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Smartphone Displays: Is the 1080p display really necessary?

When Verizon announced yesterday its new line-up of Droids, the Motorola Droid Mini, Ultra and Maxx, the most controversial design decision was the use of a 720p (720 x 1280 pixel resolution), instead of a 1080p (1080 x 1920 pixel resolution) display on the 5-inch Droid Ultra and Maxx.

The Motorola X Phone to be launched in August this year also is rumored to come with a 720p display, this one being of the 4.5 or 4.7-inch variety. BlackBerry is also reportedly equipping its new flagship phone, the A10 or “Aristo”, with a 5-inch 720p display. Is this a trend towards a more rationale display resolution? A 5-inch 1080p display crams in a staggering 441 pixels per inch (ppi). A 720p display of the same size still packs an impressive 294 ppi.

When 1080p displays first came out last year, I was wondering whether another bump up in display resolution was necessary, while at the same time excited about the thought of having the equivalent of a handheld Full HD TV. When I got my hands on one, I was not too impressed.

Samsung Galaxy S III on the left, and the Galaxy S 4 on the right
Samsung Galaxy S III on the left, and the Galaxy S 4 on the right

Can you tell the difference? In determining whether 1080p displays necessary for devices not larger 5-inches in size I compared  a Samsung Galaxy S III and a Samsung Galaxy S 4. The Galaxy S III has a 4.8-inch, 720p display, which comes out to 306 ppi. The Galaxy S 4 has a 5-inch, 1080p display, which has 441 ppi. Both smartphones phones have Super AMOLED displays.

The 0.2-inch difference in screen size is more apparent to me, than the additional 1.2 million pixels
The 0.2-inch difference in screen size is more apparent to me, than the additional 1.15 million pixels

I do not find the much sharper display of the Galaxy S 4 significantly better than the one on the Galaxy S III.

Each person will have to decide for themselves, so I have a full 16 MP shot of the picture above which you can download at the link below.

Galaxy S III and Galaxy S 4, screen comparison (2.8 MB)

Benefits of a 720p display, over 1080p. A 720p display has a total of 921,600 pixels. A 1080p display has a total of 2,073,600 pixels, or more than twice as many. This means the graphics processor has to work harder powering up a 1080p display and a 720p display. This would mean that it would also consume more power. Unfortunately, I do not have the figures to determine how much more power a 1080p display consumes as compared to a 720p display. But the Samsung Galaxy S III ships with a 8-watt hour battery, while the Galaxy S IV has a 9.88-watt hour battery. So it would probably be safe to say that battery saving would be somewhere around 10%.

So, do you think 1080p displays are a must have, or do they just unnecessarily consume battery life?