Super AMOLED vs LCD vs Retina display: what’s the difference?

When we speak of the Galaxy S5, LG G3 or iPhone 5s, you can hear us ramble on this IPS as AMOLED, Retina whoduzzit and new fangled LCD thingamabobs and scratch your head and wonder what the heck we speak. Well, today we’re going to clean up this confusion right that we break down how each type of screen works, which they good and what is best for you. And do not worry, we will not go too heavy on the geek speak.

Understanding the differences between these screens should not be rocket science.

Understanding the differences between these screens should not be rocket science.

Note: The visible moiré in some photos is related to shooting mode, not the type of display.

LCD

LCD stands for Liquid Crystal Display. As you can probably guess, LCD consists of a liquid crystal matrix is illuminated by a backlight. Because LCDs do not require much energy to power a screen, the technology is very popular in portable devices. Also, because the screens are LCD Backlit, they tend to perform quite well in full sun, because the entire screen is illuminated, so they are ideal for smartphones. However, the backlight means that blacks tend to appear gray and so they have less contrast than other display technologies. There are two main types of LCD TFT and IPS.

Presentations of this kind by LG showing differences but are still oriented marketing.

Presentations of this kind by LG showing differences but are still oriented marketing.

TFT stands for Thin Film Transistor and are an advanced version of the LCD display that uses an active matrix (AM as in AMOLED). Means that each pixel TFT is connected to a transistor and a single capacitor. Their main advantage is their relatively low cost of production and increase contrast in comparison with traditional LCD screens. Their disadvantage is the excessive consumption of energy as some other liquid crystal displays, and less impressive viewing angles and color reproduction.

The HTC One (M8) has a Super LCD 3 display.

The HTC One (M8) has a Super LCD 3 display.

IPS stands for in-plane switching and is a TFT LCD enhancement. To summarize very roughly, the way the crystals are electrically excited is different and the orientation of the crystal matrix is rotated. This change improves the viewing angles, the contrast ratio and color reproduction. Energy consumption is reduced compared to TFT-LCD. LCD IPS tend to be better than TFT LCD screens are also more expensive when put on a smartphone.

To determine if a smartphone has a TFT or IPS screen, just look at the technical specifications: If they say it is simply an LCD display so you know it is a TFT LCD screen; IPS LCD are always labeled as such.

iphone-5s-nexus-5

The iPhone has a 5s IPS LCD with 326 ppi. The Nexus has a 5 + True HD IPS LCD screen with 445 ppi.

Retina

A Retina screen is not defined by any particular characteristic, other than that are supposed to be of sufficient resolution that the human eye can not distinguish pixels at a normal distance and this measure obviously changes depending on the size and resolution of the screen. Apple popularized the concept with the iPhone 4, which had a resolution of 960 x 640 pixels IPS LCD screen 3.5 inches, resulting in 330 pixels per inch. Considering the 5.5-inch qHD display current sitting at 534 ppi you can see that the Android world, we passed some of the iPhone 4.

Retina screens may have a relatively low density of pixels, but Apple think they are the perfect solution.

Retina screens may have a relatively low density of pixels, but Apple think they are the perfect solution.

Apple, meanwhile, have remained faithful to dictum of Steve Jobs and the current iPhone 5 5c 5s and all have a Retina display with a resolution of 1136 x 640 pixels for a pixel density of 326 pixels per inch. With a large-screen iPhone 6 is rumored, we will have to see what resolution Apple opts for a device that will have to go head to head with the best available Android screens. With a 577 ppi Galaxy S5 LTE-A opened in China, a 300 ppi iPhone in June would be a prime target for criticism.

Samsung Galaxy Tab S, with a Super AMOLED WQXGA display

Samsung Galaxy Tab S, with a Super AMOLED WQXGA display

AMOLED

AMOLED Active Matrix means Organic Light-Emitting Diode. While this may sound complicated, it is actually not. We have already met in the active matrix TFT LCD technology, OLED and is simply a term for another thin film display technology: OLED is an organic material which, as its name suggests, emits light when a current passes through them.

In contrast to LCD panels that are backlit OLED displays are ‘always off’ ‘unless the individual pixels are electrified. This means that OLED displays are much purer blacks, and consume less power when the black or darker colors are displayed on the screen. Because the black pixels are off, the contrast ratios are also higher than LCDs. AMOLED displays have a very fast refresh rate as well, but on the down side are not as visible in the light of the backlit LCD direct sunlight. Burn screen and degradation of the diode (because they are organic) are other factors to consider.

Here is a detail of the Retina display of the iPhone 5s with 326 pixels per inch

Here is a detail of the Retina display of the iPhone 5s with 326 pixels per inch

Detail of the LG G3 qHD display with 534 pixels per inch

Detail of the LG G3 qHD display with 534 pixels per inch

Difference between AMOLED and Super AMOLED

Super AMOLED is the brand name given by Samsung to its range of screens, as IPS LCDs, AMOLED improve on the basic recipe. Super AMOLED screens reduce the thickness of the screen by integrating the contact layer response with the screen itself. Super AMOLED screens manage sunlight better than AMOLED screens and are also better on energy consumption. As its name suggests, Super AMOLED is simply a better version of AMOLED.

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OK, got it: so which one is better?

As we have seen, each term is not limited to one manufacturer: AMOLED not always Retina Samsung and Apple’s not all. iPhone IPS LCDs are currently manufactured by LG screens, Samsung has built for the iPad and not all devices are Samsung AMOLED either. As is probably clear from our explanations above, it is not simply a case that the display is better, everything is a compromise between advantages and disadvantages.

All this to say two things: numbers and technical data are obviously important when comparing the two screens on smartphones, but equally important is the actual performance of these screens. It is impossible to evaluate a display on paper, you really need to see it in real life to see if it is too cold or hot for you, is too saturated or too poor contrast, brightness, angles vision and so on. Do not fall into the trap of believing the marketing hype. Analyzing screens for yourself, ask other users on the forum, or if a device is not yet available, and seek advice from sites that you trust.

Super AMOLED screen of the Samsung Galaxy S5 (left) and qHD IPS + LCD LG G3.

Super AMOLED screen of the Samsung Galaxy S5 (left) and qHD IPS + LCD LG G3.

Finally, know your usage and choose accordingly: if you are a couch potato all night and stay at their desk all day, then daylight listening advantages of LCD screens are probably not so important for you, but if you are an outdoor type then maybe they are. If you are crazy to take every drop of your battery life or are simply obsessed with eye-popping color, then take a look at AMOLED, and so on. In some ways, the grass is always greener, but you can always make informed choices tick as many boxes as possible for you.

What kind of display you prefer? Tell us why it’s your choice in the comments!

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