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Why resolution shouldn't be a priority anymore

Andrew Williams by


Do we need more pixels?

OPINION Have we reached 'peak resolution' on mobile phones? After the LG G3, Andrew Williams is convinced we have.

Screen resolution is one of the most important elements of the LG G3. It’s the first phone to have a QHD screen, almost certainly higher-res than the TV in your house.

To be a little more exact, the LG G3 has a screen whose diagonal measures 5.5 inches, and it fits in more than 3.5 million pixels. That’s over 1.5 times the pixels in a 1080p TV, and more than half a million more pixels than the iPad Air.

As technologically impressive has the hunt for more pixels is in phones, it is not going to lead to a fundamentally improved experience. It is rather a symptom of a kind of mania, the same kind that saw the megapixel war in phones that lead to a 13-megapixel phone all the way back in 2008.

Is it progress? Yes, but it’s not the sort of progress you should be too suckered in by.

SEE ALSO: How the LG G3 laser AG camera focus works

Pixels vs megapixels

Just as there was more to a phone camera than resolution back in 2008, there is more to a good phone screen than resolution or pixel density today. And if you’re after a new phone today, there are other things to be mindful of.

The Imaging Science Foundation itself says on image quality "the fourth and least of our four key parameters is resolution." The ISF was not of course talking directly about phone screens, but the same applies, especially now that phone screens already have more pixels than they know what to do with.

On the side of image quality, you should consider contrast and colour accuracy. These are yet to be latched-onto by phone makers as things to shout about in a phone, but they are incredibly important parts of producing a good picture.

So why haven’t the measurements for top phones’ colour and contrast made their way into the marketing materials?

The race to 0 cd/m2

They haven’t needed to. We’ve seen such increases in screen resolution over the past four years that it alone has been enough to represent the sum of screen innovations from generation to generation. And it has fallen to people like us to complain or congratulate about the rest.

LG doesn't deserve too much criticism for the quality of its recent displays, but every IPS LCD screen we've seen still has significant limitations when it comes to black level. It's down to the kind of backlight used in phones.

LED lights fire across the screen, providing illumination for the whole of the display, rather than a particular, small part of it. This structure is why plasma TVs still offer better image quality than almost any LCD TV on the market – and plasmas are hardly even made any more.

Thanks to an LCD’s backlight, getting blacks that look black in dimmed lighting is extremely difficult. You can try it with your own LCD phone. Turn the lights off, get a mostly black image on-screen and give your phone a twist around. You should see the blacks turn grey, at least at an angle if not at every angles.

You don't get this sort of greying effect with an OLED screen like the Galaxy S5's, and it has a massive effect on things like dynamic range and how colours appear. In short, most LCD-based phones look quite crappy in a darkened room.

Does this matter? Perhaps not to everyone, but working on improving the dynamic range of LCD screens in adverse conditions is a more worthwhile upgrade than continually cramming more and more pixels into ever smaller spaces.

We see this same effect in TVs too, as almost every TV maker has shelved its development of OLED screens in order to work on cranking out sub-£1000 4K TVs that will doubtless get many more people dipping hands into pockets. Higher resolution is the most saleable aspect of screens at present, but at this point in the development it’s one of the least important.

Sadly, the only way TV makers will be forced to switch their priorities is if public opinion on such things changes. And as much as we try to make this happen with our TV reviews, we can’t do it on our own.

Next, read our LG G3 vs G2 comparison

Go to comments


May 29, 2014, 2:13 pm

What amazes me is that phones are getting higher res screens every generation, and now have resolutions that I think are ridiculous on such a small screen, meanwhile a vast majority of laptops still use 1366x768...shameful.


May 29, 2014, 2:24 pm

We were discussing this exact disparity in standards in the office the other day. Most odd, isn't it?


May 29, 2014, 2:33 pm

It is very odd. And people make such a big deal out of phone screens. I hear people argue all the time about how their phone is "better" than another because it has a bigger screen with a higher resolution yet they never say one word about the fact that their 15" laptop has a resolution barely above 720p. I had an Acer Travelmate laptop about 9 years ago now that had 1280x800....why has this not improved?


May 29, 2014, 3:10 pm

I think the pixel focus started because early PDA/ smartphone screens were a bit underwhelming, remember Palm?
A problem with trying to call a halt to it is that we have little concept (at this moment) of what is possible.
There is no way of knowing yet the eventual application or benefits (if any) in, for instance, the field of medicine.
Screen manufacturers will continue to develop their products across all platforms, though laptops being left out is a really astute observation.
I've said before that maybe we will get a 3D phone screen that you tap and an A4 hologram document hovers at eye-level.
No, I don't think it's likely or even needed but innovations occur because someone realises that there might be a market or an application for developed technology.


