Mobile display parameters simplified

Keypads are becoming passé and touchscreen displays an essential selling point for smartphones. Pick smartphones from the top-rung phone makers and you will find that each one has a unique aspect of their display to talk about or at least a new fancy marketing term for the display technology. While buying a touchscreen device, most users are simply wooed by this technical jargon without knowing what the device screen actually has to offer. We have picked the current crème de la crème of the smartphone industry to break down the mumbo-jumbo and simplify the key elements to explain what they really mean for a smartphone viewing experience.

Display type
It defines the type of display, such as LCD, TFT LCD, AMOLED, S-LCD, IPS LCD, and whether it is backlit or not. Manufacturers usually conceal the technology with some pretentious jargon to either impress or confuse novice and tech freaks. For instance, one of iPhone 5’s selling point is the Retina display. However, Retina display is just a marketing term that the device uses for its IPS LCD panel with higher pixel density of about 300ppi. IPS stands for in-plane switching, which means a better viewing angle and colours but at the cost of response time. Similarly, Nokia is marketing its ambitious Lumia 920 with an IPS LCD ClearBlack + PureMotionHD display. These terms simply mean the display can reduce reflections while viewing the screen and automatically adjust colours while outdoors. Moreover, the display will feature deeper black colours to make viewing the whole screen easier and pleasing to eyes.

On the other hand, Samsung markets its Super AMOLED displays. AMOLED (Active-Matrix Organic Light-Emitting Diode) display technology is quite popular and used in mobile phones and even televisions. These screens can be extremely thin and don’t require a backlight, which helps make the device sleeker and saves battery life too. The Galaxy S III comes with Super AMOLED display, which is Samsung’s own fancy term for an AMOLED display that integrates a capacitive touchscreen layer directly into the display instead of overlaying it on top of the display, as has traditionally been done. So, basically, Super AMOLED isn't some new technology, but just an enhanced screen effect added by Samsung. On the other hand, the HTC 8X comes with an AMOLED rival. It features the S-LCD, which is a type of TFT-LCD with a low power consumption rate compared to other LCD technologies.

Comparing the essential display parameters

Comparing the essential display parameters


Pixel dimensions (Display resolution)
Pixel dimensions means the number of rows and columns of pixels on your screen – for instance, 240 x 320. Now, many may not know this, but pixel dimensions is wrongly called the display resolution and has been further propagated in the industry. Pixel dimensions only denote the number of rows and columns and by no means tell us how good the image quality is.  It is the display resolution, which is actually the pixel density, that decides the quality of an image.

Currently, smartphones are seen flashing the HD pixel dimensions, which is 720 x 1280. This dimension offers superior quality with sharper images and vivid colours. It has almost become a standard of superior viewing quality for smartphones. We are slowly moving into full HD or 1920 × 1080 pixel dimensions. We recently saw the Sony Xperia Z flaunt a 1080p display. But it’s a myth that higher pixel dimensions would translate into better quality. Sometimes even an HD quality display may offer a mediocre viewing experience as it also depends on the size of the display.

Both Samsung and HTC have opted for 1280 x 720 pixel dimensions for the S III and HTC 8X respectively, whereas the iPhone 5’s display features a 640 x 1136 resolution, which will downscale your HD video. On the other hand, Nokia calls its 768 x 1280 resolution “better than 720p". However, it is because 920’s screen size is slightly larger and has to accommodate more than 720p across the width.

Pixel density
Pixel density is the deciding factor for the quality of the screen and the real resolution of the display. It simply means the concentration of pixels on a particular display size and is measured in pixels per inch or ppi. It takes into consideration the size of the display and the pixels scattered on it. The more the pixels on a smaller screen, better the quality of the display. Theoretically, ppi can be calculated using the diagonal size of the screen in inches and the resolution in pixels (width and height). You can click here to easily calculate the ppi.

Now, iPhone 5 may not have an HD quality display compared to Lumia 920, 8X and Galaxy S III, but the under-HD 640 x 1160 dimensions on its 4-inch display would render quality viewing and a high 326ppi. iPhone 5’s pixel density is more than Galaxy S III, even though the latter possesses a larger HD display. Let us consider the Lumia 920; it has 720p plus pixel dimensions and a 4.5-inch screen, so the pixels densely populate the screen area, thereby improving the viewing quality.

Display size
At their different price points, the Nokia Lumia 920, iPhone 5, Galaxy S III and 8X feature varying screen sizes, viz., 4.0-inch, 4.8-inch, 4.5-inch and 4.3-inch respectively. We once thought that a screen size larger than 4 or 4.5-inches wouldn't attract consumers, but today, 5-inch displays are slowly yet steadily becoming a norm. The phablet era is approaching, we must say.

Here again, "larger the display, better the image quality" is another myth. Take for instance, the most recent Grand S, which has a massive 5-inch display – larger than the four we’ve picked for this comparison – but has a resolution of a mere 800 × 480 pixels (also known as WVGA), which means the screen quality isn't better just because it has a large screen and the pixels are distributed  on a larger area. However, the density is good enough for just about decent viewing and lowers the cost as the price reads just 21k for a superior feature set. The screen size, resolution and related elements are usually tweaked depending upon the price at which the manufacturer plans to sell the handset.

Display protection
After paying a hefty sum for your smartphone, the least you’d expect is a cracked touchscreen display. One of the most popular shields for smartphones that phone makers use and advertise is the Gorilla glass protection. Corning has designed Gorilla glass especially for mobile phones to ensure screen durability without adding too much bulk to it. Gorilla Glass has been improving over the years. Early last year, Corning announced the robust Gorilla Glass 2, which was touted to be 20 percent thinner than the original material with improved touch-sensitivity and same scratch resistance. Most of the devices today feature the Gorilla Glass 2 protection. The company has also started showing off the all new and tougher Gorilla Glass 3, with exclusive, game-changing Native Damage Resistance, improved scratch resistance, reduced scratch visibility and improved retained strength.


Despite the varying display sizes and pixel density, there won't be a massive difference in the image quality of the above mentioned smartphones. Those who frequently browse the web or read can opt for a larger display while those who love watching movies and videos can opt for an AMOLED screen. Smartphones offer displays for different types of users and one shouldn't be impressed or confused by the fancy names.

Published Date: Jan 29, 2013 12:18 PM | Updated Date: Jan 29, 2013 12:18 PM