Good Displays Aren't Only About Pixels
Ever since Apple came out with a "Retina Display" and touted its "ppi" (pixels per inch), everyone has been going nuts trying to cram more pixels into a screen. And generally, yes, the more pixels in a given space, the sharper the image will look. But pixels or resolution aren't the only things that go into making a good screen. I've seen many phones that have qVGA (960x540) resolution look better than an HD (1280x720) screen. And the same goes for HD displays that look better than FullHD (1920x1080) screens.
A mobile phone's display depends on various factors apart from the pixels. There's the type of panel usedyou've probably heard of jargon like AMOLED, LCD, IPS and more being thrown around. There's the image processor, like Sony's touted Mobile Bravia Engine. Even the type of scratch-resistant glass coating has an effect on the quality of the display. Several factors have to come together to make for a good-looking display and just amping up onelike the resolutionisn't going to help.
So Why Are Pixels Talked About So Much
There's a pretty simple explanation for why resolution becomes the most talked-about factor: it has cold numbers where bigger is better. It's really that simple. In cameras, the technology behind producing a good image is much more than what your megapixel count is, but we have reached a point where most people mistakenly believe "more megapixels = better camera."
Similarly, in displays, the rest of the technology involved isn't easy to understand or explaineven in the course of research for this article, I haven't got a grasp on all aspects yet. But a simple measure of numbers, where bigger is better, is something anyone can easily digest and hence this is the point which companies like to boast.
The Real-World Test
I have long maintained that for phones around 5 inches, it is difficult to tell an HD screen apart from a FullHD one unless you are going to be inspecting it very closely. Most people would hold the phone at the level of their elbow or perhaps a few inches closer. At that distance, I reckoned that an HD and a FullHD screen can't easily be told apart. With intense scrutiny, yes, but for regular usage, it doesn't make much of a difference.
So I put my theory to test by laying out eight 5-inch phones and one 5.2-inch phone next to each other, some of which were HD and some of which were FullHD. They were all running the same game or ebook, and most people weren't able to tell the difference.
I replicated this test one more time with the Samsung Galaxy Grand 2 and its 5.2-inch HD screen, pitting it against the Micromax Canvas Turbo's 5-inch FullHD screen. Without mentioning resolutions or sizes, I asked people which of the two phones had a better screen. Of the 13 people who saw both, 12 picked the Grand 2 as a better display. The reason was either because it's "more colourful" or "looks brighter."
Yup, the screen with the lower resolution was almost unanimously the one people liked more.
What This Means For You
The point, of course, is that resolution or pixel counts alone do not make a better screen. In some cases, there is a noticeable differencelike when you compare a WVGA (800x480) screen with an HD one. But especially at HD resolution on 5-inch screens, it becomes difficult to tell those apart from a FullHD one. If you go up in size, perhaps FullHD would matter more, like with a 6-inch smartphone.
So the next time you are shopping for a phone and if it's around 5 inches, as long as the resolution says "HD" or 1280x720 pixels, start to look at the other features. Spending any extra or buying inferior processors and RAM for the pleasure of a FullHD screen is not the smart decision.