Attention, gamers: Your smartphone display's super-high resolution means little, and here's why

It's only when we feel we have sufficient data to back our point up do we feel comfortable making sweeping generalizations, but in the case of smartphones, its fair to say that we have our very own little Space Race. The rush is spearheaded by the Android crowd for the most part, with competing Apple doing things its own way, preferring to weigh in indirectly. But the facts are facts — deca-core processors, more generous allotments of RAM than ever, and tiny displays that fit more pixels than your 50-inch flat-screen. 

Avid readers will know that we're not particularly happy about the development in that last category — 1440p displays (such as the ones on Galaxy S6 units) offer questionable benefits to the viewer at the expense of higher power draw and lower efficiency. While fans of the new tech are quick to compare this to the transition from 720p to 1080p, it should be obvious that diminishing returns have finally kicked in, largely invalidating further increases in resolution on panels as small as 5 inches. And if you thought that we have a hidden agenda (other than yours and ours best interest), a new study conducted by GameBench — a company that specializes in benchmarking real-world mobile games performance — further helps our case.

Tests and results

What the folks at GameBench did is fairly simple — take screenshots of the same levels in various popular games on an iPhone 6 (a 720p screen), iPhone 6 Plus (1080p), and Galaxy S6 (1440p), and then layer 100% (or higher) crops on top of them to showcase the supposed advantages (or lack thereof) of higher resolution. Before we move on to the actual samples, however, two important clarifications must be made. Firstly, depending on the game, a higher resolution screen could both mean better image quality or not at all, depending on the game has been coded and if it even has the required art/texture/effects assets to take advantage of the higher resolution. A good example is Asphalt 8, which doesn't look any better on the S6, despite the much higher resolution compared to the two iPhones. And secondly, even if the game in question does have the necessary assets to run at native 1440p, the typically simplistic nature of textures and effects available with most mobile games mean that you'll get less pixelation and jagginess, but not necessarily more information. See:

As you can see, despite the superior resolution, and even the fact that the screengrab from the iPhone has been upscaled so that both objects are equal in size, Asphalt 8 actually isn't looking any better on a 1440p screen, even when talking extreme close-ups. This doesn't apply to every game, though, as titles such as Modern Combat 5 and Dead Trigger 2 have appropriate assets for higher resolutions, and some of them are even complex enough to extend the gains beyond just less pixelated and jaggy surroundings:

Notice the extra information available with the Galaxy S6 in this case — the stethoscope is more detailed and even the scrubs have further depth to them. Of course, by PC game standards, these gains are still laughable, and we can identify at least two factors leading to this. First off, developers behind PC games are faced with comparatively negligible storage concerns, whilst mobile game developers are usually pressured to keep the size of their titles within reason. So more comprehensive art assets could be avoided on purpose. And secondly, creating new textures for various resolutions (as is the case with Android and its army of devices with different screen resolutions and firepower) can be time consuming and quite expensive.

The above issue is only exacerbated by the simple fact that mobile games just aren't played on large enough screens for even fancier assets to make enough of a difference as to be a definitive competitive advantage. The below two screengrabs ought to illustrate our point perfectly — which one do you think looks better?

Hard to tell, right? And yet, the top screenshot is from the Galaxy S6 (so 2560 x 1440), while the bottom one was taken with the iPhone 6 (1334 x 750), and from Dead Trigger 2, which is among few games that offer some improvements to users with higher resolution screens. This is only an approximation of course — you're looking at 680 pixel-wide thumbnails, after all — but it's an illuminating illustration anyway, showcasing how little of that extra depth you'll perceive when playing the game on either of these two competing devices. The folks at GameBench have prepared several dozens more screenshots for your consideration, so make sure to check them out as well:


In conclusion, there are several factors that you should consider if you're in the market for a phone with a super high resolution, with the relatively tiny size of the panel being your main concern — your eyesight likely just isn't acute enough to notice. Even beyond that, you have to understand that not all games were created equal, and a non-trivial number don't really offer much more for high resolution screens compared to standard ones in terms of assets such as textures and effects. In fact, in certain games (even ones that render assets at 1440p), it's hard to even notice a reduction in object jagginess (Monument Valley, that's you). Why? Because the Galaxy S6, for example, doesn't always render scenes at 1440p, and in some cases simply upscales a lower res image to fit its display. And even if it did, the before argued point about simplistic textures still holds.

This isn't just a problem that can be fixed by display makers like Samsung or LG, though, as software developers have at least as big a role to play by ensuring that their games actually do look better on more advanced hardware. As it is, they seldom do, and while we can't blame them, we sure hope that further investments by both sides will eventually lead to tangible benefits. Of course, even if that does happen, it'll remain to be seen if as pixel-dense screens as 1440p panels really improve user experience, especially when considering that they don't come free — not for Samsung, and not for you.

source: GameBench



1. waddup121 unregistered

Very interesting PA...

