AMOLED vs LCD – What is the difference?

October 13, 2013

moto x vs nexus 4 aa display colors

Display technology is often a key battleground when it comes to top of the line handsets. But it’s not just display resolution and screen size that you’ll find on a spec sheet, manufactures also list different display types to choose between as well. Often you’ll find that manufactures stick to a particular display type, such as Samsung with its AMOLED technology or HTC opting for LCD, citing certain benefits over the competitions’ technology.

So let’s find out if really there’s a noticeable difference between these two displays technologies, if there is what sort of differences we can expect, and if the company marketing hype is to be believed.

The technology

First things first, let’s quickly go over the technological differences between the two display types before we delve into how this affects the consumer experience.

We’ll start with LCD, which stands for Liquid Crystal Display. The properties of this liquid crystal are a little complicated, but the important thing to know is that liquid crystals untwist when an electric charge is applied to them, which affects the frequency of the light transmitted through it. Combine this will two polarized panels and you can control the flow of light by twisting and untwisting the crystal molecules.

However, these liquid crystal materials don’t emit any light of their own, so a backlight is used behind the filter layer in order to generate light. A grid of integrated circuits is then used to control each pixel, by sending a charge down into a specific row or column. Colors are created by the use of red, green, and blue filters, known as sub pixels, which are then blended by varying degrees to produce different colors.

The construction of a red LCD pixel.

The construction of a red LCD pixel.

AMOLED, on the other hand, uses lots of tiny colored light emitting diodes (LEDs) to produce light and different colors, which sounds quite a bit simpler. By adjusting the voltage, and therefore the brightness, of each of these red, green, and blue LEDs you can create a wide range of colors, or lack of colors (blacks).

The showdown

The most noticeable difference between these two screen types is the range of colors that can be displayed. The available colors that can be displayed are known as the color gamut, which is a portion of all colors that can be seen by the human eye.

Most types of media fit into the standard RBG color gamut, which most LCD screens aim to match. This is often why LCD screens are considered to be the most natural, but that’s simply because it most closely matches the color range used by other sorts of media. AMOLED displays offer a much larger gamut than LCDs, which can cause images to look much more vibrant.

The reason for the large differences lies in the way that these technologies work. Because LEDs can be individually controlled to a much greater extent, and development isn’t so concerned with the quality of filters as is the case with LCD, it allows the display to produce a wider gamut due to superior blending of primary colors. Another benefit of AMOLED is the greater control over blacks, which is achieved by dimming or turning off individual LEDs.

Galaxy S4 vs HTC One gamut comparison

A gamut comparison between the Galaxy S4’s AMOLED display and the HTC One’s LCD display. The curved shape represents the visible spectrum, the black triangle is the sRGB gamut, and the white line is each display’s gamut. Notice the additional greens and blues with the S4.

However, a wider range of colours isn’t always better, as it can lead to images look oversaturated and can cause pictures to end up looking a tad distorted in extreme cases.

The strange thing here though is that LCD manufactures often aren’t satisfied with the look of their displays. In an attempt to make their displays look more vibrant, possibly just to keep up with the marketing of AMOLED displays, some LCD device manufactures often mess around with the levels of saturation, which can also end up ruining the color balance. If you’re looking for vibrant colors, then you’re probably better off with an AMOLED display with a decent colour balance, rather than an oversaturated LCD display. If you’re interested in a closer look at AMOLED/LCD saturation, then I highly recommend this video by Erica Griffin.

But it’s not all bad news for AMOLED displays, the technology does have some advantages over LCD. For a start the viewing angle tends to be a bit wider, as light can only travel through the LCDs crystal molecules and polarized panels at a limited angle, although this does vary from handset to handset. LEDs also react faster to changes in voltage than crystal molecules, which means that response times are often faster on AMOLED displays too.

One final point to consider is power consumption. As LCD displays are constantly powered by a backlight they tend to draw more power than OLED based displays, which can turn off LEDs when displaying darker images. However, different colored LEDs have different levels of power consumption, so energy draw is more consistent and predictable when used LCD technology.

