Mobile Technology

Gadget tech explained: AMOLED vs. IPS displays

It's screen technology 101, as Gizmag breaks down the differences between AMOLED (on the Galaxy Note 5, left) and IPS (on the iPhone 6 Plus)
It's screen technology 101, as Gizmag breaks down the differences between AMOLED (on the Galaxy Note 5, left) and IPS (on the iPhone 6 Plus)
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HTC One M9: IPS LCD technology
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HTC One M9: IPS LCD technology
Nexus 6: AMOLED technology
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Nexus 6: AMOLED technology
Samsung Galaxy S6: Super AMOLED technology
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Samsung Galaxy S6: Super AMOLED technology
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It's screen technology 101, as Gizmag breaks down the differences between AMOLED (on the Galaxy Note 5, left) and IPS (on the iPhone 6 Plus)
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It's screen technology 101, as Gizmag breaks down the differences between AMOLED (on the Galaxy Note 5, left) and IPS (on the iPhone 6 Plus)

One of the many choices you have when buying a new smartphone is display type. There are two major technologies on the market, AMOLED (or Super AMOLED) and IPS LCD, and both have their advantages and disadvantages. Here we'll explain exactly what you need to know about them without going too far into the complex technicalities of each approach.

Right away it's worth pointing out that all the major manufacturers put a few proprietary technologies on top of the foundations laid by AMOLED or IPS LCD – technologies usually given a baffling custom name – and that's why two AMOLED smartphones may not match in terms of depth and quality even if they're of the same type. In other words the quality of a phone's display is about more than whether it uses AMOLED or IPS LCD.

While we can talk about the differences between AMOLED and IPS LCD in broad terms, if you want to know the standard of the screen on one particular device, individual reviews are always your best port of call. Differences between these two technologies have changed over the years, and will continue to change as new upgrades appear, so keep an eye on the newest updates from the major manufacturers.

AMOLED

AMOLED (Active Matrix Organic Light-Emitting Diode) technology is now often seen in its next-generation Super AMOLED guise. With these displays, individual pixels are lit separately (that's the active matrix bit) on top of a thin film transistor (TFT) array that passes electricity through organic compounds (that's the OLED bit). It's a newer technology than IPS LCD and improves on it in some areas while still lagging behind in others.

Nexus 6: AMOLED technology
Nexus 6: AMOLED technology

At its heart OLED technology uses anodes and cathodes for electron flow through a very thin film; brightness is determined by the strength of the electron current. Color is controlled by the tiny red, green and blue light-emitting diodes built into the display. The best way of understanding it is to think of each pixel as its own independently colored, miniature light bulb on the screen.

Colors are typically brighter with AMOLED and Super AMOLED, and blacks are darker because portions of the screen can be effectively turned off. This also leads to a theoretical improvement in battery life, but that depends on exactly how you're using the screen (if all the pixels are lit all the time, the inverse can be true with AMOLED being more power-hungry than IPS LCD).

AMOLED traditionally suffered from "burn in," where pixel quality degraded over time, though this is becoming less of a problem as the technology improves. Also in the negative column, they cost more to produce and can appear less sharp when viewed at very close range.

Samsung is Super AMOLED's biggest fan, and you'll often find its phones being talked about in terms of the vibrancy and vividness of the colors – that's Super AMOLED at work. The technology scores highly for gorgeous-looking colors and very deep blacks.

The key difference between Super AMOLED and the standard AMOLED (often used by the likes of Motorola) is that the former integrates touch sensors in the display itself, removing the need for an extra layer and often allowing for an overall thinner device.

Generally speaking Super AMOLED also offers better brightness and battery life, though again manufacturers are working hard to minimize the difference with their own improvements.

IPS LCD

In the other corner of the ring we have IPS LCD, or In-Plane Switching Liquid Crystal Display – as Super AMOLED is an upgrade on plain old AMOLED, so IPS LCD improves on the venerable (TFT) LCD technology. The mighty iPhone uses IPS LCD and from the manufacturers' point of view it's cheaper to produce, which is a bonus.

