Retina, Amoled, Super Amoled – The Difference

There are many display types used in smartphones: LCD, OLED, AMOLED, Super AMOLED, TFT, IPS and a few others that are less frequently found on smartphones nowadays, like TFT-LCD.

One of the most frequently found on mid-to-high range phones now is IPS-LCD. But what do these all mean?

ips lcd vs super amoled vs tft lcd
There are many different types of smartphone display. 

 

LCDs

LCD means Liquid Crystal Display, and its name refers to the array of liquid crystals illuminated by a backlight, and their ubiquity and relatively low-cost makes them a popular choice for smartphones and many other devices.

LCDs also tend to perform quite well in direct sunlight, as the entire display is illuminated from behind, but does suffer from potentially less accurate color representation than displays that don’t require a backlight.

Within smartphones, you have both TFT and IPS displays. TFT stands for Thin Film Transistor, an advanced version of LCD that uses an active matrix. Active matrix means that each pixel is attached to a transistor and capacitor individually.

The main advantage of TFT is its relatively low production cost and increased contrast when compared to traditional LCDs. The disadvantage of TFT LCDs is higher energy demands than some other LCDs and less impressive viewing angles and color reproduction. Its for these reasons, and falling costs of alternative options, that TFTs are less regularly used in smartphones now.

IPS stands for In-Plane Switching and it is a further improvement on TFT LCDs that delivers better color reproduction and, most notably, improved viewing angles than TFT-LCDs. It does this by using two transistors for each pixel combined with a more powerful backlight, but the downside is that they require more power than other types of non-LCD display. They generally use less power than a TFT display still though.

AndroidPIT huawei p9 1643
The Huawei P9 uses an IPS-NEO LCD display. 

AMOLED

AMOLED stands for Active Matrix Organic Light-Emitting Diode. While this may sound complicated it actually isn’t.

OLED is an organic material that, like the name implies, emits light when a current is passed through it. As opposed to LCD panels, which are back-lit, OLED displays are ‘always off’ unless the individual pixels are electrified.

This means that OLED displays have much purer blacks and consume less energy when black or darker colors are displayed on-screen. However, lighter-colored themes on AMOLED screens use considerably more power than an LCD using the same theme. OLED screens are also more expensive to produce than LCD.

Because the black pixels are ‘off’ in an OLED display, the contrast ratios are also higher than LCD screens. But on the down side are not quite as visible in direct sunlight as backlit LCDs. Screen burn-in and diode degradation (because they are organic) are other factors to consider.

On the positive side, AMOLED screens can be made thinner than LCDs (because they don’t require a backlit layer) and they can also be made flexible.

androidpit samsung galaxy s7 edge pearl black
Samsung’s Galaxy S range currently uses Super AMOLED displays. 

What’s the difference between AMOLED and Super AMOLED

AMOLED stands for Active Matrix Organic Light-Emitting Diode, and is comprised of thin sheets electroluminescent material, the main benefit of which is they produce their own light, and so don’t require a backlight. which cuts down on energy requirements.

Super AMOLED is the name given by Samsung to its displays that used to only be found in high-end models. It is improved upon the basic AMOLED by integrating the touch response layer into the display itself, rather than as an extra layer on top.

As a result, Super AMOLED displays handle sunlight better than basic AMOLED displays and also require less power. As the name implies, Super AMOLED is simply a better version of AMOLED. It’s not all just marketing bluster either: Samsung’s displays are regularly reviewed as some of the best around.

samsung display amoled maybe galaxy s8
While Samsung favors Super AMOLED displays, most use LCD.

Retina

Retina is another marketing term, this time from Apple.  Actually it is a IPS LCD Display, Is not defined by a specific characteristic, other than that it is made with more pixels per inch that the normal human eye can see at a normal viewing distance. It has a pixel density over 300 ppi.

Considering that most high-end Android phones these days like the S7 Edge have 534 ppi, Apple had to ultimately offer Full HD display with a pixel density of 401 ppi on the iPhone 6 Plus.

The iPhone 7 and 7 Plus offer 326 ppi and 401 ppi respectively.

AndroidPIT iphone 7 vs google pixel 0751
Apple’s iPhone range doesn’t strive for high ppi ratings. 

Which display type is better?

As we have seen, each term is not restricted to one manufacturer: AMOLED is not always Samsung and Retina is not always Apple (although no one else uses the term). iPhone IPS LCD displays are currently manufactured by LG, Samsung has built displays for the iPad and not all Samsung devices are AMOLED either. This is not simply a case of which display is better: it’s a trade-off between pros and cons.

Be aware of your usage habits and select a display accordingly:

  • If you are a couch potato by night and are desk-bound all day, then the daylight viewing benefits of LCDs are probably not so important to you. If you’re an outdoors type, then maybe they are.
  • If you’re crazy about squeezing every drop of life out of your battery or are simply obsessed with eye-popping color and contrast, then take a look at AMOLED.

Do you have a favorite type of display? Have you noticed the difference between the different types of display available? Let us know in the comments below!

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