Is The iPad Mini Really That Awesome?

During the last week we have heard a lot of hype about Apple’s new flagship pocketable. There have been rave reviews. And to be honest, I’ve seen very few poor reviews at all of the iPad Mini.
Being a Tech-writer and all around critic, I started to search out for more objective analysis and information on the Mini. Strangely, this was not an easy task. There are so many Apple fans out there, including technical writers. That most of what I’ve read and researched over the last week has been surprisingly subjective – even pro Apple. Eventually though, when one tries hard enough, I was able to cut through the chaff and find some really insightful details and analysis.

There are some solid scientists and technical people out there who put our devices under the microscope offering some solid stats, thoughts and reviews. So what I have done is try and pick out some things about the iPad Mini that didn’t quite make it to the popular press.
Just a quick note; I am not an Apple hater. I use an iPhone 4S and iPad 3 that my company issued me daily, and find both to be exceptional devices. My personal phone is my good ole Galaxy S2, rooted and running CM10. So here we go?

When Apple released the iPad Mini it didn’t surprise me at all. We’d all seen the many leaks and mock ups that kept us informed right up to its release.

Once the hype was over, the facts were clear. Apple delivered again, or did they. True to Apple, the design of the iPad Mini is sleek, light and lovely to look at. The size looks just right. And though I haven’t held the device, most who have say it feels very good in the hand. High end and solid.
But as we dive deep into the Mini some warts start to pop up. One is the screen. Most reviewers have quickly dismissed the screen and its resolution as “great, but not as good as the Retina display of the third and fourth generation iPad.” This bothered me a bit, even drove me to write this article. There were a lot of excuses flying around as to how Apple wanted to keep the weight down and price too. This hit me as odd. The Nexus 7 has a great resolution, is very light and not at all costly. Amazon’s Kindle seemed to be able to have an extremely sweet display yet keep price and weight down. Clearly Apples’ spin masters were at it again.

Here are some interesting facts about the Mini’s display:

These facts are written by Dr. Soneria of Display Mate Technologies. Dr. Raymond Soneira of DisplayMate Technologies has made it his mission to suss out the best smartphone, tablet, HDTV, and multimedia displays from the worst with his Display Technology Shoot-Out series. Here, the iPad mini, Kindle Fire HD and Nexus 7 fight.

Resolution

Given that Apple has been sticking with either 1024×768 or 2048×1536 iPad displays for compatibility reasons, that meant the iPad mini had to be 1024×768 with 163 pixels per inch. But that’s now considered to be rather on the low side, especially given that the $199 Amazon Kindle Fire HD and Google Nexus 7 both have considerably sharper displays with 216 Pixels Per Inch. So Apple, the inventor of retina display marketing, now has a significant competitive shortfall on this very issue.

Screen Reflectance

The screens on almost all tablets and smartphones are mirrors good enough to use for personal grooming. Even in moderate ambient lighting the contrast and colors can noticeably degrade from ambient light reflected by the screen, especially objects like your face and any bright lighting behind you. So low reflectance is very important in determining real picture quality, especially on the smaller and more portable Tablets. The lower the better. This article shows how screen images degrade in bright ambient light.

Screen reflectance on the iPad mini is a surprisingly high 9.0 percent. On the Nexus 7 the reflectance is a much lower 5.9 percent, while on the Kindle Fire HD it is 6.4 percent. As a result, the iPad mini reflects 53 percent more ambient light than the Nexus 7 and 41 percent more than the Kindle Fire HD. That’s quite a big difference. Screen visibility and readability in high ambient light depends on both the maximum brightness and screen reflectance, which we evaluate with a contrast rating for high ambient light. On the Kindle Fire HD it is 58 percent higher than the iPad mini and 47 percent higher on the Nexus 7.

Color Gamut and Color Accuracy

While the iPad 2 and iPhone 4 had reduced 61-64 percent color gamuts, the Amazon Kindle Fire HD and Google Nexus 7 both deliver a much larger 86 percent color gamut, and the new iPad 3 and iPhone 5 have full 100 percent standard color gamuts. So it was a surprise and a major disappointment for the iPad mini to arrive with an antiquated smaller 62 percent color gamut.

Multiple media

But another major application for mini tablets is viewing widescreen video content with aspect ratios of 16:9 (and higher for many movies). On the iPad mini, 16:9 content is viewed letterboxed with only 1024×576 resolution, which is getting pretty close to standard definition video rather than true high definition 1280×720 video on most other mini tablets like the Amazon Kindle Fire HD and Google Nexus 7. A much better screen resolution choice for the iPad mini would have been 1280×960, because it could then deliver true HD video content, satisfactory letterboxing for older 1024×768 Apps, plus much sharper text for reading.

iPad mini Conclusions

The iPad mini is certainly a very capable small tablet, but it does not follow in Apple’s tradition of providing the best display, or at least a great display—it has just a very capable display. What’s more, the displays on existing mini tablets from Amazon and Google outperform the iPad mini in most of our lab tests as documented below in the Shoot-Out comparison table. Some of this results from constraints within the iPad product line, and some to realistic constraints on display technology and costs, but much of it is due to a number of poor choices and compromises.
Wow, so there you have it, from the experts. Many of the display issues are due to, “a number of poor choices and compromises made by Apple.” Amazing, iPad Mini cannot deliver HD video playback!

Ok, so now we know that the iPad Mini has some display issues. For me it breaks down to Apple making a clear decision to cut corners on the iPad Mini to make as much profit as they can on this device. Don’t get me wrong, profit is ok. But with this surging tablet market I don’t think cutting corners was a smart thing to do. And come one, how much profit does Apple really need to make on the Mini?

Part one of more parts; stay tuned

Part two: Cost of Mini. The sweet profit from Apples’ iPad Mini are rolling up the red carpet and into the Cupertino Campus.

Coming soon.

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