Counterclockwise: Increasing the resolution

Chip, 09 July 2017

“The [2.8”] display truly looks larger than you might guess. The QVGA resolution stays the same and is adequate for providing great picture quality… “. It may seem like this statement is from another century, but it's just under 10 years old - from our very own Nokia N95 8GB review. And you can kinda see where we were coming from - the average screen in 2007 was 2.3" in diagonal and had less than 84,582 pixels at 171ppi density.

And it got us curious so we decided to dig through our database and see how screens evolved through the years. We picked the 50 most popular phones for each year to analyze - those account for the vast majority of all sales and that way we avoid exotic devices skewing our stats.

We chose 2007 as a starting point, the year Apple revolutionized the smartphone market by releasing its first iPhone. Back then the iPhone's 3.5-inch screen was considered huge and its HVGA resolution was close to the highest available - only devices like Nokia E90 and N800 had more pixels.

The touchscreen revolution then quickly took over the mobile world and screens and resolutions started growing rapidly. In 2010 a couple of key launches happened and they sped up the process rapidly - Apple debuted the iPhone 4 with its Retina screen, while Samsung introduced the Galaxy S - a 4" WVGA flagship.

Average Resolution Average Size Average Pixel Density
2007 84582 2.3 171
2008 105670 2.5 182
2009 163898 2.8 197
2010 218624 3.1 204
2011 305975 3.6 216
2012 453075 4.1 226
2013 972301 4.6 294
2014 1194295 5 309
2015 1840554 5.2 375
2016 1729815 5.3 368
2017 2276016 5.4 411

The following year Samsung released the first Galaxy Note, which had a huge 5.3-inch screen of over 1 million pixels. At that point the 3.5" iPhone was already below average in size, but the Note got more ridicule for its size than praise.

As phablets' popularity grew exponentially average screen size moved from 3.6" in 2011 to 5" in 2014. Even Apple couldn't resist joining the size race as the 4.7" iPhone 6 and 5.5" iPhone 6 Plus came to be. Resolution was growing even faster - by the end of the period Retina screens were only average in terms of pixel density.

In 2015 Android flagships moved to QHD and we saw another huge spike in ppi. Sizes kept increasing as well and the average screen stood at 5.2 inches.

And then everything changed when the mid-rangers attacked. Okay that might be an overstatement, but in 2016 mid-range handsets finally became good enough and they shot up in popularity, which explains the dip in the average resolution that year.

And now we're back to 2017 - bring on the bezeless phones. LG burst onto the scene with the G6's 18:9 5.7-inch display, then Samsung delivered the 18.5:9 5.8-inch Galaxy S8 and 6.2-inch Galaxy S8+. We're now waiting for the iPhone 8, which is rumored to also have a taller 5.8-inch screen.

Finally, here's a neat chart showing how quickly resolution has improved over the past decade. We've taken their 2017 levels as base and compared the percentage of increase of resolution, density and screen size.

At the moment the average screen size is 5.4-inches with an average density of 411ppi but we expect those numbers to increase before the year is even over.


Reader comments

  • AnonD-683930
  • 11 Jul 2017
  • 4D9

I just wish they can start making smaller phones again. (With flagship specs)

Interesting. However, war isn't a good idea.

  • Anonymous
  • 11 Jul 2017
  • Nwx

why is there no talk of the sony with their 2160p displays. isnt the topic about resolutions. and what about htc hd, the windows 6 phone?

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