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iPad Mini Falls Short on Reflectance and Color Gamut in Display Shootout

By Wesley Fenlon

DisplayMate finds a few noteworthy issues with the iPad Mini's display besides its low resolution.

Here's something you already know: the iPad Mini's screen can't compete with its big brother's. When Apple released the third generation iPad, it quadrupled the number of pixels in the display from 1024x768 to 2048x1536. The pixels are tiny. The screen is incredibly sharp. Even though the iPad Mini cuts a couple inches off the full-size tablet's screen, 1024x768 at 7.9 inches is still a noticeable step down. Unfortunately, the resolution of the Mini's display isn't its only drawback.

DisplayMate threw the iPad Mini into one of its regular display shoot-outs and came away with a negative opinion of Apple's new tablet. Not only is the Mini lower resolution than the Google Nexus 7 and Amazon Kindle Fire, which use 1280x800 pixel displays, it's noticeably weak on a couple important categories, including color gamut and screen reflectance.

The DisplayMate shoot-out pitted the iPad Mini against the leading 7-inch tablets and found nothing to dethrone the Kindle Fire HD, which beat out the Nexus 7 thanks to better calibration and color saturation. The Mini fell short of both in some important categories. Reflectance "The iPad mini reflects 53 percent more ambient light than the Nexus 7 and 41 percent more than the Kindle Fire HD." Contrast ratio: a "relatively low" score of 43 for the Mini, "very good" scores of 68 and 63 for the Kindle Fire HD and Nexus 7, respectively. Color gamut: 62 percent of standard compared to 86 percent of standard on both Android tablets.

In battery performance, the Nexus 7 was a clear winner: Google's tablet lasted nine hours at maximum brightness with no applications running, while the Kindle Fire HD lasted 6.6 hours and the iPad Mini lasted 6.1 (unsurprising, given its significantly larger 4:3 screen).

DisplayMate still calls the iPad Mini a "very capable display," and notes that the only way Apple could realistically deliver a screen with higher pixel density would be to deviate from the list of supported resolutions in iOS. Making the Mini's screen 1280x960, it says, would allow it to display video at an HD resolution (because the tablet is 4:3, HD video content is letterboxed to 1024x576) and deliver sharper text. But that's an approach with serious drawbacks: iOS developers wouldn't take kindly to yet another screen size.

Light Spectra via DisplayMate

DisplayMate notes that a "retina" iPad Mini is "currently out of the question for both cost and manufacturing volume and yield since it would need to be Low Temperature Polysilicon." Which means, basically, that Apple has chosen a better environment for developers--and arguably a better app experience--over a small resolution bump. But even without increasing the tablet's resolution, DisplayMate notes Apple could implement sub-pixel rendering for sharper text. The screen reflectance and color gamut could also be better--those issues aren't attached to the tablet's resolution.

The shoot-out does praise the Mini's color management processing, which partially makes up for its lower color gamut, but points out the display can't hit highly saturated colors that the third generation iPad has no trouble with. The Nexus 7 has a real issue with its color intensity scale--it compresses bright colors--but that could be fixed with a firmware update.

Bottom line: If you want the best possible display in a cheap 7-inch tablet, the Kindle Fire HD is for you.