Smartphone Displays - AMOLED vs LCD

Smartphone Displays - AMOLED vs LCD

Very often your only connection with the world is your phone's display. With the advent of smartphones, their screens are becoming windows to the information world, as you want to see it. Google's Eric Schmidt called it the other day the era when you will never be alone, or bored. Some people don't really care what screen they are looking at – they want to quickly check time, call, read messages and answer to email, without worrying too much about tidbits like resolution and color saturation. Others spend hours browsing rich websites, watching YouTube videos, or reading e-books on their smartphone screens.

That second category will only be growing, as it is hard to resist all the multimedia noise easily accessible from your phone. Moreover, in developing nations, the whole desktop PC/cable internet era might be skipped altogether for some regions, and people's first Internet access there could very well be via a smartphone tied up to a data plan. That is the reasoning behind the big battles among Google, Microsoft, Apple, Nokia and others, big and small, these days. And that is why screen technologies are becoming a major selling point -it is amazing what achievements have been reached in the span of just a few years, in terms of brightness, clarity and durability of today's touchscreens.

Technologies Overview

The two existing mainstream technologies for smartphone displays are LCD and OLED. Their advanced iterations in those gizmos are IPS-LCD, as found in Apple’s iPhone 4, and Super AMOLED, as present in the Samsung Galaxy S. Therefore, after a brief overview of the technology behind them, we will compare the two flagship smartphones displaywise, try to pierce through the marketing fluff, and come up with a conclusion, more suited for real-life decision making. Bear in mind that these two technologies are future-proof, and will be utilized in smartphones for the next few years as well.

Liquid Crystal Display (LCD), has been around for a while. We won’t go as far back as 1888, when an Austrian botanist discovers liquid crystals, but rather mark 1972 and 1973 when the first LCD watch and calculator were introduced. Then rapid advancements followed, adding colors, and improving the viewing angles, brightness and efficiency of the then power-hungry technology, which requires backlighting. Most major display companies make LCDs, the technology is very mature, without much production and supply issues.

Organic Light-Emitting Diodes (OLED) is a much newer development than LCD. Luminescence of organic materials when electric current is applied to them, was first observed in the 1950s by French researchers. Cambridge scientists reached the stage of efficient light emission from a green organic polymer in 1990, and the first commercial OLED devices came in the early 2000s, three decades after LCD ones. Below is a funny setup to explain the process of organic light emission, demonstrated on a pickle by Vladimir Bulovic from MIT:

A lot of the companies that were producing OLED screens, such as Sony, or Toshiba, have currently shelved their R&D and production plans due to cost-cutting. Thus Samsung is becoming the OLED industry juggernaut. The Koreans hold 98% of the world’s Active Matrix OLED (AMOLED) market in 2010.

On paper, and in the research labs, OLED has all the advantages to get you excited, when compared to LCD:

Simpler construction – the thin layer of organic polymers emits light itself, when electric current is applied, so no additional backlighting is needed. On top of that, production methods can incorporate all the elements needed close to one another, and OLEDs can even be printed on an industrial printer, if some of the ongoing research makes it up to commercial scale. Thus OLED displays can be extremely thin, even bendable. Illustrated below are the elements, constructing a typical LCD, and a typical AMOLED screen:

Low power consumption – due to the lack of powered backlighting, OLEDs are supposed to be more energy efficient than regular LCDs;

Brightness – since it is light-emitting, OLED is potentially the brighter technology. The very high contrast ratios also contribute to the brighter impression;

Higher contrast ratio – black color from OLED screens is indeed black, due to the simple fact that the pixel is off at that time, whereas the LCD backlighting is still on, producing greyish black. The contrast ratio of AMOLED displays is extremely high;

High and stable color gamut – the emissive displays have much wider color gamut reproduction, and this cannot be easily improved in LCD;

Faster response times – the organic diodes fire up and emit light immediately when current is applied, whereas with LCDs, some motion blur might be present with fast moving objects;

Wider viewing angles – LCD suffers from picture deterioration when viewed from certain angles, due to the nature of the direction in which light travels through the liquid crystals, while OLED screens’ brightness and color gamut are left intact up to almost 180 degrees of viewing;

Wider operational temperatures – your eyes will keep chugging photons from your OLED screen long after its LCD brethren has frozen or overheated.

"Then why isn’t everybody using AMOLED screens in their gadgets?", we could ask.



1. LeoKai unregistered

Great post!

2. russellw10

Posts: 13; Member since: Feb 15, 2010

I didn't read through this whole post cause i'm too ored to read all 4 pages but i hope they mentioned that OLED screens consume 3 times more electricity than LCD screens when producing white. OLED to me is a lot better than LCD for movies, pictures, gaming, and many other stuff. But I think LCD is better for computers, tablets, and any other device that is going on the interenet a lot. The Internet is mostly white.

5. KNOWITALL unregistered

Yes, they did mention that.

17. koku unregistered

$10 says you actually read that and just wanna make yourself sound smart :)

3. ickyob

Posts: 24; Member since: Mar 19, 2010

Really informative article, thanks!

4. belivingtheword

Posts: 9; Member since: Nov 06, 2009

Since I am reading the article and viewing the videos from an LCD screen, the visual comparisons are not getting the justice they deserve. :-) Great article.

6. Pings

Posts: 304; Member since: Dec 19, 2008

AMOLED just looks so good...

