When Google launched the Nexus 7 earlier this summer, it was trumpeted for its best-in-class 7-inch 1280×800 IPS LCD display. It packed all the HD punch that we are used to getting in 10-inch tablets into a tiny, handholdable package. Sales took off accordingly. Now Amazon has updated its very popular Kindle Fire 7-incher with an HD display, looking to top Google as the best way to consume content in the palm of your hand.
With the competition heating up, DisplayMate has just completed an exhaustive comparison of the displays on these two tablets. The results hold some surprises for those owning, or looking to buy, a 7-inch model tablet android.
As you’d expect, the displays both receive much higher marks than the older screen found in the first-generation Kindle Fire, and both get very high marks for overall sharpness. The new Kindle Fire HD 7-inch display even scored above the more expensive iPad 2. These findings are tempered by the unsurprising note that neither can go head-to-head with the Retina display in the new iPad.
Sharpness and color
At 216 PPI the Fire HD and Nexus 7 both get high marks for resolution, with DisplayMate pointing out that 15.9 inches (40cm) is the “Retina display” distance for both. In other words, if you’re 16 inches or more from the device, you probably can’t see individual pixels. Both tablets can render 86% of the sRGB color gamut — an improvement over almost every tablet on the market, except the new iPad. Aside from the Nexus 7 having slightly more saturated reds, and the Fire HD doing a little better on greens and yellows, DisplayMate calls the displays themselves pretty much a toss-up. Both tablets also get high marks for low reflectance.
When it comes to color calibration, however, it seems Google may have made an almighty goof.
Does Google deserve to get taken out to the woodshed?
DisplayMate’s President, Dr. Soneira, goes out of his way to criticize Google’s handling of the display panel on the Nexus 7. Describing its factory calibration as “incompetent” and “messed up”, he goes on to suggest that those who care about image quality “might want to skip the Google Nexus 7.” The DisplayMate shoot-out highlights additional criticisms, especially for Google’s choice of green primary for the display. You can read the entire report, in addition to the comparison to the new iPad, for yourself.
Since laboratory testing doesn’t always equate to actual, real life performance, I was naturally inclined to see for myself exactly how visible the problems are in an everyday setting.
First, to get a sense for whether bright, colorful images looked washed out as mentioned in the shoot out, I set up a calibrated HP LCD monitor, an Apple iPad 2, and a Google Nexus 7, all displaying the same photo of vividly-colored Grand Prismatic Basin in Yellowstone. While I preferred the HP image — which was to be expected — I didn’t see much to choose between the iPad 2 or the Nexus 7, with both of them being a bit washed out by comparison. However, I considered the Nexus 7 version to be acceptable for casual viewing or sharing. So while I’m sure DisplayMate’s numbers are right on this one, it wasn’t a show-stopper for me — unless I needed to use the tablet to showcase a professional portfolio.
Soneira also points out that Google’s green primary choice is not sufficiently saturated. Setting up another test image, this time with some deep green areas, I definitely saw the problem. While there wasn’t anything unpleasant about the Nexus 7 version, it literally paled by comparison to the same image on an iPad 2 and the HP monitor.
Purists will note that my photos weren’t captured in a carefully-controlled environment. That’s intentional, since most image sharing on tablets isn’t done in light booths. The good news for Nexus 7 owners is that calibration can be fixed in software (through an updated ROM), so there is hope that the Nexus 7 display will eventually live up to its full potential.
Which tablet should you buy?
The bottom line from the DisplayMate report reinforces Amazon’s excellence at producing pure content delivery devices. For anyone looking at getting the best audio, video, and photo experience for $200, the Kindle Fire HD is the clear choice. None of that changes the fact that the Kindle is a locked-down, forked, muted version of Android, so if you want maximum flexibility in a $200 tablet, the Google Nexus 7 is still the best option, even if you have to live with some display issues.