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I am shopping for a new phone and it seems that my beloved notification LED has fallen out of favor, so I am willing to settle with Always on Display (AoD) as a second best.

I have been reading some and I understand that AoD is linked to AMOLED screens because in those you can "turn on" individual pixels, making it an energy draw small enough for it to be reasonable.

Now, I am browsing through GsmArena and I find that for AMOLED phones, some of them are qualified as having the AoD characteristic yet others do not show it.

Is it just because of some AMOLED phones being shipped without having the software option to use that feature (meaning that it could be added through third party software) or there are some hardware/firmware specs that make AoD unusable (either because it does not work or uses too much energy) if they are not present?

In short, I would like to know if I could add an AoD app to any AMOLED phone without expecting to suffer significant problems.

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Yes but also no.

Basically, AoD is purely software. It does not require special hardware (you can even use it on an LCD screen, although it will use significantly more power and does not make much sense). This is why there are plenty apps available that let you keep your screen on.

At the same time I would also answer the question with no, because even though it is purely software, it's not just an "app". If you use one of those AoD apps, they will keep your device awake. All the time. This will use a lot more power compared to a device with AoD out of the box, which still allows the device to go to sleep while keeping the screen on, which saves a lot of energy.

However, depending on the device and how aggressive the power management is, you might not notice much of a difference. On my OnePlus 5, with fairly aggressive energy saving options, an aftermarket AoD app does not use a whole lot of power (about 1% to 2% of the daily power draw - comparable to a couple of minutes of surfing with Google Chrome).

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Aftermarket AoD may be even more energy-efficient than built-in AoD

The Samsung Galaxy S7 has an AMOLED screen, and has Always on Display (AoD) functionality built into the firmware.

Wikipedia's "Always on Display" article states that the S7's AoD feature increases power consumption by about 3%. This is because pixels, sensors, and processors all consume energy while the AoD display is visible.

Walter Wolf's answer says that his OnePlus 5's aftermarket AoD app increases power consumption by just 1–2%. Perhaps his app uses fewer CPU or network resources than Samsung's AoD software. This, in turn, may allow Walter's phone to idle more CPU cores or to spend less energy on Internet access.

In conclusion: On an AMOLED phone, aftermarket AoD may be equally energy-efficient, or even more energy-efficient, than manufacturer AoD.

But ambient display is the most energy-efficient of all

The Wikipedia article adds that an "ambient display" solution is even more energy-efficient than AoD, since an "ambient display" is only visible when there are notifications present.

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