Different colored PHOLEDs have unique levels of efficiency and operating lifetimes.

This chart shows the lifespan of different colored PHOLEDs. Although the technology is a little different to AMOLED, the difference in colour lifespans is typical of all LED based displays.

The different LED energy levels can also shorten the lifespan of the displays. The blue pixels in LED displays require the most energy to power, but that also means that they can burn out faster. After a long time this can result in a slight tinting over part or all of an AMOLED display.

So which display wins

I know it’s a cop out, and you might here this a lot, but in the end it really is down to personal preference. Even within the same display types there are varying levels of saturation, gamut, and differences in calibration, so picking the best display type for yourself isn’t really an exact science. You could like HTC’s LCD displays but absolutely hate the look of LG’s. Typically, those looking for more vibrant displays will be better off with AMOLED, but well built and properly calibrated LCDs may provide a more realistic look.

On top of that, each technology has its own advantages and disadvantages that are also worth considering. If you’re looking for a long lasting display then you might be better off with LCD to avoid pixel degradation, whilst consumers looking for a better battery life and a wide range of colors could be better off with AMOLED.

Which type of display do you prefer?

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Comments

  • HTC1maxFAILED
  • bmg1001

    I like AMOLED’s colors, but one important factor that is needed to be considered is Burn-In.

    • http://www.1singur.deviantart.com/ Stefan Dumitrache

      What’s that? It has shorter life?

      • SpeakEzee

        Nah, it means that the display may retain some static images over time like the status bar or keyboard. Like back in the day when plasma TVs first came on the seen, burn in was an issue at the time. I hada S3 with Amoled and I never had any issues tho. I have a Nexus 4 now, better phone but I miss Amoled.

        • Android Developer

          yes i have this issue. they look like ghosty pixels to me.

        • http://www.1singur.deviantart.com/ Stefan Dumitrache

          I assume this would be a problem with static images, but it sounds more like it is a guesstimated problem. Were there any news reporting such problems?

    • lala

      Well it doesnt really matter cus your possibly going to change your phone in 2 or 3 years, and during that time, it isnt likely that your going to get a burn in.

      • nvitone23

        I totally have burn in on my GNex which I’ve had for less than 2 years.

        • simpleas

          i never had a burnin on my GS1 or Note 2. GS1 used over 2 years, GN2, over 1 year.

          • JIN

            Same here i have never ever had a burn in on my OLED Smartphones how do you guys mange to burn your screens do you play lots of mobile games ??

          • sd

            Lots of mobile games is the answer (?)

        • AndroidBoss

          I have the same problem! Like the whole screen has lines in it and there is a big green line at the top of the device. Display is just crap. That’s why I like LCD- on my Nexus 5 it’s awesome.

        • Jakub Vantroba

          Well that’s also an old phone.. technologies improve and so does AMOLED, remember the old HTCs with AMOLED ?

      • RanRu

        Well, you’ll certainly be changing your phone if the screen has been burned in. If you don’t want to *have* to change your phone every couple years, it’s best to avoid screen burn.

        Another consideration would be how this translates to other displays (computer monitors and TVs), where burn-in is a BIG concern. It’s unreasonable to expect someone to buy a new TV every two years.

      • Nick Dion

        I’ve had burn in on 2 six month old Gs3’s

      • Johan Lawless

        Burned in every single AMOLED phone I’ve owned. it’s a complete showstopper for me now. apps like Waze, and presumably other GPS apps for example can do it, but most people have a burnin , or rather a “not burn in” without knowing it, check the area where the software buttons are in upright mode, when in landscape mode. They are in better health than the rest of the display and will probably be brighter.

    • xoj_21

      not an issue since note 2.
      renember LCD backlight also burn in. but not notice able

  • dandroid13

    AMOLED all the way, much better to the eyes!

    • RarestName

      I couldn’t really tell the difference about which one is better between the two unless I see them side by side.

