How software made my phone appear to have a higher resolution

xposed app settings - for some reason we don't have an alt tag here

I recently upgraded my phone from Gingerbread to Jelly Bean, a task that was all but straight forward thanks to all my custom software. I both lost features and gained features, but now that the dust have settled, I’ve glad I made the jump, even considering how much work was involved. Out of all the differences between my phone now and before though, there’s one I wasn’t expecting: my phone now feels like it’s much higher resolution than before.

I use a Samsung Galaxy S II, which has a 480 x 800 resolution. Even playing with devices such as the 1080p Xperia Z I don’t really care that much about the outdated resolution of my phone, and I have absolutely no plans of getting a different phone. Obviously I do notice the difference, but the thing is that since the upgrade, I’ve noticed it much less.

There are two main reasons for this. The first is a tweak for the Xposed framework that allows you to set the DPI that apps think your device has on a per-app basis, which in practice lets you control how much it crams onto the screen. Android, like any mobile OS, is designed with the average user in mind, and I’m sorry to say that stock UI sizes in Android are just way, way too large for what I prefer. Turning it down a few notches is very helpful, and cramming more information onto the screen is an excellent way to make it appear as if the screen resolution has increased.

You can also do this on a system level, affecting everything at once. Jenn wrote a post on how to do this years ago, and I even did it to my tablet last year. Doing it on a system level can cause some issues with Google Play, however (fixable if you search around a bit), and I find that doing it on a per-app basis offers more freedom to choose what works best for you for each app.

The second reason caught me by surprise. When I first started playing with Jelly Bean, I couldn’t believe how annoyed I was at the included fonts, which I still think are horrible to look at. After trying a ton of different fonts, I ended up using Helvetice Neue, and I’ve been absolutely loving it. Moreover, it makes text appear higher resolution than it is, at least that is the perception I’ve gotten after using this after being used to what came stock on my Gingerbread S II. I also set the font size to small, which further helps this illusion. It’s a very minor difference, and more than likely subjective as well, but it has definitely made a difference.

At the end of the day, you can’t actually change the screen resolution of your device, but I do think that software changes makes a huge difference. Mobile OSes always have to adapt to where they’re still touch friendly, meaning that unlike on computer OSes that are controlled by a mouse, UI elements on mobile devices don’t change their physical size even if the screen resolution increases. A 1080p phone essentially has higher resolution buttons than a 480p one, rather than being as fundamentally different as a 1080p computer screen would be compared to a 480p one. That’s not to say that it doesn’t affect every aspect of using the device, from reading text to watching video and playing games, my point is just that changing UI sizes gives the illusion of a higher resolution screen, because that’s the correlation we’re used to elsewhere.

As for the font trick, changing the font might make each letter just a bit clearer with lower font sizes, and when you multiply that with a page full of text, you start seeing the difference. Text clarity has always been a major advantage of higher resolution screens, and I think it’s important to be aware of how different fonts handle different resolutions.

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Andreas Ødegård

Andreas Ødegård is more interested in aftermarket (and user created) software and hardware than chasing the latest gadgets. His day job as a teacher keeps him interested in education tech and takes up most of his time.

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