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

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.

TOPICS: Apple, Hardware, iOS, iPad

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

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  • Apple's never been great at value

    This is not really news. Apple never really does a great job at providing value in their hardware. Inferior hardware is very much in Apple products but they hide it in places that actually is very smart. Apple knows most people won't bother judging these minuscule differences in display quality. I imagine if you ask most Apple product owners they would simply believe Apple uses the best hardware. In essence Apple uses what they can that still provides them with a good margin of profit. many times much more then their competition. So in turn I am not surprised that other small tablets do better. Will this affect the minds of a Apple product fan? I doubt it.
    • This is news, as Apple's screens were leading previously

      So you have no point on that.
      • dilution.

        may I refer you to the iPad mini which has a washed out low spec screen. Apple products have high specs if you ignore there rubbish. Same can be said for anyone. Apple don't produce the screen they only select from product brochures and work with suppliers to produce a product they want.
    • Then why...

      Do Apple machines typically benchmark near the top or the top when compared to other OEM's machines? The iPhone 5 was a stunning performer when compared to flagship Android phones. The Macbook Air is the benchmark thin/light (Ultrabook) class machine. The MBP is a good laptop that competes well with business class offerings. The iMac is the benchmark AIO, etc.
      • Because

        Apple charge the top price for all of their kit. I would really hope that when a new iPhone comes out, is the newest thing on the market by several months and the price is 1.5x anything else, that it outperforms them. Otherwise Apple have a serious serious problem. In actual fact I don't believe the iPhone 5 significantly beat the Galaxy S3 when it came out, and the 5s is a joke compared to the S4.

        In terms of MBP, when I bought my business laptop I compared laptops from all major manufacturers including Apple. In the end I bought an Asus and jacked up the RAM to 16Gb and put in a 1Tb SSD. This machine flies! To buy an equivalent (actually slightly lesser MBP - Apple only offer a 768Gb SSD) would have cost me an extra £1000.

        Let's face it, a company that has a minor share of the market, yet makes the biggest profits is impressive, but not to be trusted by any means.
  • Welcome to the new Apple

    Cook just doens't seem to have the same awareness that Jobs did about making tech. He really seems to be focused on the bottom line and bending his will to the shareholders.
    • Carl Icahn seems to disagree with you.

      Tim Cook is pretty much acknowledged, by people who actually know–unlike you, as a supply-chain and logistical genius. So, the fact is that his awareness "making tech" is actually extremely high. Jobs' genius was understanding and applying tech, and he was a pretty good spokesman, too.

      While Dr. Soneira's technical knowledge about displays is obviously huge, my question would be how many multi-billion dollar hardware companies has he run? How many products has he managed from conception through design and manufacturing to retail? How many units did it ship? What was its gross margin? Then we'll have a better idea of how much credence to give his ideas on "really bad planning."

      For the record, I'd love to see sales numbers and gross margin for Kindle Fire and Nexus 7, but people in Hell would love some ice water, too.
      • You miss the point

        Who said Tim Cook wasn't great as a supply chain manager?

        However, he is now doing what Steve Jobs used to do. Clearly he isn't cut from the same cloth that Jobs was and things have changed quite a bit there.

        Despite your objections, one doesn't have to be "in the know" to see that.

        Obviously this is about sales numbers and gross margins. That is exactly the point you are missing.
  • Still gets an A- rating?

    Given the story's critique, an A- rating seems generous. Unless there's really no story here, I would have thought the iPad would have received a B+ or a B.
    • Probably because in the real world

      it won't make the slightest bit of difference to the end user.
      Little Old Man
  • apple displays are great

    I don't mind the retina iPad mini finishing last in the screen race.Whatever big deal...super sharp screen vs super sharp screen which is the sharpest i ...must know!!!!. The experience that you get on iPad is outstanding.I am sure sure most won't even care as long as the text is sharp and battery life is 10 hours. and all those apps galore's all about the optimized apps!
  • Glossy screens?

    Do they all have these, or can you get matte in any of them?
  • Faulty Conclusions

    You say Quantum Dots and LTPS display technology are superior to IGZO. That's just a bogus conclusion. As seen by other devices such as iPad Air, IGZO when implemented correctly is equally as good. Apple just chose to make compromises with IGZO on its iPad Mini Retina. Nothing more to conclude than that!
    Key Lime
    • Ahem, Faulty Conclusions??

      If you think IGZO is equally as good as LTPS then you you need to read the other screen shootout between the iPad Air and the Kindle Fire HDX 8.9. You may have to reconsider. Remember these are scientific evaluations with the data given: not based on opinion.
      Mr Z.
  • Re: Retina iPad mini comes in 'distant third' in mini-tablet displays....

    This actually comes as no great surprise. I have always said a Retina screen is pointless on a tablet as there is little if any improvement. The only difference being the price so to opt for the non-retina model is a no brainer.

    Personally I still reckon the 1st generation iPad Mini takes some beating. No reason to upgrade in my opinion.
    • Noticeable Difference

      Actually, you're completely wrong on this. There is a huge difference having Retina even on a 7-8" tablet. You can say what you want, but go compare two side-by-side and you will see.
      Key Lime
      • Re: Noticeable Difference....

        Clearly we have a difference of opinion on this. I have seen the retina iPad Mini and have noticed little difference compared to my 1st generation iPad Mini.

        Retina is clearly noticeable on the MacBook Pro. when compared to the non-retina version of which I have both.

        I checked out the Retina iPad Mini recently in my local Apple Store and reached the conclusion that any improvements there may or may not be did not justify the considerably higher price.

        On the subject of Tablet displays then Samsung would seem to have the edge on their latest models without paying the relatively high price of the Retina iPad Mini.
        • All this means is that your eye is less sensitive

          to pixellation than other peoples. I also knew folks back in the day of CRT displays who could run their monitors at 60 Hz refresh and think nothing of it, while anything less than 90 gave me headaches within a matter of minutes from screen flicker.
          • Re: All this means is that your eye is less sensitive....

            And that is my very argument CRT displays were large. On a 13" or larger screen Retina certainly does make a difference.
            But below that size I question the limited benefit there may be to having Retina on a Tablet and if it is really worth the extra expense.

            Only 13" or larger displays get any real benefit from Retina.
    • Upgrade to an iPAD Mini Retnina?

      I was lucky enough to try both mini's over the last week. I found both a great size and an ideal companion for work. You do notice the difference with the displays when they're side by side; though you tend to be drawn to the retina display. Nice though it is, I won't feel short changed by not upgrading to the new iPad mini. These tests are all interesting, though the best test is to get one in your hands and decide if it's worth spending the extra.