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Ever since Apple decided that mobile phone screens should be sharper when it introduced the “Retina” display concept, mobile manufacturers have been working hard to improve this idea considerably.

When Apple launched the iPhone 4, the screen displayed more resolution in a small space than had been seen on a phone up to that point.

The pixel per inch count was 329ppi on a 3.5 inch display, and when the iPhone 5 rolled around, it dropped marginally to 326ppi, thanks to the extra half inch Apple added to its design.

Apple called this concept “Retina” because it was sharper and better for the eyes, and it totally changed the way smartphone screens were looked at.

But this year – in 2013 – everything is different. Manufacturers aren’t just trying to match Apple’s Retina technology like they were last year when 720p HD screens were trotted out. No, this year manufacturers are attempting to beat it altogether, improving displays to such a level we’ve never seen.

Numbers that go past Apple’s 326 pixels per inch are on offer, as companies throw Full HD panels into smartphones.

All of this results in a level of definition that has to be seen to be believed. It’s like looking at a light-up paper printout – better even – and the quality and clarity available from handsets this year is so impressive, you’ll wonder how you even lived without it.

These screens are so sharp, they go beyond the level that the average human eye can see, can discern the difference between.

To show where we’re coming from with this, Wikipedia suggests that most people can’t work out the difference once you go beyond 300 pixels per inch, a statement by Steve Jobs that has been argued. Regardless of which side you sit on, we’ll always end up being the bottleneck since our eyes are only capable of so much. For many people out there, 300ppi screens will be completely fine, but there are higher quality screens coming out regardless.

Up until this article was published, every flagship phone on the market we looked at featured pixel per inch counts above 300, and with the benchmark from Apple set at 326 in the iPhone 5, we wanted to see what the competition looked like, so we’ve taken out a digital microscope to check it out.

Now it’s worth pointing out that every screen is different and uses individual technologies, but up close, what we’re looking for is the way text looks, which seems to be one of the better tests. When letters feature strong anti-aliasing and you can see the flow of letters as they curve out among the pixels, that’s where you can see the quality of the screen and how many pixels it’s packing in.

More pixels mean the letters look better and clearer from far away, and when a phone is held at arm’s length from your eyes, that distance and those pixels can mean all the different from being able to read tiny text and being forced to zoom in.