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There are many display technologies prowling the mobile domain, yet no two are alike. AMOLED displays and its variants HD, Super, Plus, and Full HD, take up a large chunk of the market thanks to Samsung's near monopoly of the manufacturing process of the panels. But even these have their differences under a microscope.

You shouldn't prefer AMOLED panels over any other display technology without trying them. With the pixel density argument nearing to a ceasefire, and it being the main disadvantage of AMOLED displays since the beginning of their existence, IPS-LCD, and Super LCD displays are beginning to perfect the user experience. That is, if you have an interest in finding out the differences. Seeing is believing.

I have used many Samsung AMOLED displays. My first experience with the display technology was with the Super AMOLED (SAMOLED) display atop the original Samsung Galaxy S (AT&T variant). The 4-inch display was touted as offering 5 times greater visibility in direct sunlight, and was Samsung's first display to integrate the touch screen digitizer into the display itself. The trade off was the PenTile RGBG subpixel matrix layout which results in visible pixels on the screen and an off-white coloring when the display is not at full brightness. PenTile is a trademark of Samsung and remains a determining factor in how images and text are displayed on smartphone screens. PenTile is most often associated with jagged edges around text and shapes.

My second experience with AMOLED panels came courtesy of the Samsung Galaxy S II, the Sprint-branded Epic 4G Touch variant. In its full glory, it still takes the trophy for the most long-winded name ever: the Samsung Galaxy S II Epic 4G Touch. Whew. The screen was Samsung's first display without the PenTile RGBG pixel matrix, or four subpixels within each pixel. In PenTile's absence, a true RGB subpixel arrangement within each pixel eliminated the jagged edges of the former display technology.

My current device is the Samsung Galaxy Nexus, and the device has been showing its age as compared to other AMOLED displays from Samsung. Now, before you wonder why I'm comparing a two-year old phone to the latest AMOLED and LCD displays on sale in 2013, look down at your Samsung Galaxy S III or Galaxy Note (not the Note II). HD Super AMOLED is simply a rebranding of the original Super AMOLED display tech for high resolution displays. In other words, the original Galaxy S uses the same technology as the current Galaxy S III albeit adjusted for a higher resolution.

HD Super AMOLED displays offer higher pixel densities due to the inherent HD screen resolutions (>1280x720 and up) trending in today's devices. For better or worse, HD Super AMOLED was the natural succession in AMOLED panels to keep up with marketable terms like pixel density, PPI, and Retina. But where my Samsung Galaxy Nexus boasts a high 316 pixels per inch, it still isn't up to par with even Samsung's Galaxy S II's true RGB subpixel arrangement. But don't take my word for it, test it for yourself. Turn down the brightness on your Galaxy S III, original Note, Galaxy S, or Galaxy Nexus, and look at the shapes and text edges. Better yet, go outside and do this.

This is when I came to realization that AMOLED might not be the be-all end-all in screen technology for me. Nor should it be for Samsung. As further proof, there are rumors circling the Web that the Samsung Galaxy S IV could drop the rumored 5-inch Full HD Super AMOLED display for an LCD variant. Though just a rumor and one of the wildest one's surrounding Samsung, I'm beginning to have some remorse for the device if it doesn't come with an LCD display. I simply can't get enough of the Super LCD variants, and IPS backlit LCD screens on HTC's flagships, the LG Optimus G and even the iPhone 5.

 

The arguments for LCD displays

For starters, LCD displays, including the IPS backlit LCD displays and Super LCD variants, are on-par if not better (depending on your definition of the word) than LED displays. It's all a matter of your preferences and priorities when using your smartphone.

Naturally, the RGB (red, green, blue) arrangement results in crisper text and smoother edges at high resolutions. Though the Full HD variety of Super AMOLED displays are not yet available due to cost and manufacturing woes surrounding the technology, LCD offers an intriguing alternative, even if it's the grandpa of smartphone display technologies.

