Quad HD vs 1080p display resolution: can people actually see the difference?


Back in the good old days of... May 2014, 1080 by 1920 pixels (also referred to as 1080p) was the screen resolution associated with high-end smartphones that weren't the iPhone. Everyone seemed to be happy with it as the high pixel count and density sufficed for every task and need. But then came phones like the LG G3 and the Oppo Find 7, which broke the 1080p barrier with their 1440 by 2560-pixel (Quad HD) displays. All of a sudden, 1080p screens weren't sharp enough. It was Quad HD screens that produced the sharpest, most detailed image one could possibly see on a smartphone screen. Or so we were told.

Today, a year later, there are no less than a dozen smartphone models rocking Quad HD screens – from the exotic HTC One M9+ and Meizu MX 4 Pro to the hugely popular Galaxy S6 and Galaxy Note 4 by Samsung. And their number is only going to rise in the foreseeable future. But honestly, does it have to? What's the practical benefit from having such an insanely pixel-dense display on your smartphone? And, in spite of what we're being convinced, can people actually see the difference between Quad HD and 1080p resolution on a smartphone screen of average size? 

Our initial experiment


In hopes of getting solid answers to these questions, we conducted our own testing here at the office, with our fellow colleagues in the role of guinea pigs test subjects. We asked them to look at a series of images of different resolutions, displayed on a Samsung Galaxy S6's 5.1-inch Quad HD screen. Then people had to say whether they could see any difference in detail or resolution. In theory, a slight difference was present, but was anyone going to notice it?

For the purpose of our experiment, we scaled down seven high-res images twice – once to a resolution of 1440 by 2560 pixels and again to a size of 1080 by 1920 pixels – for a total of 14 images people had to compare. Then we loaded them in the Galaxy S6's image gallery. Participants were allowed to look at the pairs of pictures from as close of a distance as they desired, but were not allowed to zoom in. A couple of hours later, the votes were in and counted.


The results


33 people agreed to participate in our experiment, and the great majority of them – 26 people, to be more specific – could really tell the 1440 by 2560-pixel images from the 1080p ones. Only four of the participants admitted that they couldn't perceive any difference in image quality from any viewing distance, and only three people gave a wrong answer. 

This, however, doesn't mean that the case is settled, and allow us to explain why. You see, almost all of the people who pointed at the higher-resolution photos did so after looking at them from a really, really close distance. Think 6 inches or less away from the screen, which is nowhere near the typical viewing distance of around 12 inches. Also, most of the people needed to compare images for well over a minute until they were able to give a definite answer instead of a random guess. Many confirmed that they couldn't see any difference between the Quad HD and the 1080p photos without sticking their nose to the phone's display.



More testing was needed


To complement the experiment results highlighted above, we conducted further testing using two smartphone screens of the same size instead of just one. A Samsung Galaxy S6 was shown to test subjects alongside our trusty Galaxy S5 with its "old-fashioned", 1080p screen. For the record, both smartphones were wrapped in paper, with nothing but their displays exposed, meaning that participants couldn't be biased by knowing which smartphones' screens they were looking at.

In this particular test, both handsets had the same Quad HD-resolution images loaded in their galleries. The Galaxy S5, however, scaled down images to its native display resolution of 1080 by 1920 when displaying them, while the Galaxy S6 could fit all 1440 by 2560 pixels on its screen. Therefore, the latter was delivering a greater amount of visual information, at least on paper. Yet interestingly, only half of the people could tell.

Out of the 26 participants in our second test, only 13 perceived the Galaxy S6's display as more detailed, judging by the images shown. Four people said they couldn't see a difference, and the other nine favored the display of the Galaxy S5. Yes, nine people said that the 1080 by 1920-pixel display on the S5 appeared more detailed to their eyes than the Galaxy S6's Quad HD screen, and that despite the latter's higher resolution. Mind you, most participants had to bring the screens unnaturally close to their eyes, much like they did in our previous test, before they could give an answer, be it right or wrong.



Conclusion


Whether or not Quad HD smartphone displays are necessary is a matter we discussed back in 2014, right after the LG G3 hit the shelves. Back then, we arrived at the conclusion that a Quad HD and a 1080p smartphone screen of average size look equally sharp and detailed from a regular viewing distance. Today, a year later, Quad HD smartphone screens might make sense having on a high-end tablet or on an exceptionally large phablet. On a smartphone of average size, however, a Quad HD-resolution display is overkill, and our testing reconfirms this statement. It just doesn't make any practical sense. Yes, some people can tell a Quad HD display from a 1080p one, but only after comparing the two resolutions with their nose stuck to the phone's screen, not in a typical usage scenario. 

