The Next Smartphones

The iPhone has changed a lot over the past 10 years since the first model, but the front face of the smartphone has stayed relatively unchanged. This conservative development of the design has held up very well over the years, and the latest iPhone models remain some of the most beautiful smartphones around.

But this will not hold up any longer.

The latest trend in smartphone design is going “bezel-less”—removing as much from the front of the phone that isn’t screen. This has a very important impact on the design of the device: for one, a device that’s “all screen” looks incredibly futuristic, and secondly, it greatly reduces the size of the phone while keeping a bigger screen. To put that second point in perspective: imaging holding a regular iPhone in your hand, but this one has a screen the size of the iPhone Plus. You get all the benefits of having a big screen, yet retain all the benefits of having a smaller phone (more portability, pocketability, easy one-handed use, etc).

Smartphone manufacturers, in their unending quest to add new features and benefits, have made it clear that the next design trend is to remove as much bezel as possible and increase the size of the screen relative to the device. And no one has achieved this better than Samsung in yesterday’s unveiling of the Galaxy S8.

To be clear: I have never liked Samsung as a smartphone manufacturer. As far as Android phones go, their phones have always been the most unoriginal, generic plastic devices to unfortunately be everywhere and in the hands of everyone who didn’t know better. I can only attribute their success to the fact that their marketing and distribution teams are much more innovative than their product development team.

But with the Galaxy S6 this started to change, and Wednesday’s unveiling of the S8 obliterated any question that Samsung is now a completely original hardware designer. The design language of the S8 hardware is unquestionably unique, and it’s beautiful.

In contrast, iPhone has a huge amount of wasted space on that never-changing front face: it has a large round home button with space all around it, creating a large bottom bezel, and for the sake of symmetry the top bezel mirrors the size of the bottom one. It also has bezels along the sides of the display. This design aesthetic has served the world’s most popular phone well for its first decade, but this cannot continue. The iPhone 8 will, without a doubt, have a new front face: it will get rid of the physical home button, and reduce or eliminate the bezels.

If Apple waits out a generation with a iPhone 7″S” iteration, this delay in updating the design will might actually hurt their sales numbers for the first time. The iPhone will very quickly look dated, old, and possibly ugly now that consumers have seen the future of smartphones.

Smartphone Displays and Resolutions 2015

My first smartphone was a very high-resolution phone: the Nexus One had a 800×600 display that made every other phone—especially the iPhone—look awful. This was the thrown glove that drove Apple to take ownership of high-resolution displays and name-brand the idea with the “Retina” moniker. The iPhone 4’s 330 ppi was a small but important leapfrog over the competition, and it cemented the importance of display pixel density for the industry.

The competition didn’t take this threat lightly, and their newest flagships run at 6× the resolution—and almost double the ppi—of that Apple phone.

In 2015, pixel densities have reached the point of absurdity. Today’s bleeding-edge resolution du jour is Quad HD, or 2560×1440. This resolution is so incredibly high, it would take a 9″ screen for this resolution’s pixel density to reduce to the iPhone 5 & 6’s. These <6″ phones have a higher resolution than the 10″ retina iPad, and are almost 10× the resolution of my old Nexus One.

What’s the point of pixel density past 300ppi, which is where Apple claims the human eye can no longer see pixels? Many of us have been asking this question for the past couple years. 1080p on its own was crazy high, so Quad HD has left many of us scratching our heads. HTC seems to agree, as they have kept their line of One phones at the same resolution through the years.

Incredible pixel densities are not completely without their use. In 2012, Oculus demonstrated that a lens held in front of a mobile display can wrap images around our field of view, immersing the viewer in the image and creating a true VR experience. Warping an image blows up the pixels, spacing them out and exponentially reducing the pixel density for the viewer. Early prototypes of the Oculus Rift used a 1280×800 display, which must have produced a very blurry image. But thanks to the obsessive small-screen resolution increase on the part of Samsung, LG, Sharp, and JDI, virtual reality kits will soon be able to produce a life-like image to the viewer. According to one Valve engineer, realism may require a display somewhere near 8K resolution.

