With screens getting better in our monitors, TVs, and smartphones, one specific measurement keeps coming up: brightness nits. Most screens these days come with over 500 nits, while the best ones might go over 1,000 and even peak at over 2,000!
But what are nits, exactly? And why are they important for your display experience?
What Are Brightness Nits?
Before diving into the definition of what a nit is, we need to understand a bit about other light measurements and how they work. Starting with the concept of what a candela is.
If you know Spanish, you’ll know that “candela” translates to “candle” in English. And that’s a good, yet rough, starting point. Candela is a way to measure light intensity, and it’s the base unit of luminous intensity in the International System of Units (SI).
We won’t get into specific numbers—after all, the whole point of this post is to explain brightness nits in layman’s terms, and we don’t want to make this overly complicated. But what you need to know is that the luminous intensity of a wax candle equals roughly one candela. Hence, the name makes sense.
Now, imagine you put a candle inside a one-meter by one-meter square box, and you light it. Light from that candle will reach all four walls inside that square. That light’s capability of reaching those four walls is what we refer to as a nit—it can also be referred to as candelas per square meter (or using the symbol cd/m²). Two candles inside that box will be two nits, three candles will be three nits, and so on and so forth.
So when we’re talking about nits, we’re talking about a display’s relative brightness and light intensity relative to a good old wax candle. If you put a smartphone with a 600 nit display inside that same square box, it should be roughly 600 times as bright as a single candle.
Nits have become an important measurement of screen brightness on smartphones, computer monitors, laptops, and TVs. And while a few nits may be enough for some dimly-lit scenarios, there are others where you’d probably prefer to have a brighter screen—more on that later.
Why Are Brightness Nits Important?
As we said before, brightness nits come in handy when discussing screen brightness. In dimly lit scenarios, like inside a room with the lights off, you might do okay with a low brightness display. The problem, however, comes when the rest of your environment is also bright. It’s easy to look at a 50-nit display when it’s dark, but it’s not easy at all in full sunlight.
This is why high nit displays are coming today. The Galaxy S22 Ultra, Samsung’s flagship Android phone, comes with a display that lights up to a whopping 1,750 nits, meaning it’s a breeze to look at your screen even with direct sunlight on your phone. For reference, 1,000 nits is generally considered the sunlight viewable brightness level, so the Galaxy S22 Ultra easily surpasses this test.
Of course, you’ll need to tune it down when you enter a room with less or no light or use the auto-brightness setting on your smartphone (also found on laptops and other devices). Otherwise, you’ll cook your eyes.
Of course, just like how high brightness displays have advantages, they also have trade-offs. For example, keeping high brightness on for too long will negatively impact your battery life since your display is drawing more power to remain bright.
Also, if you’re using an AMOLED panel, high brightness can wear out your display quicker since you’re pushing it harder. This can lead to burn-in down the road, which you probably want to avoid for at least the first two years of your phone’s lifespan—especially if you paid over $1,000 for it.
How Bright Should My Display Be?
Now, it’s time to examine how bright (or dim) a display should be in different kinds of devices. After all, not every use case requires a super bright display, but a dim one isn’t acceptable for others either.
Smartphones: 300-1,500 Nits
Here’s the thing about smartphones: we carry them around everywhere. And many times, you’ll probably find yourself pulling your phone out under direct sunlight to check a call or a text. If your screen isn’t bright enough, even cranked up to the fullest, you’ll find yourself going to a place with more shadow in order to be able even to see what you’re doing on your phone.
This is why phones can benefit from the highest brightness you can get.
The Galaxy S22 Ultra is perfect to use under sunlight, thanks to its 1,750 nit display. Likewise, many smartphones, even if they don’t go as bright, will be able to provide an acceptable experience under sunlight.
Laptops: 200-600 Nits
Your laptop is a device you’d normally use indoors, maybe in your school, an office, or in the comfort of your home. Even if you’re using it outside, you’ll normally still sit down somewhere to use it, and that place will probably have at least some shade. Brightness, therefore, is not as important on a laptop as it is on a PC. It still needs a bright display, but it doesn’t need to go as bright as it does on a smartphone.
As such, a display of 200 to 600 nits will be good enough. We’re not saying more brightness is bad, but it’s not as necessary.
Monitors: 100-500 Nits
Finally, we have computer monitors. They can actually afford to go even dimmer than laptops. Why is that the case? Because while you might occasionally use a laptop outside, you’ll almost never do it with a PC monitor—they’ll be inside an office or your home, with appropriate lighting. The ability to go brighter is also appreciated, but it’s definitely not a must-have.
Brightness Measurements Are Important
By knowing how bright your screen is in nits, you can get a rough measurement of how you can expect your screen to perform in different lighting conditions before you buy it. While nits aren’t the be-all and end-all of a screen’s quality, they’re good to know nonetheless, and hopefully, you can make a more educated smartphone/laptop/display purchase with that info.
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