Android tablets beat out Apple iPad mini's graphics

Well-known graphics expert finds that both the Amazon Kindle Fire HD and Google Nexus 7 have better displays than Apple's newly launched iPad mini.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor
When it comes to Apple's iPad Mini display, both Amazon's Kindle Fire HD and Google Nexus 7 are better.

Lots of people may have bought Apple's new iPad mini, but that doesn't mean that they bought the best 7" tablet. When it comes to the display, graphics expert Raymond M. Soneira, president of DisplayMate, found that the two most popular 7" Android tablets, the Amazon Kindle Fire HD and Google Nexus 7, had better displays.

After running a comprehensive series of DisplayMate's Mobile Display Technology Shoot-Out tests, Soneira found that while the "iPad mini is certainly a very capable small Tablet, but it does not follow in Apple’s tradition of providing the best display, or at least a great display – it has just a very capable display. What’s more, the displays on existing mini Tablets from Amazon and Google outperform the iPad mini in most of our Lab tests."

Why didn't the iPad mini measure up? According to Soneira's analysis, "Some of this results from constraints within the iPad product line, and some to realistic constraints on display technology and costs, but much of it is due to a number of poor choices and compromises."

Specifically, "Many people were expecting a Retina Display like the new iPad 3, but that would have required a 326 Pixels Per Inch display with more than 4 times the screen area of the iPhone 5. That is currently out of the question for both cost and manufacturing volume and yield since it would need to be Low Temperature Polysilicon. Given that Apple has been sticking with either 1024x768 or 2048x1536 iPad displays for compatibility reasons, that meant the iPad mini had to be 1024x768 with 163 Pixels Per Inch. But that’s now considered to be rather on the low side, especially given that the $199 Amazon Kindle Fire HD and Google Nexus 7 both have considerably sharper displays with 216 Pixels Per Inch. So Apple, the inventor of Retina Display marketing, now has a significant competitive shortfall on this very issue." Whoops!

Since the iPad mini, at $329. costs considerablly more than either of the Android tablets, buyers should carefully consider if the mini is really worth the extra-money. To me, the Nexus 7 is now, more than ever, the better choice. 

In addition, "Apple could have increased the iPad mini Screen Resolution in the same way as it did for the iPhone 5 – simply having older Apps running Letterboxed inside a higher resolution display, which would have been a great way to provide a higher Pixels Per Inch display." For some reason, and Soneira doesn't know why, Apple didn't do this. Had they done so, this would have increased the iPad mini's text visual sharpness.

The iPad mini also fell short of the mark when it comes to showing video. "On the iPad mini 16:9 content is viewed Letterboxed with only 1024x576 Resolution, which is getting pretty close to Standard Definition video rather than true High Definition 1280x720 video on most other mini Tablets like the Amazon Kindle Fire HD and Google Nexus 7. A much better screen resolution choice for the iPad mini would have been 1280x960, because it could then deliver true HD video content, satisfactory Letterboxing for older 1024x768 Apps."

Another major weakness with all small tablets is how they reflect light oft their screens. Soneira explained, "Screens on almost all Tablets and Smartphones are mirrors good enough to use for personal grooming. .... So low Reflectance is very important in determining real picture quality, especially on the smaller and more portable Tablets."

Unfortunately for Apple fans, the Kindle Fire HD and Nexus 7 both do much better than Apple does with this problem "even at their low price points, but the iPad mini comes with an unusually high Reflectance – it reflects 53 percent more ambient light than the Nexus 7 and 41 percent more than the Kindle Fire HD. This is another poor choice and another significant competitive shortfall."

The bottom line is that the iPad mini's display is simply not just poorer than the Kindle Fire HD and Nexus 7, it's a lot poorer than either Android tablet. This is troubling for Apple to fall short on a "fit and polish" issue. Usually, Apple cleans up the floor with its competition with their product's looks, but not this time. 

As for the Kindle FIre HD and the Nexus 7, in an earlier study, Soneira was impressed by both tablets. "This second generation of 7 inch Tablets has resulted in impressive improvements in display quality, now rivaling the top performing and most expensive large format Tablets, including the new iPad." But at day's end, the "Kindle Fire was the decisive winner of these two leading 7 inch Tablets. It is much better than the iPad 2 and almost as good as the new iPad in overall picture quality and color accuracy."

Related Stories:

Editorial standards