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The Looking Glass

In general, the size and weight of a tablet requires one to handle it with both hands. And it is this aspect that differentiates the cream of the crop from the lackluster lineup. A well-designed tablet will be able to distinguish itself with the right balance of size, weight and form factor. More often than not, the display size is a determining factor to a tablet's overall dimensions. Here are some factors to consider when you examine the exterior of your prospective tablet.

Display Size

Screen sizes are admittedly a subjective factor. With tablets, there is no one size that fits all. It boils down to user preference, and how comfortable one is when browsing content off the various display sizes. To date, most tablets come in the following display sizes:

  • 7-inches
  • 8.9-inches
  • 9.7-inches
  • 10.1-inches

At the risk of stating the obvious, those who do not mind a heftier tablet in favor of a larger screen real estate should move towards the 10-inch range. Most e-magazine content form a perfect fit within the 10-inch form factor.

If you advocate tablet portability, sticking to the compact 7-inch range for your e-books is a good choice, which could probably fit in your baggier jean pockets. However, web content on these 7-inch tablets is too small for immediate usage and you would probably have to frequently zoom in and out to be able read legibly.

Tablets with a display size of about 9 inches are seen as an all-rounder that handle reasonably well for books, magazines and web browsing purposes.

Display sizes also share a correlation to the tablet's battery life and weight. Typically speaking, a larger display will see higher power consumption and tend to be heavier to handle, but they are also comfortable on the eyes.

Conversely, a smaller screen will see a better battery life (subjected to the battery capacity of the device) and is far easier to handle, but the comfort level for your eyes will be much lower and you won't be able to stare at the screen for too long.

Tip: Size does matter. Be aware of your needs and find the right balance of viewing comfort (with a larger screen) versus battery life (with a smaller screen). Go for a smaller and lighter tablet if you are using it mostly for reading and could benefit from a higher battery mileage. For movie buffs, move up to the larger displays measuring at 10.1-inches.


Display Resolution

The display resolution is also intricately tied to your display choice. With a higher pixel count, you can expect sharper details and better video quality on your tablet screen. A larger display size usually brings with it a higher pixel count to improve the clarity and sharpness of its displayed content. As such, be aware of the display's resolution when you are looking at larger displays to avoid getting sub-standard images and video quality on your tablet.

Likewise, a higher display resolution can lower the battery life of your tablet. A larger screen usually sees a higher display resolution (thus, a higher pixels per inch density) to sharpen the details of the returned images and videos. However, if you are not too picky with the screen quality, the pixel resolution won't be a crucial factor. The benefits of a lower screen resolution will see a more manageable battery mileage.

Tip: A larger display should see a higher screen resolution to compensate for the pixels per inch density. However, be wary of the potentially lower battery life due to the combination of both features.


Aspect Ratio

This also leads up to the aspect ratio of the tablet, with common ratios at 4:3 and 16:9 used for the upcoming tablets. Similar to display sizes, this is a subjective consideration, depending on your preference for a landscape or portrait orientation with your tablet.

Movie viewers will definitely prefer the 16:9 aspect ratio for the widescreen experience. This also holds true for those who are constant web users. With a wider aspect ratio, it's easier to have a quick glance at your content.

If you have a tablet on a 4:3 aspect ratio, what are the likely user patterns? For one, this particular size is more suited for book readers, but as we've mentioned, these are subjective considerations. Some people might be used to the longer 16:9 aspect ratio based on a portrait perspective. In retrospect, when it comes to aspect ratio, we think most users can adapt to the situation accordingly, unlike the display size and resolution which can influence the overall user experience.

Tip: Be it 4:3 or 16:9 aspect ratio, it shouldn't matter since you'll get used to it over time.


Know your Display Technology

If you wish to dive deeper and understand the impact of the different tablet displays on your choice, there are some other specific areas to look at

In-Plane Switching

In-plane switching (IPS) displays provides a significant improvement in viewing angles compared to the usual twisted nematic (TN) displays found on most mobile devices. Tablets such as Apple's new iPad and iPad 2 will find this display technology beneficial with a wider viewing angle. Its downside is apparent from a need to use two transistors, which requires a stronger backlight that could affect your tablet's overall battery stamina.


AMOLED (active-matrix organic light-emitting diode) has been seen in smartphones such as the the Samsung Galaxy S II and Nokia N9 over the past few months, but it hasn't reached the current tablet lineup. AMOLED displays have the distinct advantage of a richer color reproduction and better power management. The latter is highly value for the obvious reasons. Nonetheless, since the cost of the display is also proportional to the size, this is the likely reason for the slower adoption of this new display technology.

To date, Samsung's Galaxy Tab 7.7 will be the first tablet that features its Super AMOLED Plus display, while other manufacturers have stuck to the tried and tested LCD panels for the lower costs.