AMOLED vs LCD – A Tale of Two Screens

It’s a constant debate. AMOLED Displays feature remarkable colors, deep blacks and eye searing contrast ratios. IPS LCD Displays feature more subdued(though some would say more accurate) colors, better off-axis viewing angles and often times a brighter overall picture. With that being established, which screen is better? Samsung extensively utilizes AMOLED screens and pioneered their implementation on Smart Phones. The LCD has been around for a while longer, but has the technology finally reached its full potential? Will the next iPhone switch from LCD to the “superior” technology of AMOLED?

Colored Pixels are made up of three Red Green and Blue(RGB) pixels

On a technical level, what differentiates these two prevalent screen technologies? Well, lets start with the basics. Both screens are made up of Pixels. A pixel is made up of 3 sections called sub-pixels. The three sections are red, green and blue(primary colors for display tech). To make a certain color, each pixel lets certain amounts of light through each pixel at different intensities, showing the color on your screen.

Where you start seeing differences emerge, is how the light is generated in each screen. On LCD displays, the light is generated from a “backlight”. A series of thin films, transparent mirrors and an array of white LED Lights that shine and distribute light across the back of the display. On some lower quality LCD screens, you can see bright spots in the middle or on the perimeters of screens. This is caused by uneven light distribution. The downside to using backlights, is that black is never true black, because no matter what, light has to be coming through, so it will never have as dark of a screen as an AMOLED screen. Its comparable to being able to slow a car down to 2 mph versus coming to a complete stop.

On AMOLED Screens, each pixel is its own light source, meaning that no backlight is necessary. This allows the screen assembly to be thinner, and have more consistent lighting across the whole display. In addition, since each pixel is an OLED(Organic Light Emitting Diode) or individual light, showing black means it shuts off pixels it doesn’t need to generate color. So on the Galaxy S7, the notification lock screen, which is white text on a black background, uses barely any power, because 90% of the screen is actually powered off.

At the risk of getting too technical, we’ll close out with pros and cons list of each here. LCD and AMOLED displays are fantastic technologies that continue to push forward the standard for Mobile Displays. Considering that the AMOLED display as we know it in Smart Phones is only a few years old, it is exciting to see what kind of innovations we can look forward to in the future.

LCD Pros

Bright whites – LED backlights push lots of light through the pixels to make it easier to read in bright light

Accurate True to Life Colors – This can vary from one to the other, however as a general rule, LCD Screens have colors that more accurately reflect those of objects here in the real world versus through a viewfinder.

Reliable – LCD technology has been around for a while, and the technology is well into the refinement stage of development.

Great Viewing Angles – Most high quality Phone LCD displays use IPS technology to offer 178 degrees of view without any color shifting or color distortion.

Inexpensive – LCD Technology has been around for quite some time, and with that, the manufacturing process has been perfected in the mobile sphere, allowing massive volumes of screens to be produced at very cost effective rates.

LCD Cons

LCDs cannot achieve deep blacks – The presence of an always on backlight to illuminate a screen regardless of how much of the screen is black means that it will never get as dark as an AMOLED screen can.

LCDs cannot be made flexible – The Galaxy Note Edge turned heads in 2014 when Samsung unveiled a curved AMOLED display. LCDs are rigid and cannot be bent or molded into a curved design, limiting the form factors it can fit into.

Thickness – Because the LCD also requires a backlight behind it, the screen will always take up more internal volume of a phone, limiting how thin and light designs can be.

AMOLED Pros

Amoled Screens have the most vivid colors – Ever want your movies or pictures to pop like they haven’t before? AMOLED screens can make that happen with amazing contrast ratios(distance in color from darkest to lightest).

True Black can be truly achieved – Because no backlight assembly is needed, the display can power off pixels that are to display the black portions of an image, meaning the black is as dark as it can be. That means looking at a Zebra uses less energy than a polar bear on your Galaxy S7.

Samsung Gear S3 is the latest in Wearble Tech featuring circular AMOLED Displays. Photo by: Samsung

Energy Efficiency – Because the display can individually light pixels, and likewise leave some pixels turned off entirely, this means the screen can achieve levels of power efficiency rarely seen on smartphone displays, leading to better battery life.

Flexible, Curvable, Adaptable – Flexible AMOLED Displays are present in the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge, the Galaxy Gear Fit2 uses a curved display, and nearly every other smart wearable uses a circular AMOLED display. LCD’s would not be able to work in any of these scenarios. AMOLED is the screen tech for wearables(Apple Watch, Moto 360, Gear S3 etc.)

AMOLED Cons

Pricey – Right now, the typical cost on the repair market for an AMOLED screen is double that of a comparable LCD(in some cases it can be even more). This is tied to higher manufacturing costs, and the fact that the technology is younger, and less refined compared to their LCD counterparts.

Less Durable – Much like old strings of Christmas lights, if a single pixel is damaged, it can cause the entire screen to stop displaying altogether. In many cases, the AMOLED display will crack or break before the Gorilla Glass on top of it does.

Burn in – This is an issue that was present on old Plasma Televisions. Over time the pixels can get “stuck” showing a specific image or color, meaning that over time as the screen gets older, it can show a shadow of an icon. A good way to mitigate this is to move your icons around every once in a while.