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In Android OS, does screen resolution matter in applications?

Obviously a phone with 800x480 resolution is going to look much sharper than a 320x480 one, but is that the only difference? Do the icons and such scale at different resolutions or just look sharper?

Can I actually fit a lot more on the screen on the higher res phones (such as when you increase the resolution on a desktop PC?) I am looking for an inexpensive Android phone that doesn't require Sprint's bogus $10 "4G fee". Unfortunately, it looks like the only phone that is decent and doesn't require this fee is the LG Optimus S (free right now). However, the resolution is 320x480. I'm going to check it out in a store soon but wanted to see what you experts think.

Thank you!

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If it's helpful at all - I have an EVO and I recently got my fiancee an Optimus for Christmas. The difference in the screens is very obvious, but I don't think the Optimus is half bad. It definitely looks pixelated and fuzzy compared to my EVO, but it wasn't hard on the eyes or anything. From what I can tell, everything is scaled down (so I can't "fit more" on my screen), and she's quite happy with her Optimus. Actually, she's playing solitaire on it as I'm writing this... –  eldarerathis Jan 3 '11 at 2:34
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2 Answers

up vote 8 down vote accepted

No, what matters for clarity is acuity, or the "number of pixels versus screen size versus viewing distance". A 800x480 image shown on a 100" monitor seen 30 cm viewing distance would look awfully pixelated, while 480x320 screen on a 2" monitor seen at the same viewing distance would look very sharp.

LG Optimus S has a 480x320 pixels on a 3.2 inch screen (i.e. 2.66x1.78 inch screen). The pixel density of LG Optimus S is (480/2.66 = 320/1.78) = 180 pixel per inch, IOW the size of a single pixel is 1/180 inch.

On a viewing distance of 20 cm (the typical viewing distance for a phone), 180 pixel per inch translates to 0.04233 arcminute per pixels. For comparison, human eyes can resolve 0.3 arcminute in a good lighting condition.

The extra resolution gives programs two options; it can either use it to fit more stuff in the same area, or it could use higher resolution images and produce sharper display. Home screens often do not do the first since it will make the icons smaller and more difficult to press, instead they calculate the amount of stuff to fit from the actual physical size of the screen instead of the resolution.

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To answer your question, yes screen resolution matters in the use of third-party application. Although by design a application should not care what the resolution is but over all the applications I have installed on my phone it is clear that the larger the resolution the more the application becomes visible.

Take one of the default application, as an example, if you were to use a smaller resolution parts of the application will become hidden. Sometimes the options are not accessible because of a designer forgetting to acknowledgment the possibility of smaller resolution.

I suggest to get a phone capable of larger resolutions, or find an Android Build that can mimic the larger resolutions.

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