What was quite surprising was that a third of the participants in our second test favored the Galaxy S5's display over the one on the Galaxy S6, even though the latter has a higher display resolution. But it is hard to say why, hence it is impossible to draw any solid conclusions based on this bit of information. We're assuming that these people had their eyes confused by the way the two screens displayed our test images. In particular, the screen on the Galaxy S5 appeared a tad more contrasty and colors on it were slightly more saturated compared to what the Galaxy S6 displayed. Whether our assumption is correct or not, it seems safe to say that what people perceive as higher in detail isn't only guided by the number of pixels the image is made of. 

But regardless of whether people can see the difference, Quad HD displays are only going to get more prevalent among smartphones, especially throughout the high-end portion of the spectrum. After all, a Quad HD screen makes a strong selling point – one that sets a next-generation smartphone apart from so many older models. Plus, they are something to brag with in front of your geeky buddies. And we have a feeling that the resolution race won't stop here, as 4K smartphone screens might not be far from launching. Perhaps their arrival will make people realize that cramming more pixels on a smartphone screen just doesn't make sense anymore? And that it is better to improve upon other aspects of a display instead, such as its top brightness and power consumption? We guess we'll have to wait and see.

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142 Comments

1. amasog

Posts: 552; Member since: Aug 22, 2013

whether QuadHD is an overkill or not, its what those gullible fandroid want for bragging!! forget the lag & effect on battery life! and as if the QHD phones can do somethig that FHD or even HD ones cant!

5. tedkord

Posts: 17456; Member since: Jun 17, 2009

You mean like the GS6 - zero lag and average battery life? Ok, won't forget those. PA, next time try it with fine text. The softener will be more noticeable.

11. amasog

Posts: 552; Member since: Aug 22, 2013

average battery life... imagine the battery life if your s6 has FHD. zero lag? in your dreams!!! Best joke ever!!! LOL!! & more LOLs!!!!! & i want even more.... LOLs!!!!!!!!!!!

17. Ordinary

Posts: 2454; Member since: Apr 23, 2015

You seem mad that your iPhone 6 doesnt have FHD

135. engineer-1701d unregistered

and dont forget the buggy lag ios

27. Ashoaib

Posts: 3309; Member since: Nov 15, 2013

there is a clear and visible difference between FHD and QHD on big screens... I did my own experiment by comparing side by side Note 4(QHD SAmoled), Vivo Xplay 3S(QHD LCD) and Huawei Mediapad(FHD LCD)... the display on SAmoled of Note 4 is clearly and visibly the best, accurate and sharp... Vivo Xplay 3S is clearly and visibly better and sharper than huawei 1080p display... I compared all these three from more than one feet and even a distance of two feet or more... However, all these devices are fairly large in size where anyone can see the difference easily. But QHD on a screen size below 5.5inch is useless and waste of money and battery... Note 4 = 5.7inch Vivo Xplay 3S = 5.95inch Huawei Mediapad X1 = 6.96inch

28. SamDH1

Posts: 419; Member since: Apr 21, 2015

FHD and QHD have the same battery impact with AMOLED screens. (S6/Edge/Note 4) And no platform has zero lag. iPhone 6/Plus both have noticeable lag around the place, but the S6 Edge, the only version I've had time with, has very very few stutters. It only seen after I close a game, then comes back up to speed. It seems a lot more fluid then iOS which is weird cuz that's the first time I've seen Android to be nicer to use. And with M, which is beautiful with it's updated UI and animations, I'm sure it shall fly a little better, like the Nexus 5 somehow is with M. You seem a little hurt after yesterdays "announcements" with your many lols there. I think we're all a little bit disappointed though. I was excited to get Multi on my iPad Air, only to find my Air won't actually support it.... Good work for looking into the future there, Apple.

87. marorun

Posts: 5029; Member since: Mar 30, 2015

SamDH1 FHD and QHD screen will have different battery drain. If you think amoled make this drain disapear you are simply an idiot i am sorry. Let me explain ok? So first i agree thats the impact on battery life will be smaller on an amoled screen vs an lcd screen if you take the screen alone and plug it on a battery directly. Now in a smartphone you also have others hardware ( CPU , GPU , memory ect ect ) When you use QHD the GPU have to work twice more to show you 2 time more pixel so the GPU will take twice more battery to push 2k display vs 1080p display. This will also result in lower amount of FPS wich will make your game lag. I personally tested both the S6 and the HTC M9 and the S6 have small lag all around ( much less than any others samsung device but still there ) where the HTC is butter smooth. They both use different SOC so its not a fair comparison ( lol i am making fun here as we all know in benchmark the S6 is better than the M9 ) anyway the M9 was much better to switch between apps with no lag at all also the navigation in the phone was smoother.. S6 = 2k screen M9 = 1080p Apple is the King when its come to force you to change device...

136. Shocky unregistered

The fact still remains, battery life on the Galaxy S5 with 1080p and 1440p displasy was the same, there was a negligible impact on battery life and that's a fact. So why don't you shut up or provide something other than your usual nonsense to prove him wrong.