15. bambamboogy02

Posts: 840; Member since: Jun 23, 2012

I'll take my higher resolution. Thanks. After having a higher resolution screen, you can for sure notice the differences easily. You guys have no idea what you are talking about. Just like when you reviewed phones in the past, and in the CONS columns you guys put phone to big. Until apple gave you a bigger screen, and now you guys cant live with out at least a 4.7 inch display. After 4+ Years of having 1080p and above displays, the difference is there and easy to pick up on. Just because you guys don't have a 2k, or until this year a 1080P display, how can you even make this judgement? Sorry PA, but this is probably the most absurd article ever.

18. Niva.

Posts: 440; Member since: Jan 05, 2015

This title is so stupid. Resolution absolutely matters, but for all the wrong reasons when it comes to cell phones. Anything beyond 1080 on sub 6 inch devices yields no noticable benefit to the human, but leads to terrible consequences in terms of graphics performance. This is hugely important not just for games but for everything you use your phone for. Stuipd title is stupid.

40. sgodsell

Posts: 7466; Member since: Mar 16, 2013

Resolution absolutely matters for any VR uses? If you have used VR then you would know that you need to have the higher resolution displays. Its a must for VR. Think about it, any phone used in VR has their display split in two. So each eye gets half the screens resolution. So if you have a display of 2560x1440, then each eye will get 1280x1440 pixels. So if you use an iPhone 6 display 1334x750, then each eye will get 667x750 pixels. Clearly the iPhone display looks like crap when used in VR, and I wouldn't even recommend or use any device with a resolution like the iPhone's display or below. For instance Samsungs Gear VR is being released for the S6 on July 17 for around $200. If you want a poor mans version, then you can go with Google's cardboard for around $25.

71. vincelongman

Posts: 5730; Member since: Feb 10, 2013

Also we can't forgot that the S6 won't render games at 1440p They will still be 720p or 1080p Just like how consoles will render games at 720p or whatever, even if you have a 4K TV Or if you a 3K ultrabook or Retina MacBook, games will still be rendered at 720p or whatever It also depends on how much compression those screenshots have Also iOS has Metal, so its expected that they should have better graphics Android users will have to wait for Vulkan Right now OpenGL is limiting gaming on Android since it doesn't support multi cores well

79. sgodsell

Posts: 7466; Member since: Mar 16, 2013

Clearly you have not used Android is a long while. Android scales. Not to mention the games I have played on my 2560x1440 display take up the entire resolution. Also starting with lollipop Android now supports OpenGL version 3.1, which makes really pretty graphics and games.

82. vincelongman

Posts: 5730; Member since: Feb 10, 2013

Scaling is not the same as native E.g. Sure a 1080p video can be scaled to fill your 1440p screen But it won't good as good as playing a native 1440p video OpenGL ES 3.1 is pretty good, its more or less on par with DX11 and OpenGL 4.5 But its not a low level Graphics API like DX12 or Metal or Mantle or Vulkan (aka Next Generation OpenGL) Vulkan is the successor to Mantle, OpenGL, OpenGL ES and Metal

86. cheetah2k

Posts: 2275; Member since: Jan 16, 2011

Wow eyephonearena is falling deeply into the BIGGEST joke of a tech page on the planet. The VISUAL experience is not what idiots you see on a desktop computer cropped and served up on 24"+ screens, its the experience you have in your hand at the time. You can't tell me that 1080p is going to be crisper, sharper, less jaggy than a phone screen double that resolution. If this is the case then 4K TV's are a joke, Retina display is an absolute mockery of the system and Apple have been frauds all along, or there's just something not right about the crap you are serving up.. In writing this, I can only fathom that the next S series of iPhone 6's will bring the exact same resolution of the current 6 series, only to try and justify that "hey, less is more, keep buying the icrap".. At least Apple have brought their 4G modem into 2013.. Same cant be said for the rest.. SO MUCH LOLOLOL!!!

92. vincelongman

Posts: 5730; Member since: Feb 10, 2013

LOL why are you guys so mad at phonearena Chris just copied and pasted from GameBench At least be mad at the writer from GameBench who actually did the comparison Buying a 4K TV for 1080p content its a joke Just play a 720p video on your phone Then a 1440p video on your phone The 1440p video will be far sharper since it means your phone will be displaying native 1440p instead of scaling 720p If you have bad eyes, then use 320p instead of 720p I'm not even an iPhone user anymore (not since the Nexus 5's release) But there's no denying that buy a 1440p phone for gaming is as dumb as buying a 4K TV or a 1440p 144Hz gaming monitor for a console

103. cheetah2k

Posts: 2275; Member since: Jan 16, 2011

Buying a 4K TV for 1080p content is a joke? You obviously don't own a 4K tv, or ever seen one in action. Pit a 65" 1080p screen against a 65" 4K TV side by side and you'll know what I mean. You don't even see the pixilation on the 4K at a comfortable viewing distance of 3m on the 4K, but you do on the 1080 screen.. the 4K screen is sharper, more vivid and less jagged lines.. There is no denying there are some real Dumb people around...