7. remixfa

Posts: 14605; Member since: Dec 19, 2008

over all i think this is one of the best written and least biased articles on the site in quite some time. I wish they had more articles on this. My question comes from the LCD/Super Amoled brightness comparison. My Vibrant kills my eyes in the dark on anything but the lowest setting and might as well be a table lamp on the highest setting. There is no way those pics were "turned the whole way up". Other than that, good stuff. Anyone with a galaxyS variant notice that the screen is actually capable of going just a bit "darker" now than it used to be? I used to never take it off the lowest setting unless i was outside with my sunglasses on, now its actually pretty dark. better for battery saving :)

9. gridlock

Posts: 31; Member since: Jun 10, 2010

It is not the brightness that kills your eyes in the dark on the SAMOLED, it is the incredibly saturated colors on an almost unlimited contrast ratio - these are definite advantages in low light situations. still, as the guy ppointed out, you rarely sit alone with your phone in the dark, there is usually light around...but SAMOLEDs I read can reach a few thousand nits brightness in a few years, so then LCD can bite the dust :)

8. Verizon genius unregistered

awsome article, probably the most complex and detailed i have read on here....

10. notcool unregistered

Fascinating stuff. I didn't knew the amoled uses more power displaying white. The cell phone manufacturers can easily cheat in battery capacity tests using black backgrounds. However, in my humble opinion, I'd rather choose the display with high pixel count than the display showing more vivid colors. Why? Because it is not ONLY about viewing videos or dark-themed sites. It is all about the best you can get, and there isn't a thing that can make me choose lower resolution over the brightness and vividness (making up terms) , simply because the smartphone display should be capable of producing everything OK. Not dark menus better. Not videos better. Not websites with dark themes better. Best of all worlds make the picture complete. To me that means high-resolution display capable of showing text and images sharp enough to read without having to double tap. I don't care If I should change the viewing angle a bit, as long as it gives me more pleasurable experience.

11. 530gemini

Posts: 2198; Member since: Sep 09, 2010

We need more highly informative articles like this. Great job PA.

12. unregistered unregistered

It seems like this article is making an issue of the white background consuming more color but failed to point out that at all other tested colors the SAMOLED consumes at 40-70% than Retina. It's like saying doing a thousand good deeds won't save your from hell if you just did one thing evil.

13. calamazoo unregistered

Yeah, but it all evens out in the end, resulting in the Super AMOLED phone not having better battery life than the LCD phone in reality :) next gen samoled will do that for sure...

14. Jimmy Tappa unregistered

Ha..ha...ha... It's an open secret that Apple doesn't produce their retina Display by themselves, but only reallying from the Asian company LG. I don't know why LG don't produce the retina display for themselves but trying to help the bagger Apple @Jobs (who like to sue their competitor for their survivor).

15. RobM unregistered

Apple would have used samoled if the manufacturing capacity had made it available. Samsung owns the Super AMOLED market!!

16. 530gemini

Posts: 2198; Member since: Sep 09, 2010

To Jimmy. LG does not utilize their own retina display because their devices do not have the capable OS to support it. You obviously do not know how screen resolution and OS work.

18. eleutherius unregistered

good job.. iphone most use white color on safari,sms,contact..and use it every minute..n can make lose b3 if use SAMOLED.. but i wan suggest to make iphone 4g n do black color for all things on iphone include safari n use SAMOLED+retina display(960x640)...n can make iphone thinner n save b3 too n good for gaming...plz do 4 ur apple fanboy like me..

19. Roenie unregistered

IPS all the way! Reasons I MUCH prefer IPS on my smartphones: -Number one: (Super) AMOLED uses PenTile. Oh God. If you understand the tech, this makes it clear that Super AMOLED *PLUS* (such as used in the Samsung Galaxy S2) the only AMOLED type display worth having. -Color reproduction. IPS panels are known for it. That's why photographers and people in the graphics / publishing business use them. -Oversaturated OLED due to lack of color managed OS/apps is awful. The web and everything else that is not color managed, assumes you have a "standard" gamut, not 138%. My PC monitor is wide gamut (not as wide as 138 though) and it already has that problem. (Ironically, it's an IPS panel). Colors are natural in photoshop, but reds are wayyyyy too strong on websites and everything else that's not photoshop/color managed. This effect is much stronger on a 138% gamut - no thank you. Especially now that smartphones have decent cameras, I want to see the photo as it really is. (As it would look in photoshop on my PC). -The web is mostly white, as mentioned above. -Viewing angles of IPS panels are great to begin with, they don't need to be any better... view angle is a big selling point of IPS panels, always has been.

20. Mike unregistered

I really liked this article. Many articles on the net seem to just want to be marketing driven to show how superior the super amoled screens are. I think what it boils down to is how you intend to use your phone. If you are more of a gamer and will be using all kinds of fun apps then amoled is the way to go. If however you are a more productivity oriented user such as myself this article definately reaffirms why I like the LCD display so much better and now I know that my power consumption on LCD is actually better than amoled (Who knew?). As a photographer who has printed out 10's of thousands of photos I can tell you with poor LCD displays I've had trouble with photos being under saturated on the screen and printouts coming out more saturated. However wide gamut LED screens are a nightmare with over-saturation and poor colour reproduction compared to a good quality LCD monitor.

21. syampillai

Posts: 1; Member since: May 04, 2012

Very informative and well written. Nowadays, we see very few unbiased articles on the net.

22. jessedegenerate

Posts: 6; Member since: Feb 10, 2013

this post isn't close to factually correct, nearly. IPS displays have brighter nits consistently, better day time performance, not to mention, more power efficient, than if your OLED did nothing but display black. I feel bad for anyone who thought they learned something from this post, because the author is a f**king idiot. my phone history goes 4s/gnex/gs3/ip5. I can't believe people are here telling him how honest he is. Disgusting.

23. jessedegenerate

Posts: 6; Member since: Feb 10, 2013 ^ a real talk about OLED, not some fanboy like this article.

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