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1080p Smartphones: High Resolution Displays A Waste Of Money?

1080p Smartphones: High Resolution Displays A Waste Of Money

A 1080p smartphone sounds exciting but with the smaller screen of a smartphone or even a phablet there is a point where we have diminishing returns. We analyze several potential smartphone, phablet, and tablet screen sizes to see what makes sense for potential buyers. Dr. Raymond Soneira, president and CEO of DisplayMate. told Ars Technica that a 1080p smartphone doesn’t make sense.

When you look at your smartphone the “apparent” visual clarity is largely determined by size of the screen, the resolution, and the distance between the display and your eyes. You also have to keep in mind that when you hold your 1080p smartphone in portrait mode, or vertically, that the resolution is actually reversed, or 1080×1920.

Dr. Soneira explains to Ars Technica why 1080p smartphones don’t make sense:

“Even the tiniest image detail in a photograph is always spread over more than one pixel. The image detail is never perfectly aligned with the pixel structure of the display. For ordinary viewing of videos, 1920×1080 is really not going to make a visual difference.”

Dr. Soneira says this is because most people’s eyes, even those with 20/20 vision, “can’t resolve sharpness above 229 [pixels per inch].” For example, with a five inch screen the physical dimensions are 2.99 inches by 4.02 inches. A 600 × 800 pixel screen resolution translates to 200 pixels per inch (ppi). A six inch screen is 3.54 inches by 4.72 inches so 600 × 800 pixels result in a 167 ppi. So a six inch screen with a 1080 by 1920 resolution has a 367 ppi which is way beyond what Dr. Soneira says is necessary.

A 1080p display would make most sense for larger tablets. When shopping for a smartphone of a medium to large size it makes more sense to purchase one that has a 720p resolution. For example, a six inch display with 720 x 1280 pixels has a 245 ppi which is slightly above what is recommended. The best part is that you’re likely to save a good deal of money and yet the resulting visual clarity should be about the same in practice.

As previously reported by The Inquisitr, future televisions that feature the Ultra HD specification will have the same problem. Ultra HD is based upon the 4K specification for 3840 x 2160 resolution HDTVs. In order to get the full benefit of Ultra HD you would either have to sit extremely close to the television or have a 80 to 100 inch or bigger display.


These facts are unlikely to prevent smartphone manufacturers from proudly advertising their 1080p displays. But knowing these facts do you still plan on buying a 1080p smartphone in 2013?

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13 Responses to “1080p Smartphones: High Resolution Displays A Waste Of Money?”

  1. Will Schlunt

    This graph does not pass the BS test. From what I read off the graph, my 60 inch TV would only provide noticeable benefit from 1080P at just less than 10 feet away and noticeable benefit from 720P at 15 feet away. Yet I can see a difference between 720p and 1080p and something like 12-14 feet away. But this graph indicates that there is no visible benefit for a 5 inch screen for any HD resolution, yet while in front of my TV holding my 5 inch 1080p phone at 16 inches from my face, the screen on the phone is the same size as the TV. If there is a benefit for HD on my TV there is on my phone. I can also tell you that anybody that sees my phone notices the difference of 1080p especially iPhone or former iPhone users. One thing that is always left on on these discussions is that a pixel is data. Two megapixels is twice as much data as one megapixel, and nearly three times as much data as the iPhone 5. If you don't like scrolling and zooming, you want more data on the screen, and a screen large enough to read.

  2. Jorell Dye

    Dr. Soneira's theories just don't cut it, sorry. Sure, an aimless gaze at the screen will be satisfied by 225ppi, but what user stares blankly at their phone? Any eye looking closely at details on specific points of the screen can make full use of 1080p.

  3. Isaac Gerke

    i agree that 1080p on say a 4-4.5" screen is unnecessary but i can deffinately tell a difference between my old phone (about 250ppi) and my new one (720p – 330ppi). that said I dont think I would notice any change in a bump up to 1080p, those should stay in the phablet range =>5".

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