Stop the Madness: LG Announces ‘Quad HD’ Smartphone Screen

So many pixels, so little ability to actually see them.

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When 1080p displays started showing up in smartphones, I figured there was no way phone makers would try to push screen resolution even higher. Pixel density on smartphones is already well beyond the limit of what our eyes can see. Surely, phone makers would now turn their focus to more important matters like battery efficiency, right?

Wrong, at least for LG. The company’s display division has just announced its first “Quad HD” LCD panel, with a 5.5-inch, 2560-by-1440 resolution screen. That’s 538 pixels per inch–by far the highest density on any mobile display.

For comparison’s sake, Apple coined the term “Retina Display” a few years ago for screens whose individual pixels cannot be distinguished at normal viewing distances. For the iPhone, that pixel density is 326 ppi. LG’s display packs in 65 percent more pixels. It’s the definition of overkill.

LG is touting some other benefits to this Quad HD display, though they have little to do with the screen resolution itself. The panel is supposedly the thinnest in the world, and has the narrowest bezel, allowing for svelter phones.

But these aren’t major advancements. LG’s 1080p panel is only 12 percent thicker, so phone makers would only be able to shave off 0.13 millimeters at most. That’s assuming they wouldn’t have to include bigger batteries to compensate for the extra processing power required by the higher-resolution screens. Not surprisingly, LG makes no claims about power efficiency in its press release.

The only benefit LG claims about the increased resolution itself is that it “will enable users to enjoy a full view of PC-version web pages at a single glance without image distortion; a contrast to current Full HD displays which only realize 3/4th of a full screen.” I think what LG is saying is that if you hold a 1080p phone upright, the page will only run 1080 pixels wide. If a website is designed for a typical 1366-by-768 resolution laptop, images will appear distorted.

Still, that’s a pretty far-out claim given that you probably zoom in most web pages just to make the text readable. Besides, many websites route smartphone users to mobile-optimized pages regardless of screen resolution. (And for what it’s worth, when looking at zoomed-out pages on a 1080p phone, I can’t say that image distortion is something I’ve noticed or cared about.)

My concern here is that phone makers will snap up LG’s technology and start marketing “Quad HD” as something that everyone needs, when there are actually no significant benefits. While on some level this isn’t much different from the race to add more processing cores or camera megapixels to a phone, at least those advancements help push performance forward. We always want raw power and camera resolution to improve in smartphones, even if there are better ways to measure performance. The promise of Quad HD, however, seems completely empty–a supposed benefit that you’ll never be able to see.