      • lalal

        Try comparing lcd and amoled in the dark with 100% darkness. You can feel that difference. Once you notice it, you can tell thata AMOLED wins all the way

        • RarestName

          Maybe I’m just not that picky :P

        • milandjakovic

          But AMOLED looses big time under direct sunlight

          • bob

            Nope

  • http://www.alerts4it.blogspot.com/ Sami SEO
  • Lorenzo Rey Camejo

    You forgot to say that AMOLED displays are dimmer than LCD displays, which affects outdoor visibility, also even tho AMOLED has awesome blacks, it has very bad whites, because using a combination of RGB is really dificult to produce white light, while LCD display, although blacks are kinda greyish, can produce much whiter whites

    • Geoffrey Medeiros

      This has changed with the note 3, it is the brightest display ever made in a phone. 660 nit brightness.

      • RarestName

        How about in the dark? I’m always blinded by the Galaxy Note at night even when it is set to the lowest brightness.

        • f

          Check out Night Mode in google play, it lets you dim more than the phone does.

          • RarestName

            Those overlay filters look horrible IMO.

          • Chiggles

            Agree, but saves the wife beating me when I’m playing a little late night Candy Crush and she’s trying to sleep.

          • Chiggles

            I personally use Screen Filter with my Note II. It has widgets of which I use 3 with custom presets for quick access to common dimming percentages. Great app.

      • turkerali

        You are mistaken. Check LG Optimus 4X P880, 750 Nits.

      • Carljn

        The Xperia P does over 1000 nit.

        • Pok Wern Wei

          (I know i’m late)
          BUT the Xperia P actually has 2 modes. The normal mode and the outdoor mode (or max power mode?)
          Up to 72% the phone uses its normal screen mode where colours are vibrant as usual. But above that the phone switches to the outdoor mode and the colours become really dull and undersaturated compared to the white levels in order to use the most out of its white subpixel.
          Regardless its 72% is sill brighter than a lot of other phone’s max setting.

  • [A]dri[A]n

    I’ll take LCD any day. Beautiful displays.

    • Bjajjull

      A good calibrated IPS LCD is unbeatable.

      • bob

        Except with a good calibrated amoled display

        • Bjajjull

          Lol, 3 months old article.

          Well, no. An AMOLED can never be as natural as a LCD. It will always be too saturated. If you calibrate the LCD in a good way, the colors will be rich, almost as a AMOLED, and still keep everything natural and correct.

  • Moosa Mahsoom

    I prefer LCD displays….. I could look at one all day……..
    In the future, a newer technology may appear which combines the benefits of the two

    • Andreas

      You can’t combine those two as they are totally different in how they work and one would ruin the other.
      AMOLED Uses LED which means they are like microscopic flashlights changing colors.

      LCD is using a backlight because they can’t light themselves up like LED. Which means LCD Is better at whites, but worse at alive colors, and blacks turn out more gray.
      LED is better at blacks because they can shut down lights fully, also LED has more alive colors as there isn’t an white backlight taking the original colors away.
      LED is also worse than LCD at Whites. Led can suffer from burn-ins if you have something not moving for a very long time on your screen. LCD will most likely not get burn-ins if at all. It’s all personal preference really.
      But i would choose LED because i love real colors without a white feeling in every color.

  • Balraj

    A hybrid will do
    For now lcd..

  • ks1986

    LCD has an advantage over amoled thats screen burns.. Amoled has comparatively lower life span as blue pixels burn soon. may be have a life span of around 2 years. LCD dont have those worries.

    • kris

      good thing i upgrade every 2 years!

  • RarestName

    I’ll show this to the idiot who said that the screens on the iPhones are made by Samsung and therefore, Super AMOLED.

  • Luqmaan Mathee

    Nothing can beat the black on amoled!

    • jayson

      idiot! haha

  • Samsul Nazri

    i like LCD display , although i use galaxy note 3, LCD is brighter than AMOLED under sunshine

  • Poof

    blacks on AMOLED/OLED dont light up, so you wont notice this funny but subtle grey hue when looking at your phone at night

  • khalidalomary

    i just hate the fact that my amoled screens always burn in and i tried everything no solution

    • needa

      23 months with a gs2 and had zero burn in.

