Retina iPad mini comes in 'distant third' in mini-tablet displays

Summary:Apple fans might want to skip this analysis of seven-inch tablet displays because ranks the Retina iPad mini at the bottom of the heap. Apple went with IGZO when it should have chosen Quantum Dots.

On November 6 I wrote about how the Kindle Fire HDX lapped the iPad Air's Retina Display in DisplayMate's shootout of flagship tablet displays. That piece left me wondering how the display in the new Retina iPad mini would compare to the displays in the Kindle Fire HDX 7 and Google Nexus 7.

Well, the other shoe just dropped. 

Industry display expert Dr. Ray Soneira has built a reputation for his Display Shootouts in which he pits smartphone and tablet displays against one another and he just published his Mini Tablet Display Technology Shootout comparing the displays in the current crop of seven-inch tablets including the Retina iPad mini, Kindle Fire HDX 7, and Google Nexus 7.

These mid-size tablets have different cutting-edge, but equally interesting displays and display technology. The Kindle Fire HDX 7 features Quantum Dots, the Nexus 7 has Low Temperature Poly Silicon, and the Retina iPad mini has Indium Gallium Zinc Oxide (IGZO).

Soneira conducted a battery of in-depth comprehensive tests, measurements, and analysis on the three new slabs and considered benchmarks like Objective Picture Quality, Absolute Color Accuracy, Screen Reflectance, High Ambient Light Display Performance, Peak Brightness, Contrast Ratio, Image Contrast Accuracy, Viewing Angle Performance, Display Power, and Battery Running Time.

And it wasn't pretty for the Retina iPad mini. 

Soneira notes that while the new Retina iPad mini has a high resolution, high PPI display (like the other two mini tablets) "shockingly" it still has the same small 63 percent Color Gamut as the original iPad mini and even older iPad 2. As a result, the iPad mini with Retina Display comes in a distant third place behind the innovative displays on the Kindle Fire HDX 7 and new Nexus 7, which both have 100 percent color Gamut. Even the iPad 3 and iPad 4 (and the new iPad Air) have 100 percent Color Gamut.

He calls Apple's use of IGZO in the Retina iPad mini "really bad planning."

Right now there is a readily available display technology that has much higher performance than IGZO. It’s Low Temperature Poly Silicon LTPS, and it is used in all of the iPhones and in all of Samsung OLEDs (so it’s available in large quantities). Two innovative Tablet manufacturers, Amazon and Google, have significantly leapfrogged Apple by introducing Tablet displays using LTPS (in the Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 and the new Nexus 7), and they are significantly outperforming the IGZO and a-Si displays in the current iPads. Apple is now lagging in displays, an area where it was once the leader…

The Retina iPad mini's display also gets spanked by Amazon and Google in Brightness and Contrast ratings in the DisplayMate tests:

Retina iPad mini comes in 'distant third' in mini-tablet display shootout - Jason O'Grady
(Table: DisplayMate)

Here are some excerpts from Soneira's conclusion:

The new Google Nexus 7 has a very impressive display that uses the highest performance LCDs with Low Temperature Poly Silicon LTPS. The very high efficiency LTPS technology allows the new Nexus 7 display to provide a full 100 percent Color Gamut and at the same time produce the brightest Tablet display that we have measured so far in this Shoot-Out series.

Most impressive of all is the Kindle fire HDX 7 – the first Tablet display to use super high technology Quantum Dots, which produce highly saturated primary colors that are similar to those produced by OLED displays. They not only significantly increase the Color Gamut to 100 percent but also improve the power efficiency at the same time. Quantum Dots are going to revolutionize LCDs for the next 5+ years. 

And finally... the iPad mini with Retina Display unfortunately comes in with a distant third place finish behind the innovative displays on the Kindle Fire HDX 7 and new Nexus 7 because it still has the same small 63 percent Color Gamut as the original iPad mini and even older iPad 2. That is inexcusable for a current generation premium Tablet... This all appears to be due to incredibly poor planning. Instead of moving up to the higher performance (and cost) Low Temperature Poly Silicon LCDs, Apple chose to continue gambling on IGZO, which has resulted in both production shortages and inferior products.

Two innovative Tablet manufacturers, Amazon and Google, have significantly leapfrogged Apple by introducing Tablet displays using LTPS (in the Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 and the new Nexus 7), and they are significantly outperforming the IGZO and a-Si displays in the current iPads. Apple was once the leader in mobile displays, unfortunately it has fallen way behind in both Tablets and Smartphones. This should be a wakeup call...

The big story here is that Quantum Dots and LTPS display technology are superior. IGZO is still not ready for prime time and LTPS is better and it's available now. Apple tried to go cheap instead of with LTPS and now has production shortages and inferior products, Amazon now has by far the most innovative displays, and Google/Asus are second, Apple is no longer the leader in displays.

Overall, the new DisplayMate Shootout is a pretty scathing indictment of the display in the new Retina iPad mini that will rain on the parade of anyone that just ponied up almost $1,000 for Apple's newest little tablet. (I'm not going to mention any names – ahem!) 

However, it's important to remember that the display is only one facet of a tablet – albeit a fairly significant one. There are other factors to consider when purchasing a tablet, like iPad's new A7 chip, 64-bit architecture, motion coprocessor, and iOS 7. And if you already have an investment in content from the App Store and iTunes (apps, movies, TV, music, books, etc.) that will also tip the scales toward buying an Apple product. Overall it seems like Apple cut corners on the display in the new Retina iPad mini while the competition continued to innovate. 

I'll be publishing more on my new iPad mini after I put it through its paces. 

Further reading

Topics: Apple, Hardware, iOS, iPad

About

Jason D. O'Grady developed an affinity for Apple computers after using the original Lisa, and this affinity turned into a bona-fide obsession when he got the original 128 KB Macintosh in 1984. He started writing one of the first Web sites about Apple (O'Grady's PowerPage) in 1995 and is considered to be one of the fathers of blogging.... Full Bio

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