LCD (Liquid Crystal Display) displays remain one of the oldest display technologies. At the turn of the century when CRT (Cathode Ray Tube) was becoming obsolete because of low efficiency and the sheer space required to project the image with an electron gun, LCD came in as the clear winner. LCD displays were more efficient and used less power, all the while taking up less space.

In other words, LCD displays naturally moved into display technology as an alternative and remains a contender in the same sense that AMOLED is trying to supercede LCD displays. However, it's not that simple because the determining factor is uncontrollable - user preference.

In smartphone displays, LCD displays offer a few key advantages over AMOLED displays. Due to the "direct sunlight argument" where the Sun distorts colors and the image projected on AMOLED screens, LCD displays hold a clear advantage. At full brightness, LCD displays get much brighter than their AMOLED counterparts and also use less power in the process. They are miles ahead of AMOLED displays outside, and I'd say this is nearly an undenaible truth, and not an opinion. It's important to mention that LCD displays are only more efficient at full brightness as compared to AMOLED. AMOLED screens are more efficient all around, just not when the brightness is cranked up.

As you may have already learned, LCD displays also have a true RGB subpixel arrangement. The idea precedes Samsung's trademark PenTile matrix layout and for good reason; the pixel geometry is more detailed. However, an LCD display is simply an actuator of the pixel arrangement and provides no true light of its own, which is why IPS (In-Plane Switching) exists. You're most familiar with IPS backlit LCD displays by means of the entire LG Optimus line of devices, and Apple's iPhone 4, 4S, and 5. As evidenced in practice, IPS uses more battery to power the display, but they offer clear advantages in direct sunlight.

My last argument for LCD over AMOLED panels is a hot-topic among today's display technologies: color reproduction. No matter your preference in display technology, black is black, and white is white. Anything in between doesn't matter as much. It's preference. Where it gets tricky with an AMOLED and LCD comparison is with everything in between. Where my previous two arguments for LCD over the latter in direct sunlight, and with efficiency at full brightnes are 99% accurate, your color preference is the key determinant in which display will work better for you.

 

The arguments for AMOLED

LCD displays cannot touch the contrast ratios of AMOLED displays. In practice, you most often see this when turning the brightness of any AMOLED display to zero with a true black image in the background. The black pixels actually turn off when the color black is on-screen. To see true black is refreshing. LCD displays do not get this dark and often times result in a dark gray in place of black. The true black argument for AMOLED displays is a main selling point of the technology over LCD. The only real question is how often you plan to have a dark image on your screen. If you have no background on your home screen, AMOLED will better suit you.

Color saturation and efficiency are the remaining factors which sway consumers one way or another. Due to the high contrast ratios of AMOLED screens, color saturation is clearly divisive in how we perceive true color. AMOLED displays saturate all images and colors to the opposite effect of a traditional rainbow. The results are extremely vivid colors that don't look real, or true to reality. In practice, AMOLED displays are designed with no accuracy of color reproduction in mind, which is fine by me. It's completely acceptable that the AMOLED variety of displays do not prioritize true color reproduction.. It's preference after all. Lastly, AMOLED displays run "cooler" and offer colder colors. Coolness of color is the level of differentiation in hue, the degree to which a color can be described as red, green, blue, or yellow.

 

Conclusion

This is where the show stops and you come into play. As the consumer, we have more display options than ever. Where Samsung prefers AMOLED and its cooler colors and vivid details, Apple and HTC have distinctly become associated with LCD displays and their accurate yet inefficient color representation on-screen.

I am beginning to think that Samsung's top priority as the paramount manufacturer and innovator in LED display technology is persuading me to look elsewhere. I've used Super LCD displays on the HTC One X (and variants) and I'm intrigued by their successor, the HTC One. With or without the "X," I know what I'm going to get from an LCD display no matter what I'm looking at. That is, accurate colors with consistent reproduction, clear visibility outdoors, a consistent rate of battery consumption no matter the image displayed, and supreme viewing angles (which that used to be an afterthought of LCD tech).

I'm just never sure what to expect with an AMOLED display despite it carving out a clear set of attributes that the latter can't even come close to.

