Round Table: Is a full HD smartphone display overkill?

There’s a general feeling that 720p displays are just fine for a smartphone and 1080p resolution may be too much for a small display. Is that really the case? We discuss.

The Moto X is an anomaly in the high-end smartphone market obsessed with 1080p displays. The smartphone's high-end positioning and the enhanced user experience notwithstanding, its specs have led some to call it a mid-range device. In particular, the 720p AMOLED display and the relatively under-powered chipset (in comparison to current flagships) have come under scrutiny. Yes, 720p displays are one step below 1080p displays and fitting a full HD panel in a 4.7-inch display like the HTC One is a technical feat beyond the imagination of many. But there’s a general feeling that 720p displays are just fine for a smartphone and 1080p is overkill. Is that really the case? We discuss.


LG's latest 5.2-inch 1080p panel is the world's slimmest


Roydon Cerejo
Full HD resolution is crucial when your smartphone display crosses 6-inches in size. Anything below this and 720p is enough and most users will not be able to spot any variation. Having said that, a high pixel count is not the only way to achieve a sharp image as you can get similar results even with a low resolution. Samsung's Galaxy Grand is one of the few phones in the market that manages to get away with a low resolution on a large display. The panel technology has also improved quite a bit since the introduction of the HTC Butterfly, the first 1080p phone to hit our markets. The newer crop of handsets have (LG Optimus G Pro, for instance) really good battery life despite packing in a high resolution screen.

While a Full HD smartphone screen might be overkill from a technical stand point, it really wouldn't hurt to have it as long as it doesn't have a negative impact on other things like battery life or performance.

Nimish Sawant
I think it is overkill to have a full HD resolution on your smartphone. Not only does it eat into the battery life, but do you really think that on a sub-6-inch phone you will be able to demarcate between a 720p and a 1080p display? According to Dr. Raymond Soneira, president and CEO of DisplayMate (which makes utilities for calibrating displays) the human eye cannot resolve sharpness above 229 pixels per inch after the viewing distance crosses 15-inches (Read more here). So unless you are holding your phone ridiculously close to your eyes, you will not be able to resolve individual pixels. Also this holds true in case of text rendering, whereas in images and videos, even that would be a challenge. We have all seen advertisements, where phone makers zoom into text to show how sharp it looks as it's being rendered on a 1080p display vis-a-vis a 720p display, but honestly - how many of you read at those zoomed-in levels? At 8-10pt font size (which is normal for most of us) and with a distance of an arm's-length, it will be difficult to notice dithering or pixelation around the text.

Instead of higher resolutions on sub-6-inch phones/phablets, phone makers need to concentrate on using better panels and optimising the battery life on these phones.

Nikhil Subramaniam
Like my colleagues, I do believe that smartphones with full HD displays have a place in the market, but this should be a niche category and not mainstream like the Galaxy S4, Xperia Z and HTC One. Full HD displays should be reserved for the likes of the Xperia Z Ultra and the upcoming next-gen Galaxy Note and HTC One Max. Here, the larger display means the 1080p resolution can really shine through and it also means that manufacturers can easily fit a larger capacity battery that the 1080p display would no doubt require.

When it comes to pixel density, there’s very little noticeable difference between 720p displays and 1080p displays. Put them side-by-side and you’ll see what we mean. There are other advantages too, like the power savings and the overall compact size – the smallest 1080p display is the 4.7-inch HTC One, while we have the likes of Sony Xperia S and HTC One Mini which have a 4.3-inch 720p display.

Of course, now there’s hardly any turning back from the 1080p trend as there are so many precedents, with the LG’s G2 being the latest to follow the trend. If the Moto X is a market failure, then it will reinforce the belief that specs are king. In that case you can look forward to ridiculous 4K displays on your mobile phone.


Have your say. Let us know where you stand on the above topic.

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