LCD vs. AMOLED Displays: What's the Difference?
Updated: October 17,2022
Today, buying a smartphone has turned into going through a long checklist. It doesn't matter if you're looking for a simple phone for music or a smartphone for your kid; you'll need to check which OS it has, how fast its CPU is, whether it has enough storage, how many cameras, and much more. You are also likely to be checking what type of screen the phone has.
Over the years, a considerable debate has risen around LCD vs. AMOLED technologies used for smartphone screens. They work by similar principles and produce different results, but it's not as clear-cut as you might think. Today, we'll look at these two technologies and directly compare them to see whether one is better.
Different Types of Phone Displays
There's no universal way to make a smartphone. Every company has its manufacturing process, uses different materials, and puts in different screens depending on how expensive the phone they're making. We'll go to screen comparison in a bit, but first, let's see what options you have among screen types.
LCD is the most common screen type found on all kinds of devices, whether flagships, budget devices, small smartphones, or phablets. LCD technology is based on liquid crystals with a lighting panel behind them. There are also different kinds of LCDs, like TFT and IPS, the latter providing better image quality. Mobile devices use capacitive LCDs, which allow the touchscreen features to work with a finger instead of a stylus.
These screens are self-illuminated and use organic materials based on light-emitting diodes, hence the O in the acronym. OLED predates the AMOLED technology and has been implemented in many smartphones and other electronic devices. The OLED screens are significantly thinner than LCD and generally perform better, especially in low light conditions.
The most advanced screen technology, AMOLED, has been in use since 2008. It's the most color-rich mobile display, capable of bending without breaking and with reduced power consumption. Super AMOLED is a further upgrade of this tech with all touchscreen sensors built directly into the glass, but it's still far too expensive to use in anything but the most premium smartphones.
AMOLED Displays Explained
AMOLED displays, or active-matrix organic light-emitting diode displays, are a type of display technology used in mobile devices. They differ from traditional LCD liquid crystal displays in a couple of ways. Firstly, they use OLED technology, which makes building these screens different from LCDs. Secondly, each pixel on an AMOLED is its own light source, whereas LCD pixels rely on backlights. This makes AMOLED screens more power-efficient and allows them to produce deeper blacks. Finally, AMOLED displays have a faster response time, reducing blurring and ghosting in images and videos.
Many smartphones, tablets, and watches use AMOLED displays, including the iPhone X, the Samsung Galaxy series, and the Apple Watch. Other brands that use AMOLED displays include LG, Motorola, and Nokia. However, not all mobile devices opt-in for AMOLED displays, and some devices still use LCDs. Budget-friendly options are a good example, but also some smartphones, like the Google Pixel, use LCDs.
There are a few alternatives to AMOLED vs. LCD for displays. One popular option is previously mentioned Super AMOLED, a variation of AMOLED that offers even better power efficiency and deeper blacks. This technology also packs touchscreen technology directly into the screen without having a separate touchscreen layer. Samsung pioneered this technology in its line of Galaxy smartphones.
Advantages of AMOLED Screens
There are more than a few reasons why AMOLED screens are so popular. They are as thin as a single sheet of paper while offering a better contrast ratio and viewing angles than other screens. Multimedia looks better on these screens thanks to vibrant colors, HDR support, and "true blacks" because each pixel is its own light source. Finally, AMOLED is more energy-efficient, saving up your battery life.
LCD Displays Explained
LCD screens, or liquid crystal displays, are a screen technology used in mobile devices, laptops, and desktop monitors. They work by using crystals to control the amount of light that passes through them. Crystals allow for a wide range of colors, contrast ratios, and viewing angles. LCD screens are also very bright and can be viewed in direct sunlight.
Most smartphones and tablets use LCD screens, although there are some exceptions with the recent rise in the popularity of LCD alternatives. Even so, there are still many phones with LCD screens, including some high-end smartphones like the Google Pixel 2.
LCD displays consist of multiple layers, including a backlight, polarizing filters, and color filters. When an electric current is applied to the crystals, they rotate to allow or block light from passing through them, creating an image on the screen.
Advantages of LCD Screens
There are a few advantages to using LCD screens in mobile devices. They are very bright and can be viewed in direct sunlight. LCD screens offer a wide range of colors, contrast ratios, and good viewing angles. Lastly, they are relatively affordable.
LCD vs. AMOLED: Which Is Better?
Now let’s take a look at the downsides of both LCD and AMOLED.
Backlight bleed - One of the key disadvantages of LCD screens is backlight bleed. The bleed happens when light from the backlight leaks around the edges of the LCD panel and shines directly onto your eyes. It can cause eye fatigue and make it harder to see the screen clearly, especially from an angle.
Contrast ratio - The contrast ratio is another big LCD and AMOLED difference. It is the difference between the brightest and the darkest parts of an image. LCD screens tend to have poorer contrast ratios than AMOLED screens, which means that images on LCD screens can look a bit washed out.
Temperature effects - One final downside to LCD screens is that temperature affects them. When it’s cold, the screen will be less responsive, and when it’s hot, it will become more responsive and more likely to display errors or artifacts, which are visual distortions.
Burn-in - When comparing LCD vs. AMOLED, burn-in is the most significant disadvantage of AMOLED displays. Burn-in happens when an image is left on a screen too long and becomes permanently etched into the display. Although it’s becoming less common, burn-in can still be an issue with AMOLED screens.
Response time - Another downside to AMOLED screens is their slow response time, the time it takes for a pixel to go from black to white or vice versa. AMOLED pixels tend to have slower response times than LCD pixels, which can cause blurring and ghosting in images and videos.
Shorter lifespan - Another essential AMOLED to LCD comparison is the lifespan of these screens. Due to the organic nature of AMOLED, they tend to wear and tear far quicker than LCD. AMOLED screens aren’t water-resistant, so manufacturers need to develop solutions to seal off phones from any possible water damage.
So, which is better - LCD or AMOLED? Ultimately, it comes down to personal preference. LCD screens are typically brighter and have comfortable viewing angles, while AMOLED screens have richer colors and use less power. If you’re concerned about burn-in, LCD might be the better option. Still in doubt? Seeing these screens compared in your local store might help.
Frequently Asked Questions
The most advanced of these technologies is AMOLED. Those screens are the brightest, provide the most natural-looking colors, and are flexible. But, they're not as cheap to produce as OLED screens. That's why only flagship smartphones have them.
There's a considerable debate about which screen is best and worst for our eyes. Some believe AMOLED causes more eye strain than LCD because it emits more blue light. After having AMOLED and LCD compared, researchers found it's all about the screen's brightness and the surrounding environment. Since your eyes are close to the screen, you want the screen and room brightness to be similar. Of course, turning on the blue filter and reading mode on your smartphone helps, too.
It seems that the lifespan of both these screens is similar, and, more often than not, the damage comes from the display cable disconnection due to owners dropping their phones. But, there's a significant difference - AMOLED is very prone to screen burn-in. Keeping the same image on your phone for too long will burn into the screen and cause an unpleasant "ghosting" effect.
In the LCD vs. AMOLED debate, the former gets a lot of praise for being a more affordable option for phone manufacturers. LCD also produces more natural-looking colors, essential for people working in photo and video editing software. Although AMOLED has more vivid colors and is less prone to breaking, this technology still suffers from burn-in problems.
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With a degree in humanities and a knack for the history of tech, Jovan was always interested in how technology shapes both us as human beings and our social landscapes. When he isn't binging on news and trying to predict the latest tech fads, you may find him trapped within the covers of a generic 80s cyberpunk thriller.