I can honestly tell you that pixels bother me like no other, and that I was severely disappointed with Samsung when they announced PenTile was on-board the Galaxy S III. Though I have ranked the Galaxy S III as my favorite all-around smartphone the past three weeks in the Expert Smartphone Rankings, I'm far from happy with the display. I consider it the number disadvantage as compared to the HTC One and One X, or even Google's Nexus 4.

I'm interested to hear your thoughts on displays, Reader. Even though pixels and colors are important to me, I can't be the only one who thinks about them. What do you look for in an image on your smartphone? Are colors important to you? Do you prefer color accuracy, or vivid saturation? What are your thoughts on pixels? Let me know what you think below!

Images via Engadget (1) and (2), and GSMArena.


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Comments & discussions  

54 Reactions to this post

"Smartphone displays are getting awesome! Which are you more excited for this year: AMOLED or LCD displays?"


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Owais Akhtar
Owais Akhtar Amoled
Josef Ruiz
Josef Ruiz Amoled.. Talent Trust - Offshore with a difference
Syed Ahsan Ali
Syed Ahsan Ali So far ips lcd are the best
phonedog_chase
phonedog_chase Burn in is always a risk.
Justin Lindland
Justin Lindland I have always been a fan of SLCD and IPS displays on my tablets and smart phones.
Paul Battle
Paul Battle LCD. The AMOLED displays risk serious burn-in traces. I'm using the Galaxy Nexus, and whenever I go fullscreen, I can see areas where the pixels aren't fully pushing the same shade of color in the navigation and software key bar.
Vicente Reyes
Vicente Reyes They already made full HD displays, so the display doesn't matter that much anymore
Ron Scott
Ron Scott My super amoled has poor visibility in sunlight (worse as the phone gets older), but color saturation can be addictive (no phone monitor has deeper blacks). Also, I enjoy the power savings from turning off unused pixels (even if my GS2 is still a battery hog).
Anthony Bailey
Anthony Bailey I had nothing but HTC LCD and SLCD displays up until I go my Note I and now I have the Note II. Unless there's been some MAJOR breakthrough in the last year or so, I can honestly say I love the Super AMOLED screens significantly more than and LCD/SLCD screens I've used. I'm not sure what phones others have been using but I have no issues with the brightness of my screen on the Note II. My experience has been the polar opposite. On any LCD/SLCD phone I've used, I've consistently had to always use max brightness, especially using the phones outside. On my Note II, I can't even dream to use max brightness indoors, because it's too bright. Outside, I can see my screen a lot more easier than with my old LCD/SLCD phones.
Tautvydas Lagunavicius
Tautvydas Lagunavicius LCD HTC one (m7) kick ass :)
Warren Saunders
Warren Saunders HTC one kicks arse!!
Luis Robles Figueroa
Luis Robles Figueroa LCD is my choice...
Umesh Lakshan
Umesh Lakshan SLCD 2 is better than AMOLED. Brighter display. Love one X true colours
Angel Hernandez
Angel Hernandez @ Lanh Samsung has used the normal rgb matix with amoled. The display on the Gs3 was trash (i had it) compared to my Gn2. The Gn2 beats the Gs3 in every display aspect.
Leo Mrls
Leo Mrls amoled? haha Super LCDs are faaaar better
Niall Barr
Niall Barr Super amoled does get burn in over time
Carl Dale
Carl Dale I got qhd on me xe,,, I like it
Lanh Nguyen
Lanh Nguyen uh @kristopher davis wtf? you are aware an AMOLED display is an OLED display right? What do you think the OLED in amOLED is? SMH...
Michael Schneider
Michael Schneider Iphone
Christopher Dysart
