You probably know that not all LCDs are created equal: at a given size, you can have different resolutions, lighting methods, and display-driving technologies. Apple has led the way in this regard, generally shelling out in its products for the best options available, while cheaper brands tend to take a bit off the price tag by going with a cheaper or smaller display. That’s certainly the case with the Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet, both of which are aimed at a lower price point and must make sacrifices to reach it.
But an examination by DisplayMate indicates that Amazon might have cut corners just a little too much, or perhaps rushed the Fire to market without too much thought about image quality.
It’s nothing truly problematic, it should be said right away, and DisplayMate notes that it’s still a good display, but it has a couple serious problems that, objectively speaking, put it on a lower tier than the competition.
The “anti-reflective treatment” on the Fire appears to have backfired, as the display had the highest reflectance of any tablet they’d tested. Reflected ambient light (as in a bright room) and directed light (as from overhead lights) was significantly higher than the iPad, and more than twice as high as the Nooks, which by the by had extremely low reflectance, making it good for reading in diverse lighting situations. The reflectance also caused a reduction in effective contrast, which is bad news for reading print.
The Fire also uses an outdated gallery app that doesn’t use the full 24 bits of color depth of which the display is capable, resulting in banding and apparently a washed-out look that really has no place on a premium device.
The second problem may be fixed in a software update (it’s a bit like the problem Nexus Ones had back in the day), but the poor coating or material that’s resulting in the high reflectance likely isn’t going anywhere (unless this was an early batch problem). In many ways the Fire is the equal of the Nook and the iPad 2 displays, but all other things being equal, it’s just not as good. If possible, do a visual comparison in person to see if the difference is significant to you, and of course if you find the display is not up to your standards, you should feel perfectly justified in returning it. But if it looks good to you, it looks good, and there’s no point getting caught up in a few percentage points of difference here and there.
Note: the article referenced is not a review of the tablets themselves, only of the performance of their displays. And the iPad, Kindle, and Nook displays are certainly comparable, being the same class of relatively high quality IPS LCD, with similar costs and similar requirements: low power, capacitive touch component, thin and lightweight. Except where there is a software component to the display performance (as with the Fire), the DisplayMate comparison is limited to an observation of how these tablets’ displays perform.