Home > Reviews > HD screen size battle moves to the smartphones – in search for the golden ratio

HD screen size battle moves to the smartphones – in search for the golden ratio

The iPhone 4 960×640 'retina' resolution started the race, then Samsung brought in a quality 16:10 1280×800 display to the 5-inch smartphone level. And now, some vendors are introducing 16:9 720p displays on the new high-end offerings. Can the phones, at least, avoid the moviescreen format fiasco that befell the desktop and mobile PC realms?

Like them or not, Apple did keep one very commendable thing going on: they didn't give in to the panel makers' idiocy with few-cents panel cut saving by enforcing the 16:9 moviescreen monstruosity onto the PC ecosystem. The iPad line had and will likely continue to keep the ergonomically most suitable 4:3 format for their tablets, whether it's 1024×768 at the low end or the 2048×1536 retina stuff, expected for their new cream of the crop this year.

Also, the iPhone 4 brought along the 3:2 960×640 (note, not 'qHD' narrow 960×540 !) resolution, which was ahead of all other phones at the end of 2010. The combination of very high resolution and useful aspect ratio, where you could easily read a web page or even a document either in the vertical or horizontal mode, proved to be one of the key benefits of Apple's otherwise overpriced gadget.

Other vendors also innovated here – the last year's Samsung Galaxy Note, while equally overpriced and based on the old Android 2.3, did bring along the 1280×800 screen, at the very acceptable 16:10 'golden ratio' format, to the 5-inch 'supersize smartphone' or 'mini tablet', call it as you wish, hybrid market that seems to be popular even with office girls on Hong Kong streets, as this author saw earlier this month. Keep in mind, this is the same resolution as most 10-inch tablets!

The 16:10 ratio here is not only good because it is the basis of natural order of harmony, and both Great Pyramid and the human body use it as a key to the proportions – over the years, it was proven that, on the high-res monitors, this 16:10 ratio allows you to see two pages side by side, without having to scroll! I have played with the Galaxy Note, and actually, with good eyesight, you could see the whole A4 page document very clearly in the vertical mode, with just enough extra space for the necessary buttons and such, unlike the wasted spaces on the 16:9 moviescreens.

Talking about those, this week's MWC in Barcelona will showcase several major vendors' models with, guess what, 16:9 720p HD – meaning 1280×720 – resolution screens, in the 4 to 5 inch class. Yes, it is an improvement over the 800×480 high end baseline resolution seen in the past 18 months, however the only real benefit it brings is that the phones can be made even more narrow for sexy looks in some cases. Otherwise, a narrow screen will make these phones useful for Web and other major content again more in the horizontal mode, when the hated scrolling, non stop seen in the destkop and mobile moviescreens, becomes necessary for any content review.

Since they are going with these progressively larger screens yet in the elongated 16:9 format, at the very least the vendors could follow Samsung or Apple's examples and introduce units with useful screen ratios for more beneficial work. The phones are a very competitive market these days, and there is more differentiation than in the PC space. The screen proportions and quality, together with the resolution, are one of important features that distinguish them, so let's be 'braver' and not follow the panel peddlers dictate?

Nebojsa Novakovic
In the spare time over the past two decades, editor and writer of high-end computer hardware and design features and analysis for European and US media and analyst houses. Reviews of high end hardware are my specialty for 28 years already.

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