No, We Don’t Need Always-On Displays In Every Smart Device

Experts say always-on displays are nice, but not a necessity

Key Takeaways

  • Always-on displays are appearing in more and more smart devices.
  • While useful, always-on displays still have a few glaring issues that need to be addressed, experts say.
  • Concerns over battery drain and screen burn-in are primary reasons users may not want to use always-on displays on their devices.
An Always-On display on a Samsung phone.

Jonas Leupe / Unsplash

Always-on displays may make it easier to check the time and see notifications, but experts say the benefits don’t outweigh the costs.

Always-on displays (sometimes referred to simply as AoD) started appearing on Android devices a number of years ago. Since their first inclusion in devices like the Samsung Galaxy S7, the displays have become more of a mainstream feature, even making an appearance in smartwatches like the new OnePlus Watch and the Apple Watch Series 5 and 6. But do the pros offered by this feature outweigh the cons? Experts say no.

"While the feature may be beneficial on smartwatches, in my opinion, it does not have much practical use on smartphones. There are genuine reasons users would not use this feature," Peter Brown, a tech expert with WindowsChimp, told Lifewire in an email. 

The Battery Crisis

Battery life is a big topic of discussion when it comes to smartphones and other smart devices. Not only does the time that a battery charge lasts play into how long you can use your device between charging sessions, but it also translates directly into how many years that device can last without needing a battery change.

As such, Brown says many users may want to take the overall cost of the battery into account when deciding whether AoD fits their lifestyle.

"It constantly consumes the battery," he told us. "In this fast-paced and busy life, nobody wants to keep charging their phone, so users would definitely want to avoid features and apps that would affect their phone's battery life."

Someone wearing a smart watch with a low battery signal displayed on the face of it.

theasis / Getty Images

While there have been differing reports on just how much battery power AoD takes from the device using it, there is always a cost. The actual cost appears to be directly tied to the device you’re using, how you’re using it, and even what kind of environment you’re using it in.

According to a 2016 report by TechSpot's Tim Schiesser, the Galaxy S7 Edge used between 0.59% and 0.65% of battery life per hour. Those aren’t large numbers, but they also vary depending on how much you’re using your phone, since actively using it doesn’t let AoD kick in.

If you keep the device in a dark place—like a pocket or bag—then Schiesser noted that the percentage of power used is much less because the display actually turns off as it detects it isn’t needed.

If you’re the type of user who likes to keep your device out in the open, though—like a smartwatch on your wrist or a phone resting on your desk—you could see these percentages grow. Processors and other internal components have improved since 2016, but many still utilize the same basic functions that Samsung’s Galaxy S7 Edge used to reduce battery cost when AoD was enabled.

The OnePlus Watch, which just received the feature in an update, actually saw its estimated battery life cut in half. Instead of the 12 days that it normally touts, OnePlus says it will only last five or six days. Not a big deal considering most other smartwatches only last one to two days on a charge, but, still, something to note if you plan on using AoD on that particular watch.

"While the feature may be beneficial on smartwatches, in my opinion, it does not have much practical use on smartphones."

Burning Distractions

The other concern that comes with always-on displays is the feature’s overall distracting design. Because many users like to keep their phones on their desks or close by where they can see it, Brown says some people can find it distracting to see the numbers and even notifications constantly viewable on the front of the phone.

Another common problem is image burn-in. Most AoD systems are designed to help avoid this by causing the image to move around the screen. However, Rex Freiberger, a gadget expert and the CEO of GadgetReview, said burn-in is still an issue users need to worry about, especially on older displays.

"Right now, [always-on displays] come at a significant cost in the form of battery usage and display degradation. While companies are minimizing the amount of battery power used by these displays, it's not an insignificant amount. And older LCD screens can have a lot of trouble with images burned into them due to overuse," he told us.

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