Display Analysis

As with a discussion on performance in mobile devices these days, the iPad mini's display requires both an experiential analysis and an objective performance analysis. I'll begin with the experience.

Without a doubt, the iPad mini presents an evolution in form factor and nothing else. Everything from silicon to display technology are known quantities at this point. While it's true that in many senses, even Apple's previous generation mobile hardware is pretty good, the fact of the matter remains that the mini doesn't push the envelope in anything but form factor. That's not necessarily a bad thing, it's just reality. I should also point out that many smaller-versions-of-bigger-things follow this same approach of not pushing the performance envelope for obvious reasons.

Pixel Density Comparison

Doing the math on the mini's 1024 x 768 display results in a pixel density of 163 pixels per inch. A tangible improvement compared to the original iPad's 132 PPI, but keep in mind the smaller screen may have to be held closer to your eyes. Compared to other tablets, the mini's display resolution isn't anything to write home about. In practice, the mini's makes reading small text a problem:


While the 3rd and 4th gen iPads have a large enough display at a high enough resolution to make it possible to view the Dell configurator in the photo above without zooming, the same can't be said for the iPad mini. You're going to need a double tap.


iPad 2,4


iPad mini


iPad 4

Although reading text is one area where the absence of insane numbers of pixels is clearly obvious, it's visible in some photos as well.


iPad mini (left) vs. iPad 4 (right)

Where a lack of fine detail doesn't get you, the physical size of the display may. I was pleasantly surprised by the usefulness of Apple's 7.85-inch display, but given my early affinity towards 8-inch tablets it's not too shocking. Despite how useful the mini's display is, I found myself having to double tap to zoom in on most desktop websites just to make the reading a bit better. It's not that the process of zooming in on a website in mobile Safari is particularly cumbersome, it's that the fact that I have to makes me feel like I'm using more of an iPod Touch and less of an iPad. I do admit the feeling is quite irrational as I prefer keeping the iPod Touch (or iPhone in the case of, reality) holstered and using the mini instead. This is less a criticism of the iPad mini and more guidance for those deciding between mini and regular sizes of the iPad.

Compared to a true 7-inch tablet like the Nexus 7, the additional screen size is definitely appreciated - particularly when reading web pages:


Nexus 7 (left) vs iPad mini (right)


Nexus 7 (left) vs iPad mini (right)

When Vivek and I brought up the topic of the mini's lower pixel density on the Podcast, our own Brian Klug pointed out the obvious: we're spoiled. How impressed/unimpressed you are with the iPad mini's display really depends on what other displays you've been exposed to. In a vacuum, the iPad mini's display is fine. Brightness, black levels and contrast are all reasonable (and much better than most notebooks). Color reproduction isn't bad either. In the spectrum of all displays available at the mini's price point, this 7.85-inch 1024 x 768 panel isn't bad. Spend any appreciable time with the bigger iPad's Retina Display however, and your opinion will quickly change.

Display Brightness

Display Brightness

Display Contrast

In our Surface review I titled the display section "Not Retina, But Still Good". Compared to the Surface display, the mini has better color accuracy but clearly loses out in black levels thanks to Microsoft's laminated display + cover glass stack.

To evaluate color accuracy I turned to our own Chris Heinonen's CalMAN smartphone/tablet workflow. We'll start off by looking at the calibrated white point for these tablets. What you're looking for here is a number close to 6500K:

CalMAN Display Comparison - CCT

The mini doesn't really diverge from other iPads here, although Microsoft comes closer to 6500K at 200 nits.

The next three charts look at accuracy represented as a difference between various source colors and what's reproduced on the display. The results are presented as average dE2000, with lower numbers being better.

First up is Grayscale performance, here we're looking at the accuracy of black, white and 19 shades of gray spread in between the two extremes:

CalMAN Display Comparison - Grayscale

The mini does reasonably well here, it actually ends up a bit better than the 4th gen iPad. Grayscale accuracy doesn't seem to be too difficult for most folks to get right, but what happens when we start looking at colors?

First in our color accuracy tests is a saturation sweep. Here we're looking at 20%, 40%, 60%, 80% and 100% saturations of red, blue, green, magenta, yellow and cyan.

CalMAN Display Comparison - Saturation Sweep

Now we start to see the retina equipped iPads pull away from the mini. Compared to the iPad 2 and even Microsoft's Surface, the mini looks pretty good, but if you compare it to the Nexus 7 or newer iPads it's clearly at a disadvantage. All of these displays are significantly better than the average notebook panel. As I mentioned earlier, it all boils down to perspective and expectations.

Gamut CIE Chart


 

Saturation CIE Chart


 

For our final accuracy test we're looking at the difference between a Gretag Macbeth colorchecker chart and the rendered swatches on these displays. Once again, lower numbers are better.

