Mobile displays have advanced faster than I think any of us imagined possible. Just three years ago, it wasn't uncommon for devices to come fitted with displays smaller than 3.5-inches. Now it's uncommon for a phone to have a display much smaller than 4-inches.
But size isn't the only improvement that's been made. Mobile displays have improved in color gamut, contrast, brightness, power efficiency, viewing angles, resolution and, respectively, pixel density. All of these factors (and more, like reflectiveness) come together to make the displays fitted in your mobile devices some of the most impressive technology money can buy.
Despite approaching what many thought might be a wall, advancement in this space shows no signs of slowing down. Only one year ago, many were skeptical that we were so quickly approaching 720p displays. Using Sharp's 3.5-inch 960 by 640 pixel display, Apple coined the term Retina Display and stunned the world in 2010. But it was hard for me to wrap my head around a pocket-sized phone having a 720p display.
Now we're on the brink of devices with 5-inch 1080p displays, which begs the question: how much does display quality matter to you?
For some, the display is the top priority. After all, it's what users spend all their time looking at when using their devices. A bright, crystal clear and vibrant display with perfect contrast is crucial for watching tons of movies on the go. Or maybe you take a lot of pictures and want an accurate representation of what the end product will look like before switching to your computer.
Others might not care about display so much as the processor, camera, build quality, design or storage space. What good is a beautiful display if the phone lags every two seconds? Or how pointless is it to have gorgeous display in your pocket if you don't have enough storage space to keep a few movies and pictures (because we know streaming everything doesn't work well with tiered data)?
For me, I would have to say display comes in a solid second in things I look for in a phone. I can get over poor design or a tiny bit of lag. I can work around storage space woes, tiered data or even slow data speeds. I can even deal with the size of a phone being too small to an extent. But there are two things I cannot tolerate when it comes to phones. First, a poor camera. Unfortunately, the vast majority of smartphones have abhorrently awful image sensors and optics. Second, I can't get over an awful, grainy display.
This is why I've been fairly satisfied with the HTC One X. It easily has one of the best mobile displays to date in many respects. Namely, color reproduction is fantastic and contrast is relatively high. Blacks are fairly inky and at 312 pixels per inch, it is crystal clear, too. I'm also satisfied with the iPhone 5 display, despite it's size. You couldn't ask for a better display in its class.
Earlier this week, however, I popped my SIM in a DROID RAZR M and I immediately recalled why I wrote off Super AMOLED displays and PenTile subpixel formations. I instantly remembered why I quit using the Galaxy Nexus. At just 4.3-inches diagonally with qHD resolution (960 by 540 pixels), you would imagine the display would be relatively clear. But that is not the case. From about a foot from my face, I can clearly see pixelation in icons and other interface elements on the DROID RAZR M display. In the image you see above (click for full-size), all saturated elements of the display appear jagged and show some checker-boarding.
Depending on the device, however, I'm willing to sacrifice some quality or clarity for more real estate. The Galaxy Note II features a 5.5-inch HD Super AMOLED display with 720p resolution. However, it utilizes a custom subpixel layout, different from the typical PenTile Matrix layout. The original model – which featured a smaller, 5.3-inch display with a higher resolution of 1,280 by 800 pixels – is the one that drove me to hate PenTile and HD Super AMOLED so much. At only 267ppi, I don't expect the Note II display to be crystal clear. But the additional space should more than make up for slight pixelation.
What about you, ladies and gentlemen? How much does display quality matter to you? What about the display is most important? Density? Size? Color reproduction? Contrast? Or is the display the least of your worries when it comes to a new phone?