With mobile devices, arguably the most important specification is the display. Yes, other specifications are vital, too. Of course, you wouldn’t have a smartphone without a large battery, capable processor, GPU, RAM, or storage.
But with tablets and smartphones, the primary input and output is the display. It’s how you navigate the device, input text, read information, watch videos, and practically everything else you can do with mobile devices.
The rapid advancement of display technology only lends credence to the importance of the display. (Not that anyone should dispute the fact anyway.) In mid 2009, just over four years ago, the HTC Hero was released. The HTC Hero came with a 3.2-inch 480 by 320 pixel display, and very few people had qualms with the display. In fact, very few had anything bad to say about the iPhone display – the same HVGA resolution at 3.5-inches – at the time of its launch.
Now, it’s unusual for a medium-sized smartphone to feature less than 720p resolution. And most large smartphones offer up to 1080p, with density reaching well over 400 pixels per inch.
Resolution, however, is only a small piece of the pie. Display manufacturers have improved brightness, outdoor visibility, viewing angle, color gamut, contrast, black levels, subpixel arrangement, responsiveness, and several other aspects of mobile displays.
In other words, smartphone displays are better than ever – better than we ever would have imagined possible just a few years ago. They’re crisp, clear, and often put televisions, computer monitors, and other displays to shame in several areas.
All the while, the smartphone’s larger siblings have hardly received the same amount of love in displays.
Tablets, often more so than smartphones, are primarily used for multimedia consumption. The giant displays, ultra-portability, and great battery life make them ideal for mobile video consumption, reading, and light gaming.
And you would imagine devices used primarily for consumption via a large display would warrant innovation and advancement in … display technology, right? Wrong. Well, sort of.
In February last year, ASUS announced the Transformer Pad Infinity, a 10-inch tablet with a display resolution of 1,920 by 1,200 pixels. The very next month Apple announced the third-generation iPad with a 9.7-inch 2,048 by 1,536 pixel resolution. And in November, Google announced the Samsung-made Nexus 10, another 10-inch tablet with a resolution of 2,560 by 1,600 pixels.
And as of yesterday, the very first 7-inch tablet received love in the display department. The ASUS-made Nexus 7 (2013) will ship with a 7-inch 1,920 by 1,200 pixel display. Great.
The resolution is there. And the horsepower is, too. With the Snapdragon 600 and 800 chips, as well as the Tegra 4, high-resolution displays are much more feasible than they were just last year.
No, not all aspects of these tablets are quite up to snuff either. The Xperia Tablet Z’s 1,920 by 1,200 pixel LCD panel has trouble with viewing angles and contrast. The Nexus 10’s display lacks in color reproduction and black levels. Apple’s iPad Retina Display and other displays also fall short in various areas.
But there are few things worse than a tablet with great color, contrast, viewing angles, and an unacceptably low pixel density.
Samsung, the very same manufacturer that created the Nexus 10, is notorious for this. Neither of its two tablet lines, the Galaxy Tab or Galaxy Note, offer high-resolution displays, yet the beg for the same price as every other tablet that does. The Galaxy Note 10.1 retails for $499.99 and ships with a 10.1-inch 1,280 by 800 pixel display, which equates to a density of 149 pixels per inch. The Galaxy Tab 3 10.1, which we just reviewed, comes with the same display for $100 less.
For comparison, the entry level fourth-generation iPad costs the same as the Note 10.1, yet it offers a display with triple the resolution. Samsung’s own Nexus 10 offers four times the resolution, yet only costs $400.
If these were televisions instead of tablets, and you were judging based on pixel density, it would be almost like a 1080p set retailing for the same price as a new 4K set at the same size. A 32-inch 4K television would offer roughly 138 pixels per inch, versus the 67 pixels per inch of a 32-inch 1080p television. Likewise, the Galaxy Tab 3 10.1 offers 149 pixels per inch for the same price as the Nexus 10 at 300 pixels per inch. That’s double the density for the same exact price.
We know Samsung is capable of making tablets with ultra-high resolution displays. So the only question left rattling around in our head is: why doesn’t it?
Practically every other tablet manufacturer is. Yet, if Samsung’s tablets simply had better displays, especially with the Note 10.1, its tablets would have markedly more value proposition – S Pen, Multi-Window feature, Popup Browser, Popup Video, Air View, etc.
I simply can’t wrap my head around a single reason Samsung would even bother making tablets with WXGA resolution in a market where every other manufacturer is offering tablets with 1080p resolution and beyond. That is with the exception of one reason: Samsung doesn’t care and doesn’t take the tablet industry seriously. But that theory has a gaping hole in it – save for Apple, Samsung is leading global tablet market share by a seriously wide margin.
Frankly, I don’t care why Samsung is doing it. But it should most definitely step up its game, because if the rumored Nexus 10 successor came with an S Pen, it would be one of the best valued tablets on the market. I can’t imagine many would disagree.