The Nexus 7's Display Stumbles And Falls Short

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, he dissects the screen on Google's Nexus 7.

Editor's note: Dr Soneiera confirms the problem with the Nexus 7 we raised in our review, but I've written a quick follow-up piece to this one saying that it doesn't matter one bit how rubbish the display is on the new 7-inch tablet.

The Google Nexus 7 is the first of the second generation 7-inch tablets out of the gate. and it sure looks like it could be a winner. The published display specs look pretty good, and some of the basic Lab measurements also look pretty good. But just like in Triple Crown races, an important but overlooked issue can spoil the outcome. In this Display News item we'll explain what went wrong with the Nexus 7 display — the details will appear in our upcoming in-depth 7-inch Tablet Display Shoot-Out.

The display on the Nexus 7 sounds great on paper — a 1280x800 display with 216 pixels per inch (PPI), within the PPI sweet spot we have recommended for Tablets, so text and graphics appear very sharp, but not as sharp as on the new iPad 3. It also has a premium IPS LCD, the same technology found on the iPads and the first generation Kindle Fire, which provides excellent wide viewing angles. In the lab we measured the Nexus 7's brightness (luminance) to be about 350 nits, comparable to most other 7-inch LCD Tablets. Its display contrast ratio is about 1,000 which is excellent for mobile displays. So far so good.

Next we measured the colour Gamut, something where almost all mobile LCDs come up short in order to improve power efficiency and battery running time. They typically provide only about 60 per cent of the ideal standard colour gamut, which results in somewhat subdued colours in all displayed images, including photos and videos. For the Google Nexus 7, we measured an impressive 86 per cent of the standard gamut — not as good as the new iPad 3's 99 per cent, but much better than most existing LCD tablets and smartphones. So far, it sounds really good — but let's see how good it actually looks.

Even before I examined the display with our DisplayMate diagnostic test patterns I knew something was seriously wrong when I looked at the first of many sets of standard photos that we use to visually evaluate displays. Normally we compare everything to a calibrated professional studio monitor to check for image and colour accuracy. But that wasn't necessary with the Nexus 7 because many of the images were noticeably washed out — they looked like over exposed photographs with missing highlights, reduced image contrast, and weak colours. However, darker images look a lot better than brighter ones, which actually tells us a lot about its cause.

So, what's the problem? The Intensity Scale (often called the grey scale) is way off. The display's brightness fails to increase sufficiently for bright image content, causing bright image detail to be compressed and lost. See the figure at left for the Nexus 7 and this figure to see what the Intensity Scale should look like. The Nexus 7 Display stumbles and falls short both figuratively and literally.

There is about a 25 per cent compression of bright image content, which is quite substantial. This holds for both the Gallery Viewer and the Chrome Browser. On some cheap displays this is done intentionally by the manufacturer because the compression actually makes them appear artificially bright. Here I think it's probably just incompetence by the manufacturer, which is too bad because they messed up a really nice display. Depending on the display firmware this may or may not be correctable with a software update. These tests were made under Android 4.1.1.

The Nexus 7 has a high quality display, they just really messed up the factory calibration. This affects all displayed images, but it is most noticeable on any form of photographic image, including videos, because the colour and intensity mixtures are visually critical for them to look right. The analogy of an over exposed photo is a good one. For high contrast software generated text and graphics the display will look fine.

In short, the display produces washed out images and colours in spite of the fact that it has a display with excellent colour saturation and contrast.

Looks like Google didn't pay enough attention to the Steve Jobs memo that the key to a successful Tablet is an outstanding display. If high image and picture quality is important to you, then you might want to skip the Google Nexus 7 and wait for a Tablet with a better display, or wait and see if Google can correct the problem.


Comments

    Wait,

    So, the issue with the display, isnt the physical components display itself, but rather, the firmware or the software for the display?

    The guys and gals over at XDA will have this adjusted in no time.

    Maybe someones going to include sometihng in their ROM?

    Maybe they won't fix it because it might have been done for a reason like battery life or something.

    So Steve Jobs was the only one genius enough to realise that a Tablet needs a good screen? I don't expect a tablet at this price point to have a screen as good as one for twice the price and this is the first time I've read of problems with the screen being washed out. Its definetly the first time anyone has suggested to skip the Tablet for such a reason, I mean when renowned Apple fanboy MG Siegler recomends the device you know its probably a good device.

    Looks fine to me, but hey...I'm just an end user.

      Hear Hear.. I've found no problem with viewing the nexus 7. However I've yet to take it outside the house and use it in full daylight.

    i hardly think anyone buying a cheap, entry point tablet is going to care whether the display is perfect.

    I got mine on Monday and photos look fine to me, watched a hq video last night and it looked great too.
    Can the Gizmodo team post some comparative photos of an ipad and nexus 7 side by side, displaying the same image?

    Wait..... a 250 Dollar Tablet doesn't have the best screen in it.

      I know, It's a great screen for the price, it's so good they needed an expert to did down to the device to discover that the iPad screen is slightly better - it's not like the price is slightly more :)

    If it were an outstanding display, rather than another me too ordinary Android display it would be 1920x1200. Market's full of run-of-the mill tablets, this brings nothing new at all.

    I like mine. It looks great.

    I had a look at one today (and I'm probably going to grab one), the screen is awesome for the price, and unlike the fruity competitor, this issue could possibly be sorted with a free firmware update, and not wait a few months and release it as a completely different model.

    Vote one.

    Dr Soneira, try learning the difference between "Figuratively" and "literally". The tablet screen lacks both legs and the ability to use them. ;)

    Reading this on one at jb and it looks fine ;)

    Not got one yet, but want more than a wish list job. You chaps have almost convinced me. £600 is a hellava lot of juice for something to have around the home. £200 is very reasonable. Anymore positive comments before I rush of and buy one.

    Rik, recommend you get one. Just ignore this article, I have no issues with my N7.

    It's just unbelievable how these socalled experts carry on about such things as the display does this and lacks, that the battery life is bad compared to something else. blah..blah What do they want for the price. It has a great display best thing I bought as far as tablets go.If pple want all thebells and whistles, then go and spend $1000 I have no issues with mine either.I have a tab 10.1 and the 7 runs rings around it for speed and graphics

    all displays look crap in sunlight

    .pThe only thing apple has got is a brilliant display. noone is giong to argue with that, but that where it stops. Android is so much more versitile. Like real apples, thy will rot aay..lol

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