May 30, 2014, 1:26 am

True, but you have to realise making a 15"+ screen reliably that has 300+dpi and cost effectively is almost impossible at the moment. We sti further away from our laptop and desktop screen, so we don't need the same pixel density. A 4K 24" monitor only has about 240dpi off the top of my head, but it looks stunning. That same res on a 5" smartphone screen looks rather average. You'd need 8K 24" screen to get up to the sort of ppi we see in the LG G3 and how much do you think that would cost. People are cheapskates and want the tech for peanuts.

BI do agree though anything less than 1920 x 1080 is a joke in any device over 10" and 1366 x 768 should have been killed off a decade ago at least. Luckily we are now seeing a gradual change to much higher res, but they will never match smartphones, or not at least for another 10-15 years IMO.


May 30, 2014, 8:04 am

It's about the angle subtended. Easy method - hold your phone at the normal distance, look at it through just one eye, hold it so that it is masking your view of your monitor or TV or whatever. If the phone exactly masks out the bigger screen then they both occupy the same area on the back of your eyeball. So if they both had the same number of pixels that would make them equivalent to your eye.
As I sit, my Galaxy Note 1 and my 24" 1080p monitor both take up about the same angle of view, so if I accept that my monitor is about the optimum resolution then I guess my phone could benefit from a minor hike in resolution, but not by much.
I would sit closer to an 11" laptop, so I figure 1366x768 would be too low. So you're right!


May 30, 2014, 8:15 am

TR needs to start blind-testing. Until you genuinely do not know which screen you are reviewing there is no way you can avoid bias. That is not to say that you are bad people, or that you hold a candle for any particular brand, just that it can't be done, not humanly possible. A nice example is how the supposed amazing difference that £100+ audio cables were supposed to make to indefinable things like "separation" and whatnot. All vanished when proper blind trials were conducted, and the acolytes were unable to tell the cables apart.
So please TR, make it so that you can not know which screen you are looking at - some kind of mask that only the screen can be seen through, and somebody else arranges (and rearranges) the devices for review. Important that the devices are rearranged and several judgements are made - otherwise you fall victim to the tendency to second-guess which is which and that starts to colour your judgements as well. It is tricky!
Then add in some useful objective measurements, like dynamic range, colour gamut, colour accuracy etc. Until the reviews take note, don't expect the manufacturers to.


June 2, 2014, 7:21 pm

Why does this seem like a Samsung advertisement to knock LG's latest offering? Samsungs OLED Screen might do blacks much better but how come the writer didn't also mention Samsungs over saturated screen calibration to artificially pump up it's colors. Both screens are wonderful and at the very top end of what Cell Phones are capable of doing today but if you are going to compare one with the other have some impartiality in the discourse.


June 2, 2014, 7:28 pm

I really don't like the oversaturated screens on the S3 and S4 but having used the S5 I think Samsung has toned it down a lot. The writer is putting the point across that more pixels doesn't necessarily mean a better screen.


June 3, 2014, 4:04 pm

Well, I think that having more pixels allows us to see more details on high-resolution pictures. Open a 20MP image on 5.5" 720p or 1080p screen, then open it on QHD screen and you will see more details, more tiny lines. Or, try to open hi-res image on a regular photo frame, then open the same image on iPad Retina and tell me there is no difference. If you hold your smartphone 2.5 ft away you might not see a big difference, but if it's only no more than 1 ft away - you'll notice. The same with reading PDF on a small screen (smaller than 8") - letters will be sharper, easier to read. I was watching Discovery channel on 1080p next to 4K TV and I saw every single crack on the pyramid on 4K TV that was not well seen on 1080p. So, my point - the new QHD is worth to have and believe me, you'll see QHD displays on other smartphone pretty soon.

Abraham Soto

June 3, 2014, 8:34 pm

More resolution for a 5.5 or 6 ich screen is idiotic. More gpu and cpu usage and less battery time to talk. 1080 is fine for those small screens, we dont need that..


June 4, 2014, 3:13 pm

True that the writer's main
point is that more pixels doesn't necessarily mean better resolution but he
did go on about the Blacks on the S5. If
your bringing up the point that the S5 does better blacks than you should bring
up the MAIN point everyone has on the oversaturation of Samsung phones.


June 14, 2014, 2:50 pm

LG G3 is not the first with QHD, Oppo Find 7 is.

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