HTC One M9: IPS LCD technology
HTC One M9: IPS LCD technology

In essence, LCD uses polarized light which is then run through a color filter. Horizontal and vertical filters on either side of the liquid crystals control the brightness and whether or not each pixel is on or off. With the backlight included, the handsets are usually thicker – though as with many of these points progress is being made to fix that (and Apple's latest iPhones are notable exceptions).

All the pixels are backlit to some extent while the device is on, however, even the black ones. This means contrast and blackness can suffer (if you're watching a movie set in deep space, for example). On the upside, pixels can give the impression of being packed more closely together, aiding sharpness and clarity (something Apple is very keen on). IPS LCD is often spoken of as offering more natural colors; AMOLED screens can sometimes look a little over-saturated.

Viewing angles often aren't quite as good on IPS LCD as they are on AMOLED, broadly speaking, and again its the backlight to blame. On the other hand whites tend to come out better – the whites on an AMOLED screen can sometimes come across as slightly yellowy. Photographers tend to opt for IPS LCD displays as they show colours more accurately.

As well as Apple, LG is a big fan of the IPS LCD approach, and so is HTC. These displays can usually perform better in terms of their visibility in bright sunlight even if they're not quite as good for watching movies in a darkened room (as you can see, it's a tough call to pick one over the other).

Conclusion

There really is no winner when it comes to AMOLED vs IPS LCD, but it's still helpful to know what each technology involves. The quality of a screen primarily comes down to how a manufacturer applies its chosen standard, and a lot of potential problems on both sides – from battery drain to washed-out blacks – can be minimized with a high-quality production process.

Many of the issues and disadvantages we've talked about are being dealt with by Samsung, Apple and the other major players, as each one tweaks the displays in their handsets and the technology lying underneath. For that reason keep reading the reviews as they come out to see how AMOLED and IPS LCD fare in the years to come.

Ultimately, you should focus on the strengths of each technology when choosing – that's bright colors and deep blacks for AMOLED, and natural colors and sharpness for IPS LCD. It would be nice to have one technology that does everything perfectly, of course, but we're not quite there yet.

