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Know your Smartphone Displays (LCD vs. OLED)


You’re a potential smartphone buyer, and you’re picky about displays. After all, you’re investing in something you’re going to be looking at, most of the time. You want to be sure you’re getting just what you’d enjoy staring at for most of the day! But you’re not quite sure about all the “hoopla” acronyms these smartphone manufacturers keep throwing around. This is a descriptive comparison. I’m not going in-depth in terms of technicalities. Rather, I’m going to include those acronyms with respect to what they mean to YOU (the regular Joe who just wants something tailored to his/her visual preferences). So I compiled a descriptive comparison for the smartphone display novice. This is relevant information that can help you decide what smartphone you finally decide to get. Its not an exhaustive list. But it will point you in a much more educated direction.

LCDs (Liquid crystal displays)

OLED Displays (Organic Light Emitting Diode Displays

Broad definition These displays consist primarily of two layers: 1. The transistor layer and 2. The back-light layer that lights up the transistor layer. These displays consist of only one Layer: these are organic substrate-based photo-diodes that have their own light source. They do not need a   separate backlight.
  • Better   screen lifetime (screen can last up to 6 or 7 years without transistor degradation
  • Better   white color reproduction
  • More   natural color
  • Better   outdoor visibility
  • True   RGB (Red, Green, Blue) pixel construction, leading to better text/image   production
  • High resolution/high pixel density (440 pixels   per inch) screens already feasible.
  • Better   Contrast ratios
  • Lesser   power consumption
  • More   environmentally friendly
  • Better black color reproduction
  • Faster touch screen response times
  • Better refresh rates, meaning less flickering   when watching fast motion videos.
  • Thinner   handsets since there is one less layer than LCDs.


  • Bad   contrast ratios (addressed with newer devices)
  • Higher   power consumption (addressed with newer devices)
  • Not   very environmentally friendly
  • Slower   response times (although this has been addressed with newer devices employing   this tech)
  • Slightly bad viewing angles (also addressed with newer devices)
  • Not   true-to-life color representation
  • Screen   degradation issues faced within 5 years (organic diodes, especially the blue   and green diodes degrade with continued use)
  • Screen burn-in issues (where images that stay static during screen-on times, get “burned-in” to the screen and are seen even when the screen is off, e.g the wallpaper, the status bar time and date, etc.
  • Bluish or greenish tint on white backgrounds because of OLED “pentile matrix” pixel design instead of the standard RGB pixel design.
  • High pixel density screens not yet ready for mass production although Samsung is   said to be preparing such a panel for its upcoming Galaxy S4.
Some contemporary devices that use this tech and have addressed the   CONs of each tech to some extent. LG Nexus 4 and Optimus G (addressed the Cons with something called “In-Cell   Touch technology), Sony Xperia (all models) series (introduced zero-gap   technology to improve viewing angles and touch responsiveness), HTC One X   (One of the best implementations of LCD technology seen to date), Asus Padfone 2 (Sharp IGZO technology), iPhone4, iPhone 4S,iPhone5 (with Sharp   IGZO modifications).Most of these newer devices also employ IPS (In-Plane-Switching) and Advanced IPS (IPS+) technology to address viewing angle and touch response issues. Samsung Galaxy Nexus (Uses “Pentile” pixel matrix to increase screen   longevity at the cost of true color representation), Samsung Galaxy S, Nexus   S, HTC One S, Motorola Razr, Samsung Galaxy S2 (OLED Plus: Uses a true RGB   stripe at the cost of reduced screen lifetime and faster pixel degradation   and screen burn-in issues usually observed within 4 years),Samsung Galaxy S3   (also Pentile), Samsung Galaxy Note 2(New pixel setup enables true RGB pixel   setup without sacrificing screen lifetime).
Who should get this? You want a device with a fully tested and reliable screen technology,   appreciate natural (but not necessarily eye-popping) colors, are willing to sacrifice   some battery life for truer colors and truer white color representation, and   are planning on using this device for over 3 years, and also plan on using   your device outdoors in bright sunlight very often. You want a device with eye popping colors, you don’t care much about   natural colors, you want that wow factor, better viewing angles, better   battery life, plan on changing your device every two years, and don’t care   about your white backgrounds looking slightly blue or green (you get used to it).

And here is a comparison image of the GMAIL icon shown zoomed on two of the leading devices featuring each type of display tech. Click on the image below to get a better idea of what these two displays look like on a zoomed level. In real life however, there is hardly much difference to notice as the human eye cannot see that much detail. I would worry more about details like display durability/reliability and outdoor sunlight visibility.


Conclusion: At the end of the day, its all about preference. I’ve noticed that my personal preference leans more towards LCDs as they give me more true color representations and better outdoor visibility. Besides, I don’t want to have to deal with screen burn-in issues or degradation two years down the line, as I would like my device to have the best possible resale value when it comes to upgrading my phone. LCD wins for me. But the OLED option is not one to dismiss. I recommend trying both kinds of display techs personally at a retailer or service provider. Either ways, at least you have a more educated user-oriented view of where these technologies stand. Don’t let those pesky sales reps feed you garbage. 😛


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