Christopher Dysart by far sLCD. I HATE my SAMOLED screen in sunlight, and its too bright at night... there is no winning...
Anonymous
Anonymous BRAVIA LCD :))
Dee Nazario
Dee Nazario IPS on thr Nexus 4 is so much more easier on the eyes and is much more natural. AMOLED is a bit cartoonish with its exaggerated colors.
Cezzar Micu
Cezzar Micu Amoled for me. Maybe not true to the real colors but I prefer more contrast and a little saturation here and there so...
Kristopher Davis
Kristopher Davis Anyone who says Amoled over LCD these days is a straight up Samsung fanboy! Amoled is the past , LCD/led/oled is today
Criscorp Ogm
Criscorp Ogm Super IPS LCD 2 on my HTC One X... wish it were super AMOLED :D
Wasim Shaikh
Wasim Shaikh Super IPS LCD 2 on my HTC One X. In love with it!
Jatinder Mehta
Jatinder Mehta SLCD2 is great with natural colors especially natural whites
Marti Ruiz
Marti Ruiz my galaxy s2 superamoled screen was sharper and colorful. but my nexus 4 has higher pixel density an brightness but pale colo r . so i prefer superamoled . cant wait what samsung solux offers
Lanh Nguyen
Lanh Nguyen only reason why LCDs look sharper is because it uses a normal RGB matrix. Once Samsung can figure out how to do that on an HD panel it will look just as sharp but even without the RGB it's not as bad as some of you make it sound.
Anthony Lasam
Anthony Lasam How about a scratch/break resistant glass and ones that work when wet!
Zach Chapman
Zach Chapman I just compared a One X LCD to my SIII AMOLED, my screen is cleaner and sharper Fernando. What are you on about?
Ország Tamás
Ország Tamás HTC's SuperLCD2 rockz! :)
Vladimir Conrado
Vladimir Conrado Yeah my sister has an Evo LTE and it's easy to notice it's sharper. I think LCD is a better display technology but for some reason I prefer AMOLED
BG Michael
BG Michael SAMSUNG"s Super AMOLED is FAKE COLORS...
BG Michael
BG Michael LG's ? TRUE HD IPS + Display is THE BEST! its accurate & TRUE TO LIFE COLORS...
Kim Ladefoged
Kim Ladefoged But then you walked into a dark room and he was lhfao...
Nick Petrizzio
Nick Petrizzio AMOLED is also known for burn-in issues too, so your GS3 or Note II can have burn-in like plasma TV's
Fernando Gonzalez
Fernando Gonzalez @Vladimir True. Or unless its next to a phone with a LCD if the same resolution. I had my EVO LTE next to my friends S3 and even he admitted that the LCD was better.
Vladimir Conrado
Vladimir Conrado Yeah and that. But I don't find sharpness that big of a deal on my Galaxy S3, unless I have it an inch in front of my face
Rok Vrtacnik
Rok Vrtacnik ATM using a true HD IPS from the folks over at LG and i love it :D
Fernando Gonzalez
Fernando Gonzalez @Vladimir... They're also way sharper than AMOLED...
Zach Chapman
Zach Chapman AMOLED all day! I love my Galaxy SIII!!
Reese Woodson
Reese Woodson I'm curious about the Super LCD 3 displays.........
Vladimir Conrado
Vladimir Conrado I love AMOLED. Only thing I like better about LCD is that they're brighter
Fernando Gonzalez
Fernando Gonzalez People seriously like AMOLED screens? Really? Must love looking at jagged pixelated screens. O_o
Jordan Williams
Jordan Williams I'm wondering how good HTCs next generation of screens will be. The Super LCD2 on the amaze, while not the highest resolution(qHD), is a really good screen even still.
Márk Domoszlai
Márk Domoszlai I used to like AMOLED, but loving IPS on my Nexus 4 much more.
Marc Martin
Marc Martin LCD's.
Lanh Nguyen
Lanh Nguyen just can't beat the blacks on amoled but IPS displays are much brighter...
Kevin Zhang
Kevin Zhang SLCD
Mohamad Omran
Mohamad Omran AMOLED for sure.
Kyle Cordiano
Kyle Cordiano IPS LCD
Steve C Trevino
Steve C Trevino PENTILE!!! jk im curious what Samsung has to offer for 1080p screens.
Elijah Ford
Elijah Ford Amoled all day!!!!.




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