What’s the difference between capacitive and resistive touchscreens?

Capacitive touchscreens and gloves don't mix (photo by Gesa Henselmans - CC-BY)

Capacitive touchscreens and gloves don't mix (photo by Gesa Henselmans - CC-BY)

Cellphones and other personal electronic devices are sometimes equipped with touch screens, and there are two quite different kinds in common use.

A resistive touchscreen has two thin layers of conductive but transparent film above the screen, and measures the change in resistance between the two layers due to the pressure of touch.

A capacitive touchscreen measures the interaction between an electrical signal on a transparent grid above the screen and the user’s finger.

Resistive touchscreens are cheaper to make, but don’t support multi-touch. If the user presses with more than one finger the device can’t determine the position of the multiple fingers. Multi-touch for resistive displays has been demonstrated in the lab, but is not currently practical for consumer devices.

Resistive touchscreens drift slowly over time, and need to be recalibrated. This is a simple operation. You point to some dots on the screen, and the software adjusts where you pointed to match the position where the dots were displayed.

You need to press down as you operate a resistive touchscreen. On the upside, you can use a stylus to operate the touchscreen very accurately. However, if you are dragging the cursor across the screen you will feel a definite friction.

A capacitive screen is beautifully smooth to operate because it just requires the presence of your finger, not any pressure. The flip side of this is that you can’t use a stylus. Well, actually there is a kind of chunky stylus that mimics the capacitance of a human finger, but it’s not elegant to use.

You also can’t operate a capacitive screen while you’re wearing gloves (not that it’s super-easy operating a resistive screen with gloves) although you can buy expensive gloves with conductive fingertips that carry the capacitance of your finger to the screen.

A resistive screen can be made pressure-sensitive, so that applications may distinguish between a light and a heavy touch. A capacitive screen just knows “finger present” and “finger absent”.

So which is it to be? Personally I find the easy operation of the capacitive screen to be far more pleasant, but resistive screens have their fans too. The current state-of-the-art could perhaps be summarized as “resistive is best for a stylus, capacitive is best for finger-only operation”.

Examples of devices with capacitive touchscreens are the iPhone, iPod Touch, and G1 Android phone. Devices with resistive touchscreens include the LG Viewty phone and the Nokia Internet Tablets.

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  • Anand Subba says:

    Dir Sir/ Mam

    I would like to thank you for giving such an information over different types of touch screen. It was very useful knowledge for me. Now i know that I use resistive touch screen phone.

    Thank You

    Anand Subba

  • MOMO says:

    Great information.

    I just want to add though, that I prefer resistive as I like to use the tip of my finger nails to operate my HTC phone, with iPhone I have to use the skin of my fingers, and I really don’t like that. Using my nail is like using the stylus, and it is a lot more accurate.

  • Abdoroi says:

    A resistive touchscreen panel is composed of several layers. The most important are two thin metallic electrically conductive and resistive layers separated by thin space. When some object touches this kind of touch panel, the layers are connected at a certain point; the panel then electrically acts similar to two voltage dividers with connected outputs. This causes a change in the electrical current which is registered as a touch event and sent to the controller for processing.

  • mnm says:

    if used by an extensive touch user, how long does both last? wich one wil last longer?

  • eiffel says:

    In principle, a capacitive screen might last longer because there’s nothing to “wear out”, unlike the continually-flexed top layer of the resistive screen.

    In practice though, I think modern resistive screens last long enough that there’s no practical difference.

  • NokiaFANBOY says:

    resistive touchscreen is much easier to use ,capacitive is not good specially if your fingers is too big.

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