Do black interfaces really save power on AMOLED displays?

by: Rob TriggsOctober 22, 2014
1.5K

samsung galaxy note 4 ui aa 7

AMOLED vs LCD display technology is a long running dispute. One of the most commonly touted benefits of AMOLED is additional power saving when the display contains mostly black or darkened pixels. This is particularly important as displays are the biggest battery drainers, but is it really true?

The theory behind this claim is quite simple. LEDs require less current when less brightly lit, and black pixels are just LEDs that are turned off, therefore requiring no power at all. LCD displays, on the other hand, use a backlight that is on even when displaying black pixels. Instead the light filter blocks light coming from the backlight, but power is still being consumed. Ergo, AMOLED is more energy efficient that LCD when displaying blacks.

To put this theory to the test, Greenbot grabbed the latest Moto X, which features a 1080p AMOLED display, and an app to measure current drawn from the battery. The amount of current draw was then measure at repeated intervals using two different display modes on the Reddit Sync app, which switches between colored and mostly black backgrounds.

Reddit Sync AMOLED mode

Left –  Reddit Sync normal mode. Right – AMOLED friendly night mode

Of course, this type of test can’t take into account power draw from other components. However, the test aimed to limit the impact of other processes by killing background tasks, sticking the Moto X into aeroplane mode, and setting the display at a constant 50 percent brightness. Time for the results.

amoled-power-chart

The theory holds true. Using the AMOLED setting in the Reddit Sync app indeed helped to cut current draw, prolonging the device’s battery life. Power consumption was down 41 percent overall compared with the full colour version, which is a pretty decent energy saving.

Of course, individual scenarios will vary and there aren’t that many apps which offer black background options to help AMOLED devices save on battery life. The other half of the argument is that LCD has a lower current draw at high brightness settings than AMOLED, meaning that AMOLED isn’t necessarily a efficient as LCD to begin with.

AMOLED handset owners might be able to squeeze an extra hour or two out of their handsets, so long as they can find black background versions of their most popular apps. Debate settled?

  • Bala

    its been proven again and again when it comes to amoled screen, ill change the background to dark once i get my hands on note 4

    • sachouba

      Because the app you’re going to use the most is the home screen ?

      • Stanley08

        @bala_gamer:disqus he did burn you tho! Good one mate!

      • Jesus

        That’s a start, at least…

      • druider

        yes! my most used app IS the home screen!
        i seldomly enter any app. most of what i do, i do with widgets!
        sms, gmail, facebook, calendar, etc…

      • balajee

        You don’t know with whom you are speaking, he is the famous BalaTheGamer from XDA, the modder himself

    • Stanley08

      Lol. Bala

  • Boonlumsion Piyapon

    and lcd display take less energy when background is white (but not set hight brightness)

    • Andreas Larsson

      No, lcd displays have the same energy consumption regardless of color

      • MWisBest

        I’m pretty sure he meant in comparison to AMOLED.

    • Paco Inurreta

      Actually it takes less energy with black, not white.

      • Boonlumsion Piyapon

        lcd display have two parth. backlight and liquid-crystal panel.

        – Backlight give white color. When you say reduce brightness. it’s mean dim backlight. yes it’s save energy.
        – Liquid-crystal panel is use enagy to filter other color out. so white & bright color will save enagy on Liquid-crystal panel.

  • besik tsimakuridze

    AMOLED displays have best black color either.

  • Formhault

    What app was used to measure current draw? Battery Monitor Widget? Yeah, that app doesn’t always provide correctly value reads…

    • MWisBest

      It should be accurate relative to itself though.

  • Sirajuddin

    There are ROMs like Slimkat that provide a completely black option. This is probably why Samsung sticks AMOLED in everything and has that ultra battery saving mode work so well. Moto X also uses that to make Active Display work that wonderful way.

  • Allanz Abesamis Juntilla Jr.

    Samsung Galaxy S5 Ultra Power saving mode has this… you can set your display in Gray scale mode

    • Abdelrahman

      And even in the normal power saving mode. You’ll find it with a long click on it from the quick settings. I have it enabled most of the time while using phone normally

  • Abel p.

    It also helps really well when watching a movie, because there are a lot dark scenes and spots in movies.

  • Alvyn Kazeki Augustine

    I set black wallpaper to my phone so only widgets and icon are colored. And I can say it only took 25% battery.

  • Clarence Alvarado

    So how will it fare with Android Lollipop when the Material Design is mostly on high white and in full colors?

    • Guest

      Well, how often do you use the app drawer or go to the settings menu? Personally, I have all of my most-used apps on the homescreen, so I would never need to go to the drawer. I think with project volta, it shouldn’t be a problem either way. While blacks do save power on AMOLEDs, it’s not a significant enough power save for me to

  • Chris Hilbert

    I always see comments about screen burn in on AMOLED. I’ve never experienced this myself on AMOLED devices though, but always a concern when I’m buying a new device.

