evolutions such as AMOLED plus or Super AMOLED.
One of the main advantages of OLED displays is that they do not need the power to reproduce the black colour. They simply disconnect the pixel of that colour or reduce its intensity, so that its energy efficiency is beyond doubt.
In addition, the AMOLED screens are able to show greater clarity, contrast and brightness level. So much so that they can even oversaturate the colours. Something that some users do not like too much.
The use of organic materials causes a lower lifespan than LCD panels as these compounds progressively degrade with use, showing over the years colours less intense or bluish.
Samsung has been the brand that has invested more in the development of this type of panels. Among the evolutions, it has made are the Super AMOLED panels, which allow a higher pixel density thanks to the use of new pixel arrays such as the PenTile matrix.
The Pentile matrix integrates a greater number of subpixels, which improves the contrast ratio and obtains more vibrant and intense images even in full sun. With this matrix system, it is possible to extend the useful life of the screen and reduce consumption.
With the Super AMOLED screens, the thickness of the panels is also reduced, as one of the layers is removed in its manufacture, integrating the touch function in the same layer of the screen.
The downside of this technology is that in images with high contrast or with texts, the definition is lost, although the effect is hardly noticeable on screens with high pixel density.
The latest versions of the Samsung Galaxy S5, Samsung Galaxy S6 or Galaxy S7 and Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge feature these types of Super AMOLED panels.
Another variant of the OLED panels are the P-OLED or OLED plastics, which allow creating flexible screens like those used in the LG Flex 2 models or in the Galaxy S6 EDGE or Galaxy S7 EDGE.
What does HD, Full HD, 2K and 4K mean?
Regardless of the panel type that the device will mount, it will include a certain number of pixels in the screen array.
The number of pixels on a screen determines the sharpness of the image it will provide, so it is important that they have as many pixels as possible.
In the specifications of mobile devices, it is common to find a series of acronyms that refer to the number of pixels that have horizontal and vertical, are added the designation of HD, Full HD, QHD, 4K, etc.
Each of these acronyms obeys an established standard that defines the particular number of pixels that the panel should display.
Thus, the HD (High Definition) definition means that the display should show at least 1,280 x 720 pixels, regardless of the number of inches the screen has. This type of screens is also known as 720p.
The Full HD screens have become the most widely used standard in the current screens and can display 1,920 x 1,280 pixels. You can also find them under the designation 1080p.
Nevertheless, in the constant evolution of the screens of the mobile devices, models with QHD, Quad HD or 2K designations have been launched to the market whose standard defines that they must show at least 2,560 x 1,440 pixels. All these denominations actually refer to the only fact that on one of these screens you could display the contents of 4 HD screens of the same size.
The term QHD or Quad HD can lead to confusion and make the user believe that he is in front of a 4K screen. Nothing is further from reality.
4K displays should display 4,096 x 2,160 pixels. However, you can find screens that are indicated as 4K, when in reality they are UHD or Ultra HD.
Although they are very close resolutions, its standard does not establish the same number of pixels for both denominations since for the UHD or Ultra HD 3,860 x 2,160 pixels are needed.
This happens, for example, in the highest model of Sony, the Xperia Z5 Premium, which indicates that it has a 4K screen (which would remember you are 4,096 x 2,160 pixels), although in the technical specifications clarifies that it is 4K Ultra HD that is equivalent to 3,860 x 2,160 pixels.
Resolution and screen definition
When we talk about screen resolutions of mobile devices, we often refer to them as HD, Full HD (or FHD) screens. Although this concept is socially established, it is not entirely correct.
Actually, when we refer to the number of pixels in horizontal and vertical that has a screen, which as you have already seen, is what these terms refer to, we should talk about the definition of the screen.
Instead, to be semantically accurate, the resolution should be used to indicate how many pixels a screen really has. That is, what pixel density does a screen have? In this, it has a lot to say the size of the screen itself, since a Full HD panel is not the same in 5 inches as in 13 inches.
For example, you can find mobile devices with screens with a Full HD definition with 1,920 x 1,280 pixels, in very different sizes. From 5 inches to 13-inch screens, how is it possible that they all have the same number of pixels if their screen size is more than twice as large?
This is where the value of the resolution, commonly associated with the pixel density of the screen, comes into play, which expresses the number of pixels that has one inch of screen.
This value is expressed with the acronym PPP (pixels per inch) or with its Saxon variant PPI ( pixels per inch ).
Thus, while a Full HD screen with a screen size of 5 inches offers a pixel density of around 440 dpi, the same Full HD screen with a size of 5.5 inches low at 400 dpi and a Full HD of 13 inches would stay at 169 dpi.
This indicates that although all of these screens have the same number of pixels (1,920 x 1,280), the 5-inch screen is smaller than the 13-inch screen, so the images will be displayed sharper and sharper edges.
Which screen is better?
With all the information we have provided you, it should be enough for you to be able to determine on paper which screen offers the best quality.
However, the numbers are not everything, and the personal perception of the images that are shown on the screen is always subjective.
Leaving aside the definition and resolution values that are common to all types of displays, some users see the intense colours offered by AMOLED panels as artificial, while others prefer the brightness of the IPS LCD panels. About tastes, there is nothing written.
That’s why, if you have to decide between two devices with different screen technologies, in equal conditions in resolution, density or definition, do not miss the opportunity to see them live and it will be your eyes that determine which type of screen is best for your smartphone or tablet.
For many, the screens of the new Galaxy S8 and Galaxy Note 8 are the best screens of the moment but that will always depend on who looks at them.
Which type of screen do you have on your present smartphone?