      • trwb

        I don’t have burn in but I have a yellow tint in my S3

      • Gil

        Install antutu tester and pay attention to The colors… Likely you’ll find something unpleasant

  • Kiza

    LCD always

  • Harry

    You didn’t mention viewing angles. Although, I’m not entirely sure why AMOLED has great viewing angles…

  • Brendon Brown

    LCD ! Amoled is just toooo saturated ! And LCD is just beautiful

  • Boris Shobat

    I like AMOLED displays mostly for true black color.

  • Ivan Myring

    What about amoled, or a nexus 4 display calibrated to look like one

  • tibor ric

    One of the best displays on the market is the Apple’s iphone 4, 4s, 5 and 5s. They don’t mess with the gamma as othets lcd makers do…

    • antares

      arent iphones use IPS LCD ?

      • Thomas Robinson

        Correct they are just standard IPS LCD displays marketed as ‘Retina’ displays.

  • Cristi13

    Although i tend to like amoled more, i would take any of the two if they are great, like htc one and lg g2 lcds or s4/note 3 amoleds, but not something like sony displays.

  • Dude

    The HTC One X is the first LCD display which I liked. After that, The quality of LCD displays really improved by a huge margin and for the first time, the colour saturation and viewing angles are on par with AMOLED. I’m rocking a Nexus 4 and I’m surprised at how much better it is as compared to my previous phone, the Galaxy S3.

    • needa

      s3 is pentile. the n4 should have a better display. even though the n4 lcd is just about the worst screen on the market.
      not trying to offend.

      • BDPSU

        Worst LCD on the market? Are you HIGH?

        • Henry Green

          It’s not a bad LCD per-say. Just really badly calibrated. Using franco.kernel colours gets me some really nice blacks and less of the washed out look I get on my Nexus 4

  • TruluS

    … or somebody’s trying to drop Samsung off the competition charts? Think about that…

  • APai

    having owned both types of devices, the only thing going for amoled for me is outdoor visibility. or else, who cares about viewing angles – they are all pretty much the same (unless exceptionally bad, as with cheaper phones)

  • needa

    i definitely prefer amoled. at least… rgb amoled. i have never used a pentile and i dont think i want to. before my moto x was the gs2, and be fore the gs2 were iphones. cept for a three week stint with the n4. i like the way amoled pops. i also like that the leds can be turned off to produce blacks.

    so rgb amoled>lcd but lcd>amoled pentile. at least the current gen pentiles coming from samsung are overcoming the short blue lifespans. so i guess there are positives within all of the screen types.

    typo: and you might ‘here’ this a lot

  • William To

    I think that AMOLED display gives us better photos on the phone, but as we put it on another LCD display, say on a computer, the quality of the photos went from 10 to only 7 (according to my experience using Galaxy S3).

  • EvenInTheDarkestHour

    I love the crisp lcd, but amoled is nice when you can adjust the saturation. I have experienced burn-in on 2 GNex phones with the notification bar and on-screen buttons. Had anyone else had this?

  • Corruptiondee

    I’ve always been a hardcore AMOLED fan, but recent IPS LCD displays have been giving them a run for their money. AMOLED displays always have punchier colors and contrast than pretty much any display tech, which makes them more eye catching. However, AMOLED are less accurate, have worse outdoor visibility, and can suffer from burn-in. Starting in 2012, the retina iPad and the HTC One X blew me away. They had great image quality and better fine detail than AMOLED. I thought the Galaxy S4 had a great screen, until I got my hands on the LG G2. Its the best of both worlds. I love the Note 3, but the screen is better on the LG G2. LCDs are improving, so AMOLED no longer wins by a landslide. Also, RGB is ALWAYS better than pentile.

  • GigaCode

    LCD display I was a amoled fan btw.

  • Anthony Walker

    After using my S4 for a few months and then going back to the Nexus 4, the Nexus 4 looks really dull. I like the punchy colors of amoled.

    • BDPSU

      You like “punchy” (unreal, cartoon-like) color? To each his own I guess.

      • Anthony Walker

        It’s not cartoon-like. The colors are just rich. It’s like the difference between a pale looking person and someone with a tan.