    • Gidz

      My Galaxy Nexus, which also uses AMOLED, has Ingress UI elements burned in the screen. Can see the icons, and some buttons on the screen when displaying plain colors.

      • Laborin_HK

        High five ingress brethren! I have L8 burned deep into my screen as well (long past that though haha)

    • deepen915

      Was true before. Not anymore. I had an S4 and now have an S5 for 6 months with no issues

    • namesib

      It’s still an issue (the status bar and some icons are visible on my S4 on grey screens), but it’s definitely not as bad as it was (compared to my S2, anyway).

    • Sean

      I noticed that the Note 3s at bestbuy have ungodly screen burn in. Everything for the past week was on it, absolutely terrible.
      The LCD screens didn’t reflect the same issues. Both screens have their issues. I still prefer the tried and true LCD. OLED, especially on TVs, just arent there yet. 2300 for an OLED tv with blue led life of about 1500 hours, not good

    • Tom Z

      It is a real problem. My buttons on the bottom of the screen are burned in. The status bar is also burned. You can really see it when playing full screen videos. Yes it is a problem.

    • Skyler Wallace

      AMOLED screen burn in is real. You’d have to use the phone for quite a long time to experience it though. If you do experience it, it can actually be fixed easily by downloading apps that fix screen burn in.

    • Jesus

      I’ve had a chat with users, and people in stores.

      It’s basically an issue, IF YOU HAVE YOUR SCREEN ON 24/7, like the ones for display in stores.

      So for general users, it’s not an issue.

    • My friend got a Note 1 display unit at a good price. It had slight burn in (you could see the negative image of the demo screen on white backgrounds). He didn’t notice, I didn’t tell him.

      I used my Note 1 quite a lot for navigation. By the end of the 18 months I had it, the speed limit sign was permanently showing (faintly) :-H I was still able to sell that phone, the buyer knew what she was getting.

  • Bryan Lee

    One thing I absolutely HATE about AMOLED that EVERYONE always ignores — AMOLED suffers from severe screen burn. Nobody ever talks about it but it affects me because I want to keep my device for more than 2 years. My previous device (Note n7000) had terrible burn ins on the nav-buttons and status bar.

    • The-Sailor-Man

      iBS LOL

    • Sergio A. Guzmán

      That’s a very BIG inconvenience of Amoled displays, I wonder if in LCD can exists that issue

      • Sean

        LCDs can theoretically burn it but it seems to be very uncommon these days. The technology is just so old and refined but certainly possible.

    • MWisBest

      It’s a matter of how well you take care of it. Having 5+ minute screen timeouts, always using the same wallpaper and home screen layout, etc. isn’t going to do you any favors.

    • the human tripod

      How does burn in effect resale value? Are these phones basicly junk once it occurs?

  • Chris

    I’ve love to see the HTC one m9 have AMOLED. but I know that’s highly unlikely

    • The-Sailor-Man

      HTC who???

      • Chris

        You’re joking tight?

        • MWisBest

          t.

          • Chris

            ?

          • MWisBest

            You originally said “You’re joking, tight?”. You’ve apparently corrected your comment since.

  • MasterMuffin

    Nexus 9 with AMOLED would have been perfection (and well, 16:9, don’t hate me)

    • Cole Raney

      God yes, 16:9 aspect ratio should have been implemented. Some people say web browsing is better in 4:3, but I have never experienced a problem browsing with a 16:9 display. Even if it was a little more convenient to have a 4:3 for web browsing, it is not worth the big black bars in videos in my opinion.

      • MasterMuffin

        90% of my tablet usage is Youtube/other source of videos and the rest is piano app (more keys in 16:9 (school thing btw)) or internet, so 16:9 is perfect for me!

    • Andrew T Roach

      Sorry, I’m on the other side. The side that Google’s on.

      4:3 ALL DAY for tablets. Because the only thing I use them for is web browsing and games.

      Don’t you guys have a Chromecast or Apple TV? I don’t watch a single video on a small screen in my house. I watch it on the big screen TV.

      • MasterMuffin

        Some people go to places outside of home you know? :P

        • Andrew T Roach

          People that carry tablets around are the butt of every joke being made around them.

          99% of tablet usage is in the house.

          Like I said. Google agrees.

          • MasterMuffin

            No, people who film with their tablets are that. It’s a portable computer, it’s ment for that purpose… I for example need it for school work and watch videos while not working.

            99% of statistics are made up on the spot. Or at least yours is.

          • Happy

            Define school work.

          • MasterMuffin

            Work you do at school…

      • Tracey T

        I sort of agree. I do like the 4:3 ratio for tablets, but the biggest issue is – Android has literally no apps optimized for 4:3. Hell, even developers haven’t optimized their apps properly for the 16:9/10 tablets!

      • Same now that I have a Chromecast device I don’t watch videos on my phone I just save them as Watch Later and wait until I get home.

