Smartphones with killer screens (roundup)

The best phones generally also have the best screens. Here's a list of CNET's favorites today.

Samsung Galaxy S4 flanked by the iPhone 5 and HTC One
Josh Miller/CNET

No matter how you slice it, the phone's screen is the part you look at the most, and if that's cheap, cracked, hazy, or blurred, your e-mails, videos, stories, and games will look terrible.

Luckily, resolution is skyrocketing, and premium phones pack in more pixels than ever.

Of course, pixel performance isn't enough; the screen materials must also be top-notch. In addition, individual handsets' peak brightness settings are also in play; phones with a lower brightness setting won't look as good when you're out in bright sunlight.

Take a look at the many factors that go into top-notch screen quality , and enjoy our favorite smartphone screens to look at now, in no particular order.

Nokia Lumia 920
Josh Miller/CNET

Nokia Lumia 920 (AT&T), November 1, 2012
Unlike its immediate predecessor , which used an AMOLED display, the Lumia 920 keeps it fresh with a 4.5-inch IPS LCD display. The 1,280x768-pixel resolution (WXGA) and pixel density of 332 pixels per inch come together terrifically at all brightness levels. You'll see deep blacks, rich colors, bright whites, and sharp text.

Nokia calls the Lumia 920's screen "PureMotion+ HD" for a few reasons. First, if you set the screen's sensitivity to high, you can navigate around using a fingernail and even gloves on a cold winter's day. Second, the screen automatically brightens when you go outdoors in bright light. That will improve readability, even if it requires more battery contribution. Lastly, the display delivers smooth videos and graphics free of ghosting, blurring, and lags. Read the full Nokia Lumia 920 review.

LG Optimus G Pro
Josh Miller/CNET

LG Optimus G Pro, May 2, 2013
The Optimus G Pro goes big from the start with a 5.5-inch full-HD IPS screen. It also has a 1,920x1,080-pixel resolution, 400ppi, and the 16:9 aspect ratio is more standard and much more comfortable than the 4:3 ratio on the Optimus G Pro's closest relative, the LG Intuition .

Though whites had a slightly cold, blue-grayish tint, on the whole, the screen is bright and extremely responsive. It has a wide viewing angle, and you can see images clearly in both indoor and outdoor lighting. Colors are vibrant, icons are sharp, text looks crisp, and videos were a joy to watch. Read the full LG Optimus G Pro review.

Sarah Tew/CNET

HTC One, April 4, 2013
We're not exaggerating when we say that the HTC One is practically all screen. Indeed, the the 4.7-inch display dominates what is already a snazzy-looking device. Continuing the jargon wars, the (1080p) LCD display uses what HTC refers to as SoLux technology. That's supposed to deliver improved picture quality and generate 468ppi. What's more, the One's screen boasts the most impressive viewing experience of any phone that HTC has created.

So are the promises true? Well, in Brian Bennett's review, he reports that the One's display has plenty of impact with vibrant colors, wide viewing angles, and plenty of brightness. Details also looked extremely crisp. That makes for a close battle between the One and Samsung's Galaxy S4, but in the end the One takes the display prize. Read the full HTC One review.

Samsung Galaxy S4
Josh Miller/CNET

Samsung Galaxy S4, April 23, 2012
As you might expect, one of the Galaxy S4's top attractions is its 5-inch 1080p HD display. It yields a pixel density of 441ppi, which is higher than iPhone 5's and lower than the HTC One's. Still, the Galaxy S4's HD AMOLED display nails it with color saturation and contrast, sharply defined edges and details. Articles are easy to read, gameplay looks good, and photos and videos look terrific.

Beyond color correction, the Galaxy S4 follows the Galaxy S3 in being highly reflective indoors and out. Even at its full brightness, it can seem dim outside when fighting bright light. On the downside, though, outdoor readability in strong sunlight was really tough. That made it especially difficult when taking photos. Read the full Samsung Galaxy S4 review.

iPhone 5
The iPhone 5 has a sharp, clear, bright 4-inch display. CNET

Apple iPhone 5 (Verizon, AT&T, Sprint), September 21, 2012

When it comes to displays, Apple's iPhone 5 screen is an absolute beaut. The 4-inch Retina Display has a high resolution (1,136x640 pixels) and high pixel density (326 pixels per inch), and its IPS LCD screen material helps keep it crystal clear. The sun will always be an enemy of the screen. Read the full iPhone 5 review.

Read the full CNET Review

LG Optimus G Pro (AT&T)

The Bottom Line: Though it lacks a stylus, the Optimus G Pro is not only armed with high-end specs, but it's also still cheaper than the Samsung Galaxy Note 2 -- making it the best AT&T phablet available now. / Read full review

Read the full CNET Review

Nokia Lumia 920

The Bottom Line: Nokia's Lumia 920 is heavy and thick, but if you want the most powerful, feature-rich Windows phone available, this is it. / Read full review

Read the full CNET Review


The Bottom Line: A few quibbles notwithstanding, the powerhouse HTC One is a beautifully crafted, near-ideal smartphone. / Read full review

Read the full CNET Review

Samsung Galaxy S4

The Bottom Line: Its laundry list of features require time and effort to truly master, but the Galaxy S4 is the top choice for anyone looking for a big-screen, do-everything smartphone. / Read full review

Read the full CNET Review

Apple iPhone 5

The Bottom Line: The iPhone 5 completely rebuilds the iPhone on a framework of new features and design, addressing its major previous shortcomings. It's absolutely the best iPhone to date, and it easily secures its place in the top tier of the smartphone universe. / Read full review

About the author

Senior Managing Editor Kent German leads the CNET Reviews and Download editors in San Francisco. A veteran of CNET since 2003, he still writes about the wireless industry and occasionally his passion for commercial aviation.

Jessica Dolcourt reviews smartphones and cell phones, covers handset news, and pens the monthly column Smartphones Unlocked. A senior editor, she started at CNET in 2006 and spent four years reviewing mobile and desktop software before taking on devices.



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