I would say 8K (7680×4320) resolution on a mobile display sounds impossible. But then again, back in 2011 I wouldn’t have believed 1080p would be possible, much less passé today.

smartphone-2015

All ppi calculations were done using online tools such as this one. Open the source image to view the full-size, pixel equivalent on your screen.

Tags: smartphones, smartphone displays, mobile displays, mobile screens, smartphone resolutions, smartphone screens, mobile resolutions, phone screens, phone resolutions, phone ppi, phone displays, mobile ppi, smartphone ppi, pixel densities, device resolutions, device screens.

Smartphone Displays and Resolutions (2013)

There have been some major changes in the smartphone landscape since my previous post about smartphone displays, so here is an updated graphic on the current state of consumer handheld screens.

Click on the image to see the full-size, pixel equivalent on your screen

All ppi calculations were done using online tools such as this one.

The RAZR Reborn as a Smartphone

As far as dumbphones went, the Motorola RAZR was the ultimate device. Its industrial design was unprecedented: it had dual colour screens, a camera, bluetooth, and EDGE data for web browsing—all in an unbelievably thin package. It was so thin, in fact, that Moto had to design the keypad out of a single sheet of thin metal, instead of using normal buttons. I used my Gunmetal Grey V3i model for over 4 years—a long time in cellphone years—and I never grew tired of it. In fact, if smartphones never caught on, it would have remained a great phone even at the end.

The RAZR brand, to me, represents a phone whose industrial design, build quality, and features are so fantastic, the device will last you a long, long time. It’s for these reasons that I was apprehensive at the news of the revival of the RAZR brand. Verizon and Moto have announced the imminent unveiling of the Droid RAZR, and they’ve set up a teaser site with a countdown and video. The countdown points to a few hours before the Google-Samsung event.

Despite its secretive nature, someone has managed to grab an unpublished image off of the teaser site:

The teaser image looks nice, but in this brave new world of smartphones, specs are everything. I can only hope—for the sake of the RAZR name—that Verizon and Motorola thought out this phone through-and-through. We’ll find out within the next 24 hours.

On a related note, I’ve recently learned that the Google-Samsung event (scheduled for 10pm EDT) is being livecast on http://www.youtube.com/android; no need to read liveblogs (although I still will!). Samsung Canada has apparently told Canadian fans to pay attention to tomorrows news, as they’ll  be bringing the “coolest Samsung phone” to Canada within weeks. Translation: Nexus Prime will be released in Canada at launch!

On Smartphone Displays and Resolutions

(Update: updated graphics for 2013 and 2015 are available)

You might say I’m a bit overenthusiastic about technology and gadgets sometimes. When the joint Google-Samsung event which was scheduled for today was cancelled, it probably hit me harder than most people you know. I’ve had the day marked on my calendar, with reminders to follow multiple liveblogs, etc. All the same, the cancellation was understandable and it was a very classy display of respect for Steve jobs, who passed away last Wednesday, October 5th.

The long-awaited Nexus Prime is rumoured to be unveiled at this Google-Samsung event. As a Nexus One owner—the original Google phone—I’ve been really looking forward to Google’s newest development. The Nexus line have generally set the standard that Google expects all its Android partners to rise up to. For example, prior to the Nexus One, few phones had a combination of a high-resolution display, fast 1Ghz processor, good camera, etc. (for the time). Now, it’s rumoured that the Nexus Prime (or Galaxy Nexus, or Droid Prime) will raise that bar again, and this time bring the screen resolution to an insane 720p HD (1280×720).

I had to visualize this for myself, so I made this graphic:

(All ppi calculations were done using online tools such as this one)
 

The next generation of Android flagship phones are undoubtedly going to feature massive, pixel-dense displays like the Nexus Prime’s. These phones are going to be a joy to use—imagine having the screen resolution of most standard laptops in the palm of your hand. You could navigate websites in full, desktop mode, and you could even read the sharp text if you hold the phone close enough. To further illustrate the point, a 720p screen has 17% more pixels than the iPad. It’s crazy to think that my next phone is going to have 2.4× the resolution my current phone has. Such a large number of pixels requires a graphics chip that can drive them—which in turn requires considerable added (electrical) power, taking a toll on battery life.

