In good old days, there were mobiles with a few black and white pixels on a screen of the size of calculator screen panel. Latter they grew into 256k color screens ranging from 1.5 to 2 inch size. They were still heavily pixilated and grainy. A bit further in time, screens matured into decent 320×240 resolution 16 million color capable LCDs. There were large touch screen phones in those times as well, in the form of the imate series of windows phones, but those were bulky bricks which couldn’t fit comfortably in pocket. In terms of looks, they were hardly passable. All the focus in those days was on the software features, what ringtone format your phone supported, basic internet WAP capability and hardware.
It wasn’t until the launch of the iPhone that the revolution in the screen department of the mobile phone begun. The iPhone changed the game, out went bulky thick grainy and pixilated LCDs and in came the touch screen with bright colors and decent resolution and responsiveness of a capacitive screen. The other makers took a long time for catching up with Apple; Nokia went a long time with the touch resistive screens. They had some advantages over capacitive, but the experience wasn’t smooth like the iPhone.
All that was happening back in 2007 but we are now in 2011. Competition amongst the big firms has led to massive advancements in mobile phone screen technology. Now even the most basic smart phones are touting large touch screens with crisp display quality. Touch screens now dominate most of the front portion of the phones, even replacing the hardware call and cancel buttons with touch sensitive buttons. Companies like Apple, Samsung, HTC, and Nokia have invested a lot in the screens.
Why is it important to consider the screen?
Since screen is what you will be looking at most of the time while using the phone, it is very important to take that into the consideration while purchasing a new phone. A good quality screen will make watching your videos and reading your mails a joy, while a poor screen will frustrate you while you browse the web or just play games.
So what to look for in a mobile screen? There are 3 things to consider, the type of screen, the resolution, and the size of the screen. There are a variety of screen types manufactured by many companies for their phones, but the most common ones are mostly Retina Display, LCD or AmoLED, each having further variants.
Retina Display found in the iPhone 4 and the recent iPhone 4S is Apple proprietary. The screen has the highest resolution and pixel density in the market (more on that latter). And the color reproduction is great. It may not have the full color spectrum of the Super AmoLED Plus screens but it’s very close. The viewing angles are ok, and while sunlight legibility might be an issue, the retina display is one of the most sophisticated and brilliant screens available in market.
The LCD in modern cell phones is either Super LCD, or most recently the Super LCD2 as announced in the HTC Edge with optical lamination. Generally speaking, LCDs have advantage of a large brightness range and vibrant colors. The brightness spectrum is very useful if you plan to work in office environment or mostly indoors as it can go to lower brightness without straining your eyes. On the other hand, if your working is based in outdoor or involves lots of travelling, LCD screens have trouble in direct sunlight, producing a washed out picture and difficulty in legibility. You must know this shortcoming before buying a new phone. Super LCD 2 (as in the HTC Edge) will hopefully solve most of its predecessor problems and supports a wider color range and higher HD resolutions.
AmoLEDs have a larger color range and deeper contrasts. The Super AmoLEDs made by Samsung on their high end Phones are called Super AmoLED Plus screens, in which each pixel is further divided into 3 sub pixels, of RGB colors which improves color gamut even more, giving sharper smoother results. They also have advantage of reduced battery life consumption and widest viewing angles. The Nokia Clear Black AmoLED found on its N8, X7 and C7 have the deepest blacks and the highest Sunlight legibility among the competition.
Resolution is another main factor to consider. Usually all manufacturers tend to promote their screens with bigger numbers. In most cases it is true. The higher the resolution, the more pixels on the screen, the smoother will be the display. This is particularly useful when viewing large web pages or long excel spreadsheets on your smart phone as it will require more scrolling and zooming in manually which can be frustrating at times. Similarly, HD videos lose their quality when displayed on lower resolution screens. So having a phone with high resolution is important. The common resolutions on large screens are 800×480(WVGA), 960×540 pixels (qHD) or 960×640 as on the Apple Retina Display. While resolution is important, pixel density is even more important. Apple compresses all those pixels in a 3.5 inch screen, thus there are more pixels per inch (ppi) as compared to a similar resolution in a 4.3 inch screen. That makes the display quality of the Retina Display top notch.
Screen size is another factor that you should consider. It’s highly debatable what screen size is ideal, as everyone has his/her own preferences. People with bigger hands will be more comfortable with larger screens, for example guys will find it easier to handle somewhat larger hand-sets as compared to ladies. Screen sizes also matter as it adds bulk to the entire phone, so it can impair mobility while carrying it around in pocket. People on a budget can go for 3 inch screens which should be the bare minimum. Ideally 3.5inch or larger screens make for a more comfortable usage. Larger screens generally support higher resolutions and thus act as a portable media player on which you can watch videos and view your social network without having to squint. Screen sizes above 4.3 inch tend to be extra ordinary, but are most suited to people who do most of their work on the mobile using it as mobile PC. The larger screens make for better text composing, video watching, image viewing, large maps and graphics manipulation. The upcoming Samsung Galaxy Note is a huge phone with a 5.3 inch screen size specifically designed for these purposes.
Joel Klein is a Travel Writer, who writes on topics related to travel, tech and finance. For travelers, the currency conversion rates matter a lot, here’s a currency converter that you can use when planning to travel.