Resistive vs. Capacitive touchscreen, what’s the big deal?

I’ve been to quite a handful of tech events already and when it comes to touch-based devices, I still can’t figure out the big deal between resistive and capacitive touchscreens. Until I did some light research.

Resistive or Capacitive?

From tablet PC’s, to the iPhone and other touchscreen phones to gaming devices such as the Nintendo DS, there are only two types of touchscreen as of now: resistive and capacitive. Ok so?

You might see a device’s specification that it has capacitive touchscreen but what does it really mean? Is it better than the other type? Which type should you aim for?

Well both types have their own uses but first let’s look at the technology behind those two, how they are made. Let’s go wiki:

  • Resistive. A resistive touchscreen panel is composed of several layers, the most important of which are two thin, metallic, electrically conductive layers separated by a narrow gap. When an object, such as a finger, presses down on a point on the panel’s outer surface the two metallic layers become connected at that point. This causes a change in the electrical current which is registered as a touch event and sent to the controller for processing.
  • Capacitive. A capacitive touchscreen panel consists of an insulator such as glass and coated with a transparent conductor. As the human body is also a conductor, touching the surface of the screen results in a distortion of the body’s electrostatic field, measurable as a change in capacitance.

Boring. Now that’s out of the way, let’s look at the key differences between the two:

  • touchscreen2 Capacitive is the newer technology and more expensive to manufacture.
  • Too much layers on a resistive panel reflects ambient light so display is poorer against sunlight compared to capacitive.
  • Capacitive uses your electron-rich finger as contact. Gloved fingers or inanimate objects doesn’t work.
  • Resistive panels only require pressure. You can use your fingers, stylus or even your fingernail.
  • Multi-touch won’t work with resistive touchscreen as opposed to capacitive.

So now you know which devices uses a capacitive and a resistive touchscreen. I hope you would also learn that there’s no clear winner here. Each technology has its own use. It is also clear that it is a major disadvantage for capacitive touchscreen-based devices to sell well in cold countries.

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9 Responses

  1. I have an Apple iPod touch (thanks for your guides to jailbreak it btw) and used a Nokia 5800 phone. iPod touch is a capacitive touchscreen while Nokia 5800 is a resistive one. And from my experience, I think capacitive is more responsive than resistive.

    • Calvin says:

      well not really but thanks for pointing that out. it still depends on the processor. LG arena is capacitive but it is not that responsive compared to the ipod touch. but resistive panels requires the right amount of pressure to react responsively.

      • Really? So I am wrong, hehe. I’m just so hooked with the iPod touch’s screen, it’s so responsive. And everytime I use my sister’s Nokia 5800, I’m a bit annoyed because sometimes, its screen is not responding.

        Anyway, can we exchange links? :) I already added you on my blogroll. Thanks.

  2. David says:

    Since capacitive touchscreens are engineered/optimized for contact by contact from human skin on a fingertip, they are completely ineffective/ inaccessible for people with disabilities requiring prosthetic limbs to function. It’s very disappointing, when a company like Apple, makes a product like iPod and iPhone that dominates the market. This leaves a small, but important population, out in the cold. Apple is aware of this limitation, but to date, unfortunately has failed to address this issue. Technology should not be engineered to become a barrier to people with disabilities, but instad, should become an enabler.

    • Calvin says:

      you raise a very good point there. that’s why iPhone’s doesn’t sell well in cold countries because it’s unusable if you have gloves on. although there are some special stylus out there that works with capacitive screens.

  3. joviton says:

    Thanks for you post

  4. Gardina says:

    i am really think that capacitive touch screens are the ugly and hard to be prissed on and the cheep phunes but i am think the opusitte of what i am think.. i am know understand what is capacitive and know, i am know understand that resistive is the hard to press and cheep phunes.. i am really think you for this website.. i am learn a many.

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