CalMAN Display Comparison - GMB Colorchecker

Once again, the iPad 3/4 can't be touched here, with the iPad mini falling significantly behind. Colors simply look better on the bigger iPads. The Nexus 7 does better here as well. Subjectively I found colors on the Nexus 7 to look appreciably more accurate than on the mini.

GMB Color Checker


With regards to the quality and accuracy of the images rendered on the mini's screen, I feel the same way about it as I do the display on Surface: it's not a Retina display, but still good.

Design & Smart Cover A Retina mini?
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  • Magwitch - Wednesday, November 21, 2012 - link

    Am I the only person who thinks Anand is just another Apple shill who just falls over himself supporting any and every Apple product out there? Please. What ever happened to the objectivity that once was the hallmark of Anandtech? I've watched the same thing happen to Tom's Hardware over the years. I guess it must be the koolaid they drink. Reply
  • uhuznaa - Wednesday, November 21, 2012 - link

    Well, maybe this *is* objective and what you want to read is something subjective that starts and ends with "everything Apple is crap"?

    This review points out all the weak points of the device, comes with a lot of objective numbers and benchmarks -- what do you miss exactly?
    Reply
  • andrewaggb - Wednesday, November 21, 2012 - link

    I really don't think it's necessary to make personal insults against the staff. Yes anand clearly likes apple. But look around. So does half the continent. Reply
  • edsib1 - Wednesday, November 21, 2012 - link

    You state that the mini display is great but, in your own tests...

    Pixel density - 5th of 7
    brightness -13th of 17
    contrast - 17th of 17
    calibration - 6th of 7
    grayscrale - 3rd of 7
    saturation - 4th of 7
    GMB - 6th of 7

    I dont understand your conclusion. Doesnt add up to a great display to me.
    Reply
  • admiralpumpkin - Wednesday, November 21, 2012 - link

    The answer is two-fold.

    FIrst, the tests were against other rather good screens. So coming in "average" is actually quite good. Here's the key statement, near the end of the review, "It pains me to say it, but compared to most similarly priced notebooks, the iPad mini's display is amazing."

    Second, often times the margin of difference must not have seemed significant to Anand. For example, if two screens are 1% apart on a particular metric (pulling a number from nowhere) then which came in 1st vs 2nd is a relatively meaningless.
    Reply
  • jonjonjonj - Wednesday, November 21, 2012 - link

    i personally dont get it. i have an ipod touch, iphone and ipad and pretty much never use the ipod or ipad. the ipad is only good for checking an email quickly or looking at a youtube video. anything beyond that and its frustrating to use. personally i would rather have a laptop/ultrabook. not sure i understand making the mini other than just to have a cheaper "i" product to complete with kindles and androids. i didnt think apple was about going cheap. Reply
  • Jumangi - Wednesday, November 21, 2012 - link

    I can't see how any tech enthusiast site could look at the Mini and be impressed at the overall product. A 1 1/2 year old SoC. A screen resolution that goes back even farther and skimping out at 512MB or RAM. Any other manufacturer tried to pull that off would get slammed on all points but because the Mini has a nice case well all is good I guess... Reply
  • drx11 - Sunday, November 25, 2012 - link

    -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    How does this thing get positive reviews?....Oh wait its Apple. by Jumangi on Wednesday, November 21, 2012
    I can't see how any tech enthusiast site could look at the Mini and be impressed at the overall product. A 1 1/2 year old SoC.
    -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    You can not see it, because it is in the software... the SoC the apps, etc... you miss the forest for the trees. You miss the computer (system or tablet) for the specifications of the various parts...
    Reply
  • jb14 - Wednesday, November 21, 2012 - link

    Hi Anand thanks for the article.

    I was wondering if you had any plans to review the new B&N Nook HD 7" tablet? It would be interesting to read your findings on it's higher resolution screen. Also any plans for a tablet round up pre-xmas, as they are a nice size/price for potential presents? It seems the choice comes down to Nexus 7 vs N&B Nook/Kindle fire HD or the mini Ipad for iOS.
    Reply
  • Shadowmaster625 - Wednesday, November 21, 2012 - link

    "I don’t consider the iPad mini a competitor to the Nexus 7"

    What the heck? I jsut do not understand the continuous worshipping of this company's garbage products. It is almost like people dont even actually use these things. In reality, ther eis no difference between this and something like a nexus 7. They're both going to be extremely limited, extremely frustrating devices. iPoopa are anything but buttery smooth flawlessly running devices these biased reviewers make them out to be. I can make my iPoop crash just by opening webpages. Every time I'm scrolling thru the app store it lage like hell. The thing is really unbearably slow in jsut about everything. I only have about 100 apps installed. (58 of which want to update right now, but hell if I'm gonna bother.) I hate this thing. I only use it as a remote control nowadays. Even that crashes. It's really terrible. I refuse to believe that it is something unique to my device. What's more liekly to me is that the people who never have any problems with these things are the people who never actually use them.
    Reply

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