Buying a smartphone can be quite the adventure. Apart from aligning yourself with a particular mobile operating system (iOS or Android), you have to choose between entry-level, mid-range, and flagship models to suit your budget and user requirements.
If there’s one thing potential buyers might miss out on, it would be the display. With devices increasingly getting larger in terms of display size to reflect the rising amount of media consumption, you might want to consider the type of display your new smartphone purchase comes with.
The options can be daunting: Amoled, LED, IPS, LCD, TFT, PLS, LTPO, LTPS… the list goes on! To help narrow things down, you should know that LCD and Oled are the two technologies that currently rule the smartphone display market.
Each type has seen different generational advances, resulting in newer acronyms such as QLED, LED, and miniLED.
LCD stands for Liquid Crystal Display, referring to liquid crystals that are illuminated by a backlight. Such displays are relatively cheap to manufacture, making them a hugely popular choice for budget smartphones and other consumer electronics.
LCDs perform relatively well under direct sunlight since the display is illuminated from behind, although content creators might find the less-accurate colour representation to be a bane. In smartphones, LCD displays can further branch into Thin Film Transistor (TFT) and In-Plane Switching (IPS) displays.
TFT, a more advanced version of LCD, relies on an active matrix, where individual pixels are connected to a transistor and capacitor. IPS improves upon first-generation LCDs by aligning the liquid crystals to the display itself, so you can enjoy improved viewing angles and significantly better colour reproduction.
LED or LCD?
This question crops up time and again, especially with the release of “LED” televisions, the technology of which relies on liquid crystals that make up the LCD, while LEDs generate the backlight.
The main advantage of this is lower power consumption. While this works great for TVs, it does not matter that much for smartphones due to the far smaller form factor.
What about Amoled?
Amoled, or Active Matrix Organic Light-Emitting Diode, is basically a thin-film display technology. It relies on an organic material that emits light whenever current passes through.
Oled displays are “always off” unless they receive current, making them different from LCD panels. This results in a more natural black with even lower power consumption whenever darker images or black areas are on screen.
Oled displays have higher contrast ratios and superior refresh rates when compared with LCDs. They also possess the “Always On Display” feature LCDs lack, where a segment of the display remains on at all times to show a clock or other widgets, while the rest of the screen remains dark.
On the flipside, lighter-coloured themes on Amoled displays tend to consume more juice compared with an LCD. There is also a higher manufacturing cost involved when it comes to Oled displays, and users tend to experience lower visibility under direct sunlight.
Furthermore, there lies the risk of burn-in and diode degradation over time, which cannot be avoided. However, chances are you would upgrade to a newer Amoled display handset way before the diodes start to fail.
Oled, Amoled, Super Amoled?
Oled displays are made up of thin sheets of electroluminescent material and are extremely energy efficient as they do not require a backlight. You tend to find Oled displays carrying the “Amoled” tag for smartphones or TVs.
Samsung, in particular, has christened its handsets with the term “Super Amoled”, making them superior to basic Amoled displays by integrating the touch response layer into the display itself. This allows Super Amoled displays to work better under bright sunlight while further lowering power consumption.
Both LCD and Amoled have their respective strengths and weaknesses, but the trend is moving toward Oled displays. Once the domain of flagship smartphones, Amoled displays have trickled down to mid-range and even some entry-level handsets.
At the end of the day, work with your budget and user requirements. If your daily smartphone is your primary mobile entertainment device, you would do well to have an Amoled display owing to the sheer number of screen time you will rack up on it.
For those who use the smartphone primarily as a basic communications tool – such as for phone calls, emails, or checking messages – then an entry-level handset with an LCD display would be sufficient for your needs.
Edwin Kee dreamt of being a pro-gamer only to have circumstances mould him into a programmer in a past life. He has since moved on to write about consumer electronics and other topics. Check out his blog at manatau.com.