        • BDPSU

          I don’t agree – at all.

  • Groud Frank

    Those lovely screen burns on my phone is a constant reminder that I once used a vanilla jellybean launcher to cover up that ugly touchwiz.

  • rebirthofcool

    this debate won’t end in the near

  • trwb

    While I think LCD looks washed out a bit, the amoled screen on my sgs3 has developed a yellow tint and I don’t like that.

  • Manuel

    Who cares… I am color blind… lol

  • Darren

    I’ve only owned 2 devices. The GNex and Nexus 7 2013. Gotta say I love the IPS LCD on the Nexus 7 over the Super AMOLED HD on my GNex. At first, it looked like crap compared to my GNex because the blacks on the Nexus 7 looks greyish at high brightness. But after using it for a while, switching back to my GNex, the AMOLED looked like crap with the oversaturated blues and a little tint of yellow. I immediately tweak the color calibration so it would look more like LCD. Still, both displays are great because of the high pixel density. I agree with this article, each technology has its advantages and disadvantages. I think pixel density is more important than LCD vs AMOLED.

    • bob

      And I see it the exact opposite way with my note3 and nexus10

  • Andrew Tan

    Since Galaxy S4 time, AMOLED is great in color reproduction especially Note 3. :)

  • Mystery Man

    I like my true blacks

  • RobIcarus

    I like amoled for active notification type things. Other than that, couldn’t really care.

  • simpleas

    So get AMOLED. What I already knew thanks… PS Samsung makes the best LCDs as well as Amoleds.

    • BDPSU

      Yeah, get AMOLED – if you like the over-saturated cartoon look. Some people do.

      • simpleas

        Oh you meant most realistic color reproduction? Stated by display mate. At least make some damn sense if youre gonna troll

        • BDPSU

          First of all, I think you’ve got it backwards. Did you even read the article?

          Secondly, do you know what Trolling is?

          • Thomas Robinson

            Well BDPSU, you clearly didn’t read it as it confirms exactly what simpleas was saying in that the Note 3 has what is considered the best colour reproduction of any OLED phone.

            Admittedly, AMOLED should be worse than LCD for colour reproduction but in this case he could be right. The problem is though that is there is only a handful of phones that have been made with both technologies giving a true comparison.

            One such phone being the Google Nexus One (aka HTC Passion). I have had both the AMOLED and the S-LCD version and can say that the only advantage that AMOLED has over LCD is it’s perfect blacks. I have had to tweak the colour calibrations on my Samsung Galaxy Nexus just to get white to look white and not yellow/green.

            AMOLED is great, but LCD is just better – that is my opinion and nobody else will ever change my opinion. I’m not telling you all that you’re wrong for preferring one or the other, it’s your choice at the end of the day.

            The definition of trolling; http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/trolling?s=t

          • BDPSU

            Uh, you are citing his 3rd post with a link to Gizmodo – which I did not respond to. He posted that days after my last response. He did not mention the Note 3 in any of his earlier posts.

            Anything I referred to was in regards to the article on this page.

        • HdzBlue

          “Most realistic color reproduction.”
          ….
          You’re joking right?

  • http://www.youtube.com/user/tsrocketqueen/videos kasterkumar

    thanks i really didnt know the diff

  • Bob

    One thing ive noticed (this is off topic) of Samsung Galaxy S THREE’s phones is that the viewing angle is terrible. Also, whites aren’t white at all, its yellow. the colours and hue of galaxy s3 is absolutely terrible

    • Thomas Robinson

      That’s not specifically a problem with the S3 – that is AMOLED in general.

    • mjh49783ab

      Have to agree. I’ve had my GS3 for about a year and a half, and the colors on the display are just not like how it used to be. The whites are also having a yellow tint to it as well.

      Just the screen in general is not as bright as it used to be, and what was once difficult to use out in the sun is now next to impossible even at the highest brightness setting, which just destroys the battery life which was never very satisfactory to begin with.

      Yeah, I’m ready to upgrade, and the G3 might just be the right fit for me.