43. sgodsell

Posts: 7531; Member since: Mar 16, 2013

There is no mention of VR in this article. Its one of the main reasons for why I got QHD over FHD.

52. Shocky unregistered

Considering the Galaxy S5 came in a few versions and the battery life between the 1080p and 1440p variants was the same, I would imagine the battery life would be the same. No lag on my Galaxy S6.

129. skyline88

Posts: 700; Member since: Jul 15, 2013

applefag forgets his medicine.

51. darkkjedii

Posts: 31529; Member since: Feb 05, 2011

My s6 has some lag, most noticeable on the keyboard. I find if the haptic vibration is on, it causes it to lag, the Internet stops too. It has it's issues. After having more than 2 floating windows open. Then going to the home screen, it takes a few seconds for the apps to appear sometimes. It needs an update TBH.

57. Ashoaib

Posts: 3309; Member since: Nov 15, 2013

keyboard lag is an android issue(I think), which is present in many android devices regardless of OEM. Keyboard lag mostly happen during browsing when signals of wifi or data package are not consistant or if web page contains too many images(my observation). It occasionally happen with other tasks too but not quite often What is your openion Darkk? do you mostly experience keyboard lag during browsing too?

60. darkkjedii

Posts: 31529; Member since: Feb 05, 2011

Browsing and texting mostly. You are correct in a way though.

88. marorun

Posts: 5029; Member since: Mar 30, 2015

No keyboard lag on those phone : Sonim XP7 ( quad 1.4 gigz ) Sony Xperia Z1 ( quad as well ) HTC M9 HTC M8 HTC M7 Never experienced keyboard lag on any of those.

59. 99nights

Posts: 1152; Member since: Mar 10, 2015

Mine used to be lik that, maybe you're carrier hasn't released update yet. Also got rid of all bloatware and unnecessary apps, mess around with developers options and now get 0 lag.

63. natypes

Posts: 1110; Member since: Feb 02, 2015

Mine only started doing this after the Verizon ota update last week.

78. Eclectech

Posts: 355; Member since: May 01, 2013

I own a gold 64GB Galaxy S6. What is this zero lag you speak of?

116. 99nights

Posts: 1152; Member since: Mar 10, 2015

Format your phone, go through dev options, delete bloatware and unnecessary apps, disable most samsung stuff from s voice, finder and apps that samsung use, delete all google services and cloud services (if you don't use them), change launcher (tw is still known as lag king). Went through and turned off most services and features I didn't use running in the background or a samsung feature. Now I get no lag, phone is much snappier now.

84. marorun

Posts: 5029; Member since: Mar 30, 2015

and crappy multitasking...

126. sniper1087

Posts: 537; Member since: Dec 31, 2011

Average battery life? Is worst than the S5 , it heats up a lot in my pocket as well, but my zenfone 2 and Htc one M9 have better battery life. Performance is pretty good, yet lag comes from time to time in certain apps, nothing ground breaking, it is pretty zippy but just random crashes that I experienced a couple of times, but blame that on android overall than the phone itself.

140. medicci37

Posts: 1361; Member since: Nov 19, 2011

Would like to have your S6 cause mine definitely lags & who wants average battery life out of a high end phone? When the energy saving cores aren't in use battery life isn't even average

23. Supersonic

Posts: 226; Member since: May 15, 2015

Poor chap. Apple does not use QHD and hence QHD is overkill. Come on apple baby don't be in pre-historic era.

89. marorun

Posts: 5029; Member since: Mar 30, 2015

I use Android only and i agree thats QHD is overkill on anyhing under 5.5 inch. So stop the Fanboy attitude plz. PS: I hate Apple personally i think they sell overpriced mid range phone.

143. irossdrummer

Posts: 371; Member since: Jan 17, 2015

I agree QHD is good for like 5.5 and up... i think the note 4 screen is perfect

31. vergil9

Posts: 517; Member since: Apr 06, 2015

Please do not comment until you actually owned a QHD phone

44. jaytai0106

Posts: 1888; Member since: Mar 30, 2011

I as a Z2 owner with 1080p display, I have to say QHD display is amazing. However, I don't use phone enough for gaming or watching videos. Personally, I have no need for QHD, but I think there is a market for it. To be honest, the true market for QHD is small for now like 4K tv. I think higher resolution display will catch on in a few years once more contents are available.

54. vergil9

Posts: 517; Member since: Apr 06, 2015

I'm not saying that QHD is for everyone, it's just that it is not as bad as others are saying. I used to be one of those who are saying that QHD is useless, that is until I bought a Note 4. I used to own a Z2, great phone :)

82. jaytai0106

Posts: 1888; Member since: Mar 30, 2011

I think Note 4 would be a good phone to have QHD display bc its size. Yeah, I have to say Z2 is a great phone. I don't see myself upgrade it to other phone for a while. I just don't have the need :D

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