23. Taters

Posts: 6474; Member since: Jan 28, 2013

It's pretty obvious that 1080 and up look a lot better in most instances. What I find funny is that this 720p vs 1080p and up article didn't crop up way back with an HTC One X vs HTC M7 comparison. Considering both displays are the same size, it would make the best comparison. But iPhone arena and game bench choose to wait for the iPhone 6 and compare a 4.7 display, a 5.5 inch display, and a 5.1 inch display, lol funny stuff considering display size plays a huge factor in this. Might as well include the iPhone 5s and iPhone 4s display and say those resolutions are enough for games and that 750p on the iPhone 6 is useless because if you blow up the iPhone 4 images it will look the same since the pixel density is the same. Lol oh the Icult. Contradict themselves at every turn. Lol

63. skimshaddy unregistered

Can't hardly read "Liquor Drive In" so I'll take the higher resolution screen.

76. joey_sfb

Posts: 6794; Member since: Mar 29, 2012

PA show us that the high resolution make things readable and tell us it does not matter. Oxymoron PA!

80. medtxa

Posts: 1655; Member since: Jun 02, 2014

pa said that particulary on games moron..also pa can change their mind too or is different writer.

70. HildyJ

Posts: 339; Member since: Aug 11, 2012

Everybody's right. If you want photo-realism, good photo printers run at 2400 dots per inch and up so phones have a long way to go and remember the hardware and software have to output at that level. OTOH, if you are playing a game, the gold standard on consoles is 60 frames per second so phones and games have a long way to go here as well and remember that every extra pixel degrades FPS performance. It's a tradeoff and always will be.

61. ihopnavajo

Posts: 8; Member since: Aug 25, 2014


2. hemedans

Posts: 760; Member since: Jun 01, 2013

good article phonearena, wish they include xperia z3 compact,

11. Anterv

Posts: 178; Member since: Jul 09, 2014

Yeah, and Nokia 3310 should be included too.

87. cheetah2k

Posts: 2275; Member since: Jan 16, 2011

Yep, the 3310 has comparable hardware to the current iphones..

3. ZetZet

Posts: 22; Member since: Apr 21, 2015

On the screenshots with the wrench is fairly clear which one is lower resolution. Higher resolution scaling up works like AA.

5. Ordinary

Posts: 2454; Member since: Apr 23, 2015

Yep especially on a bigger screen

90. cheetah2k

Posts: 2275; Member since: Jan 16, 2011

The S6 has better lighting effects too. An overall way better visual experience

91. MrHate

Posts: 318; Member since: Feb 09, 2015

Please tell me where the S6 has better lighting. Thanks.

104. cheetah2k

Posts: 2275; Member since: Jan 16, 2011

If you cant see it, I can't be bothered. Lighting effects in iOS metal are just bright, there's no gradient. Take the Spanner picture, the bright lights are just bright, where as the Android OpenGL, the light is bright but it has far more advanced gradient and shadowing effects courtesy of AA.

4. Macready

Posts: 1824; Member since: Dec 08, 2014

"As you can see, despite the superior resolution, and even the fact that the screengrab from the iPhone has been upscaled so that both objects are equal in size, Asphalt 8 actually isn't looking any better on a 1440p screen, even when talking extreme close-ups" Wait wut? I see boatloads of extra stairstepping and posterization (including color banding) in the iPhone 6 sample. IT's like turning AA off in a game and switching from 32 bit colors to 16 bit or lower. Are we looking at the same license plate picture?

6. xperian

Posts: 420; Member since: Apr 10, 2014

Thats because S6 upscales from 1080p with bilinear filtering

9. Macready

Posts: 1824; Member since: Dec 08, 2014

That and the fact that the iPhone 6 renders at 750P (or possibly even 720P scaled to 750P).

59. xperian

Posts: 420; Member since: Apr 10, 2014

Iphone is not scaled, otherwise it would be slightly blurry. It is in native resolution, that's why it has sharp pixels.

64. Macready

Posts: 1824; Member since: Dec 08, 2014

Stairstepping isn't real sharpness, it's fake sharpness (read: artifacts) though. And stairstepping can be present after up- or downscaling (less likely), depending on algorithm used.

83. GreenZone

Posts: 146; Member since: Mar 04, 2014

Wrong. IP6 runs it natively, but due the lack of anti-aliasing, it is definitely look jagged.

* Some comments have been hidden, because they don't meet the discussions rules.

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