Smartphone Displays - AMOLED vs LCD

Actually one credible scientific research was outed recently by the specialists from DisplayMate, who tested extensively the screen types of many popular smartphones, and the results confirm what unscientific observations of the two phones have noted. 

DisplayMate’s thorough testing debunks some myths, related to OLEDs and LCDs, which might be valid in the lab, but in real production units, the results are as follows, regarding the Super AMOLED display on the Samsung Galaxy S, and the IPS-LCD Retina Display in the iPhone 4.

The color depth on the iPhone 4 appears true 24-bit (i.e. capable of 16 million colors), while due to Android 2.1's limitations, the browser and gallery in the Galaxy S are reproducing 16-bit (65536) colors. This is fixed in Froyo.

The 4” Super AMOLED screen has enough resolution at 480x800 pixels, but the picture appears less sharp, especially when reading text, because the PenTile OLEDs have only 2 sub-pixels per pixel, instead of the 3 that are used in most displays. The Super AMOLED exhibits a blueish tint when showing white, which is a factory calibration issue, and there are projects under way to boost the screen brightness and dispose of the blueish whites, such as the Voodoo project. In our sample shots inside at maximum brightness in the browser, our main page indeed looks pixelated on the Super AMOLED:

Now off to the other intriguing findings. The actual brightness of the Retina Display is much larger than most screens, the excellent 541 cd/m2. This is quite a bit more than the Galaxy S’s peak 365 cd/m2, and a very important advantage, since phone screens are usually used in a lot of ambient lighting. That brightness unfortunately degrades with 57% from a 30 degrees viewing angle on the iPhone 4, and there isn’t much that can be done about it, apart from switching to AMOLED technology. The special reflectance coating brings brightness degradation to the Samsung's phone as well, which is unusual for an AMOLED screen, but not as bad as to the IPS-LCD, as our inside samples show:

On another note, the contrast ratio on the Samsung Galaxy S is so high, that DisplayMate has marked it as "outstanding - greater than 61000:1", while the iPhone 4’s is marked as the “very good for mobile” 1117:1. Contrast ratios only matter when the ambient lighting is low, though, rarely the case with your cell phone, as the source rightfully notes.

One component where Super AMOLED excels, and is extremely important in bright sunlight, is the reflectance percentage. Samsung is advertising 4% reflectance, with the actual measured 4.4%, but this is still extremely low, and less than the iPhone’s 7%, which makes up for the brighter Retina Display, especially in broad daylight. That is why outside both screens are almost equally visible, whereas AMOLEDs previously held issues against LCDs in that respect.

Still, all screens perform pretty bad in direct sunlight, and the technologies should be constantly evolving to address that. Our own sample shots of the two screens outside at maximum brightness confirm the above mentioned observations:

The color gamut is another important eye candy – the Galaxy S produces vivid, oversaturated colors, which people immediately like, representing 138% of the gamut, whereas the iPhone 4’s colors appear washed out in comparison due to it representing only 64% of the color gamut. If you are a calibration specialist, the Super AMOLED’s colors are called gaudy, and limited color gamut preferred over the much larger one. If you are a regular user, though, the colors on the Super AMOLED will wow you, the same way oversaturated photos of the iPhone 4 can wow you over the undersaturated colors of the Nokia N8 at first. We think Samsung deliberately has let the colors stay “gaudy”, and we can’t blame them.

Without some clarity, color or contrast, one can manage, but if your screen is a power drain, you will quickly move on to a better smartphone. Battery life when talking over 3G and watching video on both handsets is comparable, over similar capacity batteries and chipsets. The reason the Super AMOLED doesn’t fare way better, as the lack of backlighting would indicate, is the improved power management of the IPS-LCD on the iPhone 4, and the above mentioned power-drain when AMOLED screens are displaying white.

We’d think that these issues are not as important as in the first OLED screens, but the actual measurements prove us wrong. With an entirely white screen at full brightness, the Galaxy S consumes 1.13 watts, and the iPhone 0.42 watts. When showing mixed colors with darker content, the consumption of both is around 0.2 watts, and at entirely black screen the Galaxy S consumes zero, while the iPhone 4 stays at 0.42 watts. No wonder the backgrounds of the menus in the Galaxy S and the Samsung Wave are black.

Therefore, to draw the line in the sand in the Super AMOLED vs IPS-LCD battle, we have to note that both are outstanding representatives of two technologies – one very mature and one fledgling. If you had to choose only by screen type, here is how the odds are stacked. Provided that you read a lot of e-books, browse the general internet (which consists mostly of pages with white background), or review a lot of office documents on your smartphone – you will probably go with IPS-LCD, capable of the amazing resolution of the Retina Display, which makes text crisp and legible.

If you are using your smartphone heavily for viewing photos and video, you can’t find anything better than the high-contrast Super AMOLED, due to the bright, oversaturated colors, which many people like. Below is a sample clip we made that plays the same YouTube clip on all handsets for comparison, and it is clear that the Super AMOLED has the upper hand when displaying video:

Display technologies are not like advances in chipset miniaturizations, where GHz increase and power consumption have been moving in inverse relationship according to Moore’s law for the last fifty years or so. Screen production methods are taking years to be perfected, tested, calibrated, and ready for mass market adoption. Thus, the current overview might be valid for your smartphone purchase for a few more years, unlike our mobile CPU article, which we will have to update, mere two months after publication. Let’s have a look at some of the wild things that are expected from the screens of the future, and judge for ourselves where technologies are heading. 



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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