The Samsung Galaxy Note (which is gradually being released in various markets) has a gargantuan 5.3″ display which packs so many pixels, it’s like holding a current high-end Android phone in landscape, and stacking 2.6 screens above each other to make another portrait screen. This phone actually comes with a stylus (like PDA’s of yore), and is meant for pressure-sensitive sketching and note-taking, plus regular touch. It’s a great evolution of touchscreen technology.

Platform makes an important difference as well. The HTC Titan is a new Windows Phone Mango device with a very large 4.7″ Super-LCD screen. Those of you who’ve been paying attention will remember that Windows Phone has a restriction on resolution: all devices must be 800×480—no more, no less. At this massive size, this respectable resolution would yeld a pixel density of 198.5ppi, which is about as detailed as current mid/entry-level phones on their smaller screens.

This next stage in display size and resolution is a great opportunity for Android to get ahead and stand out. iPhone, with it’s “retina” display, will continue to be stuck with a relatively small 3.5 inch screen. You get a lot of fantastic things with Apple’s star product—such as a great camera, best-of-class apps, and unrivalled battery life—but you’ll never get a large screen on which to really enjoy the content you’re watching. Once consumers see the plethora of stunning large displays lining cellphone kiosks, they will undoubtedly look at Android devices with a new level of envy.

Update: the Google-Samsung event has now been scheduled for October 19th in Hong Kong, at 10AM (In North America, October 18th, 10PM EST).

MSI Radeon HD 4830 1GB CrossFire Benchmarks

msi_box4

Image from MSI’s product page

In August of 2009 I tried my hand at benchmarking and running a dual-card setup on my own machine. I had recently purchased an ATI Radeon HD 4830, which was a lower-midrange video card at the time but had really good value in terms of performance for its price. So I bought a second, identical card (which I later returned), and ran them in crossfire to map out their benefits in real-world game tests. It was a fun experiment and I enjoyed the process of testing hardware.

Test Rig
Processor i7 920 @ 2.6 (Turbo Boost off)
Motherboard Intel DX58SO
Memory Mushkin 998659 3x2GB @1066, 8-8-8-19
Hard Drive Western Digital Black 640GB
Cooling Cooler Master Hyper 212 Plus
Case Cooler Master Storm Scout
Power Supply Antec EarthWatts 500
Monitors Samsung SyncMaster 216BW and Sharp Aquos 42D64
Operating System Windows 7 RTM

 

Tom Clancy’s H.A.W.X Demo

There is a built-in test run in HAWX called “Test Performance” under Video Settings. Although this utility outputs an Average and Max FPS, the Max results were always way too high to be accurate. I therefore I used FRAPS to capture FPS stats.

Hawx

Refresh Rate: 60Hz; AA: 8x; VSync: Off; View Distance: High; Forest: High; Environment: High; Texture Quality: High; HDR: On; Engine Heat: On; DOF: On

F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin Demo

Fear 2 Demo had no benching system that I could find, neither built-in or 3rd party. Worse, the game doesn’t keep my saved checkpoint after I quit the game. So for each benchmarking set, I had to sit through the intro and play up to the point where I fight a bunch of guys in a cafeteria. I did multiple runs for each test, using FRAPS to capture stats, and averaged out each set of runs.

Fear 2

Effects Detail: Maximum; Particle Bouncing: Maximum; Shell Casings: On; World Detail: Maximum; Corpse Detail: Maximum; Sound Quality Limit: Medium; Water Resolution: Maximum; FSAA: 4x; Texture Level of Detail: Maximum; Enable Shadows: On; Texture Filtering: Anisotropic 16x; Light Detail: Maximum; Shadow Detail: Maximum; Vertical Sync: Off; HDR: On: Model Decals: Maximum; Motion Blur: On; Reflections and Displays: Maximum; Ambient Occlusion: On

Half Life 2 Episode 2

I used two different time demos for Half Life2 Episode 2. PortalStorm is a 25-second, physics-intensive scene from the first few minutes of the game where the citadel’s super portal releases a portal storm, flinging debris and nearby objects into the air, and causing an overhanging bridge to collapse. DriveToBase is a 36-second race with Dog from a river to the base at White Forrest, and is more representative of the majority of the gameplay in this game.

