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.


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.

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).