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?


View All Comments

  • Zink - Wednesday, November 21, 2012 - link

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5MMmLQlrBws Reply
  • twtech - Tuesday, November 20, 2012 - link

    I hope Google keeps the same screen size for the next 7" Nexus, but trims into the border a bit on the sides. Right now it's right at the limit for wrapping a hand around it, and I have pretty big hands. Reply
  • Crocography - Tuesday, November 20, 2012 - link

    And also its all metal back is too slippery compared to the Nexus 7. I waited for both to be release before I bought the Nexus 7 32Gb. (bought one by selling my iPad 2013 model -- never really used it much) Reply
  • jjj - Tuesday, November 20, 2012 - link

    If Apple is Apple they should have made this higher end and price it at 400$, and that still is what Job's Apple would do.Next year with the ipad 2 gone,they would need to drop the ipad 4 to 400$ or retire it so covering the 400$ range with the mini would make more sense.The cost of the SoC is a relative thing,32nm yields will get better by then,keeping it thin could be problematic if they double the res.

    PS; i am in no way suggesting this would be a price worth paying, just sayiing what would Apple do.
  • dishayu - Wednesday, November 21, 2012 - link

    Is it possible Apple made the iPad mini worse than they were capable of, right now, just so that they can effortlessly update it and make more money out of it? Reply
  • ltcommanderdata - Wednesday, November 21, 2012 - link

    Like any product designer, Apple has got to optimize for a variety of factors including component availability, component cost, final sale price, what features customers want, what features customers can tolerate not having, etc. If they just cared about maximizing profits they might as well have just thrown in the A4 from the iPhone 4 and a larger version of the TN panel used in the iPhone 3GS since they share the same dpi anyways.

    The iPad Mini already has worse battery life than the iPad 2 even without a retina display. Adding a retina display and a faster SoC to drive it will make this even worse unless a larger battery is included. One of the main features of the iPad Mini is how thin and light it is, even thinner and lighter than competing 7" tablets despite having a larger screen. Gaining a retina display in exchange for a thicker, heavier tablet may silence some complaints but will only create new ones. What's worse, a thicker, heavier design might make the iPad Mini difficult to hold given it's thin bezel design with limited grip area, so is a non-starter given current technology in 2012. Hopefully Anand is wrong in his prediction that a Retina iPad Mini isn't possible in 2013 either and that improvements in display tech, battery tech, and a move to the Samsung 28 nm process for the SoC will make it happen.
  • marcolorenzo - Wednesday, November 21, 2012 - link

    Whilst I'm sure it was possible for Apple to include the retina display and the A6 SoC, it's more likely that they chose not to since it would make the device bigger and heavier due to the bigger battery it would require. Apple was simply not willing to make that sacrifice. Next year when the technology is more mature, they will implement it. Reply
  • drx11 - Sunday, November 25, 2012 - link

    RE: On purpose by marcolorenzo on Wednesday, November 21, 2012
    Whilst I'm sure it was possible for Apple to include the retina display and the A6 SoC, it's more likely that they chose not to since it would make the device bigger and heavier due to the bigger battery it would require....
    Exactly - this is the iPad 4 (gen)!
  • aravenwood - Wednesday, November 21, 2012 - link


    Thanks for the article, but the most interesting thing you mention never gets explored at all in the article. On the first page you say:

    "But here’s the thing - I don’t consider the iPad mini a competitor to the Nexus 7. The Nexus 7, to me, is what I buy if I’m in the market for a $199 tablet or I want a 7” Android device. It’s a completely different experience than the iPad mini. In my mind, the closest competitors for the iPad mini are, in order, the iPad 2, the Kindle Fire HD 8.9”, and the Nook Tablet HD+. The iPad 2 is obvious because these are the two lowest priced iOS tablets right now, and with similar underlying hardware, they’re actually pretty closely matched. I think the latter two are especially interesting comparisons to make, because all three exist in the ~$300 “small premium tablet” niche that has suddenly appeared."

    You say that the comparison with the Nook HD+ and Kindle are the most interesting comparisons, in a small premium tablet niche, but you never come back to this. Can you elaborate on this, maybe in a followup article? I for one have basically discounted the iPad Mini, and the kindle in favor of the Nook HD+. I haven't bought it yet, but I am leaning heavily - the only drawback is the lack of camera and GPS. The price, quality of screen build quality is compelling. In general I feel that Nook HD/HD+ doesn't get the respect it deserves. I have been holding off because I can't any serious (e.g. Anandtech type) reviews of the device and i want to read some real discussion of it's qualities and get a no-bs assessment of the good and bad and comparison to the Kindle and nexus 10.

    So that's my Thanksgiving wish - if you have down time, can we please have a review of the Nook HD +?

  • MadMan007 - Wednesday, November 21, 2012 - link

    Seconded. The Nooks and Kindles may be some of the more popular tablets among the less tech savvy. They aren't the fastest or most up to date, but they do have nice feature sets, and B&N doesn't overcharge for built-in storage upgrades. The Nook HD+ and Fire HD 8.9" both have very high resolution screens. Maybe the custom software makes them harder to review? I still think it's worth it even if they aren't directly comparable to other tablets for that reason, plus you could explore loading custom ROMs if possible (I didn't bother to look up whether they are hackable) Reply

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