Display shootout: Microsoft Surface RT vs. iPads vs. Android Tablets

An internationally recognized display expert has posted an in-depth shoot-out comparing the displays of the Surface RT, iPad 2, iPad 3, and Galaxy Tab 10.1 and the results may surprise you.
Written by Jason D. O'Grady, Contributor
Display shootout: Microsoft Surface RT vs. iPads vs. Android Tablets - Jason O'Grady (image: CNET)

Before Surface for Windows RT began shipping, Microsoft's Steven Bathiche said that "Microsoft has the best pixel rendering technology in the industry," subtly implying that the Surface display might be superior to the display in the iPad. Naturally this started a flame war between opposing camps with Apple users doubting that a 1366 x 768, 148 PPI display could best the almighy iPad's 2048 x 1536, 264 PPI.

Now that the Surface is shipping, Dr. Ray Soneira President of DisplayMate Technologies Corporation, pits all the top tablet displays against each other in his latest shoot-out.

So, how good is the Microsoft Surface RT display compared to the iPads and Android Tablets? Here is part of his conclusion:

The display on the Microsoft Surface RT outperforms all of the standard resolution full size 10 inch Tablets that we have tested in our Display Shoot-Out series. The Lab tests and measurements documented in the Shoot-Out Comparison Table indicate that Microsoft has paid a lot of attention to display performance for the Surface RT. In particular, on-screen text is significantly sharper, it has a better factory display calibration, and also significantly lower screen Reflectance than the iPad 2 and all full size 1280x800 Android Tablets. But it is not as sharp as the iPad 3 or 4, nor does it have their large full Color Gamut. We'll have to wait for the high resolution Windows Pro Tablets that will be launching in early 2013 for direct comparisons with the high resolution iPads and Android Tablets. This is a great start for Windows Tablets and brings much needed competition to the Tablet marketplace. In addition, many other manufacturers will be launching their own branded Windows RT and Pro Tablets - we'll include the best of them in future Mobile Display Shoot-Outs.

Soneira gives the Surface RT pretty high marks, but the iPad 3 and 4 still win in text sharpness. Undoubtedly both sides will declare victory.

One thing that stands out to me is that Apple loses a lot of ground in many comparisons because of its overly glossy displays. According to Soneira, "even in moderate ambient lighting the image contrast and colors can noticeably degrade from ambient light reflected by the screen" noting that reflection has the effect of "washing out the images and colors and producing distracting mirror reflections superimposed on the screen."

If reflectance is such an important factor in determining real world picture quality, why does Apple continue to ship super-glossy displays? Is it because they look better in the showroom or something? Does Apple even care about screen reflectance or is it blinded by its own success?

If you're considering the purchase of a tablet I highly recommend that you read Soneira's complete Surface RT Display Technology Shoot-Out.

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