12 comments
iperov
IPS R.I.P
HakuPaka
What an imprecise, shallow article. Where to start: 1) Brightness of an amoled display subpixel does not have to be determinet by the current strenght, in fact, many displays use PWM just like LCD displays. 2) Colors on amoled display are not "brighter", amoled is capable of displaying wider color gamut, which is definitely not the same. 3) When viewed from close range, amoled is not any less sharp than a LCD display, generally speaking. The loss of sharpness is caused by the pentile matrix (two subpixels instead of all 3) used by Samsung to cut costs at the expense of quality. Amoled displays with true RGB stripe matrix are as sharp as LCD displays, and vice versa, LCD displays using pentile matrix are as blurry as amoleds using pentile. Same thing with "yellowy whites" - pentile arrangement causes deviations when displaying various shades of grey under different brightness and angle - sometimes yellowish, sometimes greenish, sometimes pink. 4) Wider viewing angles and faster response times of AMOLED not mentioned at all. 5) There really is a winner - it's AMOLED hands down, in all categories except price and longevity. Quality-wise, it blows LCD out of the water.
LeeuBrulVryheid
RIP IPS? Let's see, ever heard of the new samsung s6 burn-in already? Ever heard how blurry the 2k screen of the samsung s6 edge is, it isn't even as as sharp as the nexus 5 which is a 2013 1080p model What about the whites? amoled does not even produce decent whites, yellow is not considered white and about power consumption, i've never seen a single black wallpaper or theme for a samsung thus comes with a huge power consumption. My device's power consumption of my nexus 5 is 7 hours screen on time with a 2300mV battery and with 50-60% brightness set ofc with a constant youtube 1080p video loop. Amoled is a nice technology but hey, for oversaturation i can use Kernel Adiutor which reproduces the same oversaturation RGB colours with 50% extra brightness than any amoled screen. I'd like to see any samsung device putting 1080p youtube video as constant loop and setting brightness at medium settings (50-60%) and do 7 hours screen on time out of the battery. I'm pretty happy with my device, antutu score of 47111 which is pretty decent imo http://s15.postimg.org/ev1wc7kpn/Screenshot_2015_10_25_22_29_29_1.png Scoring almost as high as the samsung note 4 with a third of the price http://s15.postimg.org/ltalvw87v/Screenshot_2015_10_25_22_29_50_1.png Well, peace out
ColdSpring
Yes, Amoled is better, but IPS is pretty good too. I compared Amoled on Galaxy Note 4 vs IPS screen on another android phone, and there is no doubt about it, watching movies on Amoled is superior, with deep dark black and more vibrant colors. However, nothing wrong with IPS either. It's great for most of the use, and thanks to low cost of manufacture, even the cheapest Android phones have great IPS display screen. I bought $100 android phone and couldn't believe such cheap phone can have a great IPS display with amazing sharpness, viewing angle and brightness.
ChenSun
I think IPS is much better, take a look at samsung, is this really valuable of that? it is actually brighter of each pixels, compare samsung with sony or iphone, the quality is sucks in samsung, wider gamut is not looking like this,ok? And one thing I still doubt about is OLED is not developed by samsung or LG, right? IFF is also not developed by them, right? But why samsung make something like they are the creator of amoled, brag a lot, How did they cross the law? the life is much shorter than IPS LCD, I never heard a person who use samsung with good condition more than 2 years, previously I heard a lot samsung had calculation problems in game, and explosion rate also a little bit higher than other company phones, but still under safe lane, but samsung uses pentile matrix, right? That may be why. Compare samsung with Iphone or sony, you will see who is good quality, the true RGB with AMOLED is still brighter, but samsung never made as sharp as LCD, right? Don't always brag some AMOLED, I still heard Korean government charged 179 professors in Korean, may involve about academic plagiarism, they plagiarize a lot from other countries' professors, that's Korean government said, so WITH ALL my respect, I doubt that Samsung AMOLED technology may stealing from other countries technology, if that, it is not very hard to explain why the AMOLED is not invented by them, but they still brag them so well. And a lot of other things, such as Korean plagirize from Japan, and if you search fake cosmetic only selling to China, some Korean TV Realty Show didn't pay salary to labors in Austrilia, Baidu leak out customer's information about their desease, the second biggest buyer is called Korean Sauna empire company, maybe not called this name, but I just translate from China, I don't know why many people just say samsung, it is not worth of that quality. Let's go on talking about samsung, pentile arrangement still causing many deviation, right? Don't find any excuse for them.That's the samsung's technology power. Faster AMOLED? I don't think so, it's still had a lot pixel dragging and pixel vibration, and lots of deviations. And by the way, samsung camera is sucks, they even didn't focus on something and blur other area, they just capture whole and make whole brighter, looks like "beautiful".
Fretting Freddy the Ferret pressing the Fret
I don't think it has been mentioned here anywhere, so I'll mention another big advantage AMOLED has above IPS - refresh rate. AMOLED can achieve higher refresh rate, resulting in a smoother viewing experience. This is especially noticeable in some game apps where a high refresh rate is allowed.
AndrewStansbury-Cecil
i think with the Samsung Gear VR headset IPS would not work and that's why Apple still doesn't have VR.
AbedRDabet
Well well well the most things when buying a tv are quality and the price If something is expensive you cannot buy it so in this round ips wins and for quality also ips wins because of natural colors so simply use your mind and you will see that ips is better and also its life longer than amoled and for deep blak ufff do you buy a screen to watch black screen??!&*& dhuuuuuuu!!! Nooo0o0o0 (think)
InterredFerguson
No clear winner? The very first picture in this article tells me exactly who the clear winner is.
InterredFerguson
P.S. The AMOLED screen on my original Galaxy Note is rapidly approaching 6 years of daily use, and doesn't show a bit of burn in.