Demos were very easy to record and play back using Source’s command console. Stats were captured using FRAPS, and three runs were averaged for each set of tests.

HL2ep2 1680

Model Detail: High; Texture detail: Very High; Shader Detail: High; Water Detail: Reflect all; Shadow Detail: High; Color Correction: Enabled; MSAA: 8x; AF: 16x; VSync: disabled; Motion Blur: Enabled; Field of View: 90.00; Multicore Rendering: unavailable; High Dynamic Range: Full; Use ‘bloom’ effect when available: unavailable.

HL2ep2 1920

Model Detail: High; Texture detail: Very High; Shader Detail: High; Water Detail: Reflect all; Shadow Detail: High; Color Correction: Enabled; MSAA: 8x; AF: 16x; VSync: disabled; Motion Blur: Enabled; Field of View: 90.00; Multicore Rendering: unavailable; High Dynamic Range: Full; Use ‘bloom’ effect when available: unavailable.

Far Cry 2

I’d like to salute the makers of Far Cry 2 for making the easiest benchmarking system out of all. All you have to do to start the built-in utility is right-click on the game’s icon in the Start Menu and select “Benchmark”. THAT’S IT. At the end of a test you’re presented with a results page that not only gives you detailed stats, but actually automatically averages all the runs for you.

I ran the “ranch small” time demo in DX10, 3 loops per set.

Far Cry 2

2xAA; VSync off; DX10; Fire: Very High; Physics: Very High; Real Trees: Very High; Vegetation: Very High; Shading Ultra High; Terrain: Ultra High; Geometry: Ultra High; Post FX: High; Texture: Ultra High; Shadow: Ultra High; Ambient: High; HDR on; Bloom on

Crysis SP Demo

I used the popular Crysis Benchmarking Tool for this test. Unfortunately, DX10 and 64bit wouldn’t work for some reason, so I stuck to DX9 (according to talk online, there isn’t much difference in performance). I ran the “benchmark_gpu” timedemo, 3 loops per set, and had the time of day set at the default 9AM.

This game demo had a problem in CrossFire mode, where various objects in the game (random trees, shrubs, rocks, etc) would rapidly flicker. I’m guessing CrossFire was rendering each frame using alternate GPUs, and some objects were somehow loaded into one card but not the other. Since this demo is the prerelease demo, this and other problems in the game were probably fixed in later patches. Unfortunately, Crytek did not provide any updated demo to this game, nor a demo to their follow-up game Crysis Warhead.

Crysis

Quality Settings: Overall Quality High; 2xAA; DX9

Fallout 3

Unfortunately, VSync cannot be disabled in this game so there was no point benchmarking it. Even on a single 4830 on the highest settings, the framerate stayed generally at the 60fps ceiling. TweakGuides suggests a hack to this limitation, but unfortunately it did not work for me.

Update: I’ve been asked to clarify why I didn’t benchmark Fallout 3. There is a phenomenon in every animated 3d game and environment called screen tearing, where the image on screen looks sliced at various parts during rapid panning (such as when you look left or right in a first person game). This can be jarring and it removes from the realism of the scene. VSync is a feature that can be included/enabled in most games which solves this problem, eliminating these jaggies during panning. But one byproduct of VSync is that it prevents the game’s framerate from going any higher than 60fps (which is the monitor’s refresh rate).

When I tried benchmarking Fallout 3, even at the most taxing configuration (highest graphics settings, highest resolution, single video card) the framerate was stuck at 60fps, and this was because VSync was enabled in the game. It also couldn’t be disabled. So, were I to benchmark it, I would simply get a whole graph showing 60fps across the board. So suffice it to say, the 4830 has power to spare for playing Fallout 3. It just can’t be benchmarked.

All Content © 2009 Bagha Shams
(Video Card photo © Micro-Star Int’l Co.,Ltd.)