Smartphone Displays - AMOLED vs LCD

Future undoubtedly belongs to OLED, but for now LCD is more mature, cheaper and can be mass produced – all advantages, if you actually want to get a product to market. No wonder then that even Samsung’s own Galaxy Tab 7” tablet was outfitted with an LCD screen, while the new Samsung Wave II replaces the Super AMOLED of the original, for a Super LCD. AMOLED screens in larger sizes are cost-prohibitive, at least until real mass production is realized.

Apart from the major supply issues, the commercial AMOLED screens at first seemed to have some drawbacks such as being too reflective, which diminished their sunlight visibility. Moreover, despite the lab claims for power efficiency, battery life on smartphones with AMOLED screens was nothing to get excited about at first.

Then, in January 2010, Samsung announced the next generation of “Super" AMOLED screens. Super AMOLED is 20% brighter, 80% less reflective, and uses 20% less energy than regular AMOLED screens, thanks to having only two major components – the actual AMOLED emitting layer, and the tough but thin Gorilla Glass, sealed over it. The touchscreen coating Samsung has managed to apply as an only 0.001mm thin layer in-between, bringing the light-emitting layer closer to the glass, to show raw, vivid colors.

On the other hand, the IPS-LCD (in-plane-switching LCD) technology, has largely overcome the usual troubles with LCD screens, namely power consumption and viewing angles, plus it allows for smaller pixels, making possible the incredible resolution of the iPhone 4. The iPad and iPhone displays are mainly produced by LG, and exhibit much more contrast, compared to regular LCDs. It is probably the best the LCD world can offer, without being cost-prohibitive.

Asked about why Apple didn’t go with the emerging OLED screen technology for the iPhone 4, Steve Jobs said that the high-res IPS-LCD in the iPhone 4 is better than OLED. And he was right - at the time when millions of iPhones had to be produced, the only OLED technology that might have met Apple’s requirements is Super AMOLED. Since it belongs to Samsung, it will not be until 2011 that the Koreans would be able to mass-produce such screens. Apple approached Samsung for their AMOLED screens, in the preparations to launch the iPhone 4, but the capacity just isn't there. There are rumors that Cupertino is talking again with Samsung regarding the Koreans' new plant capacity for an eventual Super AMOLED display in the upcoming iPhone edition next summer.

Still, the more mature LCD technology managed to come up with an IPS-LCD screen for the iPhone, which hits AMOLED in a few areas where it hurts. A major advantage of Apple’s IPS-LCD is the so-called Retina Display technology, which has miniaturized pixels in order to cram a 640x960 resolution into the 3.5” display. At this resolution, only perfect vision can distinguish the individual pixels from a certain distance. That makes high-contrast situations, such as e-books and web pages look very crisp and legible.

Also, with one of the major advantages of OLED-based displays being their slender profile, Apple still managed to produce the thinnest smartphone on the market, helped by LG's slim display. Despite LCD’s need for backlighting, the advancements in power management in the IPS-LCD brought along similar battery consumption on comparable chipsets for both phones. This is not easy to be explained, until we look at one table from the dawn of OLED-based screens a few years ago:



The fact of the matter is that LCD screens draw fairly constant power, no matter what images are shown on the screen. AMOLED, in its turn, needs the most powerful current applied to pixels that are showing white. Thus, while OLED displays are up to 90%+ more efficient when the background is black, when showing pure white, OLED screens can be consuming 3 times more power than an LCD display. This is why black menu backgrounds and colorful icons are recommended in user interfaces developed for AMOLED screens.

In a recent battery endurance test, consisting of websites display on several last-gen phones, it wasn’t the Super AMOLED phones that came ahead, but rather the Motorola DROID 2 and Motorola DROID X with their last-gen LCD screens. If the test had been on a looped video, the Super AMOLED phones would have probably given up the ghost last, since websites mainly use white backgrounds.

AMOLED screens also have shorter lifespan of the blue organic diodes, compared to the green and red ones, which might result in a shorter overall lifespan of the device. Using a PenTile matrix (developed by a company, whose IP Samsung bought not long ago), is one way to remedy this shortcoming. It arranges one green subpixel with double-width red or blue ones, thus showing only two colors per pixel, instead of the usual three. Some researchers claim this effectively lowers the interpolated 480x800 resolution of the Samsung Galaxy S, to actual 392x653, making text and web pages appear more pixelated. Recent advancements of the blue diodes' lifespan, however, puts it at over 30 000 hours, which means the screen will be around for many moons after you have moved on to another phone anyway.

Both handsets use Gorilla Glass, but the OLED-based screens are more withstanding to concussion due to less layers in them, and glass elements in general. On the other hand, OLED is easily damaged by water, that is why the Gorilla Glass is sealed over the touch coating of the AMOLED layer. Not that LCD would survive much water, but we are just nitpicking here, for comparison's sake.

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23 Comments

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 apple..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

displaymate.com/OLED_Galaxy_S123_ShootOut_1.htm ^ a real talk about OLED, not some fanboy like this article.

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