      • Cole Raney

        Games don’t seem to really benefit from 4:3. The wider 16:9 works better with games most of the time In my opinion. As for web browsing, really how much benefit is there on 4:3? I really am curious because most of my browsing has been 16:9. I would say that 16:9 web browsing works perfectly well.

    • Chris Roble

      16:10 ftw

      • MasterMuffin

        2.40:1 FTW

    • sachouba

      So a Galaxy Tab S with a stock Android ROM would be perfection, wouldn’t it ?

      • MasterMuffin

        Nah

      • hahmed330

        Galaxy Tab S with Tegra K1 denver edition, with gamestream support, twitch shadowplay, direct stylus,Gamepad mapper, Android L stock, a much bigger battery (sacrifice slimness for a bigger battery) and attachable quality controller thingy (imagine a giant shield)…

  • All I care is that black/darker background is friendly to my eyes, especially when I’m using it at night.

  • xMelBurNx

    Maybe blacks are more black on the amoled ,but then , which shows more real colours? Black its just one colour. The one looks more natural its the LCD.
    I have the HTC One M8 and all images and photos looks more accuarte to the real than the amoled. Not fake colours please! And the battery its better on the M8 with 7 hours against the s5 or moto x or LG g3 with 5 hours and 15 minutes

    • The-Sailor-Man

      This bashing AMOLED “real colours” BS is too old. If you want REAL COLOURS and best display EVER- buy Samsung high end phone. Period
      (you will have as bonus many great colour modes , too. Not old tech displays please!)

      • xMelBurNx

        Its the s5 makes realistic colours? No ,like i said before, it helps the amoled screen to save battery? No
        yes its more vibrant and pops out more pf the screen ,but it is real or not the colours shows?
        Sony,HTC and iPhone are more natural in their screen than the Samsungs
        Amolrd its too saturated ,but at least it can be set on settings but out of the box, the colours what shows isnt real!

        • Andreas Larsson

          Grow up, both the s5 and the note 4 have proven to have the most accurate colors on any smartphone, even besting the iPhones

          • bakakun028

            I agree with note 4 but not the s5

          • xMelBurNx

            i didnt metioned note 4 screen, the s5 screen its a piece of dump compared to the note 4, but as I said before, it doesnt helps to sabe battery the amoled screens

    • bakakun028

      blame it on Android for not having proper color management

    • Chris

      *color

      • 1. Black is not a colour.
        2. Colour is how the rest of the world spells it. Don’t be an ugly American.

        • Chris

          you seem angry, dont be mad that america hates you mr ISIS fighter…

        • Justin

          Crawl back in your spider hole. ‘Murica, nuff said.

    • SaRPeR

      You now there is a setting that makes AMOLED screens show more realistic colors right ? Note 3, Note 4, S5 all have this feature.

    • Happy

      If you want true colours with hyper high pixel density, just look up from your phone :-)

  • Lilith_Black

    Sadly, I would prefer to sacrifice battery life for looks (I really don’t like a black bg for my homescreen/lockscreen compared to beautiful wallpapers)

  • carol argo

    I would take a picture in monochrome black smallest avail (nexus 4)if monochrome was avail)why without monochrome,this wallpaper is 4kb in size.yep very small footprint.

  • Foosa Noble

    Google please give us a “dark or night mode” for docs!!!!!!! please so we can work at night or in bed with out blinding blue tinted screen !!!!

  • Andrew T Roach

    Yes It works.

    I run Carbon ROM and use dark theme for menus and pure black background with an HTC One S. 1640mah battery. 5 1/2 hours on screen.

  • Yuri Vidal

    And then Google releases Android 5.0 will mostly white menus and backgrounds….. wtf?

  • Kev

    Screen power was 45% until changing to black background now 28%. Moto X 2013. Got to be worth it!

  • crutchcorn

    Exactly the reason why I like AMOLED

  • Oobiewan

    I don’t think this difference in battery life is significant when actually using a phone. What matters, though, is that the blacks on an amoled are actually blacks, while there’s always some light coming through the black pixels of the LCD. I.e. the contrast ratio is technically infinitesimally higher on AMOLED.

  • Dan Vikkelsø

    What has to be noted though is that the AMOLED display will only shut off it’s pixels if the given color is completely black. #000000 will result in a completely black pixel, while a lighter variation will not and thus keep the pixel live.

  • vintereshwara

    AMOLED possible cannot replace LCD’s right? There has got to be some advantages of an LCD screen.

  • Pumpkin King

    They have best low power consumption with blacks and darks.
    But are also overall less power consuming.
    Especially the note 4. At 5.7inch qhd can be up to 40% less power consuming than 5 inch 1080p LCD’s.
    Even does among the best in Web browsing when whites draw more power in Amoled

  • Germán R.

    I have a rooted Note 3, running 4.4.2 with stock Samsung rom and currently using a mod that allows having Ultra Power Saving Mode with the greyscale setting. It does improve battery life greatly.