  • Dimitar Gospodinov

    Erica rulzz…

  • Vishank Shah

    I need to study to understand this post.

  • Doug Carey

    I’ve had my Droid Razr for almost a year with no noticeable burn-in with heavy use. So I tend to think that, while it’s certainly relevant, the “burn in issue” may be a bit exaggerated. I will say this though: a major point that the author didn’t address is that AMOLED displays tend to use a pen-tile arrangement, as opposed to an RGB stripe arrangement, which has a noticeable effect on the perceived resolution. This is because AMOLED display has fewer sub-pixels. Thus, sub 330 ppi on a pen-tile display has noticeable (albeit slight) pixelation, whereas 330 ppi on an RGB display has basically no visible pixelation.

  • FrillArtist

    AMOLED IS TERRIBLE! Period.

  • JIN

    AMOLED vs LCD – What is the difference? LCD is GARBAGE END OF STORY!!!

  • itzvarma

    So, LCD’s natural and long lasting .. OMOLED’s – saturated colors.. i guess animations will look well on Omleds and for everything else LCD’s ..

  • grammar nazi

    you spelt hear wrong.

    • http://www.pavelkounine.com/ Pavel Kounine

      Spelt is a type of wheat. Did you mean “spelled”? Some grammar nazi you are!

  • iellov

    I’m enjoying my Nokia E7 using it’s AMOLED :)

  • jiseoqe

    Recently I was really, really low on money and debts were eating me from all sides! That was UNTIL I decided to make money.. on the internet. I went to surveymoneymaker dot net, and started filling in surveys for cash, and surely I’ve been far more able to pay my bills! I’m so glad, I did this!!! – ihbn

    • Finland

      Amoiled is superior in cold weather, it doesn’t slow at all.

  • Evan Samdahl

    Samsung Galaxy Note3 is day and night vs SGN2 or SGS3. Whites are much better, color saturation more real. No green/blue hue over the screen like the SGS3 or SGN2. Love the contrast for reading and all my pictures get positive comments. LCD displays stress my eyes making reading uncomfortable. My laptop is HD LCD but my Note3 is AMOLED. My preference AMOLED

  • AJ

    Samsung’s Super AMOLED is even better! Yay 100th comment

  • Diddly

    amoleds seem to have worse viewing angles, everything gets a blue tinge once you go beyond 20 degrees from normal. Seen on Samsung galaxy note 3.

  • king

    i was a fan of AMOLED but nw i want to go with LCD
    i dont want my phone to go ugly sooner than an LCD phone

  • GK15

    Maybe it’s just me, but AMOLED displays on Samsung phones always have this weird bluish look to them.

    I just upgraded from Nokia Lumia 920 to 1020, which uses an AMOLED, and I’m def gonna miss my old LCD screen..

  • pallu

    a little surprised by some of the comments. I have a Samsung Galaxy S. No burn-ins, nothing.

  • Liviu Copaci

    i don’t like the amoled it’s oversaturated and for now i use an ips hd diplay on my phone that doesn’t create problems in direct sunlight

  • mjh49783ab

    Can I see the damn screen outside in sunlight?!? That’s all I really care about!

  • Dwayne Marshall

    I REALLY DON’T HAVE A PREFFERENCE BUT IF THE PHONE GIVE’S OFF THAT GOOD LOOK ON THE SCREEN SAVORS THAN THAT’S THE ONE I WILL LEAN TOWARD,TILL THEN SAMSUNG AND LG KEEP HOLDING IT DOWN FOR US COMPLICATED SMART PHONE USERS

  • Sergio A. Guzmán

    I prefer AMOLED. Always I’ve preferred a little color-saturated scenarios, and AMOLED screens gives me that sensation of “lively” colors. Also I like the black-representation on AMOLED, it’s fine, elegant. Also viewing-angle is good.
    Possibly a con is the screen-burn-in, a little, like in old CRT-screens… but that’s not a big deal, almost for me :)

  • Zachary James

    iad burn within a few weeks with droid razr maxx

  • The Witcher

    As you already know, the screen is the more battery consumer, so, which screen type saves more battery? or consumes low than the other?