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Does the screen quality of a smartphone matter any longer?

Terms like ppi, 1080p and Super AMOLED and pixel count are thrown around regularly, but does it matter any longer?

The screens for the Samsung Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge are able to fit in ~557 pixels per inch, but do such increases matter any longer?
The screens for the Samsung Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge are able to fit in ~557 pixels per inch, but do such increases matter any longer?
Image: AP Photo/Manu Fernandez

HOW MUCH BETTER can smartphone screens get? Right now, we have numerous examples of HD quality screens appearing on high-end phones, supporting either 720p or 1080p while even the mid-range phones are getting better by the day.

It’s the easiest thing to focus on as it’s the most obvious part of any device. You need to see what’s going on and the sharper a screen is, the more you’ll be able to make out.

Yet the vast majority, if not all, new devices boast x amount of pixels, higher resolution or specialised screens, but at what point do these advances become unnoticeable?

Well, before you delve any further into the area, it’s worth taking a look at the terminology most commonly associated with screen quality. Some of them are worth noting while others are mainly marketing terms.

1080p - the highest common HD screen resolution you can get. The resolution dimensions are 1920 x 1080 pixels.

720p -
A lower quality version of HD. This resolution fits in 1280 x 720 pixels.

IPS -
A type of LCD screen technology found in many mid- and high-end smartphones, it’s better for producing clearer images, more accurate colour, better brightness, and wider viewing angles.

LED -
Stands for light-emitting diode, LED screens use a backlight to illuminate pixels.

OLED - Organic light-emitting diode,  OLED pixels produce their own light, meaning the brightness can be controlled pixel-by-pixel if you wish. This usually allows for better quality images.

Super AMOLED
– Samsung’s name for its smartphone displays which use OLED screen technology.

Retina Display
– A trademarked term that Apple has trademarked as a way of describing the displays it uses on its iPhones, iPads and Macs. These are basically LCD displays with IPS.

ppi -
Pixels per inch. The more you can fit in, the sharper your screen becomes. It’s believed that the average person is unable to differentiate beyond 300ppi although this is dependent upon factors like scale and distance.

dpi - Dots per inch which measures the spatial dot density. While some may use it interchangeably with ppi, dpi is a term more associated with print instead of screens.

The human eye

Which brings us to the important part, how much of this matter to you, the user? As mentioned earlier, it’s generally believed that the average person is unable to differentiate beyond 300ppi although this depends on factors like the distance between the person and the image and how good their vision is.

There are those who believe that this figure should be higher, those with perfect vision would be able to make out 477ppi, but this only applies to a small number of people.

For the high-end smartphones, the Samsung Galaxy S6 fits roughly 577ppi while the iPhone 6 fits in and around 326ppi (6 Plus fits roughly 401ppi). What that means is you won’t be able to tell the difference between the two with ppi alone, making it an irrelevant stat.

2014 Google search lists Source: Martyn Landi/PA Wire

Because of the screen size and the distance you’re holding it away from you, the only way you could see the benefits of a 1080p display is if you held it directly up to your face. The only real way to see these benefits (without your phone practically touching your eyeballs) would be through a large screen TV. On a smartphone or tablet, it’s too small to notice any real difference.

If you are placing importance on the screen, better questions is whether the screen is LED or OLED, and how colours are presented (for example, are colours oversaturated or are they true to life) and maybe the resolution if you place significant importance on  720p and 1080p displays (you shouldn’t as the differences between the two are minor at best).

So in short, the answer is not much. We’ve reached a point where the quality of screens is incredibly high, but unless you pay close attention to it, the differences are pretty hard to notice. The only time it would apply is if you were buying a budget phone, where the resolution would be relatively low anyway, but that’s the height of it.

What we want to know is when you’re checking out a smartphone, how much importance do you place on screen quality?


Poll Results:

A lot (1304)
I treat it the same as any other smartphone feature (1175)
Very little. There are more important features to consider. (898)
As long as you can make out what's on screen, who cares? (576)




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About the author:

Quinton O'Reilly

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