AH Primetime: QHD Versus FHD And The Tyranny Of Numbers

AH Galaxy Note 4 19

2015 is here and a whole new bunch of smartphones are en route. That also means a whole bunch of numbers and stats will also be on their way. These days, it seems we do not buy smartphones, or TV's or cars (or anything for that matter) based on the actual product but instead on a bunch of numbers that are theoretically contained within. The 'Tyranny of Numbers' problem. Both consumers and manufacturers seem to believe that the only way forward is more, or for the culturally modern speakers out there 'MOAR'. One of those specs which is consistently thrown at the public when a new device is released is the resolution of the display. This is nearly always the first piece of information a user gets. To provide the size of the screen is not nearly enough. As most tech enthusiasts will tell you, it is the resolution that matters. Then again, the next "more advanced" tech enthusiasts will further tell you – it's not the resolution, but it's the pixel per inch (ppi) density. Welcome to the world of the QHD and FHD displays.

Although this is not an age old argument in the true sense of being 'ages old', it does feel like one. Every six months the debate seems to pop up again. For background purposes, most flagship devices now released, come with either an FHD (Full HD) display, which typically is set at 1080 x 1920 resolution or a QHD (Quad HD) display which is set at 1440 x 2560 resolution. Although, the 'full' in FHD would lead newbies to assume this is the better, it is not. QHD is the one you are supposed to be wanting. However, in spite of being considered lesser, some would argue that FHD is more than enough and technically more than your eye can understand.


You see, there is no doubt that on paper, QHD is better. It simply is. However, there are so many factors in play when it comes to 'a good picture' that the context of what is better, shifts. For instance, the processor, the light, environment, color and the list goes on. Not to mention the screen size will also affect the overall image. To make the example clearer. Take the HTC One range. 2014's flagship HTC was the One M8, while 2013 offered the One M7. Both devices came with a 1080 x 1920 display. The One M8 was newer and yet the ppi was less with a 441 compared to the ppi on the M7 which was a massive 469 (bigger than a lot of 2014's devices actually). So why, the downgrade in ppi for the M8? Well, it was not international and one of the main reasons was the One M7 comes with a smaller screen, measuring 4.7" compared to the M8's 5" screen (likewise with many other 2014 devices).

However, to go back to the original argument, this is where QHD is definitely better. Take the Oppo Find 7 which was the first device to come with a QHD display. This device had a 5.5" display, which is bigger than both the HTC offerings and likewise the ppi was massive in comparison coming in at 538 ppi. That said, even within the QHD realm there are the same inner differences, like screen size playing a role. The Google Nexus 6 comes with QHD and a 5.9" screen which results in a ppi of 493. In contrast, the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 also comes with QHD but a smaller 5.7" screen which results in a ppi of 515. To further illustrate the point, the Samsung Galaxy Note Edge comes with QHD and a 5.6" display. Slightly smaller than the Note 4 but with a slightly higher ppi of 525. Need more! LG G3 has QHD with a 5.5" display and a resolution of 538 ppi. So sometimes, smaller is better when it comes to resolution.

But that said, these are numbers. In your or my world, are those numbers meaningful? Are you seeing a 538 ppi or a 2K screen any better than you are seeing a 1080p display? Herein should be the real question. Manufacturers will also want you to know the large numbered specs as these are selling points. But are they usable points? Tyranny of Numbers again! Not to mention, a bigger QHD display has its downsides compared to FHD, like more computing expenditure, bigger battery drain, higher levels overheating etc.

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So it seems, the debate of QHD vs FHD is a limited debate. QHD is better but more costly. Not to mention when you get into asking such questions and pick either a QHD or FHD device, you are then left with the internal questions, like which screen size, which ppi, which processor. There are simply too many aspects to take into account when you are looking for the 'best' screen or display. So while most of the big OEMs will be pushing you to buy a QHD display this year, they probably should take more of a note out of Sony's book. If the rumors are true about their upcoming Sony Xperia Z4, then it seems they will be offering the device in both a QHD version and an FHD version. It is presumed that the QHD will be U.S. bound while the FHD will be bound for emerging markets. That said, you have to ask yourself why would Sony bother making two versions? They might be planning on selling one cheaper than the other, but surely it costs more to begin with to design, implement, manufacture and sell two different versions? Maybe Sony are not so convinced QHD is 'better' on a smartphone. After all, this was Sony's very argument for not including QHD on the Xperia Z3. Have they changed their minds one year on? Or like the rest of us are they giving in to the perception put forward by the other manufacturers and feel the Z4 must come with a QHD display regardless of what they personally think? Are they simply (like the rest of us) giving into the tyranny of numbers?