The iPad Mini’s Display Doesn’t Stack Up Well Against The Competition, But There’s Still Hope

The iPad Mini’s Display Doesn’t Stack Up Well Against The Competition, But There’s Still Hope

Although the iPad mini is well-reviewed and seems to be something of a hint with early adopters, there is at least one complaint: the display isn’t Retina. In fact, not only is it not Retina, it’s actually decidedly lower resolution than even competing 7-inch tablets like the Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire HD 7.

How does the display of the iPad mini stack up against the Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire HD in objective terms, though? Not well, although there’s something Apple could do to make things better.

Dr. Raymond Soneira of DisplayMate Technologies, pretty much the go-to expert on display technology in this space, has written his conclusions in the iPad mini display shoot-out.

The results aren’t pretty. Pointing out that Apple has become synonymous with providing the best, highest-resolution displays in its mobile devices, Soneira says the iPad mini display bucks that trend, and is, in fact, the worst display of the major 7-inch tablets on the market right now, not just when it comes to resolution, but also when it comes to other issues like screen reflectance and color gamut.

As DisplayMate points out, the reason Apple didn’t opt for a higher-resolution display for the iPad mini was that Apple wanted to keep apps backwards-compatible. Since only two resolutions are supported by iPad aps — 1024 x 768 and 2048 x 1536 — and because 2048 x 1536 displays with a 326 pixels-per-inch resolutions are prohibitively expensive at 7.85-inches, Apple had no choice but to use a lower resolution display panel.

Here’s the thing, though: Retina is all well and good, but its most dramatic effect is on making text super-sharp. Apple has other options for making text sharp besides giving a display more pixels: they can use sub-pixel rendering to improve sharpness. Unfortunately, Apple’s not doing that right now, but if they did — say, in a software update — the iPad mini would immediately become competitive in perceived visual shapness even without a Retina display.

The way text appears on the iPad mini is our biggest complaint about Apple’s latest tablet, especially considering it costs more than a $100 more than competing tablets with much better displays. It’s nice to know that a software update could potentially fix our one major gripe about the iPad mini. It’s otherwise perfect.

  • FriarNurgle

    I personally feel the 1st gen mini is a pass even though I love Apple and have yet to get a tablet. Picking up an Android might make sense given specs and cost… however the lack of interconnectivity and infrastructure that I’ve come to love with Apple will likely keep me from getting one.

  • Whodakat

    I read the original article and I’m not sure Apple could sharpen the text with a software update. I’m thinking if it was that easy, they probably would have already done that.

    That being said, get used to the screen all, because its not going retina any time soon. Like the article points out the only way for the mini to go retina (and keep the native resolutions which is the whole point anyway) is to have the resolution of the new iPad in a smaller screen. So Apple would be selling you a better screen in the mini and at a lower price than the new iPad. I’m gonna guess thats not going to happen.

  • MacHead84

    I swear everyone acts like they are eagle eyes now that Apple coined the term Retina Display. I look at crappy HP for work 8 hours a day thats atleast 5 years old and I have no problems dealing with it. Meanwhile the reality of the world is MOST peoples vision is awful and cant make out pixels to save their life. Ask an optometrist! Only when humans evolve into having Eagle eyesight will Retina Display vs a little less than Retina Display matter.

  • PGEddington

    Always fascinates me that tech blogs/sites have writers and editors that obsess over specs. The real question is simple: will average users–like me–be satisfied with a display that’s significantly better than the iPad 2 on a more portable, less expensive device with full access to the complete range of music & apps available on the full size iPad? Answer: yes…which is why Apple has already sold out of the available iPad mini model.

  • Robert X

    This is stupid. I don’t own a tablet. Never even saw one up close because I wanted a smaller Apple iPad. So I go into Best Buy and they show me the demo. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the display that would prevent me from wanting to buy it (and I will).

  • CharilaosMulder

    Shoot me if I’m wrong, but sub-pixel AA is only possible in one orientation. That’s all to do with how the subpixels are placed.

  • Zod Buster

    Apple is just testing the intelligence level of it’s buyers…
    look for more bargain items at premium prices…

  • technochick

    It must really piss off these experts when they shit on a product but it sells 10 to 1 over all the other boys combined, as the Mini will likely do

  • technochick

    That being said, get used to the screen all, because its not going retina any time soon.

    Nope. Aside from component price there is the issue that the retina display is a batter vampire even with the better unit. On the smaller one it would be a huge hit on life expectancy between charges. And that is THE spec Apple cares about above all others

  • Mystakill

    Subpixel rendering doesn’t increase the resolution or overly premium pricing, nor does it address the artifacting that’s required to essentially fake higher resolution.

    Bottom line; save your money and buy a ‘droid tablet with a better display, or pay a bit more and get an iPad 2 (because, Heaven forbid that Apple sell its “old” iPod 3 for $399 and give people a reasonably-priced premium tablet…)

About the author

John BrownleeJohn Brownlee is a Contributing Editor. He has also written for Wired, Playboy, Boing Boing, Popular Mechanics, VentureBeat, and Gizmodo. He lives in Boston with his wife and two parakeets. You can follow him here on Twitter.

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