During the WWDC keynote, Steve Jobs has spent a copious amount of time describing how great the Retina Display is. Based on the same IPS technology than the iPad display, it offers slightly higher resolution when compared to current OLED offerings. That’s true, but not so fast, says Samsung: OLED displays suck 30% less power according to the Korean company which is also the worldwide leader in OLED. Of course, the irony is that Samsung is also the manufacturer of most of (if not all) the iPad’s IPS display – and possibly the iPhone 4 displays too. Whatever happens, Samsung will make more money.
So, which is better? Here’s my own stab at answering this…
Resolution: At the moment, IPS has the highest resolution available (or soon to be) on smartphones. That’s 960×640 versus 800x Visually, this is close enough and I expect OLED to catch up quickly, a few months from now. IPS wins
Power: OLED is a clear winner here. It is fundamentally less power-hungry than IPS. Note that a 30% lower consumption does not translate as a 30% of battery life increase on the phone. The different radios (wifi, 3g, BT) and the CPU are huge power drains too. OLED Wins.
Color Accuracy: This is my own opinion, but I don’t think that OLED is the king of color accuracy. If anything, super AMOLED 2 is overly saturated, close to the “bizarre” point. I saw that during our Samsung Wave hands-on. IPS wins
Contrast: fundamentally, OLED should win that one. Because each pixel emits its own light, blacks are blacks and not “dark gray”. OLED wins
Viewing angle: I’m quasi-certain that OLED wins this one, it’s pretty fabulous that you can see stuff at grazing angles. OLED wins.
Mass production: being mass-producable is definitely important because that’s how you get one in your hand at the end of the day. Because it’s based on LCD technology, IPS wins
Of course there are other things that we need to take into account, one of them being that very hi-resolution OLED displays might not be currently produced in sufficient quantities to satisfy the needs of Samsung and Apple at the same time. It is also possible that Samsung would prefer not to give Apple an technological edge in terms of power consumption.
There is also the claim that the iPhone 4 IPS display practically reaches the limit of what you eye can see. This is probably the most contentious point in my opinion. Yes, the image looks great, but my eyes could definitely see a large increase in resolution, and so would yours. I think that experts in the field have commented on that topic and agree with me on that one. Secondly, the human eye doesn’t see “pixels”. Instead, we see shapes and forms, a little like Postscript.
Finally, how does this affect users? Well, for all the drama in the press, your life won’t be in chaos regardless of which display technology you get. Recently, I’ve reviewed the Droid Incredible (OLED) and the EVO 4G (LCD) and frankly they were both very good, even if slight differences can be seen if you pay close attention. Both react fairly badly to a very bright environment – and *that* is the what will make or break the screen for me – because the best screen is the one that you can read. Look at our iPhone 4 hands-on video.
Update: due to popular demand, I’ve shot a few side by side photos of the iPad IPS display next to the HTC Incredible OLED display. Both screens are set to Maximum brightness, and they both perform OK. Note that I have taken shots where you can actually see something. In many instances, glare can be so overwhelming that the image fades away. Make up your own mind. Also, I had to choose a point of focus that might make one or the other display appear a little blurrier than it really is. It’s as close as holding both devices as I can get for illustrative purposes.
If you don’t know how Samsung’s Super AMOLED is different, take a look at this short clip from Samsung.