updated 01:22 am EST, Thu November 8, 2012
Need to support existing resolution, technical limitations forced choice
The monitor specialists at Displaymate have put a new iPad mini through its paces, and have found the display to be "very capable" but a distinct decrease in quality over Apple's Retina display choices as seen in the more recent iPads. Citing the iPad mini's resolution of a lower-than-expected 1024x768, the analysts believe that Apple's choice of panels for the iPad mini was a combination of constraints on display technology, cost minimization, plus a number of "poor choices and compromises."
One factor in the choice of a lower-resolution display (albeit somewhat better-looking than the original and second-generation iPad's identical screen due to the smaller size) is a reality for developers: fixed resolutions they plan for when designing their apps. Apple has chosen 1024x768 and the doubled 2048x1536 for its existing line of products before the iPad Mini, so the choice of 1024x768 was as much as technical choice for App Store compatibility as it was a practical one. If a Retina display like the iPad 3 was installed, it would have required a 326 pixel-per-inch screen. Displaymate considers this "currently out of the question for both cost and manufacturing volume and yield."
In assessing the new display as just "very capable" -- as opposed to Apple's tradition of providing the best display, according to Displaymate -- Apple could have boosted the sharpness by using sub-pixel rendering. Doing so, the analysts believe, would make the iPad mini more competitive with Google's Nexus 7 or Amazon's Kindle Fire HD, which are overall not as good as the iPad mini but cost less and have higher-resolution displays.
Use patterns of the iPad mini have yet to be determined, but Displaymate points out that the 4:3 aspect ratio of the iPad is both a blessing and a curse. The aspect ratio is the same as a 8.5x11-inch document, so it lends itself to more familiar reading dimensions. However, on the iPad Mini, as well as its predecessors prior to the Retina Display iPad 3, 16:9 video content is limited to 1024x576 unlike the 1280x720 on most other mini tablets and must be scaled down further. Displaymate views 1280x960 as a better choice for resolution.
The Kindle Fire HD and Nexus 7 have a lower reflectance score than the iPad mini, meaning that the screens installed on the devices reflect less ambient light back to the user when in use. According to the tests, the iPad mini reflects 53 percent more ambient light than the Nexus 7, and 41 percent more than the Kindle Fire HD.
The third-generation iPad and iPhone 5 have 100 percent color gamut, meaning that each device is capable of displaying the entire reproducible spectrum accurately. Tablets and smartphones typically have lower values, keeping the drain on the battery low, and backlight requirements modest. Both the Kindle Fire HD and Nexus 7 have 86 percent gamuts -- less than the iPad third generation, but more than the iPad mini's 62 percent.
Personal device repair company RepairLabs has released images and also evaluated the iPad mini display versus the fourth-generation iPad with Retina Display. "Looking at the display with the naked eye, but even more so under the microscope, you can see a significant difference in the quality of the picture" said head technician Taylor Huddelston.