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Tablet Display Resolution: More is Better, Right ?

In my ongoing quest for a proper productivity touchscreen device, I've tried many different ones.  Most recently I have been using an iPad mini with and without Retina Display, a Lenovo Thinkpad 8, a Lenovo Lynx with battery keyboard, a Dell Venue 8 Pro and an iPad Air.  They are all kinda-sorta in the same usage segment, though the Lenovo Lynx could almost be considered a laptop.

Some have the goods, some don't... which do you think came out on top?
This humble technogeek has finally turned 40! One unique challenge of getting older is unfortunately your eyes prefer certain things.  One of my criteria is unfortunately the usability of a screen, which is often strongly based on the screen resolution and how the OS of the device uses that resolution.

First the contenders (and yes, there are many more, but these are the ones I've personally played with):


Make Model Display size Resolution PPI OS
Apple iPad Mini (non retina) 7.9" 1024x768 162 iOS 7
Apple iPad Mini Retina 7.9" 2048x1536 326 iOS 7
Apple iPad Air 9.7" 2048x1536 264 iOS 7
Lenovo Thinkpad 8 8.3" 1920x1200 273 Windows 8.1
Lenovo Ideapad Lynx 11.6" 1366x768 135 Windows 8.1
Dell Venue 8 Pro 8" 1280x800 189 Windows 8.1
Asus Google Nexus 7 7" 1280x1200 323 Android 4.4

And here are the criteria categories:
  • Visual readability/clarity
  • Touch Usability
  • OS responsiveness

Visual readability/clarity:

Major props to Apple on all fronts here -- iOS is obviously designed to take advantage of the screen resolution well, things aren't too big or too small, text is clear, everything is crisp, and the color is gorgeous.  The first generation iPad mini with its lower resolution of 1024x768 (same as the original iPad), is a little fuzzy, but the screen size isn't too small to make it a problem, at least in THIS category :)

The Dell Venue 8 Pro also scores high marks here, a reasonable 2nd place behind ALL the iPads.  The screen elements of Windows 8, both Metro and desktop mode are sharp and usable, though my eyes get a little bothered with the smallish "x" buttons at the upper right of windows desktop apps. 

The Ideapad Lynx has BIG CHUNKY screen resolution.  Great for older folks with weaker eyes, though I'm not at that stage yet :)  I found the vertical resolution of 768 to be inadequate however, and many windows apps (in desktop mode) would be off the screen causing me much annoyance.

The Google Nexus is a really nice device, and all the screen elements seem scaled well and sharp.  The screen seemed a little dull to me though.  Hopefully I didn't just have a lemon.

Winner: iPad Mini Retina and iPad Air

Touch Usability:

Again, props to Apple devices here, the touch responsiveness, accuracy of taps, and graceful error correction when you are "close" to tapping on the right thing just work great.

Nearly tied is the Nexus 7.  Great responsiveness, and WOW what a difference from earlier versions of Android!

Of the windows machines, the Dell Venue 8 Pro does great, and the screen is very responsive.  The problem with the Dell, and the two Lenovo's is that stuff gets SMALL and hard to tap in desktop mode, and lets face it, there are so few real Metro apps, that Win8 users inevitably MUST use the desktop mode.  #bleh

One note here is the Thinkpad 8.  Its crazy (for windows) resolution of 1920x1200 looks awesome in Metro mode and with pretty media images and video, but trying to use Windows in desktop mode on that device is quite painful.  Windows has built in stuff to scale the fonts to work better with different resolutions, but ugg it does a terrible job, and I found myself struggling to adjust it so that maximize and close buttons on windows didn't scale and warp the geometry of the app windows making them impossible to click.  I had to hard reset the device once because I accidentally screwed up the font scaling so bad the OS was unusable.  This is one case where more is DEFINITELY not better.  TOO MUCH resolution for an 8" screen.  Lenovo just announced that they discontinued the Thinkpad 8, and I am willing to bet money that this one of the main reasons why.

Winner: iPad Mini Retina and iPad Air

OS Responsiveness:

Aside from general OS navigation, I also compare using Flipboard for all these devices.  Its my go-to news app and available on everything.

Big surprise, Apple is here at the top again.  iOS 7 on the iPad Mini Retina and iPad Air is just brilliant when it comes to the OS gracefully executing everything I want.  Swipes, quick taps, pinch/pull, switching apps, and so on, all top notch.  Flipboard runs like a champ.  A little slower on the original iPad mini (non retina), but that is certainly because of the underpowered processor.

Super close 2nd place is the Google Nexus 7, I already gave mad props to Google for the massive improvement over earlier versions of Android.  Good good stuff, and from a value perspective, the price can't be beat.  Normally everything runs super smooth, but the Nexus just hiccups every so often and at the times when you notice it most, like screen transitions, starting media playback, etc.  Flipboard runs great except for the semi frequent and consistent hiccups.

Windows 8 is the trailing technology here.  The Dell Venue 8 Pro has a great responsive screen, so the hardware isn't the issue.  In Metro mode on the Dell, Metro apps respond great and you think you have something great going on!  But then every other REAL task you need to do requires desktop mode and it all goes to crap.  Flipboard in metro mode (which I was really excited to find!) unfortunately is slow and annoying.  In general I found that I needed to tap 2 or three times to get the OS to do what I wanted.  The Lenovo Ideapad Lynx was the worst, though it has the slower processor.

Winner: iPad Mini 2 retina and iPad Air

Side Notes:

  • Windows 8.1 Drives me crazy.  It wants to be mobile (metro), but it can't (desktop).  bi-polar nightmare.  It seems designed explicitly to make sure that the help desk industry grows.
  • Sharing content from Flipboard to other services (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc.) *should* be consistent on all platforms, but it isn't.  I've found that from Android (Nexus 7, or my Galaxy Note phone), that it ALWAYS shares properly (with descriptions that pass through, and always ends up where I expect it to without broken links, images etc.).  Even the app on iPad can't get it right. 

The Winners:

I tried to be as objective as possible here, but in terms of this old guy's eyes, and "just want to get stuff done" attitude, the iPad Mini Retina and iPad Air definitely got it done faster and more accurately with less stress, and did so looking good.

The Nexus 7 was a close second, though I personally find Android to be more utilitarian of an OS and often confusing for new users.  If you already know how to use Android, that isn't an issue at all, its the new people that try Android that are confused about how to do things (based on how many people ask me for help :)

As far as Windows 8 goes, I really like the Dell Venue 8 Pro device.  If I had to use Windows on a small tablet, thats totally my choice.  The Ideapad Lynx is nice for older eyes, but the responsiveness is a little lacking.  The Thinkpad 8, powerhouse hardware as it is, just missed the mark.  I *wanted* it to be a beacon, but it most certainly failed.

Conclusion: It does indeed seem that MORE (resolution) is BETTER when it comes to Apple's recent tablets.  The Google Nexus 7 is MUCH lower cost and almost as good.  The value vote goes to the Google Nexus.  In terms of Windows 8 devices, the Dell Venue 8 Pro definitely gets the top marks of those devices.

I hope this was helpful and interesting, and please feel free to share this around, push back if you disagree, and let me know if you see any typos/errors, etc. You can find me on twitter at @aschwabe




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