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The best phone displays 2021

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The best phone displays 2021
What constitutes a great phone display? Is it the high resolution and pixel density? Nah, then the Sony Xperia 1 II with its 1644p 4K panel would top the list. Is it the high brightness and contrast that offer good outdoor visibility in daylight? That's certainly important, but most of today's flagships have HDR-certified panels that breach the 1000-nit barrier upwards to fit the standard, and their OLED tech delivers practically infinite contrast ratio, so it's hard to pick on that merit alone. 

Ditto for credible color gamut presentation, as per-unit display calibration is no longer a prerogative of Apple's iPhones, while said HDR display flagships now cover both the standard RGB, and the wide P3 color gamuts. Is it the actual white balance and DeltaE numbers? It's getting warmer, but throw in dynamically-adjusted refresh rate based on the content displayed, and you've narrowed it down to only a few choices when it comes to the best phone displays that we round up below.

Best Android phone displays 2021

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

  • 6.8" 1440p LTPO 12-bit HDR panel
  • Most granular 10Hz-120Hz dynamic refresh rate @1440p
  • Brightest mobile panel, best for outdoor visibility
  • Active digitizer with S Pen stylus support
Pay attention to that "brightest" part and the 10Hz-120Hz specs at the full 1440p resolution. Yes, that means that the S21 Ultra is equipped with the newest LTPO OLED display technology that allowed for both the record 1500nits of peak brightness, 15% less battery consumption than what's on the S21/S21+, and the dynamically-allocated refresh rate that can go down to 10Hz when you are looking at static images, or rev up all the way to 120Hz when you scroll. 

This granularly adaptive refresh rate is what makes the S21 Ultra display, in particular, stand out. Last year, Samsung dropped the ball in comparison with the competition from OnePlus or Oppo with static high refresh rate that worked only in 1080p mode, and was constantly on 120Hz at that, taking a huge toll on the S20 Ultra battery life, but now its heir fixes all wrongs making the S21 Ultra display the one to beat later in the year.

OnePlus 9 Pro

  • 6.7" 1440p LTPO HDR panels
  • Dynamic 1Hz-120Hz refresh rate at the full 1440p resolution
  • Extremely low 0.3 JNCD (Just Noticeable Color Difference)
  • MEMC video frame rate upscaling

OnePlus 9 Pro

- Morning Mist (256GB)

$1069 99
Buy at Amazon
Birds of a feather, the OnePlus 9/Pro, as they sport the same 6.7" 1440p LTPO OLED panel with dynamic refresh rate and individual display calibration at the factory level courtesy of the imaging specialists from Pixelworks. Besides the near-perfect color accuracy, wide gamut coverage, and high average brightness, though, the OnePlus 9 Pro specs  list more arrows in its display quiver than most any other phone but the S21 Ultra or Oppo's flagships. 

As if to offset all mishaps that happened in 2020, the world of phone making didn't cease to amaze and notched the biggest development in mobile displays since, well, the introduction of the OLED technology. What happened? Popularizing the high dynamic refresh rate, that's what, and there is no looking back once you've tried it while browsing and scrolling.

Moreover, the 6.78" 1440p "Ultra Vision" screen of Oppo, dubbed "Fluid Display" technology on the OnePlus 9 Pro, both mimic the same great features that no other 2021 phone has in this combination. Variable 1Hz-120Hz refresh rate based on the content you are currently viewing? Check. 120Hz at the full 1440p screen resolution? Check. Upscaling content frame rate to match the one of the display? Yep, Oppo calls it Ultra Vision Engine, and it is able to upscale video to 60fps as well.

Moreover, this refresh rate changes automatically depending on what you have running to save on battery (like the S21 Ultra, but unlike the S20 Ultra), and here are the answers on our questions how does it all work exactly:

PhoneArena: Which apps get what Hz in Auto Select - is it 120Hz in Chrome, but 60Hz in, say, video playback? What about the interface?

OnePlus: It’s up to the app that you are using. For example, social media apps, browsers, system interface and other local apps like photo/video album support 120Hz, whereas most of the video and gaming apps support 60Hz. For the video playback, the refresh rate will depend on the video frame rate to be either 60Hz or 120Hz.

The display is basically able to do what MEMC TVs do, automatically increasing frames in video to up the rate, and take better advantage of the high refresh rate even with content that is usually shot with 24fps or 30fps.

Our display benchmarks of the 6.78" 1440p screens above, and DisplayMate's OnePlus 8 Pro screen review demonstrate that the OnePlus CEO wasn't teasing when he said that these may be the "best smartphone display in 2020." Detailing the panel's virtues in a blog post, he also mentioned that:

The panel will not rest on its laurels, though, as Oppo's Find X3 series was be first Androids to introduce end-to-end HDR10 color management, from the camera capture through encoding, storage, decoding and display playback, so Oppo and OnePlus are keeping the best mobile display crown.

Galaxy Note 20 Ultra

In the Galaxy S20 Ultra, the 120Hz display refresh mode is fixed in an either/or scenario with the 60Hz refresh, while on the Note 20 Ultra it adapts depending on the content, saving battery in the process.

Unfortunately, while the new Note 20 display tech introduces a lower power consumption and a dynamic refresh, a true 120Hz rate at the full 1440p resolution as seen in phones like the OnePlus 8 Pro, is still not present, as Samsung had some catching up to do when it comes to phones with the Iris chip from Pixelworks. The Galaxy S21 Ultra, however, rights all wrongs with the Note 20 Ultra screen, and then some.

Best Apple iPhone display

  • iPhone 13 Pro Max
  • 6.7" LTPS panel with dynamic 120Hz refresh rate
  • Top peak brightness
  • Toughest Ceramic Shield cover glass protection

Apple's finest finally found the 120Hz refresh feature (say that 3 times quickly) and if you are already invested in the iOS ecosystem, there is nothing better than the largest, toughest display on an iPhone so far. 

Apple iPhone 13 Pro

1TB, $1000 trade-in for 12 Pro

Buy at Verizon

Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max

Buy at Amazon

Besides the long overdue high refresh rate option, Apple offers its usual great color calibration and the Super Retina XDR panel is HDR certified to show what only the iPhone 13 series can do - 4K Dolby Vision HDR video recorded by their own cameras.

To top it all off, Apple has partnered with its usual "made in America" investment suspects from Corning to master an exclusive mixture that it calls Ceramic Shield, hinting at the tough material involved in the new blend. As per Corning: "with Apple’s support, we scaled up several next-gen manufacturing processes to make the front cover of the latest iPhone 12 lineup... Gorilla Glass Victus is a strengthened alumino-silicate glass, while Ceramic Shield is a glass-ceramic." 

Due to the heavier nature of the iPhone 13 Pro Max, though, or maybe just bad drop test luck, the iPhone 12 Pro Max's Ceramic Shield did better than the 13 Pro Max in several controlled drop tests already.

Bonus: Pixel 5's display

Say what you will about Google entering the fray here but with the help of HTC's engineers which it poached for the Pixel line, the new Pixel 5 has a very well balanced display. First off, its color credibility is better than the more established calibration champs here (just look at those DeltaE numbers below). It is also sufficiently bright and has a middle-of-the-road 90Hz display refresh, so if you are looking for a compact 5G Android phone with a great camera and display, a discount on a Pixel 5 would fit your narrative.

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