iPad Test Notes: The Screen

The iPad has - or rather, is - a 9.7-inch, 768x1024-pixel, LED-backlit display. So how does it measure up against the iPhone? Popular netbooks? A new MacBook?

First impressions of the iPad's screen range from nonplussed to very impressed, but the consensus is that the screen is at the very least not deficient. Honestly though, it's impossible to meaningfully evaluate something like this without a real-world comparison, so I grabbed the closest, most relevant references I could find: an iPhone 3GS, a MacBook Pro unibody and a Dell Inspiron Mini 10. I cranked brightness all the way up on each device and ran through a set of display quality test images. My impressions:

It gets very black. The iPad's blacks were among the inkiest in the group, matching the late model MacBook Pro, beating the Inspiron and blowing the iPhone out of the water.

It gets very white. On the other side of the spectrum, the iPad's whites were blindingly bright. The entire display actually seemed to emit more light at its top brightness settings than all but the Dell, the difference being that the iPad maintained rich colours and deep blacks all the way up, while the Dell's screen got a little washed out.

Colours are deep and vivid - most of the time. Throughout the colour range, images really pop - but this depends heavily on your selected screen brightness. The screen is shockingly rich when brightness is adjusted all the way up. Thing is, you won't want to leave it that way, or else it'll drain your battery, and eventually, strain your eyes. At mid-bright levels, the screen is never noticeably desaturated, but you don't get the same OH DEAR GOD visual impression as when the screen's set to max brightness. (The sensation I'm talking about is a bit like turning up brightness on an LED-backlit MacBook's screen, except a bit more pronounced - it gets a few ticks more intense than you expect.)

You won't miss the lower pixel density. The iPad's screen is made of 132 points per inch. The iPhone's is 163ppi. The 13-inch MacBook Pro is 113ppi. The iPad sits well past the threshold where you notice aliasing in onscreen text, partly because of the relatively high pixel density, and mostly because of the largish text size. (As compared to the iPhone.)

It works outdoors, but it's not magic. The display was more forgiving than I expected in sunlight, but don't expect images or text to look great in direct sunlight, especially compared to E-Ink. The tradeoff is much less severe than I'd expected, though - it's more legible in sunlight than the iPhone, by far.

You'll need to carry a towel. I had no idea my hands were this greasy. Seriously, I've wiped this thing down about 12 times since I picked it up. Ugh. I've had to resort to a multitude of terrible wiping manoeuvres, too: the pectoral massage; the thigh-grinder; the belly rub; the elbow buff; and once, fleetingly, the arse wipe.

This is by no means a scientific test, but with displays, experience counts for a lot.